“Keep peace with one another.”
1, 2. What human struggles are featured in Genesis, and why is this of interest?
HAVE you ever thought about the personal conflicts recorded in the Bible? Consider just the first few chapters of Genesis. Cain kills Abel (Gen. 4:3-8); Lamech kills a young man for striking him (Gen. 4:23); the shepherds of Abraham (Abram) and Lot quarrel (Gen. 13:5-7); Hagar despises Sarah (Sarai), who becomes upset with Abraham (Gen. 16:3-6); Ishmael is against everyone and everyone’s hand is against him.
2 Why does the Bible mention such conflicts? Well, one reason is that it helps imperfect humans learn why they need to keep peace. It also shows us the way we can do this. We benefit from reading Bible accounts about real people struggling with real problems. We learn about the results of their efforts and may thus be able to apply such points to some situations we encounter in life. Indeed, all of this helps us to consider how we should or should not deal with similar issues.
3. What topics will this article cover?
3 This article will consider why Jehovah’s servants need to settle differences and how they can succeed in doing so. In addition, it will refer to Scriptural principles that can help them to deal with conflict and maintain good relations with their neighbor and with Jehovah God.
WHY GOD’S SERVANTS NEED TO SETTLE DIFFERENCES
4. What attitude spread throughout the world, and what has been the result?
4 Satan is primarily responsible for the strife and differences experienced by mankind. In Eden, his argument was that each individual can and should decide what is good and what is bad, doing so independent of God. (Gen. 3:1-5) The fruits of such reasoning are plain to see. The world abounds with people and societies motivated by a spirit of independence that fosters pride, egotism, and rivalry. Anyone who allows himself to be swept along by this spirit is, in effect, accepting Satan’s argument that it is the course of wisdom to pursue one’s own interests regardless of how doing so may affect others. Such a selfish course leads to strife. And it is good for us to remember that “a man prone to anger stirs up strife; anyone disposed to rage commits many transgressions.”
5. How did Jesus teach people to handle disagreements?
5 In contrast, Jesus taught people to seek peace, even if such a course would seem detrimental to their own interests. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave excellent advice about handling disagreements or potential conflicts. For instance, he urged his disciples to be mild-tempered, to be peacemakers, to eliminate causes for anger, to settle matters quickly, and to love their enemies.
6, 7. (a) Why is it important to settle personal differences promptly? (b) What questions should all of Jehovah’s people ask themselves?
6 Our efforts to serve God
7 Every Christian needs to think carefully and honestly about being forgiving and having peaceful relations with others. Do you forgive fellow believers freely? Are you happy to fellowship with them? Jehovah expects his servants to be forgiving. If your conscience tells you that you have improvements to make in this regard, prayerfully seek Jehovah’s help in order to make them! Our heavenly Father will hear such humble prayers and answer them.
CAN YOU IGNORE AN OFFENSE?
8, 9. What should we do if we are offended?
8 Because all humans are imperfect, sooner or later someone is going to say or do something that will offend you. This is inevitable. (Eccl. 7:20; Matt. 18:7) How are you going to react? Consider what happened when the following situation developed: At a social gathering attended by some Witnesses, two brothers were greeted by a certain sister in a way that one of them considered inappropriate. When the two brothers were alone, the offended brother began to criticize the sister for what she had said. However, the other brother reminded him that she had served Jehovah loyally in difficult circumstances for 40 years; he was sure that she meant no harm. After considering this for a moment, the first brother responded, “You are right.” As a result, the issue went no further.
9 What does this experience show? The way you react to situations that have the potential for causing offense lies in your own hands. A loving person covers over minor transgressions. (Read Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8.) Jehovah considers it “beauty” on your part “to overlook an offense.” (Prov. 19:11; Eccl. 7:9) So the first thing to ask yourself when somebody treats you in a way that could seem unkind or disrespectful is: ‘Can I overlook this? Do I really need to make an issue of it?’
10. (a) How did one sister at first react to criticism? (b) What Scriptural thought helped this sister to maintain her peace?
10 It may be challenging to treat criticism lightly. Take the case of a pioneer, whom we will call Lucy. Negative comments had been made about her ministry and her use of time. Upset, Lucy sought the counsel of mature brothers. She relates: “Their Scriptural advice helped me to maintain the right viewpoint of others’ opinions and to focus on who matters most
WHEN YOU CANNOT OVERLOOK AN OFFENSE
11, 12. (a) How should a Christian act if he believes that his brother “has something against” him? (b) What can we learn from the way Abraham handled a problem? (See opening picture.)
