Wisdom, The Principal Thing - Part 10: HOW TO MAINTAIN HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS (WISDOM IN RELATIONSHIPS)
So, last week, we continued our series on the subject of wisdom by looking at another practical area that we need God’s wisdom in - the arena of relationships: We looked at how important it is that we learn how to build relationships.
We learned that our being in fellowship with one another is extremely important to God and to us. We saw from Proverbs 14:4 that in our relationships with others is where more strength comes to see increase in our lives. However, with the strength the ox provides, it also provides more mess. So, while there will always be “poop” we have to deal with in relationships, we need to esteem the good that comes from our connection with people more than the problems they bring with them.
Then, we learned the importance of choosing our friends wisely. We saw that we should not be deceived into thinking that we are strong enough to have a good influence on people without them having a bad influence on us. The Bible teaches us that “evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
So, who should we be hanging out with? The Bible says, the wise. Yes, he who walks with the wise will himself be wise (Proverbs 13:20). Therefore, we need to find people to associate with who will provoke us unto love and good works, enabling us to become sharper in character, rather than duller. We looked at various things that we should be looking for in friends and also what kind of people we should not be associating with.
We then looked at how to make friends by looking at things that we can implement into our lives that will make us more desirable fellowship for others. We also looked at a lot of “don’t do’s” that might irritate people we would like friendship with.
So, as promised this week, I want us to move on into looking at how we maintain / keep these relationships we have built. This is going to be a very practical message on how to resolve the conflicts that come up in even our God-ordained relationships.
So, as I mentioned last week, relationships must be built. They do not necessarily build themselves. In other words, you will have to work at making them all they can be. We looked at Proverbs 24:3-4 which says, “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” and we saw that you do not build a home by just haphazardly beginning the building process. No, you sit down first and draw out the plans, right?
Well, did you know that just as many people build relationships, there are also those who destroy them. And how do they do this? Through a lack of wisdom.
Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” How many of you know that this is the epitome of foolishness – to build something, and then turn around and tear it down with your own hands. But people do this all of the time in the area of relationships: They spend time working on a particular relationship and invest a lot of time, effort and energy into it, and then they turn around and pull the whole thing down through fights, quarrels and contentions. This is unwise.
So, that is exactly what I want us to look at this week - how to not do this, how to not only build good, healthy relationships, but also how to keep them in that same condition.
Now we talked last week about just how important relationships are in everyone’s life, particularly the life of a member of Christ’s body. So, if that is so (and it is!), then don’t you suppose that the enemy of our souls is going to do his best to destroy those relationships? You can bet the bank he will! Therefore, we need to always remain cognizant of the fact that we are going to have even more opportunities in a church setting like ours to have relationships grow sour and to have division. And why? Again, it is because we have an enemy who wants us separated from each other.
WHY STRIFE IS SO BAD
So, let’s begin by talking about why strife, contentions and quarrels are so bad in the first place:
We’ve just seen that one major reason is because they divide us from other parts of the Body that we need to be joined to. And that is reason enough to resist contentions itself, but here are some other reasons why strife is such a bad thing. Strife is bad…
One major reason we should avoid strife like the plague it is, is because God considers it an abomination. Now that is some pretty strong language, isn’t it? He hates it! It is abominable to him! Therefore, if we love God, we should hate it too! Amen?
You see, the things we esteem like eating good food or living in a comfortable home are fine and all, but if strife and contention are present, those natural things are just not worth it. In other words, we would be better off to have less than desirable food to eat or to live on the corner of a rooftop than to have a spirit of strife in our home. And why?
So, all of this is plenty enough reason to keep our relationships free from strife, quarrels and contentions. Amen?
Now let’s move on and talk about what actually stirs up strife because in diagnosing it, we can help find the cure for it:
WHAT STIRS UP STRIFE?
You see, there are several proverbs that talk about certain things that “stir up” strife. So, let’s look at them. What stirs up strife? First of all, Proverbs 28:25 says, “He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.” Proverbs 13:10 teaches us, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.” Let’s look at a couple of other translations of this nugget of wisdom:
So, the first thing we need to understand is that any and all strife comes by pride - meaning, if there is strife present, I can guarantee you that there is some pride present. Yes, when two individuals get into strife, there has to be pride present in at least one of the individuals, but in my experience, it is usually in both. Why? Because very rarely do you see one of the parties humbling themselves and admitting things they did wrong in the situation that caused the conflict.
