Dealing with the Fallout
Just by looking around this room we can see how the branches of the Wesley and Blakely family tree has grown and just blossomed. Starting in Hattie MS and spreading to places like St.Louis, Chicago, Batesville MS, Detroit, Toledo, Minneapolis, the Virginia Island and to places all over this country and world; the Blakely and Wesley descendents has grown to be numerous and mighty; in many ways we mirror the promise that God gave to Abraham and Sarah in where God promises Abram, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” Family look around and see how we have been blessed.
You know as has been our tradition, we have always held our family reunions on Father’s Day weekend. Which in many ways is reflective of God’s desire for men to be the head of their households just as Christ is the head of us.
If you were to watch many of the TV shows featuring families in the last couple of decades, you would be forgiven for believing that family life was a piece of cake. Yes it was true that families had problems, but no matter what arose, the problem was solved within half an hour or an hour if it was really serious.
Well, how many of y’all remember when the Cosby tv show was the gold standard by which black families tried to be be like. You had the ultra successful Dr. Huxtable
But in real life, the lives of some of the key characters showed that family life wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.
In real life, family life is often not the kiss and make up stuff that these TV shows were made of. For so many families, behind closed doors there is painful conflict. It shouldn’t really be surprising, because every family is comprised of mere mortals — imperfect people. And imperfect people regularly have conflicts.
Every family needs to deal with conflict at some time and at some level. Married couples fight as they try to merge two individuals into one couple. Parents disagree about how they should raise their children. Children fight with each other and their parents because they don’t get their own way.
Every family needs to be equipped to resolve conflict when they arise. The Book of Ephesians is a book about all sorts of relationships. It deals with how an individual can function as a part of a church, a marriage, a family, a workplace and even in society. The Book of Ephesians covers just about every kind of relationship one can imagine and there is one section which specifically deals with resolving conflict. Though it is written specifically for people in the church, it is practical advice that can be related to any relationship – even family relationships. So this evening, I want to spend some time looking at this passage to find some practical help in maintaining family unity.
Read if needed
Paul is here speaking to Christians who are having problems with disunity and he says (vs22) You were taught to do 3 things.
1) To PUT OFF your old self. That is the old way of life, your old way of doing things, your old attitudes, etc. The image is like an old set of clothes. You take them off and put them to one side with the aim of putting on something different. Paul says the old self which we put off is continuously being corrupted. If left to ourselves, our attitudes of selfishness quickly begin to dominate in our lives. It is all about us winning and so we keep a ledger of those people that owe us things. But Paul says that we are to firstly put off this old selfish self.
2) Then Paul says, that having put off the things that are corrupting us, we are to be MADE NEW in the attitude of your minds. This step in the equation is a renewing step. It is a renewal of our mind – our attitudes, our thoughts, our interests. The word “renew” is a word which means to renovate, to reform, to renew. It is not just speaking about restoring our grey matter and somehow recovering our ability to think, remember and process. But it is the attitude of our minds which is being restored - the attitude which shapes our thinking, our thoughts and our motives.
3) The last thing that Paul tells us to do then is to get dressed again. To PUT ON the new self, which aims to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
There are a lot of Renovation shows around these days. What happens during a renovation is very similar to what Paul is talking about here. You begin by getting rid of the old – the rubbish in the back yard, the rotten floor boards, the old run down kitchen. You must pull it right out and dump it in the skip. Then you need to renew your mind – you need to change your thoughts about what is acceptable and what is not. Once it was acceptable to have a back yard full of rubbish. Now it is not. So you change the attitude of your mind. Lastly you make the changes. You put on the new and put in a new garden, a new floorboard or a new kitchen.
But just like any renovation, the new takes maintenance. It would be so easy for the new to become neglected, rundown and worn out. The New Self needs to be constantly being renewed. Step 2 of the process – the Renewing of our minds is an ongoing process which will never end until we get to heaven.
But how does this help us in relationships and particularly in conflicts? Paul goes on to give us some very practical tips which are centred around this little 3 step process.
Tip #1 for building unity in families - Speak the truth. - Vs 25 – He says, this means that you must “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. The pattern is to put off the old – telling lies, stretching the truth, taking things out of context – and put on the new – speaking the truth.
Note that Paul says that in conflict, we need to SPEAK with one another. At times we may feel it is less painful if we just say nothing or run and hide. However, avoidance never solves any problems – it usually just increases the intensity of the conflict and the pain. The parents who smile at their unruly son and say, "He’s a typical little boy," are not helping their child—they are hurting him. The wife or husband who simply attributes a spouse’s chronic complaining to a heavy work schedule is doing the spouse no favor.
Speaking is the key, but when we speak, it must be the TRUTH.
There was a brother and sister who were very close, and always honest with each other. One evening as the brother prepared for a date, he remarked, "I’m fat."
