You either love it or hate it but The Office is one of the most successful TV comedy series of the 21stCentury. Called a ‘mockumentary’, it was filmed as a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary and set in the offices of Wernham Hogg, a paper merchant in Slough. Written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office catapulted Gervais to stardom in 2001, winning two Golden Globes, one for his acting and one for the show itself. “The humour is very simple. It comes from observations about mundane office life, humour basically at the expense of all the different types of people working in the office.” (Jago Wynne). The characters are clearly stereotypes but if you have ever watched the programme I am sure you will have seen similarities with colleagues in real life. In fiction, it has all the ingredients necessary for an entertaining comedy series. In real life, it has all the ingredients for a perfect storm in your office, in your home, or indeed your church too.
Let us reflect on Ephesians 4 and what it teaches about resolving conflict. First, we read about the causes of conflict.
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” (Ephesians 4:18-19)
But, the Apostle continues, verse 20,
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24)
The imagery is of clothing – taking off dirty clothes and putting on clean clothes. It describes the new standards expected of Christians. So, in verses 25-30, we are given five instructions to help us live for Christ, to help us resist temptation and resolve conflict, in the home, church or workplace.
“First, they all concern our relationships. Holiness is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God but in isolation from human beings. You cannot be good in a vacuum, but only in the real world of people… Secondly, in each example a negative prohibition is balanced by a corresponding positive command. It is not enough to put off the old rags; we have to put on new garments… Thirdly, in each case a reason for the command is either given or implied, indeed a theological reason. For in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles doctrine and ethics, belief and behaviour are always dovetailed into one another.” (John Stott)
Lets see how these five instructions will help us resolve conflict and avoid contributing to a perfect storm in our relationships.
- Don’t lie, but rather tell the truth
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25)
The Greek word is pseudos, and is associated with being economical with the truth or intentionally deceiving with half-truths. In contrast, Christians should be known as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted. Falsehood and deception undermines relationships, while truth and honesty strengthens them.
- Don’t lose your temper, but ensure anger is righteous
“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.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
These verses recognize that there is such a thing as Christian anger. John Stott argues that we should get angry more often.
“Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil… I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also. At the same time, we need to remember our fallenness, and our constant proneness to intemperance and vanity. Consequently, we always have to be on our guard and act as censors of our own anger. If we are wise, we shall be ‘slow to anger.’”
Paul immediately qualifies his permissive be angryby three negatives. First, do not sin. We have to make sure that our anger is free from injured pride, spite, malice, animosity and the spirit of revenge. Secondly, do not let the sun go down on your anger. His purpose is to warn us against nursing anger. It is seldom safe to allow the embers to smolder. Paul’s third qualification is give no opportunity to the devil(verse 27), for he … loves to lurk round angry people, hoping to be able to exploit the situation to his own advantage by provoking them into hatred or violence or a breach of fellowship.So, don’t lie, but rather tell the truth. Second, don’t lose your temper, but instead ensure your anger is righteous.
- Don’t steal, but rather work and give“Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)
‘Do not steal’ is the eighth commandment. Then as now, it has wide application, not only to stealing other people’s money or possessions, but also their time and their reputation. In echoing the commandment (let the thief no longer steal), the apostle also draws out its positive implications. It is not enough to stop stealing. We must start working, doing honest work with our hands, earning our own living. Then we will be ablenot only to support ourselves and family, but also to give to those in need.
Lets recap. To resolve conflict, do not lie, but rather tell the truth. Do not lose your temper, but ensure your anger is righteous.Do not steal, but rather work and give.
- Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good“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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”(Ephesians 4:29-30)
Speech is a wonderful gift of God. It reflects our likeness to God. Speech distinguishes us from the animal creation. Cows can moo, dogs bark, donkeys bray, pigs grunt, lambs bleat, lions roar, monkeys squeal and birds sing, but only human beings can speak. So let no evil talk come out of your mouths, The word for evil here is used of rotten trees and rotten fruit.Rotten talk, means what ever is dishonest, unkind or vulgar. Instead, we are to use our unique gift of speech constructively, for edifying, that is, to build people up and not damage or destroy them. Then our words willimpart grace to those who hear…The Holy Spirit hates sin, discord and falsehood, and shrinks away from them. Therefore, if we wish to avoid hurting him, we shall shrink from them too.
Four injunctions so far: Do not lie, but rather tell the truth.
Do not lose your temper, but ensure your anger is righteous.Do not steal, but rather work and give. Do not use your mouth for evil, but rather for good. Finally,
- Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving
“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.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
“Here is a whole series of six unpleasant attitudes and actions which are to be put awayfrom us entirely. Bitterness(pikria) is a sour spirit and sour speech. Rage (thymos) and anger(orgē) are obviously similar, the former denoting a passionate rage and the latter a more settled and sullen hostility. Brawling (kraugē) describes people who get excited, raise their voices in a quarrel, and start shouting, even screaming, at each other, while slander(blasphēmia) is speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation. The sixth word is malice(kakia), or ill will, wishing and probably plotting evil against people.” (John Stott)
If we are to resolve conflict rather than exacerbate it, we must instead demonstrate the character of Jesus Christ. We are to be kind to one another. The word is chrēstos, which is close to the name of Christ (Christos), so Christians from the beginning saw its peculiar appropriateness. Compassionate, while forgiving one another(charizomenoi) literally means ‘acting in grace’ towards one another, as God in Christ has acted in grace towards us.
Five practical steps to resolving conflict. Do not lie, but rather tell the truth. Do not lose your temper, but ensure your anger is righteous.Do not steal, but rather work and give. Do not use your mouth for evil, but rather for good. Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather be kind and loving. Are you beginning to see how these five practical steps help us live for Christ at work, at home and in church. Now don’t misunderstand me, this is not a set of moral do’s and don’ts. This is not moralism we are offered but a model. We learn best from role models and in Jesus Christ we have the very best.
“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.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
This is how we learn not only to resolve conflict but become more like Jesus Christ and make him more attractive to others.