A few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.
Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.
In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.
Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.
Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:
- Peter rebukes Jesus
When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).
When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.
So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.
This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.
So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.
- Peter treats Jesus like another prophet
About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).
He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.
The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!
This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.
So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.
- Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet
In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).
Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.
This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.
So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.
- Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed
After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.
Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.
This incident illustrates our human weakness.
So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.
- Peter attacked the servant of the high priest
When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.
This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.
So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.
- Peter denied knowing Christ
Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).
Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.
And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!
Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.
This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.
So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.
- Peter discriminated against Gentiles
Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.
Paul said, “When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.
Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.
This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.
So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.
Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.
In October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.
When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.
But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.
But how did Peter survive failure?
After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.
Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.
Billy Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.
Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.
How to ensure our failures aren’t final
Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.
Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?
Dealing with ongoing failures
James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.
The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.
The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.
Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Confession. The next step is to confess our failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.
Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).
Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again.
This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).
Up to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.
The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.
Lessons for us
We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.
Even Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.
The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.
Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.
Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.
Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.
Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.
So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.
Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.
The students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.
And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.
Written, December 2018
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5NIV).
This verse is part of David’s prayer of confession for his sins (adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah). The prayer demonstrates the parallelism and figurative language of Hebrew poetry. Some of the figures of speech are related to how he wanted his sin to be removed: “blot out”, “wash away” and “cleanse” (v. 1-2); “wash” with hyssop so he is “whiter than snow” (v.7); “hear joy and gladness” (the effect is substituted for the cause), and “let the bones (body) you have crushed rejoice” (v. 8).
In verse 5 he makes the parallel statements, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. This is an example of hyperbole, where the writer exaggerates to make a point. Hyperbole is used commonly in the Bible to grab our attention and cause us to stop and think about what is being said. In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “I’ve been sinful all my life” or “I’ve always been a sinner”. As such it is figurative and not literal.
David begins to use hyperbole in this prayer when he says, “my sin is always before me” (v.3). Was it on his mind 24 hours a day? No it wasn’t, but it filled his mind. He continues to use hyperbole in the next verse, “against you (God), you only, have I sinned” (v.4). What about his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah? He leaves them out because these sins were less important that his sin against God. The pattern of hyperbole continues in the next verse, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (v.5). Had David sinned from the time of his conception? No he hadn’t, but he feels so guilty it’s as if he’s been sinning all his life.
David also has similar thoughts in Psalm 58 where he asked God to punish unjust rulers. He uses hyperbole to describe them:
“Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Ps. 58:3).
This a clearly figurative language because babies don’t spread lies from birth (they can’t communicate using words). In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “they’ve been sinful all their lives”. Had they gone astray from birth? Of course not. Had they spread lies from birth? Of course not. As such it is figurative and not literal.
There are other figures of speech in the next verse where the unjust leader’s speech is described as “venom”, which is probably a metaphor for slander (v.4). This metaphor is extended to them being like a deaf snake, which implies they are deaf to the voice of God.
It would be wrong to use this Hebrew poetry in Psalms 51 and 58 to develop a theology of when sin starts in a child’s life. That topic isn’t being addressed in these verses.
Does this mean that babies are innocent? No and yes! On one hand they already have a sinful nature which is a characteristic of humanity (Rom. 3:10, 23; Eph. 2:1-3), but on the other hand, they are not yet accountable for their sin (Dt, 1:39; Is. 7:14-14; Jon. 4:11). Sinful behavior comes naturally. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish. No one is sinless (1 Jn. 1:7).
So when interpreting a passage in the Bible, we need to be careful to note its genre (is it prose or poetry?) and the occurrence of figures of speech.
Written, February 2015
Also see: If an infant dies, do they go to heaven?
A few years ago we made a photo collage of all the members of our church. Everyone’s face was in it. For various reasons some of these people no longer come to our church. More would be missing if we had photos taken 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wonder how many of these are still following Jesus today. Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith, don’t finish well. There is a danger of turning away from God. Today we are looking at two life lessons from king Saul. One is an example to follow and the other is an example to avoid.