But the main reason that all strife is a result of pride is because usually the contentions and quarrels that arise are based on hurt feelings. “I am just so angry because they did such and such to me,” they say. Well, why are they so angry? It is because someone did something to them. That is pride because the root of pride is self-centeredness: It’s all about what they did to us.
Now this is important to understand when it comes to us being the one who is tempted to be contentious with others: We need to check our own hearts and see where any pride is resident that would cause the strife in us. Then, we ought to be the “big boy or girl” in the situation and take the high road of love by humbling ourselves in the quarrel.
Regarding the other person in the conflict, the Book of Proverbs gives us some specific things that show how strife is stirred up around us:
So, we can see here that it is a wrathful, hateful, angry person that generates strife! In other words, it is a man or woman who has been poisoned and is full of hate and anger that tends towards stirring up strife! Therefore, this helps in how we respond to others who are contentious against us.
You see, anytime a person is ugly towards us it for this very reason: because they are currently, at that moment, not knowing how loved they are by God. Yes, hurting people hurt people! God did not create us to be mean-spirited, angry and hateful. So, when we are, it is because we are operating outside of our God-created value. Therefore, when someone else is hurting us know this - that is not who God created them to be, and all they are doing is hurting themselves, and they are doing it because they are already hurting themselves. This will help us to be more compassionate towards them and to more readily forgive them.
WHAT COVERS STRIFE
Now staying along the same lines, let’s talk about some truths that the Book of Wisdom gives us that squelches the strife that tries to be stirred up:
Either way you look at it – whether this describes you yourself avoiding strife or you being a peacemaker and actively helping other people’s contentions to cease – extinguishing strife is a mark of honor in God’s eyes.
So, if I am loving others what am I not doing? I am not telling others about what the person did. And what am I doing? I am making it a point to cover their transgression (not covering up sin so that it cannot be appropriately dealt with, but covering up just the simple embarrassments and unnecessary awareness of it).
Consider the example of Noah’s children, with one of them dishonoring him in in Genesis 9:20-23. The dishonorable son, Ham, saw his nakedness and “threw him under the bus,” telling his brothers about it, while the more honorable sons, Shem and Japheth, went in to his tent backwards and covered him with a blanket, not even looking upon his nakedness.
Proverbs 11:12-13 says, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace. A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.”
Proverbs 12:20 says that “counselors of peace have joy.” So, church, this is a sure-fire way to live a blessed, joyful life; it is to be a faithful person who conceals a matter and holds his or her peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Why is that? It is because our Heavenly Father is a peacemaker and we are imitating Him!
HOW TO REACT TO OFFENSES
So, now let’s look at some specific ways in which we are told to react when it comes to those who irritate, hurt or anger us:
Many do not like these words because they fear being taken advantage of. Regarding this, Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” When we take matters into our own hands, we take them out of God’s hands. Friends, He can justify and defend us far better than we can on our own. Therefore…
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR BROTHER OFFENDS YOU
Now while these are practical, wise steps of how to react and how not to react, we need to look ahead at the New Testament and see what the Lord Jesus told us to do when our brother offends us:
Did you know that the Bible gives you and I some practical steps of what to do when a fellow believer sins against us and offends us? It sure does! In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus gave His disciples the steps to reconciliation when one of His sheep offends another. So, let’s take a look at what the Holy Scriptures have to say so that we can learn how to properly handle these times of being hurt and disappointed by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
First of all, notice that Jesus began in verse 15 by saying, “Moreover.” The reason Jesus started off with this word was because He had just taught the Parable of the Lost Sheep which emphasized the importance of restoring someone who had left the sheepfold, seeking to reconcile the wandering Christian. Understanding the context here will make clearer what He went on to say in these verses we will be covering:
Jesus then says, “…if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” This is the first step we are to take when someone sins against us - we are to confront them about it. And it is important to see that Jesus said that you are to do this between you and them alone. Oh, how many offenses would be averted if people would just put into practice this one simple step!