"No, you’re not," she scolded.
"My hair is awful," he said.
"It’s lovely," she encouraged.
"I’ve never looked worse," he whined.
And she said, "Yes, you have."
This isn’t easy to do. While in the midst of conflict it is very easy for us to distort the truth without even trying. A husband comes home late from work a couple of days in a row and he is accused by his wife of not loving her anymore. A parent sets an early curfew and is accused by her child of trying to crush his social life. A brother borrows a toy and his sibling accuses him of theft. Every single one of us are guilty of blowing a situation out of proportion. Every one of us is also guilty of being over general and also being pedantically correct. You know what I mean … You are in an argument and one person says “You never listen to me.” It is an over generalisation – not true, but is said to try to emphasis the frustration. What’s the immediate answer that is fired back? You all know it “I do listen to you, I sat down and listened to you for half an hour yesterday.” Yes that is technically true, but the general thrust of the argument may still valid. To be too general or to hung up on specifics is dangerous.
To avoid all this we must speak the truth about the matter from our point of view. Rather than pointing the accusing finger, it is better to approach the other person simply explaining how we feel. It sounds like this: "When you don’t come home from work I feel like you are avoiding me." "When you give me an early curfew I feel like I’m missing out on fun with my friends." While our accusations make others defensive, explaining our feelings opens doors to conversation and resolution.
Tip 1 therefore is to speak the truth – to communicate as accurately as we can how we are feeling.
Tip #2 for building unity in families – To Control your anger.
Vs 26-27 says . “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
The verse here doesn’t say, that all anger is sin. No. It says, in you being angry, be careful that you do not sin. It is important to note here that not all anger is sinful. Christians do and should get angry. God does get angry. When people disobey Him, God gets angry. God Himself was angry when the Children of Israel disobeyed Him and worshiped false gods. Jesus was angry when he found God’s temple was turned into a marketplace where people were stealing and ripping off those who came to worship God. When people sin against God, we are likewise permitted to be angry.
BUT Paul warns us not to allow such righteous anger become SINFUL. When does anger turn into sin? When our anger turns to resentment, hostility, hatred, bitterness, revenge or violence. Someone once said that "Anger is like a fire, it finally dies out - but only after leaving a path of destruction." Paul warns that we should not let the sun go down on our anger. In modern terms – don’t go to bed still feeling angry. Because it will eat you up. You won’t be able to sleep which will make matters worse, and you will start to become bitter and twisted. Minimise the destruction anger causes by dealing with the cause as soon as possible.
Anger must not be allowed to control us. We need to deal with it and work it through quickly so that we can be reconciled again. Anger should never move us to hate, but motivate us to love.
Tip 1 is to speak the truth. Tip 2 is to control your anger.
Tip #3 for building unity in families – Build each other up.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Paul says that we are to put off unwholesome talk. This is talk which destroys, which tears down, which harms. Instead of this, Paul says, we need to say things that will build others up. As children we chant “Sticks and stones will break our bones, but names will never hurt us.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Bones heal quickly, but the injuries caused by words stick with us. Words do HURT.
Sometimes, we don’t even know what we say is hurtful. I can still remember being in grade 1 or 2. I had a bit of speech problem. I was lazy and slurred my words. My wife says I still do – it is why I married a speech pathologist – to get free help!!! I don’t have many memories of those years, but I can still remember the principal coming into our class and asking me my name. Upon hearing me say it, he laughed at me and said “what you can’t even pronounce you own name properly.” That memory has stuck with me, though I must admit I think I am over it now. But hurtful words stick with us and can dramatically affect how we look at the world and ourselves. A teacher who hands a report card filled with "C’s" to a struggling student and says, "Why can’t you be more like your sister," leaves the child to believe he is something less of a person. A husband who comments innocently to his wife that a mutual female friend is looking really good leaves the middle-aged wife of his children believing that she doesn’t look good. A disappointed wife blurts out, "All our friends have big homes and new cars while we live in this little dump and drive that heap of rusted scrap metal," leaving her husband to believe that he is a failure as a provider for his family. So many times our words have caused injury without intention—but it hurts nonetheless.
Other times, our harmful words are intentional. We lash out at the other person and call them names, knowing that they will sting. And they do sting. Badly. This is why Paul says that if we want to maintain unity and stop disharmony in our marriages and families, we need to stop harmful talk. We need to take it off and put on talk that will build others up.
