Conflict Management

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"Miss Martin, 44, and her four guests had just finished eating when the seat of one of her new glass chairs ... gave way. Trapped in the metal frame of the seat was Margaret Stewart, 47 ... Miss Martin and her other guests helped to free Miss Stewart who then went to the bathroom to attend to a graze on her bottom. Composure regained, the guest was found another chair and the evening continued. The embarrassed hostess thought nothing more about the incident until along with the thank-you cards received after the party came a letter from Miss Stewart, with whom she had been friends for three years, asking for compensation ... Then this week she received a letter from Miss Stewart's solicitor demanding damages for personal injuries and "consequential losses" ... The letter from the Bristol-based firm Lyons Davidson said: "We ... consider that you were negligent under the Occupiers' Liability Act for providing defective seating. Our client claims out-of-pocket expenses and will be claiming damages for personal injuries."

That is a newspaper report from 19 May. And it said that all Miss Stewart had was "a slight graze". Now, that - or the equivalent - it seems, was the sort of thing that went on at dinner parties in Corinth and dinner parties among Christians! In our studies in 1 Corinthians we have come to chapter 6 verses 1-8. Last time we looked at 1 Corinthians we were dealing with sexual immorality - chapter 5 verse 1:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife.

This time we are dealing not with sex but with greed. And greed often goes with sexual immorality. Corinth was a rich and a prosperous trading city. But the Corinthians, certainly and sadly Corinthians in the church, were greedy and mean. You can see this from the second letter where Paul contrasts, tactfully, the generosity of the very poor Macedonian Christians from the north of Greece and their Christian giving, with the tight-fistedness of the Corinthians in the South

And all this is what the bible calls "worldliness". It is where the values of the world invade the church. As people ignore God and eternity, the present moment and pleasure in the present moment become everything. And sex offers you instant gratification and so does money. And when money becomes all important in a person's life, before long you have dishonesty. In the church in Corinth you had both greed and dishonesty. Look at verse 8 of chapter 6:

you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

So in a culture not only of sex but also of greed, what should you do? Well, that is the question I want us to address this morning. And I want to have as my headings, first, WHAT NOT TO DO and then secondly, WHAT TO DO and I want to spend longer on the positive guidance this passage gives rather than on the negative prohibition.

But first, the negative prohibition - WHAT NOT TO DO

Verse 1:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?

Christian people were daring to do this and so be just like the world. They were being litigious and using the secular courts to make money out of one another. They are like so many in America and Britain today. And there are two reasons why people are litigious – certainly in the modern world?

First, as we have suggested, there is simple greed. I remember the first time I ever went to America. I was on route for Canada in the 1970's. In New York I was trying to get to a taxi that was parked in the second and outer traffic lane. However, on the inside lane another taxi was moving off and it ran completely over my foot. The driver realized what he had done and stopped. A crowd then gathered and what I heard from the people around were chants of "sue him, sue him". This was my introduction to the litigious culture. It was rather unpleasant. All I was bothered about was not having to go to a hospital for treatment as the following day I had to be in Toronto for a wedding. But greed subordinates everything else to itself.

Secondly, people are litigious because there is a break down of morality that gives rise to an increase of laws on the statute book. This, of course, gives new scope for litigation. As people reject God and the bible, so Parliament has to work overtime.

It was Burke who once said: "society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without."

And the volume of law and regulation that now comes out of Westminster and Whitehall proves that. With the breakdown of a moral consensus on what is right and what is wrong; with a breakdown of honesty; and with an increase of lying, trust goes out and law comes in. So, to take one example, the Broadcasting Act in 1980 - the time I first came across Broadcasting law - it was like a small pamphlet. However, the Broadcasting Act in 1990, with which I was directly involved, was a large fat tome, and there were (and are) a plethora of additional codes of practice. You can parallel that with a number of other important pieces of modern legislation, not least the Children's Act. Much of the legislation is to restrain wrongdoing and abuse that would never have been dreamt of before.

But Paul is saying to the Corinthians, if you have a dispute with a fellow Christian - whatever may be going on in the world (and necessarily going on in the world for the sake of justice) - this shouldn't go on in the church. For taking each other to court is a bad witness. The pagan world said "see how these Christians love one another." That was the great pulling power of the gospel - the changed lives of believers. But to squabble over financial matters in public was then (and is now) scandalous. So, what not to do, - do not be litigious.

WHAT then are you TO DO when you have a problem or a situation of conflict with another Christian? Paul is suggesting three things:

a) THINK OF HEAVEN AND ESPECIALLY THE DAY OF JUDGMENT and so keep things in perspective. Look at verses 2-3:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

That reminds us that there is going to be a day of judgement - a day of reckoning. How foolish, therefore, to live as though the present and this life was everything. To think of eternity and judgment is one of the greatest antidotes to greed and the complacency that goes with it. That was the point of Jesus' parable of The Rich Fool in Luke 12. Do you remember what the rich fool said to himself?

'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.

Yes, there is going to be a day of judgment. The bible is clear in its general teaching. And here we are told that believers will be involved with Christ in the process of judgment. Verse 2:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?