11 “We all stumble many times.” (Jas. 3:2) Suppose you learn that a brother was offended by something you said or did. What should you do? Jesus said: “If . . . you are bringing your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away. First make your peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23, 24) In harmony with Jesus’ counsel, talk with your brother. Note what your objective should be. It is not to cast part of the blame on your brother but to admit your fault and make peace. Being at peace with our fellow worshippers is of utmost importance.
12 A Scriptural account in which God’s servants peacefully resolved a potentially divisive issue is the one mentioned earlier involving Abraham and his nephew Lot. Both men possessed livestock, and their shepherds apparently quarreled about grazing land. Eager to eliminate tensions, Abraham offered Lot first choice of the areas where their respective households would settle. (Gen. 13:1, 2, 5-9) What a good example! Abraham sought peace, not his own interests. Did he lose out because of his generosity? Not at all. Immediately after this incident with Lot, Jehovah promised Abraham great blessings. (Gen. 13:14-17) God will never allow his servants to suffer lasting loss for acting in harmony with divine principles and settling differences in a spirit of love.
13. How did one overseer react to harsh words, and what can we learn from his example?
13 Consider a modern-day situation. When the new overseer of a convention department phoned a brother to ask if he would be able to volunteer, the brother made a number of cutting remarks and hung up. He was nursing hurt feelings over his dealings with the previous overseer. The new overseer did not take offense at this outburst, but neither could he ignore it. An hour later, he called again, mentioning that they had not yet met, and he suggested that they resolve the issues together. A week later, the two met at a Kingdom Hall. After praying, they spoke for an hour, during which the brother told his story. After listening sympathetically, the overseer shared Scriptural observations, and the two brothers parted on good terms. Thereafter, the brother served at the convention and now thanks the overseer for having dealt with him calmly and kindly.
SHOULD YOU INVOLVE THE ELDERS?
14, 15. (a) When should we apply the counsel at Matthew 18:15-17? (b) What three steps did Jesus mention, and what should be our goal in applying them?
14 Most differences between Christians can and should be resolved privately by the individuals concerned. However, Jesus noted that some situations might require congregation involvement. (Read Matthew 18:15-17.) What would be the outcome if an offender refused to listen to his brother, to witnesses, and to the congregation? He should be treated “just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” Today, we would say that he should be disfellowshipped. The seriousness of this step indicates that the “sin” was not a small disagreement. Rather, it was (1) a sin that could be settled between the individuals concerned but it was also (2) a sin serious enough to merit disfellowshipping if not settled. Such sins might involve a measure of fraud or might include damaging a person’s reputation through slander. The three steps Jesus outlined here are applicable only where these conditions exist. The offense did not include such a sin as adultery, homosexuality, apostasy, idolatry, or some other gross sin definitely requiring the attention of the congregation elders.
15 The aim of Jesus’ counsel was to help a brother in a spirit of love. (Matt. 18:12-14) First, an attempt should be made to resolve the issue without involving others. It may be necessary to reason with the sinner more than once. If that fails, talk to the offender in the company of witnesses to the wrongdoing or with others who can help to determine if a wrong has really been committed. If you succeed in resolving the issue with their help, you will have “gained your brother.” A matter should be referred to the elders only when repeated efforts to help the wrongdoer have failed.
16. What shows that following Jesus’ counsel is practical and loving?
16 Cases requiring that brothers go through all three steps outlined at Matthew 18:15-17 are rare. That is encouraging, for it means that a solution is usually found before the situation reaches the point where an unrepentant sinner must be removed from the congregation. Often, the wrongdoer sees his error and corrects matters. The offended person may see that he no longer has a real reason to find fault and may prefer to forgive. Whatever the case, Jesus’ words indicate that the congregation should not get involved in disagreements prematurely. The elders may intervene only if the preceding two steps have been taken and if solid evidence can be produced to show clearly what has happened.
17. What blessings will we enjoy when we “seek peace” with one another?
17 As long as this system of things lasts, humans will be imperfect and will continue to offend others. The disciple James appropriately wrote: “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (Jas. 3:2) In order to settle differences, we must earnestly “seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps. 34:14) As peacemakers, we will enjoy a good relationship with our fellow believers and will promote the unity of the congregation. (Ps. 133:1-3) Above all, we will have a good relationship with Jehovah, “the God who gives peace.” (Rom. 15:33) Such blessings are enjoyed by those who settle differences in a spirit of love.