You see, most Christians do the exact opposite when someone hurts them: They will either internalize it - never dealing with the hurt - or they will go to someone else about it saying something like - “Guess what so and so did to me!” You see, the first and best rule to go by when someone hurts us is to confront them about it without ever mentioning it to anybody else. This is so important to do because, as I am sure many of us have learned, many times when someone has done something to hurt us they did not even realize what they did, much less intend to do it. Therefore, if we would just confront the person who hurt us, then many perceived hurts and offenses would be resolved immediately. But how many people have held on to their hurts for years when the person that hurt them was oblivious to the fact of what they did simply because this offended person never followed this first step? When, if they would just have gone to the person, they could have resolved the issue on the spot instead of holding on to it for years.
On top of that, many times the things that people do to offend us are so small and petty that if we would be forced to deal with those things in this way (by confronting them), we would be too embarrassed to mention to them what hurt our feelings. What I am saying is that oftentimes the things that we get hurt over are really just silly. They are not big enough to even be worth confronting someone over. And let me tell you: if someone does something that upsets us and the prospect of confronting them about it seems ridiculous, then I can assure you that the fact that we are offended is indeed ridiculous.
For example, say someone in our church does not acknowledge you before or after the service, looking right at them and does not say hello, good morning, etc. What have we seen these Christians do? Well, certainly they do not go to them and say, “You know, you looked right at me this morning and did not say anything to me and I was wondering why…” Why would this layperson not do this? It is because they do not want their fellow church member to know that they were so sensitive and easily offended by something so petty. No, what usually happens is they internalize their hurt feelings and allow the devil to cause them to speculate as to why they did not say anything to them. They start thinking things like “they must not like, respect, or value me”- speculating as to why they didn’t give them what they felt was their due attention. On top of that, they then go to others and begin to defame that person, saying things like he does not care about them, etc. Maybe (just maybe😊) they were not intentionally ignoring them. Perhaps they had something on their mind and did not consciously shun them.
But what if we, first of all, began giving our brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt instead of having a speculative imagination and judging their motives? And then, if we are either certain that what they did was intentional and/or we cannot get past the hurt we experienced, what if we just confronted them about it? I can guarantee you that just putting into practice this first step would solve most of the issues we have with other Christians.
Then Jesus said that step number two is, if they will not listen to you and you cannot resolve it with them by yourself, you are to take one or two more and let them, in a sense, act as arbitrators between you and the one who hurt you.
Now this does not mean that we go to one or two of our brothers and sisters in Christ just to tell them what a low down dirty scoundrel the person who hurt us is. This getting others involved is strictly for the purpose of having someone come in who will have an objective viewpoint of the situation. In other words, bringing others into the quarrel is not to get somebody else offended and upset with the person who offended you; it is for the purpose of having someone else hopefully resolve the dispute.
You see, sometimes when we have a dispute with someone else, we might think they have done us wrong, but they might disagree with our viewpoint. This is when a third or fourth party might be necessary to be an objective judge in our dispute. But, again, this is only for the purpose of seeking reconciliation with our sinning brother or sister.
But then, there might be situations where the sinning brother will not hear the arbitrators either. This is when Jesus said that we are to take it to the church that both parties of the dispute attend and let them hear the situation in order to make a judgment.
The important point is that we see the order here? First, we go (by ourselves) to one who sinned against us. Second, we let one or two know for the sole purpose of helping to resolve the situation. Thirdly, we take it to the church and let those who are spiritual authorities in our life make a judgment in the dispute.
But do you know what most people do? They do the exact opposite! They take it to the others in the church first and do not even consider confronting the other believer. According to Jesus’ teaching, this is the wrong process.
You see, we need to understand that when we are offended, the first thing the flesh wants to do is tell someone else. Our flesh just loves to “vent” by telling our friends the sins of others - especially when that sin affected us personally. But love does not do this: As we have seen, love seeks to cover sins, not expose them. Love will only inform someone else of the sins of another when it is genuinely seeking the restoration of the sinner.