And in verse 3 we are told we will judge angels. Similarly Jesus had said (Mat 19:28):

I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then the bible is clear - crystal clear - that the person who believes in Christ will be secure for all eternity. That is the great message of the epistle to the Romans on judgment:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

However, and this is often forgotten, there will also be judgment for believers. This truth was particularly important for the Corinthians.

Paul says to the Corinthians in his second letter to them:

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5.10).

But you say, "How can Paul write that? Isn't this the Paul who writes in Romans 8, 'Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?' And isn't his argument that there is no-one and nothing that can 'separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord'?"

You say, "Isn't that the gospel - or good news - for those who repent and turn to Christ and in faith receive his forgiveness and new life?" The answer is emphatically, "Yes!" So is Paul inconsistent? No!

Paul had written to these same Corinthians, who in their culture of greed and dishonesty are now fighting each other and going to the secular courts - Paul had written to them, you may remember, in chapter 3 and spoken about building on Jesus Christ and no one else. He was talking about the "rewards" (not "punishments" but "rewards") that will come to Christian workers. So he said (3.10) "each one should be careful how he builds." He then went on to say this in verse 12:

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul is saying your relationship with God is never at stake. He loves you and forgives you through Christ and his cross. But the reward you receive will be related to your work. And we are called to different kinds of work. One day, however, your work will be evaluated - not your person but your work! In the same way Jesus suggests there will be distinctions in punishments for the wicked (Luke 12.47).

With regard to the second coming of Christ, to judgment, to heaven and to hell, there is so much we don't know.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever(Deut 29.29).

And what is revealed is that we are secure in Christ. But what is also revealed is that our work will be assessed. How is God going to assess your life's work? And even if up to this moment you have made a mess of your life, in what is left, however long or short, you can be significant for God. Remember, God is good and gracious and we live under grace not law.

Earlier this year I met a man in the United States who seemed very ordinary. I then discovered he was very rich. But late on in his life he had been converted. He then started putting his money to good use in God's service. You may not have money, but you may have a good brain, or a personality, or a gift of getting on with people, or musical ability, or you are good with children, or you have that most precious of all gifts - time - and you can pray or baby-sit or visit the ill or do a host of other things.

What we "do" in life and not just what we "believe" is important, according to the plain meaning of the bible's teaching on judgment. But we can "do" nothing in terms of eternity apart from Jesus Christ.

Who needs, this morning, to start trusting in Christ for the first time? You can then start to work for him.

So Paul's teaching on judgment in this letter to the Corinthians (and especially in this section) is to remind them of the bigger picture. That puts their petty squabbles into perspective. Look at the second part of verse 2:

And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

The first thing, then, under "what to do" in these conflict situations, is to think of heaven and especially the day of judgment. That will help keep things in perspective. Then …

b) you are to KEEP THINGS IN HOUSE.

Verses 4-6:

Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers!

Paul is saying to the Corinthians: "You ought to be able to appoint even people who are fairly humble members to sort out these things. But, as it is, you Corinthians are a church full of clever people. So, of course, you can sort out difficulties yourselves in house."

Now, we must be careful. The bible doesn't teach that Christians should never make use of the courts. No! Paul himself appealed to Caesar and so to the supreme Court of his day when there was no other way of securing justice.

Nor does the bible teach that Christians should never be public in their controversies. Personal disputes should be solved privately - look at Matthew 18. But when Peter had been leading the church in Antioch astray, Paul, we are told in Galatians 2, "opposed him to his face" and "in front of them all". If people have publicly been teaching error, they must be publicly rebuked.

So today, if some Bishop publicly, in the media, utters heresy, he has to be contradicted publicly, in the media. It is no good just writing a private letter of complaint or rebuke. There needs to be a public rebuke so that the world, as well as the church, is not confused.

But Paul is not dealing here with these sorts of issues. Here you have "one brother go[ing] to law against another - and this in front of unbelievers!" over private money issues. I've known this to happen in a church when a member of the congregation who was a builder did work for another member and they thought his work was shoddy. That sort of thing can lead to tensions. But Paul says, "keep these things in house". Don't go to law in front of unbelievers". That is a bad witness. So the second thing "to do" in a Christian conflict situation of this sort is to keep things in house. But …

c) there is another option - DO NOTHING

Verses 7-8:

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

This side of heaven, problem solving usually involves a "trade off". Win-win solutions are what the management books talk about. But in reality true win-win solutions are very rare. Certainly there was no such solution in Corinth. Paul makes it clear that going to court was a trade down - verse 7:

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.

This was a disastrous trade-down - "a complete defeat". Christians suing Christians left a bad taste all round. Whatever was gained at Corinth by going to court was not a plus. So, says Paul, why not do nothing? Verse 7b:

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

It was Jesus who said (Mat 5:40):

If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

I must conclude. So let me summarize the message of these verses. Beware of greed. Greed can lead to litigiousness. But Christians should not go to court with fellow Christians over private money disputes. Rather, one, think of heaven and the day of judgment - that will keep things in perspective. Two, keep any conflicts "in house" - sort them out with the help of another Christian, not with a pagan outsider. And, three, consider ignoring the whole thing and doing nothing.

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