Saul followed God
Until he met Samuel the prophet, Saul was an ordinary guy who worked for his father by doing jobs, like searching for lost donkeys. This changed when Samuel told Saul that he was chosen to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:27 – 10:1). Saul changed to follow God. The Bible says that he was changed into a different person because he received power from God; God was with him and changed his heart (1 Sam.10:6, 7, 9). He was now up with the prophets instead of down with the donkeys. The people were so amazed when he prophesied with the prophets, they exclaimed “Is Saul among the prophets” (1 Sam. 10:10).
After Saul was declared to be their king, the people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king” (1 Sam. 10:17-24). Saul had many military victories. After they defeated the Ammonites, there was a great celebration and the people renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15).
So Saul was called by God and he followed God’s leading. What a great example for those who have been called to trust in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ. The Bible says “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). We are not kings, but God has placed us in situations where we can serve Him daily.
God used Samuel to call Saul and He uses the Holy Spirit and the gospel message to call us to follow Him today (1 Th. 1:5; 2 Th. 2:14). During this period of his reign he served God faithfully. And faithfulness characterises those who follow the Lord as it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
All is going well so far for Saul. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. We now turn to the next stage of Saul’s life.
Saul turned away from God
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Next Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). He reverted. Instead of being up with the prophets, he was back down with the donkeys. Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
So Saul went from bad to worse. When he was afraid of the Philistines, he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4). Saul didn’t finish well.
What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Ephesians stopped loving the Lord and were told to repent and do the things they did at first (Rev. 2:4-5). The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter. The churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea were urged to repent and turn around to follow God once again (Rev. 2:16, 21; 3:3, 19).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world more.
The Bible says sin is the source of turning away from God. And the cure is confession of the sin and turning back towards God in repentance. David and Hezekiah and good examples of this.
Lessons for us
The two life lessons from king Saul correspond to the two stages of his reign. The first was faithful and fruitful, but the second was unfaithful and unfruitful. In the first he was godly and obedient, but in the second he was ungodly and wicked. In the first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but in the second he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although Saul’s reign started well, it didn’t finish well. Solomon followed the same pattern.
Let’s follow Saul’s good example. Let’s follow God faithfully like the first period of his reign. Let’s serve the Lord in the daily circumstances that He has given to us.
Also let’s choose to not follow his bad example. Don’t turn away from God like the second period of Saul’s reign. Keep living up here, not down there because turning away from God ruins our Christian testimony. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to turn away from God because He has provided a way to turn back to Him. Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, September 2013
Peace in a world of trouble
In the beginning of time, the Garden of Eden was a paradise and there was peace on earth. People had peace with God and peace with one another. But soon after this Adam and Eve disobeyed God and there was a radical change in the world. They attempted to hide from God; there was fear instead of peace. People had enemies; there were conflicts, disagreements and war rather than peace. They were banished from the garden and God’s presence; there were physical and spiritual barriers between them and God (Gen. 3:8-24).
We can identify with this because problems, conflict and differences of opinion are facts of life. There are two obvious reasons for this situation. Firstly, we are not clones, but are all different, having individual personalities and opinions. This is God’s design and it is good (Gen. 1:31). Secondly, we are all sinners who are selfish, and many disagreements are the direct result of sinful motives and behavior.
Jesus Christ told his followers, “In Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NIV). So, peace is possible; trouble is inevitable.
There is trouble and conflict across the world, between nations and within nations. Religious and ethnic tensions abound. Disagreements form barriers to peace in our families, our businesses and our churches. Fortunately God has provided a solution to our troubles in the peace process. It is possible to have peace with God and with others, and peace within ourselves, by following our Maker’s instructions in the Bible.
Peace is harmony and unity, understanding and goodwill. It is not just the absence of difficulties or conflict. For instance, Paul had peace in prison: he sang praises to God, while his feet were locked in stocks!