But so many err in this way as well: They will go to others and start off by saying, “I am only telling you this so that you can pray for them, but…” Now, while this can be done out of genuine love for someone, my experience is that it usually is not. These are not gossiping about the sins and shortcomings of others because they love them so much, but because their flesh just loves to uncover and expose the sins of other people. We need to be very careful about this. Whether we are a witness to or a victim of the sins of another, we should more often than not, keep it to ourselves and pray for that individual.
But I want us to now turn our attention to what Jesus said to do if that offender will not repent after all three of these steps have been taken. He said, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
What does this mean? Well, first of all, notice that Jesus said “let him be to you”… This basically implies to “let them be that way.” In other words, it means just to let it go - to forgive them and forget about it. We know this because just a few verses later, when Jesus concluded His teaching on what to do when our brother sins against us, Peter immediately asks the question, “Well, how many times do I have to forgive my brother?”
But what did Jesus mean by saying that you are to let him be to you “like a heathen and a tax collector?” Well, it is important to understand that this does not mean, “Fine, if you want to be that way, then you just gained an enemy, buddy!” No, letting them be like a heathen or a tax collector to us does not mean that we treat them like an enemy as some have mistaken this statement to mean. We are called to love our enemies and Jesus Himself was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. So, it should be fairly obvious that this statement is not a license to be unloving towards the one who sinned against us. What this statement means is that we need to treat them like we would a lost person - forgiving them for their sin against us and seeking to see him or her reconciled into right relationship with God. It means to let the problem go and continue to seek the restoration of our brother.
You see, we are commanded, if it is at all possible, to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). So, if we have done our best to seek reconciliation with someone and they still will not repent, the only thing left to do is to forgive them and forget about what they did to you - especially another Christian.
I can assure you that it is not worth holding on to, my brothers and sisters! It is not worth becoming embittered and resentful. This only keeps you in bondage and hinders God’s best from being accomplished in your life. So just let them be that way! Let them act like they are! If they have taken something from you, give them a little extra! This is what Jesus taught us to do, is it not? It is just not worth it, and I can assure you, God is able to add it back to you in fullness and abundance when you walk in His ways - which are love and forgiveness. Amen!?!
THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE IN US
Now there will invariably be times where we do not head off strife at the door. So, what do we do if one of those arrows have penetrated our heart and the angry emotions are rising up? Here are some good words of wisdom from Proverbs:
Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays (i.e. to diminish & put at rest) contention.” So, this proverb simply states that being slow to let ourselves get angry and getting control of those unruly emotions will actually diminish contentions in our life.
This is an important way to squelch anger - Operating in that last fruit of the Spirit called “self-control.” You see, impulsive people tend to open the door to strife quicker than others, and the Book of Proverbs has much to say on this:
Proverbs 17:14 also says, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; Therefore, stop contention before a quarrel starts.” How? By checking those emotions at the door and taking control of our actions. Someone will say? “Yeah, but I cannot do that! It just comes all over me and cannot control it.” That is simply not true because if it is you, you can control it. If you truly cannot control it, then it is demonic and not you. Demons control people; Christians control themselves. But in most cases, those who say they cannot control it in the case of going off on another believer in church, on the other hand can control it with their boss at work. Why? Because people do what they think they can get away with.
But there are some good and practical ways that we can be “slow to anger”:
One of them is found in Proverbs 19:11 which says, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” In some translations of the Bible, anger is often spoken of as “being kindled” as though anger can be compared to fire. I believe the example of anger as fire is the most accurate because anger, if not dealt with when it is small, can get out of control and not only burn the one who is angry but also others in their vicinity. We must learn to control the anger that is kindled in us from time to time and not let it get out of control. And in this proverb, we are told a very practical way to quench this anger that comes from time to time in our life. When you stop telling others how someone else upset you, you are being discreet about the hurt. When you practice this discretion, Proverbs 19:11 says, that it “makes you slow to anger.” In other words, it will quench that emotional slide of anger. If we compare this proverb to the example of a fire being kindled, then James 3:5 will mean a little more to us. It says, speaking of the tongue, “...See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” The tongue is the fire-starter of anger. If we can control our mouth, we will control our anger!