This is never more important than in confrontations. We used to have a CEO at Comalco who was renowned for his ability to rip a person to shreds. If he so much as disliked the way you put up your OHT’s he could be so cutting and so destructive. Everyone feared him, but no one – absolutely no one respected him. There were not too many tears when he left the organisation. When confronting another person always remind them of your love for them and your commitment to them. Always remind them of your desire to reinforce your relationship. Don’t just tell them what they are doing wrong, offer them your help in doing things right. Don’t just point out their weakness, praise their strength. Some of you may have heard of the praise sandwich. If you want to criticise someone (constructively of course), then you must first start with praise. If you go straight for the criticism, they will become defensive and the battle lines will be drawn. But not only do they need to hear praise first, they also need to hear praise come off your lips last. It is the first and last things we hear that usually stick with us, so lets make them positive not negative. You need to say … “Honey, thanks for stacking the dishwasher all the time. I appreciate it so much, but when you do, could you put the large plates on this side, so that the soap dispensor opens fully. Thanks for all the work you do around here. I love you.”
Another tip that Paul has for us here in vs 29 is that our praises need to be matched to the needs of the individual we are trying to build up. It may be that what we think that what we are saying is complementary. We may tell our wives that “The meal was lovely tonight”, which is nice, but what they really crave is that an acknowledgment that we think they are beautiful. We need to identify the needs of others and build them up in those areas. A slap on the back doesn’t always mean encouragement – it may mean there is a mosquitoes.
So let’s tailor our words to the situations and make them supportive, not abusive. They need to be encouraging rather than discouraging. They need to benefit and not belittle. They need to build bridges rather than barriers. They should never assign blame, but they should impart grace. Paul warns in vs 30 that our words in a special way can grieve the Spirit of God. Many bible translations have translated this as the Holy Spirit of God but it is more appropriate for it to be the Spirit of God who is holy. When we become a Christian, God’s spirit comes to dwell in us. Our actions and words reflect his work in our lives. When our actions and particularly words are unwholesome, they misrepresent God’s Spirit alive in us and make him sad. So let’s make sure our words glorify God and not grieve Him.
So Tip 1 is to speak the truth. Tip 2 is to control your anger. Tip 3 is to Build each other up.
Tip #4 for building unity in families – Be Kind and Forgive.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The last tip Paul gives us in this passage is to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. Put on the clothes of kindness and compassion. This can only happen if we forgive
It is incredibly difficult to forgive others when they do things to us. Rather than forgive, we are much more likely to try to keep score as we saw in the video. We give people positive points for being good and negative points for being bad. It is not a case of forgiving and forgetting. It is a case of making a person pay for their wrong deeds by doing good.
But unforgiveness destroys relationships. If God had not forgiven us, there could be no relationship. If we don’t forgive others, there can be no relationship.
I found this diagram helpful. To build friendship, we need to walk the steps of forgiveness. We need to admit guilt, confess, forgive, be reconciled, forget and seek healing. Actually, I think that you can have forgiveness without reconciliation and that reconciliation is an optional step in many processes (e.g. a child who has been molested may never be reconciled with the one who has molested him or her. They need to forgive, but not necessarily to be best buddies. – But that may be for another night.). An important step often neglected here is the forgetting step. Someone once said, the words "’I can forgive, but I cannot forget,’ is only another way of saying, ’I will not forgive.’ Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note -- torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one." Obviously this takes time.
But if we refuse to forgive, it leads to resentment over a difference of opinion, hostility, bitterness, reactionism, revenge and the destruction of our relationship. It is a position of power over someone else that says you owe me something. I will not forgive or forget until you have made it up and then I reserve the right to dredge it up at any time in the future to make you feel guilty.
It is so much easier to harbour some resentment, hostility and bitterness. But Christ’s example for us says Paul is to FORGIVE. Forgiveness reaches out. It builds up and restores.
It is through the crucifixion that Jesus has brought us reconciliation with our Father in heaven. Because of our sin we are in conflict with God. But God’s conflict resolution involved salvation, not destruction. And salvation came through the death of our Lord. As God’s forgiven children we are also empowered and commanded to forgive one another. The ultimate goal, every time we approach another person with whom we have a conflict, is forgiveness. That was the Lord’s goal when He walked the road to the cross. That is our goal as we journey through this life.
There are a lot of benefits of forgiveness for both us and the other party. There is a promise of a
- clear conscience (),
- freedom from guilt (),
- reconciled hearts (),
- restored friendships (),
- Wounds healed (),
- Peace in our hearts () and
- love shown ()
Forgiveness means seeking a win-win solution for everyone.
Every home and every relationship runs into conflict at some point. Conflict happens among family and friends. Conflict happens at home and at work. Paul gives us some very practical advise to help us avoid conflict. I am not naïve enough to believe that it will always prevent conflict, but put into practice these four steps can greatly reduce it.
So Tip 1 is to speak the truth. Tip 2 is to control your anger. Tip 3 is to Build each other up. Tip 4 is to be kind and forgive.
Know this about conflict: It will either make our families bitter or better, depending on know we handle it. Those who approach conflict with cruelty, animosity and accusation will become bitter. Those who approach conflict with the love and forgiveness of Christ will become better and stronger. May God grant this through His grace, His mercy and His power. Amen.