God is deeply interested in peace. He is often described as “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33). Christ was the “Prince of peace” and “He Himself is our peace” (Isa. 9:6; Eph. 2:14). The word “peace” occurs in all the books of the New Testament except 1 John.
Jesus said: “Blessed (or happy) are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Peacemakers reconcile or restore relationships. Reconciliation is the means of restoring and maintaining peace and unity. The Greek word for reconciliation means to “change” or “exchange,” especially money. When applied to people it means to change a relationship from hostility to friendship.
The attempt to build the Tower of Babel was a vivid illustration of the power of unity (Gen. 11:1-9). The people desired to build a tall tower as a monument to their greatness. They were unanimous in their opposition to God’s will. God stopped them by giving them different languages, so they couldn’t understand each other. Once they were unable to communicate, they were unable to build. The barriers between them were their different languages. Likewise, if we cannot communicate we cannot build anything together. We cannot build a marriage, a family, a business, a community, or a church if we cannot communicate.
To ensure harmony we must keep the doors of communication open. Each of us must make it a priority to stay in harmony with God and with each other. But, how can we maintain these relationships?
The Bible teaches that there is a process for dealing with the barriers that hinder our peace. This requires effort, and there is a cost involved; but we are encouraged to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). The process involves recognizing barriers to peace, destroying them and being reconciled via confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Confession is acknowledging our role in allowing the barrier to develop and being genuinely sorry for this. It reveals a change of heart and a willingness to destroy the barrier. Repentance is changed behavior; living as though the barrier has been destroyed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier down. Although barriers may be caused by either or both of the parties involved, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. As it takes two to form a relationship, two are required to heal and restore a broken one.
We all want an inner peace. The Bible teaches that this is not possible until we have peace with God and with others.
Peace With God
One reason why there is so much difficulty in achieving peace on earth is that we are not at peace with our Maker. Our sinful thoughts and behavior have separated us from God. Sin is the barrier that keeps us from having any lasting peace. We cannot have peace until we are right with God.
God says, “There is no peace … for the wicked,” and by His standards we are all wicked (Isa. 57:21). When Christ was born the angels said “peace on earth,” so God has provided a way to peace (Lk. 2:14). Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by suffering the punishment for our sin. So, we can have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” because Christ made peace through His sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:19-22). This is possible by confession, admitting our sins to Him, and believing that He will forgive us and give us peace through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). Our change of heart is evident by repentance – a change in our attitude and behavior (Acts 2:36-38).
For example, after his conversion, the Philippian jailer washed his prisoners’ wounds and invited them into his house for a meal (Acts 16:33-34). In this case the barrier was caused by humans, who were God’s enemies due to their evil behavior (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21). Only one party, God, was able to destroy the barrier and offer reconciliation to humanity (2 Cor. 5:18-19). As it takes the agreement of both parties to have peace, reconciliation only occurs when people recognize the barrier and accept God’s generous offer (2 Cor. 5:20).
“Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God. The barrier has been destroyed!
He wants to make peace with us. He wants us to be reconciled to Him. Jesus sacrificed His life and paid the full penalty for our sins, so we could experience peace both now and forever. God is the greatest peacemaker of all, as He plans to make peace with everything in the visible and the invisible world (Col. 1:20). The price was the horrible execution of His Son in the greatest injustice ever committed.
Peace With Others
Peace with other people is often referred to as “unity” – and it is wonderful and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). We are commanded to live at peace and in harmony with each other (Mk. 9:50; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 7:15).
We are to try to live at peace with everyone: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). There are no qualifications to this statement, which is consistent with the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
The illustration of the barrier to peace comes from Paul’s description of the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). They were enemies who lived in separate worlds, just as Adam and Eve were separated from the presence of God. We still see this today, as national and cultural animosity occurs across the world.
Paul claimed that Christ destroyed the barrier and enabled unity between the Jews and the Gentiles. As believers they could be “fellow citizens” and “members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:14-19). This demonstrates how peace with God should lead to peace with each other.
