St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2013

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It happens again and again, all over the world.  A couple meets. Maybe they see each other across a crowded room at a party. Something “clicks.” A romance begins. They fall in love. After a time they stand at the front of the church pledging their lives and love to one another. Their family and friends look on with beaming smiles. Everyone agrees that they are such a perfect couple. So well suited!

But at some point after this idyllic scene, problems appear. The couple begins to discover that they are not as compatible as they had thought. The romance fades. Conflicts grow more intense and frequent. They finally conclude that they are no longer in love and go their separate ways, looking for and hoping to find someone the next time around who will be more compatible.

But the problem is rarely a lack of compatibility –the truth is no two people are compatible. The problem is not knowing how to solve conflicts God’s way, or not being willing to try God’s way. Any two people who live together in the closeness of marriage are going to have conflicts.  A good marriage isn’t one where two compatible people never have conflicts; a good marriage is one where two self-willed people have learned to work out their differences in Christian love. I suggest that you will have a satisfying marriage to the degree that you learn to solve your conflicts God’s way. You don’t need to find a more compatible mate as much as you need to learn how to become a more compatible mate. This principle also has a bearing on our friendships.

How to do this is contained in our Epistle lection this morning. We can solve conflicts if we put off what S Paul calls “your former way of life, your old self” and “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God”.  Isaiah 53:6 suggests that there is a strong, indwelling disposition to do what we want rather than what God wants: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way.” That former way of life, or if you like our sin, pits us against one another and the result is conflict.

A number of other factors also, when coupled with our inclination to sin, lead to conflicts: we come from different cultures or backgrounds and experiences such as the type of family to which we belong; where we’re from; our income levels, etc. We have different habit patterns; different convictions and values; different goals; different perspectives and ways of thinking. But with all these factors, the underlying reason for conflicts is our “former way of life” which is self-seeking, living to gratify its own desires.

But when you view your life from the perspective of faith in Jesus Christ, a radical change takes place: you became a new person in Christ. Our bent toward sin is not eradicated, but God makes each of us a new person. You must believe what God says -- that you are a new person in Christ; and you must act upon that truth in your behaviour.

So what is the solution to conflicts? There must be complete truthfulness if communication is to take place so that conflicts can be resolved.

At first blush, you may think, “That’s not my problem. I don’t lie; I’m honest.” But because we fear confrontation, or because “we don’t want to cause trouble,” or because we’re afraid that if our real feelings were revealed, the relationship might suffer, we often fail to speak the truth. In counselling those who were ready to divorce their spouses, when asked if they’ve ever talked honestly with the other person about the problems, they often say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that! They’d explode!” So they’d rather divorce than speak truthfully about their problems!

S Paul uses the analogy of the body here. If you get leprosy, your hand when it’s in pain does not communicate truthfully with your brain. You can actually burn your fingers off without knowing it. For healing and correction to take place, there must be truthful communication. You can’t deal with a problem you’re not aware of. To plaster over our feelings or thoughts and put on a happy face when there is a problem does not foster healthy relationships. In reality, that kind of behaviour is more destructive than “speaking the truth in love.”

I’m not suggesting that a couple be ruthlessly honest in sharing everything. Some things don’t need to be shared. I can’t give a formula on what not to share but I will say this: The motive in speaking the truth must not be selfish - to gain the upper hand, to further one’s own happiness, or “just to get it off my chest.” The motive must be to grow in godliness

The former way of life to which S Paul alluded is motivated by selfishness, out to get what one can for oneself, preferably without any effort. Such a person looks out for their own needs and isn’t concerned about the needs of the other, except to exploit them for their own benefit. But you can never resolve conflicts if both parties are trying to exploit or to enrich themselves at the other’s expense.

The new self, however, is not lazy or self-centred. This self works hard in order to give to the other person. This new self looks out for the needs of their mate and tries to meet those needs, even if it means hard work for themselves. They are not in the relationship for what they can take, but for what they can give. Instead of complaining, “My mate isn’t meeting my needs,” they ask, “Am I meeting my mate’s needs?”

Ogden Nash has a wise bit of verse: “To keep your marriage brimming with love in the loving cup, when you’re wrong admit it, when you’re right, shut up.”

To resolve conflicts, put off the selfish behaviours of the old self and put on the loving behaviours of the new self. This opens the door for helpful communication and problem solving.

Also, we can’t separate our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. S John, in chapter 4 of his first epistle says that if we say we love God, but we do not love our brother, we’re deceived. If a person claims to be a Christian, but is living for self, shredding relationships with those in the family and in the church, that person had better examine their relationship with God.

If there’s frequent conflict in your home, I’d ask you to examine yourself. Are you putting off the selfish behaviour of the old self and putting on the loving behaviour of the new self out of a desire to please the Lord who gave himself so that you could be forgiven? The bad news is: Yes, you, your spouse and children are incompatible! The good news is: In Christ, there can be true harmony and the resolving of conflicts if we learn to put off the old way of life and put on the new life God has graciously provided for us.
May God bless you as you live out the life of the new self created according to the likeness of God.



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