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Worship Message - Handling Conflict, Part II

Handling Conflict, Part II
James Message #8

Today we continue with our journey through the New Testament Book of James. A book of the Bible that provides us with practical teachings about how to live our Christian lives. Including the teaching to meet the trials of life with joy and the teaching to live out our Christian faith. Including the teaching to tame our tongues, thereby avoiding doing damage to ourselves, to others, and to the cause of Christ, and the teaching about how to handle interpersonal conflict.

Today, we find ourselves in the second half of chapter 4 of James. A passage that begins with a section that seems to fit the last two teachings very well - the teaching to tame our tongues and the teaching about how to handle conflict. Chapter 4 ends with a couple examples of practical advice about how to live out our Christian faith, which was the second of the teachings just mentioned, but we will begin with the section about taming our tongues and handling conflict, which starts with verse 11 of James 4.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brethren.” To obey that teaching of course involves taming the tongue. To obey it addresses the issue of handling conflict. Not speaking evil against another person is part of not causing conflict. Not answering with evil speaking is part of not continuing conflict.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brethren.” Another way of wording it might be that we are not to slander one another. Neither are we to gossip.

Slander. That is saying something bad or negative about someone else, whether true or false, that might injure that person’s reputation or character or good name. It goes beyond warning someone about someone else who is dangerous. We might legitimately need to do that. No, slander is done for the purpose of harming someone. It often happens when the other person is not present to defend himself or herself.
And hey, when attacked, it can be very difficult to not respond the same way. But the teaching is to not speak evil against one another.

And gossip. That is gathering in groups and passing on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of someone who is not present to defend himself or herself.

Tame the tongue so you do not speak evil against one another. That is what James wrote. First of all, it is wrong to slander and gossip. But the wrong is deeper than just the harm it can do to someone else, as serious as that is. James continued, “He who speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.”

To what law is James referring? The law that says God is the one who gets to decide a person’s righteousness. The law that He, not us, is the judge - the one who decides merit or condemnation.

Verse12. “There is one lawgiver and judge.” There is only one who gets to set the standards. There is only one who has the right to judge a person’s obedience to those standards. That one is not us. That one is God.

As James added, “It is God who is able to save and to destroy.” So who am I - who are you - who are we to judge our neighbor?

That is important because it does apply, not only to those who attack others - who slander or gossip against others - but also to those who are slandered or gossiped against.

For instance, at the state church meeting we had earlier this month during our state church convention, there were some pretty nasty comments directed toward the chairman, who is me. In that case, the comments were made face-to-face. The comments were not behind my back. I was there to hear them. While it was and is wrong for those who made the comments to make them, I continue to battle to not respond the same way. I battle to not speak evil against those who made the comments.

My point is that it’s a two-way street. None of us is to speak evil. We are not to start conflict. Neither are we to continue it.

Do not speak evil against one another. Do not judge others. Leave the law and the judging to God. As stated, that is how to handle conflict. It requires taming the tongue. Obeying that teaching is a way to live out the Christian faith we proclaim.

Easy? No. Needed? Yes. Let’s strive each day to obey the teaching to not speak evil against others.

Which brings us to two bits of practical advice. More advice about how to live out our Christian faith.

The first one begins in verses 13 and 14. James wrote, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain.’ You do not know about tomorrow.”

The background of that verse is that there were a lot of travelers of the ancient world. That often led to business opportunities. For instance, when cities were founded and the founders were looking for citizens to occupy them, many people answered the invitations. One reason for that was that with new cities, there were new opportunities for trade and making money.

The picture James presents is looking at a map, pointing to a certain spot, and saying, “There is a new city. That is where there will be great trade business. I’ll go there, get in on the ground floor, trade for a year or so, make my fortune, and come back rich.”

James teaches that no one has the right to make confident plans for the future, for he knows not what even a day may bring forth.

What are some things that can change plans from one day to the next?

I don’t want to be morbid here, but what about health? Has an illness ever come upon you quickly and unexpectedly? An illness that has knocked you down for a while?
I think of 9/11. We are just about to the 14th anniversary of that already. On 9/11/2001, the day was a beautiful morning when one plane, then another, were crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. Another plane was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another, that one commandeered away from terrorists by passengers, crashed into farmland in Pennsylvania.

How many plans were changed that day? Not only those in the buildings that were hit and the planes, but also those around the nation planning to travel? Travel impossible by air since all flights were grounded and new rules on even renting cars.
What about economic troubles? The economic trouble we had in 2008 caused retirement plans to dwindle in value. The economy has still not fully recovered, which has certainly been evident this week with huge stock market losses followed by significant gains. What a roller coaster economically this week.
On a smaller scale, there are companies bought out by other companies, which often results in lay offs.
Even the freedoms we have are always in danger. Looking throughout history, there seem to be no guarantees about personal freedoms.

Now, is it wrong to make plans for the future? Including what you plan to do this afternoon or what schools to go to or what career you hope to find or to plan for retirement savings? My wife and I plan to take a trip in October. Is it wrong to make plans for any of that?

I don’t think so. More on that in just a bit. But the point - the teaching - is to not become overly confident that what I plan will happen.