So, the Jewish and Gentile believers were reconciled completely, with all hostility removed and no impediment to unity and peace. Likewise, Paul urged the Corinthians to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). He states clearly that there should be unity, not divisions, in the Church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-23).
It is particularly important to make every effort to maintain peace and unity among Christians (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3). After all, He died to bring together all of God’s scattered people and make them one (Jn. 11:51-52). Unity among believers was so important to Jesus that it was the subject of His prayer for them during the final hours of His life on earth: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:20-23).
The Greek word for “one” appears four times in these verses, the last occasion being translated as “complete unity.” Here “one” is a metaphor for union, concord, and unity and the example to follow is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son. The same word was used when Christ said “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).
The reason for this unity is repeated in the above verses: so the people of this world will know that Christ was sent by God. Another reason is so they may know something of God’s great love for humanity. This means that Christ tied His reputation and the credibility of His message to how well His followers display unity and oneness.
Peace and unity among believers are so important that Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation with a believer even ahead of worship: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). This means that the peace process – of destroying barriers and seeking reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness – should be applied regularly to maintain our relationships with others.
Peace With Self
Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, order, rest and security. Although nearly everyone longs for this kind of peace, it eludes many. If you want to experience internal peace, you must seek harmonious relationships with God and with those around you.
Christians can experience peace within: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Although sin hinders our peace, God has provided a way to destroy this barrier: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). After confession and repentance we experience God’s forgiveness that removes guilt and restores peace. In this way, we should regularly apply the peace process to ourselves in order to ensure peace and communication with God on a daily basis.
Inner peace and security is a gift of God to those who believe in His Son and obey His commands, including loving one another (1 Jn. 3:21-24). It is a result of right living: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:6).
Those who have not come to trust in Christ do not know what true peace is (Rom. 3:17). They oppose Christianity; there is division instead of unity, war instead of peace, and hate instead of love (Mt. 10:34-36; Lk. 12:51-53; 1 Jn. 3:12-13). In this sense the gospel divides people according to whether they accept it or not (Acts 14:4). God wants peace, reconciliation and unity in our world; not conflict, separation and division. Peace is the result of reconciliation and unity. Do you have peace with those around you? Do you have peace with God?
Published, November 1999
Also see: Dealing with disagreements
Our attitude towards illness and healing
We all experience ill health from time to time! What should be our attitude about it? Does God promise good health? Will He always answer prayers for healing?
Healing In The Early Church
The gift of healing was evident in the early Church (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30), and when crowds gathered around Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas, the sick were healed. Even when they were touched by Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief or apron, they were healed (Acts 5:15-16; 19:11-12). Dorcas and Eutychus were brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). Everybody knew about these healings and were astonished (Acts 4:16; 8:13).
In this context Luke wrote: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12 NIV). And Paul asserted that such “signs, wonders and miracles” characterized the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). They helped to confirm that the gospel message was divine (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4), and that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In particular, the Jews were more likely to believe something associated with a miracle (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22). How else could the apostles prove that Christ had sent them? These miracles confirmed the gospel message.
When God’s People Get Sick
I’ve heard people say that Christians should never suffer illness because Jesus has already suffered for us. They are wrongly using Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, because these verses tell us that the Lord suffered for our sins, not our sicknesses. Let’s look again at the New Testament epistles to see what they say about healing today.
Paul wrote this to those in Galatia: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Gal. 4:13-14). Paul, the man that God used to write much of the New Testament, suffered illness. This shows that godliness did not keep him from getting sick, nor will it keep us from getting sick.
After he saw a vision of heaven, Paul wrote: “To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Lord didn’t heal Paul of his “thorn,” which may have been an eye disease (Gal. 4:15; 6:11). God does not always heal us either.
Paul left Trophimus, a coworker, sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And he wrote this about another coworker, Epaphroditus: “He was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Here we see that healing is a mercy, not a promise that we should expect or demand.
