Conflict and the Beatitudes

Jesus is the “allower” of conflict; therefore He is also the “master” of conflict resolution. It is so refreshing to read Scripture and to hear how Jesus taught people and what He commanded them (and us) to do in general and in specific situations. Maybe one of the most explicit discipleship tools that the New Testament gives us is found in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. At the beginning of this sermon that Jesus delivers, we encounter “the Beatitudes” (the blessings). These blessings start off the sermon and are very direct in teaching us how to live, and in my opinion, deal with conflict and point us to specific ways of living that will lead us to be great conflict managers. With that, let’s begin unpacking these “blessings” and start with a verse the precedes the blessings.

Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” Is there anything better or wiser we could do in life than to live a life of repentance? The basic understanding of the Gospel says that we are more wicked and deceitful than we could ever imagine, but that we are more loved and cherished than we ever hoped (Rom. 6:23), both at the same time. God’s love and righteousness is imputed to us when we repent of our sins to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:21). A man who lives a life of repentance will be a very good manager of conflict because he will have a good understanding of his own sin and of his identity in Christ, which removes the guilt of his sin. This kind of person is able to have empathy toward others and will be slow to judge, slander, mock, or hold a grudge. Repentance! This is the foundation of all conflict resolution. If we do not see the need to repent, then we will be conflict magnets and will live a life of broken and destructive relationships, never being able to understand what the true problem is.

Matthew 5:2-3: “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ ” One way to understand this passage is to restate it like this: “Blessed are those who know that they are spiritually powerless and destitute, for they will have the right to rule with Christ, in His kingdom, for eternity.” That is a huge promise from Jesus. Understand your helplessness before God and you will be saved. In conflict, this translates into an over grateful person who sees in others what Christ sees, because of their humility and understanding of their own helplessness. Poor people usually do not feel entitled to many things because do not have many things. Entitlement is a huge source of conflict, but when we approach others with a poor spirit, understanding we are poor and in need, then we are at an advantage in relationships, because we do not feel that we have a right to something that isn’t ours, or be treated in any specific way. Entitlement is almost non-existent where there is a poor spirit.

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a lot of mourning in conflict situations. The ability to mourn, and to mourn with others, is difficult at times because of our past wounds or pride. But here Jesus tells us that if we mourn, we will be comforted. He gives us freedom and courage to mourn, and mourn with others, in times of distress. The ability to mourn well with others tells the person you are mourning with, “I love you, I accept you, you are okay, I am with you, and it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to feel this pain.” What a gift it is to be able to mourn well with others, and not scorn them.

Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness. Controlled power. My pastor who spent a lot of time discipling me gave me a great analogy of what it means to be meek. He told me this: “A 1960 Pinto going 40 mph in a 65 mph zone is weak because it can’t go faster than 40 mph if it wanted to. But a new Ferrari going 40 mph in a 65 mph zone is meek, because it has the ability to much faster than the marked speed limit with no problem, but has its power under control.” That has stuck with me, and I think of Jesus every time I remember that story. His journey towards Jerusalem and eventually His death on the cross was a meek one, not a weak one. He had the power to appeal to the Father and have Him unleash “more than twelve legions of angels” to protect Him from the Jewish and the Roman leaders who wanted to kill Him (Matt. 26:53), but He didn’t. He allowed Himself to be given over to death. That’s controlled power for the good of others. Knowing when to use our power or authority over someone is very crucial. Power without meekness is a recipe for disastrous relationships. This has been a universal problem from the beginning a mankind. Meek “leaders” (the Bible in context does not have an emphasis on leaders in this passage; I added the emphasis on leaders) will grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man while here on earth. They will also be good conflict mangers because they will not lord their power or authority over others making people feel less than them. Jesus is clear that His kingdom is not that way (Mark 10:42-45). Thus, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to seek with eager desire and to painfully feel the want of being righteous. The picture I get when I read this verse is of a man who is desperately hungry, rummaging through garbage looking to eat whatever he can, and thirsty in such a way that he would slurp up water from the gutter of a downtown street to quench his thirst. If this kind of desire for righteousness was in all of us, conflict would be reduced in a radical way. According to the Apostle Paul, we are to desire to do what is right or to be in right standing with others as much as it is up to us (Rom. 12:18). The next time you are in a conflict, remember that you are to hunger and thirst in this kind of desperate way to act righteously, so that you, and others, will be satisfied and God would be glorified. It is interesting that Jesus says, “they shall be satisfied.” The only way you and I can be righteous before God is because Jesus is our propitiation, which means He “satisfied” God’s wrath towards our rebellion of His precepts, thus we are righteous before God. If righteousness satisfies God, then won’t it satisfy us as well.

Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Mercy triumphs over judgment in the perfect kingdom. We would do well to model the ways of God’s kingdom while we are still here on earth. Showing mercy to others in the midst of conflict is a key ingredient to resolving conflict. Where only judgement abides, conflict will not only remain, but flourish. When we stand before God, we are all in need of immense mercy, and God has shown it to us in Christ. So, because we have been given mercy freely, we should freely give it to others so that they may catch a glimpse of God’s goodness. Giving mercy to someone who deserves judgement is a sure fire way of releasing the power of the cross, and isn’t that what we all need, especially when dealing with conflict.

Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” My interpretation: “How blessed is the man who is free from a corrupt desire, free from sin and guilt, for he will be walking in righteousness and will become acquainted with God by experience.” A pure heart means that we have been pruned to such a point where we have no desire for harm towards another person, but only their good. When we can live this out, especially with our enemies, we will be imitating Christ and will encounter the living God in a real and life transforming way. This is Christian maturity! Is there any better incentive to live right, to cut sin out of our lives and to practice repentance? The pure in heart will see God! This is what we all need, much like Moses cried out to God for: “Please show me your glory.” (Ex. 33:18) God did show Moses His glory, but Moses had to prepare himself and make sure that no one came up the mountain with him or be seen through out the whole mountain, even the flocks and herds were not to graze opposite the mountain (Ex. 34:2-3). No one impure is able to come before the presence of God, let alone see Him. The pure in heart shall see God and that is what we need in the midst of a fallen world so we can keep going and represent God well while resolving conflict. And here’s the key to a pure heart… Jesus! He’s our purity. He’s the perfect pure one who obeyed the whole law of God because we couldn’t. Our purity and ability to be seen pure by God, is to have Jesus’ life and death be transferred to our life and future death.

Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peacemakers are very different from peacekeepers. Many people are under the delusion that if they can always have peace and keep it, even if it means brushing issues under the carpet, then they are doing the will of God and are being peacemakers. This is a deficient view of being a peacemaker. Jesus, the “Prince of Peace”, was a peacemaker which meant, at the proper time for the proper reasons, He had to disrupt business as usual. There was no peace in the temple because the Jews were worshiping the law over God and excluding those who were not of their same ethnicity or lower social class. They had forgotten God altogether, even though they acknowledged Him with their words. Because of this, Jesus drove everyone out of the temple and demanded that things change (Mark 11:15-17). He demanded that business as usual stops at that moment. A momentary lapse in peace was very necessary in making peace. To be a peacemaker in conflict means that you must be able to confront sin in love and not ignore it (starting with your own life), thinking you are trying to keep peace. When peace is made the way God wants it to be, then there is true peace and conflict resolution is truly possible.

Matthew 5:10-12: “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Many times in conflict, we will be persecuted by standing up for what is right. Most of the time it is the peacemaker who is at the center of this persecution because they were courageous enough to confront sin and disrupt the status quo. This is when we need wisdom from the Lord to know when to defend and when to be silent and just take it. Whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to do, endure persecution faithfully and do not retaliate in anger. It is clear based on what Jesus says here and what other New Testament letters say as well, that to suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, you will “receive the kingdom of heaven” and “the Spirit of glory and of God” will rest on you. What grace! To suffer for being a Christian means that more grace than we have already been given will be added to us. Who could ever imagine more grace being offered to you if you are already in Christ? This gives us confidence to live for Christ and to stand for truth in the midst of conflict. Our identity does not come from what others think or say about us, but from what the Gospels says we are because of Christ.

*Disclaimer: This doesn’t give us the freedom to be stupid Christians, full of self-righteousness, calling out everyone else’s sin, and then being ridiculed and mocked, and then saying, “Well, at least I’m being persecuted for righteousness’ sake!” That’s not persecution; that’s foolishness.

Many seemingly godly men and women, while enduring conflict will react in anger, retribution, and wrath towards those who are persecuting them for doing what is right. When this happens, you cancel out what you have previously done for righteousness’ sake. In this case, the enemy wins and you lose. We must faithfully represent God in the midst of persecution. This is the true test of someone’s character.

If we strive to live a “beatitude” kind of life, then we will exude the kind of godly character that Christ desires of us. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on the beatitudes that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew because it is the foundation of Christian maturity (in my opinion) and we will never master any one of them. What a great guide for us as we live amongst conflict and strive to be “reconcilers” for the sake of Christ. We must pursue God, in complete humility, with all of who we are and with all of what we have if we desire to model a beatitude kind of life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging gaining favor with God by works and efforts of your own accord. I am only speaking about Christian maturity. As we mature, we die to ourselves and give of ourselves more and more. Death to self will come as we recklessly pursue God and obey Him, then and only then will we be excellent conflict managers.

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