Consider two other Bible passages that teach the same thing, one a single verse in the Old Testament, the other a quote from Jesus.

In Proverbs 27, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” We just talked about some of the things that can happen to interfere with tomorrow.

In Luke 12 is a quote from Jesus. Part of what He said when teaching one day.

Jesus shared a parable. He said, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take your ease. Eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool. This night your soul is required of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”

We do not know what tomorrow will bring. God does not share that information with us. Therefore, do not say that “today and tomorrow I will do such and such a thing and prosper.”  Why? Because we do not know about tomorrow.

In fact, James commented, "Life is a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” That is not to be interpreted as a statement of hopelessness, but as a reminder that compared to all of time, our earthly lives have not and will not last forever.

Therefore - verse 15 - instead of making definite plans - or while making plans - we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.”

That is what the apostle Paul wrote at least twice. In I Corinthians 4 he wrote, “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills.” In I Corinthians 16 he wrote, “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”

Paul planned to go to Corinth. He most certainly felt it was the Lord’s will for him to go there. But Paul wanted to be completely dependent on God, even for where he traveled.

The teaching is not to be fearful about the future. The teaching is not to refuse to plan anything.

Instead, make sure you are completely dependent on God. That you and I are willing and stay willing to let God have His way.

In fact, allowing God to have His way will allow us to obey the teaching in chapter 1 of James about meeting the trials of life with joy, knowing it is trials through which we can grow spiritually. If we let God have His way, we can know that whatever happens is His plan and He is the one who can and will help us through.

As it is - this is verse 16 - if you insist on following only your own plans, “you boast in your arrogance.” All such boasting is evil. So let God have His way. Let His plans override yours if there is a discrepancy between the two.

And then the last verse in chapter 4. Verse 17. A verse that applies to all the teachings we have discussed so far in our journey through the Book of James. “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

How does that apply to the teaching to face the trials of life with joy? We know that is what we are supposed to do. Doing anything else is short of the glory of God.

How does that apply to living out our faith? People are watching to see how we live, including how we handle the trials of life. If we are not joyful - if we act as if we do not know or understand what Jesus taught about other things such as love, kindness, compassion, living righteously in our relationships with God and with others, the need to share our faith - if we fail to live out our faith - the cause of Christ will not be promoted.

How does that apply to taming our tongues? We know our words are to encourage and unite. If our words are instead nasty and divisive, that is sin.

How does that apply to getting along - to avoiding causing or continuing conflict? We are not to speak evil. If we speak evil anyway, despite our knowing it is right to speak positively, for us that is sin.

And this, which is kind of a summary of all that is right to do. It is something Jesus said in another of His teachings, this one in answer to a question posed by a lawyer. probably a scribe who might have been genuinely interested in knowing how best to be able to interpret and explain religious law. This is recorded in both Matthew and Mark. The question was, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Here is Jesus’ answer. The first part of it. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

In the first part of His answer, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, which was a very well-known, often-recited verse from the Old Testament. As Jesus proclaimed, “This is the great and the first commandment.”

Love God. That means to make Him the priority. The most important part of your life - of all your life.

With all your heart. The heart was considered the seat of emotions, so love God with everything you feel.

With all your soul. The soul refers to the moral nature of a person. It causes whatever actions we take, so love God with every moral action you take.

With all your mind. The mind is the seat of our thoughts, so we are to love God with every thought we have. Plus, the mind is exercised as we study, so we are to study ways to please Him more.

With all your strength. Strength refers to energy. We are to use our energy to show we love God.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This, said Jesus, “is the great and first commandment.” But, He added, there is something else. Something that shows love for God. Jesus continued, “The second is this [which goes along with the first]. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

That is a quote of Leviticus 19:18, which, like the one from Deuteronomy, the one who asked the question knew well. But do we get the point?

We are to love God. In fact, that is mentioned first, so it must be done before we can obey the second thing Jesus said. We are to love God with everything we are. One was to show that is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Which, applying that to today’s passage and to the rest of the Book of James, means we are to rely on God rather than our own plans. We are to love God enough to trust Him that much.

And we are to not speak evil against others. That is a big part of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. In addition, we are not to cause wars or continue fightings. We are to tame our tongues. We are to live out our Christian faith. All that is also part of loving our neighbors.

And we are to have joy when we meet the trials of life. We can do that by relying on God’s plans rather than our own.

All that is right to do. Since we know that is right to do, failing to do that is, for us, sin.

Therefore, may I and may you - may we - know what is right. May we trust God for the strength to do what is right. May we do what is right because it will please God. What better goal can we have?

The closing song for today is a prayer that we will not only learn what is in the Book of James, which Jesus directed to be included in the Bible, but do what He wants us to do. It is Have Thine Own Way, Lord.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay!
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord! ave Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Cleanse me from sin, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power - all power - surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’til all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!

Today, may we speak well of others, doing our best to encourage and unify. May we rely on God, trusting Him to honor our plans or change them, depending on His knowledge of what is best. May we continue to know what is right to do. May we continue to do what is right to do.

All of that will please the Lord, help the body of Christ, and benefit us. Amen.

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