Several years ago, my wife and I hired a handyman to do some work in our kitchen.
At first, he seemed like a good guy. He invoiced me … I paid him promptly … and he continued working.
But many weeks later, I came home one night and did not like the work he was doing.
The handyman asked me specifically what I thought of his handiwork. Trying to be diplomatic, I did not praise his work as he wished.
He started packing up his stuff and putting it in his truck … and then he made his move.
He demanded that I pay him right then and there.
The work wasn’t done. It was far from over.
While my wife looked on, he got right in my face and demanded that I write him a check.
He turned on his heel and walked away … leaving our kitchen in shambles … and forcing us to hire someone else to complete the job.
After taking a few days to calm down, I wrote the handyman a letter, detailing the work he had agreed to do but had not finished.
He responded by sending me a text message featuring a four-letter word and threatening to harm me.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I called the police. An officer came over and took my statement. If I ended up dead on the side of the road, at least detectives had a lead.
What should I have done with my grievances?
I spoke directly with the handyman and did not overreact emotionally. When he got in my face, I stood my ground.
But how much is being right worth? What if he had a gun in his truck?
My favorite relational verse in Scripture is Romans 12:18. Paul writes: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Let me make four quick observations about this verse:
First, Paul addresses his directive to the entire congregation in Rome.
Most contemporary materials on conflict management for believers are directed to pastors and staff members, followed by board members and key leaders.
But there is little available for the average layperson in the church.
Is this because books on conflict don’t sell? Because research shows that people won’t read them? Because churchgoers won’t follow their directives even if they do read them? Because most conflicts are between leaders?
I’m not sure, but the New Testament epistles were usually read to the entire church. While Paul did address 3 of his letters to church leaders (two to Timothy, one to Titus) along with one to a friend (Philemon), he addressed his other 9 epistles to 7 church congregations.
Paul knew what he was doing. It’s not enough to target leaders with biblical teaching about conflict management. The entire church needs the teaching … and I believe pastors need to plan to teach about conflict management/resolution to their congregations at least once every year.
Second, Paul encourages believers to “live at peace with everyone.”
Who’s everyone? Just believers?
I believe “everyone” refers to every single person you meet. For example, Paul writes in Titus 3:1-2: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
This includes that rude waitress … and the driver who just cut you off … and the government official who treats you like dirt … and that unpredictable teenager living in your home.
Can a Christian confront wrongdoing? Yes. Can we stand up for ourselves assertively? Yes. Can we express displeasure at the way we’ve been treated? Yes.
But we need to know when to back down … when to cool off … and when to walk away.
That’s pursuing peace.
Third, Paul directs believers to take responsibility for their own responses.
There’s a phrase I used to use but retired years ago: “You make me mad.”
That phrase implies that someone else can control my emotions, but the truth is that God wants me to control my own emotions.
You can provoke me … you can bully me … you can threaten me … but you can’t make me mad.
Only I can make myself mad.
I realize that sometimes people push our buttons and we react a split second later with anger. But as we grow in Christ, we need to learn to (a) delay our anger, (b) defuse our anger, and (c) divert our anger.
But even if I do feel or demonstrate anger, I am responsible for my choices.
And I can choose to pursue peace rather than retaliation.
Finally, Paul implies there will be times when we cannot reconcile with someone.
He gives us an out with the phrase “if it is possible.”
I can do everything in my power to get along with someone, but if they are determined to ignore or hate me, there’s nothing I can do about it.
I can pray for reconciliation … and try and speak with them … and ask others to serve as mediators … but like that handyman, if someone chooses to walk out of my life, I can’t prevent it.
Try as we might, we cannot make anyone love us. While we can choose to pursue peace, others can choose to pursue hatred.
Three decades ago, I pastored a church where a married couple held the top lay leadership positions in the church. He was the head of the deacons, she the deaconesses.
They attended a Christian university famous for its intolerance. I assumed they were better than their schooling.
The youth pastor took the youth group to a Christian rock concert, which I supported. But this couple didn’t agree.
They gave me a 15-page document detailing why “Christian rock” was evil.
The deacon chairman wanted me to agree that the youth would never attend another Christian rock concert. I suggested we meet and talk instead.
He announced that his family was leaving the church.
Even though I considered him a friend, I never saw him again … and when their daughter married a young man from the church, everyone was invited to the wedding … except my wife and me.
He made me choose: music or me?
I chose music.
The pain of that loss has long since dissipated, but I’ll never forget that incident … or any of the others where I had to make a similar choice.
Maybe we’ll meet someday in heaven and laugh about that time … but I refuse to feel guilty about it because of these words:
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”