In the case of Paul and Epaphroditus, while their spiritual condition was good, their physical condition was not so good. This shows that healing does not depend on the strength of our faith or the lack of it. Paul prayed three times about his “thorn,” and then accepted it. God doesn’t remove all our pain, and He doesn’t fix everything. In fact the Bible promises suffering for believers (Jn. 16:33). We should pray like Christ: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Paul told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Timothy was often ill, maybe because of a weak stomach, so Paul’s advice was to use a little wine. He wasn’t told just to pray about it, but to do something. And wine was a commonly prescribed medical treatment to help heal stomach ailments.
Paul wrote to Gaius: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn. 2). It seems as though Gaius was not well physically. Paul prayed that his physical health would match his spiritual health.
We can see the following four things from these examples: sickness is not necessarily a result of one’s sin; we can’t gauge a person’s spiritual state from his physical state; if a person isn’t healed, it’s not due to a lack of faith; and no promise of physical healing is given to the Church. Although we should pray for healing, there is no guarantee that healing will come. After all, if the Lord doesn’t return to rapture us, we will all eventually die.
Confession Of Sin
James wrote this about sickness and sin: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:14-16).
This passage connects physical sickness, prayer, sin, forgiveness and healing. Was this person sick as a direct result of some sin? The elders were called to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. As oil was traditionally used to dedicate people and things to God’s service (Ex. 30:30; 40:9), it may symbolize dedicating the sick person to the Lord’s care. People today can pray for recovery as God promises healing under these circumstances.
In Corinth, the sin of selfishness – “not recognizing the body of the Lord” at their love feasts – brought sickness and sometimes death (1 Cor. 11:30). This example links our physical and our spiritual health. For our health, we need to confess sins – such as selfishness, worry, anger, jealousy, pride and gluttony – and develop selfcontrol in these areas of our life. Selfcontrol is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a significant aid to good health.
How God Uses Illness
The Bible gives five examples of how we can actually benefit from illness.
1. It reveals God’s power. After Paul prayed to have his “thorn” removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). God gives strength to suffer because His power is more evident when we’re weak.
2. It helps us rely more on God. Paul claimed that his troubles “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Here we see that the allpowerful God will give us the strength to endure through suffering.
3. It gives us a reason to give thanks. According to Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor.1:10-11). The Corinthians prayed for Paul when he was in trouble, and their prayers were answered.
4. It gives us experiences that can help others. Paul said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). People are encouraged when we empathize with their situation. They see that someone understands. How we suffer illnesses can be an example for others.
5. It develops our spiritual character. Paul wrote that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Enduring sickness can develop perseverance (2 Cor. 1:6), just as exercise develops physical strength. God uses suffering to mold character and help us realize that He’s working in us.
Paul wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). He wanted to live like Christ did. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. God uses illness to draw us closer to Him, to teach us lessons we would learn in no other way and to provide us with new opportunities to help others.
We have no choice about when we will experience the pain of illness and injury, but we have a choice in how we respond. To give up, complain or wallow in selfpity in tough times, stumbles weak believers who are watching us (Heb. 12:12-13). Instead, we should encourage those that are weary (Isa. 50:4) by accepting pain and sickness as being God’s will for us, and live a life of perseverance, patience and endurance (2 Th. 1:4; Heb. 12:7-11; Jas. 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11). The Bible teaches that God uses difficult times for our growth.
Lessons For Us
Although there were many miraculous healings in the early Church, today healing is a mercy, not a promise. Remember, Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh. When God does not heal, it’s not because of our lack of faith. Instead, He wants us to persevere in sickness and pain so that His power may be revealed, that we may rely more on Him, that there will be prayer and thanksgiving, that we can use our experience to help others, and that we can develop our Christian character.
God is more concerned about our spiritual health than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our physical health, but as our bodies wear out, they should wear out while serving Him. Let’s get our priorities right. God wants us to be spiritually healthy, and looking forward to that time when sickness and suffering are no more.
