Prone to Wander, Prone to Wound: The Believer’s Response to Conflict and Admonishment

Have you ever been confronted with the same issue over and over again, to the point where you know God must be trying to get your attention regarding that matter? That happened to me recently as several similar yet unrelated conversations ensued with several different people over the past few weeks. Those conversations have inspired this blog post, and each of them had to do with this hard topic: the believer’s responsibility in situations of conflict or admonishment.

While most of us are no strangers to conflict, admonishment may be a term you aren’t very familiar with. So what is admonishment? Merriam-Webster defines the word admonish as this: “to express warning or disapproval to, especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner” or “to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to.” So, in a Christian context, it’s humbly, lovingly, and graciously cautioning a believer who is caught in unrepentant sin.[1]

I must admit that conflict and admonishment are issues I’d like to avoid altogether; nevertheless, it’s good, right, and necessary to talk about them. Why? Because every believer is bound to find ourselves in the midst of conflict or in need of admonishment at some point (or possibly at many points) in our lives.

Before we dig deeper into this subject, let’s establish one thing that’s true about all of us: It’s not a matter of if we mess up but when we mess up. We are going to let people down. Not only that, but each of us is going to need to be poked and prodded to get back on the right track sometimes. While I aim for a life of holiness, I’m a fallen and depraved creature and I’m going to mess up. Big time. I’m not a sinner because I sin; I sin because I’m a sinner. It’s at the very core of my being (Romans 7:7-25), and it’s a constant daily battle. Even still, I’m not excused for my sin, which is why I need Christ, who is pure and perfect and holy, to stand in my place at the judgment seat of God. More on that in a minute.

Now that we understand who we are (sinners), we can delve deeper into the topic of our responsibility in icky situations of conflict and admonishment by examining the following questions:

  1. Who needs accountability in the form of admonishment and church discipline?
  2. Why do we need to admonish others and be admonished by others?
  3. Why is it imperative that we quickly resolve conflict with our Christian brothers and sisters?
  4. How should we respond to words of admonishment and/or to situations in which we have a conflict with other believers?

Let’s get started with the first question:

  1. Who needs accountability in the form of admonishment and church discipline?

In a word: believers. Yes, every believer — from the layperson to the deacon to the pastor. We are all fallen, therefore we ALL need accountability. With Satan prowling around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), even the godliest people are susceptible to sin, whether it be the sweet little lady that teaches your child’s Sunday School class or the pastor who has been faithfully preaching God’s Word for decades.[2] If you think you’re above messing up, think again. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

  1. Why do we need to admonish others and be admonished by others?

Because Scripture commands us to. Yes, discipline and admonishment are hard. It’s difficult to confront someone who has wronged you, and it’s also just as difficult to be the one who is confronted. I’ve been on both ends of this, and I must say, it doesn’t get any easier no matter how many times you go through it. Nevertheless, we are commanded to admonish one another, walking alongside one another on this journey of grace and propelling one another to stay the course and to keep our eyes on Christ. And when each of us recognizes our sinfulness and our wayward hearts, we see that admonishment is truly a gift and one of God’s beautiful means of grace for the saints.

  1. Why is it imperative that we quickly resolve conflict with our Christian brothers and sisters?

Because those who are in Christ are a family, adopted children of the one true King. When believers are at odds with one another, they risk allowing a root of bitterness to spring up within them and cause trouble, by which many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15). James 3:16 says that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” Unresolved conflict breeds more conflict. Not to mention, those who have not sought reconciliation are in unrepentant sin themselves (Matthew 5). I said it before and I’ll say it again: you will let people down. Others will let you down. It’s inevitable. So why are we appalled when others hurt us, as if we don’t have the potential to wrong someone in the same way (or worse)? Or as if we haven’t already done so? We must talk to those with whom we have conflict, prioritizing relationships within our own church body. After all, the people with whom we have covenanted together are the ones we should lean on the most. And amazingly, even when we disagree, we can all find unity in the fact that we are sinners and Christ is our awesome Savior.

  1. How should we respond to words of admonishment and/or to situations in which we have a conflict with other believers?

With love, humility, and gratefulness. That’s way easier said than done. But when we see our own depravity and know our propensity to wander away from the narrow path, we will humbly accept and ponder gentle words of admonishment, and we will lovingly and graciously approach situations of conflict, laying down our pride as we consider how Christ laid down His life for wretched sinners like us.

Conclusion

Christ is the only one who will satisfy. As fallen creatures, we will let each other down. We must talk to one another about sin and conflict, even though it’s hard and uncomfortable at times. Those who are in Christ should aim for holy living, but let’s not be disgusted when a brother or sister fails to live as he or she should. It’s going to happen – and one day, it may be you that’s caught in sin. It may be me that needs to be rescued from the depths of the sin that so easily entangles us. Will we boldly call one another to repentance in order to gain our brother or sister for the sake of God’s kingdom?

Praise God for His grace that extends into the farthest corners of sinfulness, into the pit of corruption, bringing life to our dead souls and restoration to our wayward hearts. There is new life for all who look to the blood of Christ for salvation, trusting in His righteousness alone. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God is faithful to save all who call upon His name, and He’s given believers a beautiful gift – one another. If you don’t have anyone in your local church who holds you accountable, find someone. And be that person for someone else too.

Love,
Kristen

[1] In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells believers to “admonish the idle,” and Colossians 3:16 tells us to “admonish one another in all wisdom.” It should also be noted that admonishment begins with the faithful preaching of God’s Word from the pulpit each Sunday.

[2] Ministers with lots of power and no accountability who are untouchable and unapproachable are especially in great danger of committing heinous sins in secret, often hiding these sins for years before eventually being found out.

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