One of the shows that I’ve really loved over the years is Wild America with Marty Stouffer. I love the beauty and the drama that is highlighted in basically my own back yard. One of my favorite scenes is captured below. Watch it as an illustration of what I’m about to say, and then read on.
If we observe nature today, it becomes apparent that God has given His creation two basic options for dealing with what might be called conflict. It’s a mechanism biologists call Fight or Flight. When faced with opposition, which usually amounts in the animal kingdom to something trying to eat you or take your mate, an animal will either attack the other one or will run from the other one. We saw both responses in the clip. The arctic hare and the red squirrel chose flight. The lynx when attacked by the cougar chose to fight. These are really the only two options in the natural order.
However, in the Kingdom of God, these are not the only two options. There’s one more: fight, flight, or get right. In fact, in the kingdom of God, fight or flight is erased, even in the animal world. There was no fight or flight in the Garden of Eden, and there will be none in the age to come. We know this truth from prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-10:
- Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.
We see the same basic erasure of fight or flight in Isaiah 65:24-25:
- “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Now, of course, this reality is still to come in the animal kingdom. Goats and leopards are not best of buds now. There’s not even the potential of that without miraculous intervention from God. However, it is possible now among humanity, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ in the same church. You see, while the entire earth is not yet under the reign of the Kingdom of God, God’s children are. Therefore, the Kingdom is not just a future reality. It’s already here. It’s not fully here yet, but it’s already here. Jesus is spiritually ruling even now from heaven over the universal church and will one day physically rule over the entire earth. The Kingdom of God is here!
Therefore, because we in the church are already in the Kingdom of God, we have a third option that isn’t available to the natural order. I call it Getting Right. The Bible calls it peace and unity. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 says, Live in peace with one another. Psalm 133:1 says, Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! This is what I mean by Getting Right.
While all Christians have this third option, it is not often the one we choose. You see, in order to go down the path of this third option—getting right, peace-making, unity-building—we must be led by the Spirit. However, we are instead often led by the flesh and its wicked desires, leading us to either fight or flight
Let’s look at the Fight response for just a moment. When conflict arises, we tend to go this way when we want to win at all costs. Winning or being right is more important than preserving relationship. On one side of the fight coin, we get loud and aggressive. We may turn up the rhetoric, threaten, intimidate, gossip, slander, be obnoxiously skeptic, be always defensive, be overly critical and nit-picking, or get physical.
Yes, this sort of thing even happens amongst Christian brothers. I’ll never forget the first leadership meeting I had with the youth pastors of the Hopkinsville Youth Ministry Network (HYMN) back when I was a youth pastor in 2005. Before the meeting was over, one of the other youth pastors had invited another outside to handle their disagreement “like men.” While the aggressive youth pastor was wrong in saying that, he was right about one thing. He was handling the situation like sinful man instead of like Holy God. This sort of thing happens more than we would like to admit, but it usually doesn’t get to this level. It usually stays at something lower in the list above.
The other side of this fight coin is when we don’t become outwardly aggressive, but we become passive aggressive. We quietly fly under the radar trying to obstruct or hinder things. We ask pointed questions that are actually accusations. We work secretly to gather coalitions.
We’ve all seen this sort of behavior both inside and outside the church. Let’s be honest, we’ve probably all been guilty of this sort of behavior. This is the enemy of peace. It’s grieves the Spirit as Ephesians 4:29-32 teaches us:
- Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Furthermore, fighting is anti-Holy-Spirit. It’s a fruit of the flesh and not of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:16-21:
- But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Fighting is really a losing situation for all involved, even for the “winner.” The “winner” probably loses a brother and his testimony. The “loser” is usually embittered and discouraged. Jesus and the church are defamed. The only one who wins when we fight amongst ourselves is the devil. Therefore, we should strive to be ruled by the Spirit and avoid the fight response.
Let’s turn our attention to the flight response now. There are two types. The first is to just live in denial or sweep it under the rug. You might not be able to see dirt under the rug, but it’s still there. It’s not properly dealt with and disposed of, and it’ll eventually come back to haunt you.
It’s sort of like how I used to clean my room sometimes when I was a kid. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of actually putting everything in its proper place. So, I would just open my closet, throw everything in there, and slam the door. The only problem is that when I opened the door the next time, it would all come falling out on me. I didn’t deal with the situation, and it came back to haunt me.
That’s what happens when we choose the flight response of denial, but there’s another type of flight in which you just leave. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…right out the door, never to return. How many times have we seen this response in the church? Entire churches have been spawned on such action! I know because I pastor one.
Just like denial, leaving solves nothing. The problem is still there. The two in conflict just steer clear of one another while they fume in their hearts toward each other.
I’m not saying that’s there’s never a time to leave a church, but often it’s not for good reason. Usually it’s simply because something didn’t go “my” way. Leaving is typically built on the following three false assumptions:
- The grass is greener somewhere else. The truth is that there’ll be conflict wherever you go until Jesus returns and makes all things new.
- God can’t fix this. The truth is that you don’t want to put forth the effort to fix this and are robbing God of His opportunity to bring good out of conflict. Remember that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). That promise includes conflict.
- My comfort is more important than church unity. The truth is that God doesn’t call us to comfort. He calls us to peace, which requires us to do some very uncomfortable things.
Leaving is simply running away from the problem just like the hare ran away from the lynx in the video above.
So, neither fight nor flight is a godly option. This leaves us with the third option, which is Get Right. In other words, handle the situation with the goal of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Those are the three goals of getting right with one another.
Repentance has to happen first. The person who offended the other must turn from that sin and ask forgiveness. However, there’s usually a precursor to this step. While it might be that the offending person just makes this step out of a tender heart, it’s likely the case that the offended person has to point out that an offense has happened. The person must be shown his or her sin. Perhaps they didn’t know they had offended, or perhaps their heart was hardened in their sin and didn’t care if they offended.
It’s for this reason that Jesus’ words to us in the Gospels are so important. In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells us, If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Jesus realized that it often takes a rebuke—which doesn’t necessarily imply harshness—to help a person toward repentance. Jesus points us to the same truth in Matthew 18:15, If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. We must realize that we who are offended or sinned against will often have to take the first step, which Lord willing will lead to repentance.
Once repentance is gained, then comes the step of forgiveness. I recently defined forgiveness this way: forgiveness, whether from God or man, is the release of the sinner from the condemnation, bitterness, and anger his or her sin deserves. An important part of my definition is recognizing that the person’s sin deserves condemnation, bitterness, and anger. Forgiveness doesn’t make light of sin! Nevertheless, forgiveness releases the person from what their sin deserves. If you’d like to know more about forgiveness, I’d encourage you to read my three part series on forgiveness: part 1, part 2, part 3.
Once forgiveness is granted, then comes the step of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the action of being restored to friendship or harmony. In other words, you make peace and unity with one another. In other other words, you Get Right with one another.
Is this hard to do? You bet it is. In fact, I believe that it’s impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit. However, while it may be hard, it’s also most godly. It’s exactly what God did with us through Jesus Christ.
May you avoid the fight and the flight, and may you instead get right!