Published May 2010
How can we live in harmony with each other?
Although we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, peace is possible through Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ’s followers are to be like Him and work at maintaining harmonious relationships with fellow human beings.
The peace process destroys barriers and seeks reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Here we consider some practical ways to destroy barriers to peace between people and bring reconciliation.
A mediator takes into consideration the interest of both parties that are separated (Gal. 3:20). They approach each party in order to communicate and build a relationship (Rev. 3:20). If successful, the barrier is destroyed and the parties are brought together (1 Pet. 3:18). For mediation to be successful, both parties must be willing to be reconciled to one another. For example, because the Jewish leaders refused Christ’s help, they were never reconciled (Mt. 23:37; Jn. 5:40).
Deal with your own faults
A peacemaker begins by dealing with their own faults. This is difficult because we readily see faults and problems elsewhere, but fail to see them in ourselves (Mt. 7:3-5). If this is not addressed, we are hypocrites and will not have the respect of others. We must realize that being a Christian does not guarantee Christ-like behavior.
This means facing up to your faults first. Identify the idols in your life; the things that are taking God’s place; the attitudes and motives that lead to sinful behavior. Is there pride and arrogance; hedonism, living for physical pleasure; love of money or possessions; fear of people; obsessive desires? Have you failed to meet your responsibilities (Jas. 4:17)? Have you spoken harshly, distorted the truth or spread gossip? Are you treating others as you want them to treat you (Mt. 7:12)? Do you thrive on conflict? Have you heightened the barriers to peace with others?
Seek God’s help through the Scriptures, prayer and the assistance of a close friend or relative who can be more objective than you.
We should take responsibility for our wrongs and apply the peace process to destroy the barrier and restore peace by confessing our failures to all directly affected, and repenting by changing the way we think and behave.Once you have dealt with your contribution to a conflict, you may approach others about theirs (Mt. 7:5).
Can the barriers be overlooked?
If barriers to peace still exit, the next step is to consider whether they can be overlooked. Some conflicts are not worth fighting over and should be settled quickly.
We should not make judgements on debatable matters (Rom. 14:1). For instance, don’t criticize believers with different opinions to yours on non-essential matters. In this case it was whether to eat food offered to idols, or whether one day was more sacred than another. Our response to viewpoints that differ from ours must honor God, advance His kingdom and benefit others (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1).
Also, you may be overly sensitive to the wrongs of others. Be careful not to exaggerate the height of the barrier!
By overlooking minor offences we can imitate God’s great forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13): “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8-10).
Some tests for assessing when a problem or a sin is too serious to overlook are (Ken Sande 1991, “The Peacemaker”, Baker Books):
- Is it damaging your relationship? Has it created a barrier between you and the other person? Has it caused you to think differently toward them for more than a short period of time?
- Is it dishonoring to God? Is it doing serious harm to God’s reputation? Will others think less of God, His church or of His Word?
- Is it hurting others? Is it threatening the peace and unity of the church?
- Is it hurting the offender? Has the sin significantly hurt their spiritual health and reduced their usefulness for God?
Respond to the barriers by investigating the matter
Anything that has disrupted the peace and unity between Christians must be identified, talked over and made right.
The most appropriate response to significant barriers is to recognize and acknowledge them and seek a peaceful settlement through conciliation. It is the collaborative approach of a peacemaker that uses discussion, negotiation and mediation in an attempt to destroy the barriers and bring reconciliation. The objective is to rebuild and restore relationships with others.
After an allegation was made the Israelites were advised; “you must investigate it thoroughly” (Dt. 13:14). As there are usually at least two sides to every story, it is important to talk to all the parties involved (Josh. 22:13-14; 31-34; Mt. 18:15-17). Of course, a charge against another person must be supported by at least two or three witnesses. This is particularly true in the case of elders (1 Tim. 5:19).