Proverbs 15:1 teaches us that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Simply knowing how to say things is a key to extinguishing strife. Many have unnecessary points of contention because of how they have responded. So, the lesson here is - don’t just blurt out the first emotional response you have but think about what you are about to say and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Another important factor is when to approach someone about an offense. It’s good to find a time that is appropriate for bringing up the matter. Ecclesiastes 8:5 says that a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgement. Now these are not fail-proof ways to avoid angering someone, because some will simply not like what you are saying to them even though you package it perfectly. But this will extinguish many contentions before they are even kindled.
Along these same lines, Proverbs 30:33 says, “For as the churning of milk produces butter, and wringing the nose produces blood, so the forcing of wrath produces strife.” Many times, strife is produced by someone “forcing” their wrath and anger. In other words, if we keep forcing the issue – not letting up – and keep bringing it up, we are going to produce strife unless we are dealing with a very spiritual person.
THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE IN OTHERS
But there are other times where someone else comes to us about another issue between them and another person. So, how do you deal with that?
First of all, know this: Proverbs 17:4 teaches us that “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; A liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.” If we listen eagerly to one with a “spiteful tongue” the Bible calls us a liar. So, we don’t want to be labeled as a “can” that people feel they can dump their trash in. Why? Because that makes us a “trash can.” It’s tight but it’s right!
But someone will say, “Well, how I can keep someone else from telling me these things?” Here is a good way: Either stop them and say something to the effect of, “Okay, let’s stop right here and pray for them, because if what you are saying is correct, they need prayer.” And then take that person by the hand and start praying for the other person. Another thing you can do is stop them in “mid-slanderous sentence” and say, “Well, if you feel this way, we need to go to that person right now and confront them.” Usually those people will not want to do either one of these two things and they will not see you as a good sounding board any longer.
Another good word of wisdom regarding someone coming to you with their issue is this: Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” Why? It is because as Proverbs 18:17 goes on to say, “The first one to plead his cause seems right…”
So, what this means is that there are always two sides to every story, and if we only hear one person’s side (particularly when they are worked up emotionally over it), it is easy to get sold on their viewpoint. Therefore, we need to be truly objective and not let the first word be the last word and get swayed.
But be careful about getting in the middle of someone else’s quarrel unless you are invited to be the peacemaker in the situation because as Proverbs 26:17 says, “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears.” Church, this is how you get bit!
Now while I see God’s best solution to any rift in relationships as at least one of the parties simply deciding to give the other party the “better land” as Abram did with his nephew Lot when they had strife between their herdsman (In other words, one of the parties deciding to just “eat it” and agreeing to be wrong in order to keep the peace), the fact is very few people will actually do this because, bless God, they are going be right!
But what do we do if we reach this impasse? What if there does not seem to be any possible resolution?
WHAT IF THERE IS NO POSSIBLE RESOLUTION?
In some situations, like say a marriage where you are covenanted to be together, it is good to call some sort of cease fire: Proverbs 18:18 says, “Casting lots causes contentions to cease, and keeps the mighty apart.” Some other translations describe this “casting of lots” as flipping a coin or drawing straws. In many cases, it might be best for the two parties that cannot come to an agreement to simply flip and coin and let “fate” decide, both parties being resolved to let the “casting of lots” determine what they will do.
In other situations, where something has to be done to deal with the contention, you might have to “cast out the bondwoman”: Proverbs 26:20-21 says, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”
Do you remember the story of Hagar & Ishmael? There was contention there between Hagar & Sarah, so what did Abraham do? He cast out the bondwoman! Proverbs 22:10 says to “Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease.” So, I say that to say if there is no possible reconciliation, that sometimes someone has to go. But if that is the case, both parties should attempt to do so peacefully and graciously.
So, what you have just learned are some very practical ways to deal with contentions. Church, do understand that it is impossible that offenses will not come. The Master taught us this. We live in these fleshly bodies and, therefore, will have “feelings” that will come up that are contrary to the truth. This is when it is important for us to apply these truths and keep ourselves in love and out of strife. Amen!