By Lucy Nichols
For many of us, navigating the last 1 ½ years during a global pandemic has caused anxiety, fear, depression, uncertainty, sadness and even additional conflict impacting our personal and professional lives and, on a larger scale, impacting our society as a whole. This seems true regardless of our age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnic background, gender and geographic location.
As a society, it has become increasingly challenging to have a civil conversation with folks we once considered friends, or at least amicable acquaintances. Conflict that already existed has been amplified as we disagree on issues surrounding the pandemic such as wearing masks, getting vaccinated, closing and reopening schools, churches and businesses. The conversation of individual rights versus social responsibility and God’s calling to love one another is truly being tested. As we move forward in this new normal entering our second year of the pandemic, the divisiveness within our society and in our relationships in many respects continues to worsen.
As I contemplated what healing might look like for Christians in such trying times where emotions are particularly escalated, I had to acknowledge that there cannot be healing without putting God at the forefront of the conversation. We are human. We are sinners. We are living in challenging times. We are trying to manage the range of emotions (as mentioned earlier) over an extended period of time, with no clear answers or expectation of when or if our lives will feel “normal” again. This has had a detrimental impact on us and contributes to an escalation of conflict in our relationships. Christians are not immune and we experience all of the same emotions that non-Christians have experienced during the pandemic.
Whether in a personal conflict with a friend or with a virtual stranger on Facebook, as Christians, we must consider how to respond to these situations and to have discussions in a way that glorifies God’s name, recognizes His sovereignty and is Biblically based. What does this look like? Ephesians is particularly instructive in addressing these difficult issues.
As I was considering how we begin to shift our thinking and our response to such emotionally charged conflict so that we may begin the healing process together going forward, I was reminded that we are one in the Body of Christ. Ephesians 4:25-27: Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
I have found being regularly in the Word with fellow Christians is critically important. By turning to God’s Word with fellow Christians, we are able to share our struggles and go to scripture to address them. There is a lot of scripture to help us when we struggle to resolve conflict during difficult and emotional times. When conflict is widespread and steeped in complex emotions, we must focus on God’s Word and not allow the devil an opportunity to divide the Body of Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written while he was imprisoned the first time and though he was physically chained, Paul prayed for all people to be deeply rooted in love. In similar fashion, though not physically imprisoned, we are spiritually and emotionally imprisoned when we are in conflict with one another. When we understand we are all part of the Body of Christ, there should be no battle over who is right and who is wrong. We have lost sight of what is truly important and that our Lord is sovereign.
Likewise, our emotions can overwhelm us due to the weight of the pandemic and the extreme divide in our society, becoming a prison of sorts. When we try to manage these things ourselves, we get in trouble and we give the devil a foothold when what we need to do is to surrender the throne to God who is the supreme authority and all things are under His control. Paul also reminds us that we must be humble, gentle and patient with one another in love as Christ loved us and gave his life for us. It is challenging to be humble, gentle and patient with one another in love when we have not turned over our anger and conflict over to God. Ephesians 4:1-6: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
When we struggle with surrendering our anger and the need to be right in an argument, we must remember the sacrifice our Savior made so that we may be forgiven and we may have eternal life. His sacrifice was so much greater than what we are called to do. As children of God we are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:1-2: Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Paul also reminds us that if we are rooted and established in love and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we will build each other up in love, not tear each other down with hate. Ephesians 4:29,31-32: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
It is hard to comprehend how much love God has for His children. Paul prays for us that we be rooted and established in love and he instructs us how to be rooted in love when we face challenges. Paul reminds us of God’s power to strengthen us through his Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts and that love surpasses knowledge. Ephesians 3:14-21: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
To reiterate, we are one Body in Christ, rooted in love that surpasses knowledge and God will work within us through His Holy Spirit so that we might love each other and glorify His name throughout all generations and people. In a world where it may seem almost impossible to manage our own emotions and to interact with others when there is so much conflict, let us reflect on Paul’s words in Ephesians.
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