Go and be reconciled
Peacemaking is not a passive process. Remember, Christ came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace. Likewise we should actively pursue peace with those who oppose and mistreat us. God is depending on us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
If the offence cannot be overlooked then it must be confronted face-to face. The word for the peacemaker is “go”; “… go and be reconciled to your brother”; “… go and show him his fault” (Mt. 5:24; 18:15). Christians are to be initiators of reconciliation.
The sequence of events is summarized in the diagram as: confront the barrier, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. A biblical example is, “… If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). We should forgive one another, as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Christ expects His followers to practise forgiveness.
The peacemaker must calm the storm before there can be peace. For example, when the disciples were on the lake during a storm, they did not feel safe until Christ calmed the storm (Mt. 8:23-27). This means that the cause of the problem must be dealt with properly through cooperative negotiation and the barriers destroyed before there can be genuine peace.
A good approach is to give people an opportunity to explain their behavior by asking questions and listening to their explanations (Gen. 3:9-13; Acts 5:8). Unfortunately we often pre-judge on the basis of unreliable information. As in law, others should be assumed to be innocent until the evidence is conclusive.
The method of responding to significant barriers to peace is outlined in Mt. 18:15-17. Firstly talk it over in private, by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If this is not successful, involve other conciliators and then church elders. Finally, after all avenues have been exhausted, a stubborn party should be treated as a nonbeliever; as they are behaving like one by disregarding Scripture and the church. Each step of this process should be done as Christ would do it (Mt. 18:20).
The bible includes may examples of barriers developing between people and individuals. As he had obtained the inheritance from Isaac by deception, Jacob was estranged from Esau. Before there could be reconciliation, Jacob sent gifts to Esau and he wrestled with God who caused his hip to be injured and he walked with a limp (Gen. ch. 32-33).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Before there could be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph put them through a series of tests to see if they had changed their hearts and to enable Benjamin to be there (Gen. ch. 42-45).
Moses accepted advice from his father-in-law; criticism is more effective when coupled with a recommendation (Ex. 18:13-26). The daughters of Zelophehad brought their concern to Moses and were willing to compromise; go to those who can change the situation and don’t be deterred by traditions (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). This was a bold step for women in those days.
The western tribes of Israel were satisfied after the eastern tribes explained their motives; always verify the truth of a matter before making accusations (Josh. 22:15-30). Daniel was reconciled with Melzar because he offered a win-win solution (Dan. 1:8-16).
Saul wanted to kill David. Jonathan acted as a mediator between the two, he spoke up for David and Saul promised to change and not kill David. Jonathan then convinced David that he was now safe and they were reconciled (1 Sam. 19:1-7). Unfortunately this peace was only brief.
Paul and Barnabas were reconciled with legalists after face-to-face discussion (Acts 15:1-29). Later Paul questioned Peter publicly after the latter’s hypocrisy and legalism affected the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14).
Although the prodigal was reconciled with his father, his brother was not; don’t be influenced by third parties who have their own agendas (Lk. 15:25-32).
In order to resolve a conflict Euodia and Syntche were encouraged to: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, pray, look for good aspects, and put biblical guidelines into practice (Phil. 4:2-9).
Everyone wants peace and harmony, but they don’t want to change. Why don’t you change first?
The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26). Any barriers hindering relationships should be destroyed as soon as possible because they are often the work of Satan who can use us to accuse one another (Rev. 12:10). The longer an enemy is given territory, the more damage is caused.
All believers should be peacemakers (Jas. 3: 17-18). God wants you to work for peace: in your family, in your business life and in the local church.
How do you respond to barriers to peace? Are you a peacemaker, a peace-faker or a peace breaker? Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
Summary: Dealing with disagreements
The Peacemaker – Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; James 3:17-18
- Overlooks minor offences and debatable matters (Romans 14:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)
- Responds to barriers to peace (Matthew 5:24; 18:15)
- Confronts barriers to peace (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Brings reconciliation wherever possible
Written, April 2003
Also see: Peace, Reconciliation and Unity