LIVING BY FAITH
"Faith That Functions In Conflict"
Jerry A. Collins
If you live on planet earth, you have conflicts. By our very nature, as individuals, we will come into conflict with each other. The only question is how to deal with those conflicts. The wisdom of the world says there are four possible ways to resolve conflicts. (1) You can self-destruct with Lose-Lose where we both lose. This could happen when you take somebody to court. You may win the case but you both have lost. (2) You can retreat with Lose-win where I lose and you win. Where I may have to give in and let you have your way. The problem here is that the conflict is compounded by building up resentment and motivation for getting even. (3) You can attack with Win-lose where I win and you lose. Where I get something at the expense of you losing something. The problem here is my opponent is tempted to get even, hence the reason for wars (war of the roses) and ethnic conflicts go on and on. (4) You can negotiate a settlement with Win-win where we both win. This happens as result of thinking we are both right from our own perspective we can create a solution good for both of us by creative problem solving.
But there is a problem with these approaches. This is modern-day thinking not Christianity. This is worldly wisdom not Gods wisdom. The main problem with this thinking is that it leaves God out of the resolution to the conflict. Every character or group in the Bible who resolved their conflicts by leaving God out did so with the same basic assumption of this modern thinking. Those who left God out always saw their situation as a conflict between themselves and some other person or group! They, therefore, usually attempted to resolve the problem with a win-lose or win-win perspective.
But the men and women of God never did that! When acting consistent with the will of God, they saw their situation in a completely different way. Godly people saw the situation as a conflict between them and God, not between them and the other person. In other words, they always saw their conflicts vertically not horizontally! For instance, this is true of Cain and Abel where Cain saw Gods rejection of his sacrifice as a conflict with Abel and God defined it as a problem between Abel and God. He saw his conflict as a competition with his brother and resolved it with win-lose. We learn in 1 John 1:2 that Cain saw a win-lose because his own deeds were evil! Cain was unwilling to look at the situation vertically, as a conflict between himself and God! A principle from this conflict may be that you can count on fact that if you hate someone, it is because your own deeds are evil. You have looked at the conflict as one between you and some other person instead of between you and God.
So the world always define conflicts horizontally--between ourselves and someone else like conservatives Vs liberals; our group Vs your group; husbands Vs wives; children Vs parents; Protestants Vs Catholics; black Vs white but godly people never see it that way. Godly people see all conflicts as not with the other person at all but between themselves and their will and God and His will. In addition to the conflicts between Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, David and Saul, Christ and the Pharisees and Paul and non-Christian Jews, we have Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13. What can we learn about the role of faith (looking vertically) from this story in the resolution of our conflicts?
This story demonstrates how faith can resolve conflict. We will see a setting with complications that produce a tension that must be resolved by faith.
WE CAN EXPECT VARIOUS CONFLICTS IN LIFE 13:1-7
The occasion for this conflict was the prosperity of both Abram and Lot they had gained while in Egypt vs. 1-2. The stress seems to be on the ‘new beginning’ for Abram as he re-enters the land of promise. The experience of Egypt was now behind him vs. 4-5. Not only had he returned to the land but also he had returned to worship as he had previously done in 12:8. He is not only back in the right place but he is also getting back the right perspective. He is thinking vertically again. He had just experienced an episode where he had only looked horizontally, to his own skin, assuming his conflict was with the men of Egypt and himself. That had gotten him into a lot of trouble. Now he renews his faith in God with the altar and his worship. He is calibrating himself. He is thinking vertically! This is significant because it prepares him for the conflict he is about to face. With the mention of his wealth in vs. 2 and Lots wealth in vs. 5, we are introduced to the circumstances that bring the conflict. Namely, their accumulated wealth. Vs. 6-7 explains that this wealth produced strife between Abrams and Lots herdsmen because the land was not able to support both of them. Vs. 6 stresses the great tension of dwelling together because of their riches by repeating mentioning it twice! The point here is that it is the land that could not sustain their living together. The reason for the inability of the land to sustain them is because its original inhabitants, the Canaanites and Perizzites were probably occupying the better parts of the territory so that Abram and Lot had to scrap for their water and food in the remaining sections vs. 7. So in the promised land they have come to strife because they have too much for the land to bear.
We too can expect conflicts in our lives. Sometimes we may be the cause of them. Sometimes others may be the cause of them. But they will come in our marriages, our families, our relationships with associates, parents and neighbors. Like Abram it is prudent that we keep a vertical focus. The conflicts can be seen as tests of our faith. Will we act in our self-interests and scheme or will we act in Gods interest and trust. We cannot avoid conflict but we can prepare ourselves so we will respond in a godly manner.
FAITH ACTS GENEROUSLY TO RESOLVE CONFLICT 13:8-13
Abrams solution to the strife is to magnanimously give Lot the best choice of the land vs. 8-9. What is ironic is that we would expect Abram to cling to what was promised to him and tell lot to go find his own place. But instead of asserting his right he offers Lot the choice. The one who believed that God promised to give him the land did not have to reserve it for himself. Abram wanted to maintain the relationship they had vs. 8. Their common bond over a long period of time was something worth saving. Here we learn that those who walk by faith can be generous. God was a whole lot bigger than this conflict. Abrams faith showed that there was a better way of solving a potential conflict.
In vs. 10-13 Lot chooses the best of the land for himself. Lot made his choice without any concern for Abram and would be a choice that would prove to be the greatest mistake of his life. He was only looking horizontally. Those who walk by sight can be deceived. The lush valley appealed to him vs. 10-11. It is compared to the garden of God where the rivers in it went out and watered the whole region. The emphasis is upon what Lot saw and the seeing aroused his desire for it. Just as the tree in the garden had awakened Eves desire. All other considerations are now forgotten. In vs. 12-13 we learn that he settled next to Sodom and the ominous description of the men of Sodom in vs. 13 tells us that Lot was not the man to be in that location with such close proximity to such ‘wicked sinners’. It is as if it is saying that these sinners were a step below normal sinners. The text goes out of the way to tell us that their sin was ‘against the Lord’. All sin is but goes out of the way to tell us God was offended.
We too can act generously to resolve conflicts because our reliance is upon the Lord and His promises to us. Just like Abram we respond unselfishly and generously to resolve conflict because it is not by our own plans and devices, by jealousy guarding what we think is ours but by Gods power, according to His promises, in fulfillment of His purposes for us. God would give the land to Abram even if he gave it away a hundred times. Like Abram we have the freedom to act generously, mercifully, righteously in resolving our disputes.
GOD APPROVES OF OUR GENEROUS ACTS 13:14-18
In vs. 14-17 God confirms His promises now that the episode with Lot is resolved. Abram knew that God meant what He said so it mattered little what Lot chose for now. Abram sensed that in God he had abundant possession. A sharp contrast to Lot and his choice. Here Abram is told to look but Lot simply did it; Abram was waiting for God to give it but Lot took it. Better that God gives it than that we take it! In vs. 18 Abram is a man devoted to the Lord. As a worshiper he will wait patiently for the Lord to fulfill His promise.
We too have promises from God and we too must wait for him to act as we express our devotion to the Lord. This is a story about choices in midst of conflict. We can walk by sight with selfish, self-seeking, self-gratifying choices based on greed, anxious or covetous. Or we can choose by faith unselfishly, generously!