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Last week, Solomon gave us a principle we can all live by: think before you speak. There is rarely any issue that must be dealt with that doesn’t afford you the opportunity to think before speaking. If you’re a child of the King and you get sick or diagnosed with some disease, allow the Spirit of God to minister to you through the illness. When your spirit is broken, no one can bear that. Don’t allow defeat to enter your mind. Be willing to learn, no matter what state of life you’re in; that’s what biblically wise people do. Bring gifts when appropriate, but not with the hope that they’ll get you anywhere. Before drawing conclusions about an issue, make sure you get all the facts from everyone involved. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in the folly of speaking without thought. This morning, we’re going to peek into God’s sovereignty as well as the difficulty of relationships.
Pro. 18:18-19 says, “The cast lot puts an end to strife and decides between the mighty ones. A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.”
Don’t you just love games of chance at the fair? There really is no such thing as chance. The last time our little fair came to town, I had an opportunity to chat with some of the operators of those games. The games are next to impossible to win because they’re designed to give the operator the advantage. They hope you’ll keep playing so they can get more of your money. Solomon starts off by talking about chance: “The cast lot puts an end to strife and decides between the mighty ones.” Back in Pro. 16:33 Solomon told us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” In Bible days, the lot was one of the methods used to determine God’s will and I provided several Scripture references where lots were cast to determine God’s will in that message. That’s not quite the same thing that Solomon is saying here. The strife here is a disagreement, “between the mighty ones.” Mighty ones are powerful people. We don’t know if Solomon is thinking about any one person in particular. When you are not a mighty one, this verse has no meaning for you. Your boss gives you an assignment that you don’t like and you have no recourse, but to accomplish it. That’s an application, but Solomon is talking about compromising when two people are trying to exert their will on each other. When no compromise is possible, the lot is cast to determine who wins. Think about it as playing rock, paper, scissors. Drawing straws, picking a number between one and ten. The outcome is left to chance. Sometimes settling by chance prevents an argument or disagreement from developing. When the lot is used, in essence, the outcome is considered to be a demonstration of God’s will. If the mighty had their way, everything would be settled by power.
In a spiritual sense, nothing is left to chance. Since God is sovereign, all things are controlled by Him. Let me give you a mind bending reality. here is a difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. There are people, even in Christian circles, that will try and tell you that since something happened, it is God’s will. God does allow things that are beyond our ability to understand and in the grand scheme of eternity, His will is accomplished. With our finite minds, we are unable to grasp that especially when we are on the receiving end of something that seems impossible to bare.
This next verse is a real eye opener. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” Brother here means a close friend and can also mean a sibling in Christ. I can’t tell you how many broken relationships I have seen in the church. It’s not that some people aren’t willing to reconcile, they won’t even talk to one another. It just goes to show you how damaging pride is when two people professing a relationship with Christ are unwilling to resolve an issue. Turn over to Eph. 4:1-6 and let’s look at one of Paul’s mandates to believers. I don’t know about you, but I for one am growing increasingly weary of people that say they are a believer in Christ, but are unwilling to walk in the Spirit. I want to point out a couple of key words in Paul’s passage. The first is walk which gives us the idea that our faith is who we are, it’s our way of life and we don’t turn it on and off. The second is humility which we have seen throughout Proverbs and gives us the idea that all of us need to be open to learning. The third is tolerance. We’ve gone way of the rails with this word. Tolerance is defined as the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Look at what Paul says in 4:14-24. What you were is not what you are because Christ imparted the power for transformation in your heart. Nowhere is tolerance defined as acceptance. The truth is the truth even when it doesn’t line up with your thoughts or behavior. The fourth word is all of v. 3: “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Diligent means careful and conscientious. Preserve means to maintain in the original state. Acts 4:32 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” It takes consistent, intentional effort to maintain what Paul, Luke, and Solomon are talking about. And there really is no acceptable alternative than to work hard at working out differences.
Broken relationships are quite damaging. Too often when a relationship is broken, one half of the relationship has no idea what happened. There’s generally some hurt, sorrow, wrongdoing, or deception that has occurred and that brother becomes in the words of the Very Reverend Henry Donald Maurice Spence, “A potent and irreconcilable enemy.” Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of it . . . I know I have. On my birthday in 2015, I got this message from someone that used to be here at C4: “Happy Birthday Brother, Pastor & Friend.” On June 19th, less than three months later I received this message from the same individual: “I can honestly say that everyone that you should strongly look at your choice of calling yourself a pastor because you really do **** when it comes to dealing with people.” This individual was unwilling to come and talk to me about whatever the issue was and instead chose to attack me in a message. I’ve messed up in my life. I’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time, I’ve done things I regret, I haven’t done things I should have, but I hope I don’t make excuses about what a failure I am. I take responsibility for my actions, I’m willing to apologize, I’m willing to do what it takes to resolve issues when I know about them. As I said before, many times you don’t know there’s an issue until you get blasted. Other times I get blasted when I provide sound wisdom, but that wisdom is not followed and I still get a nasty email that I call a drive by. It’s a drive by because the person lacks the courage to say what they said in an email, message, or text to your face. Broken relationships in the church can impact the entire body. Contributing to this is the lack of acknowledgement that problems exist. Wherever there are people there will be issues, but we must be willing to work to resolve those issues. I’m reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery that’s told in John 8. Jesus told her to, “Go. From now on sin no more.” (Jo. 8:11) Jesus wanted her to live a life that represented the transformative power of grace and truth that He represents and sin is not part of that picture. 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” so John recognized that we will sin, but God’s desire is that we live holy lives because He is holy. (1 Pet. 1:16) When sin is allowed to run unchecked and uncorrected, we fall into the apostasy that Jude warned us about in his short letter. Solomon is saying it’s easier to capture a strong city than it is to win a brother that is offended. I want you to really get that picture in your mind. Relationships between people of faith should be filled with love, grace, and mercy, but that doesn’t mean ignoring the unchanging standard of God’s Word. How easily are you offended? How thick is your skin? How readily are you willing to receive correction? It’s almost to the point where you don’t want to say anything to anyone because of what they might say back. It can be something as casual as missed you at church Sunday and the person gets all offended.
Solomon closes the comparison by saying, “And contentions are like bars of a citadel.” If you insert the pronoun “their” before contentions, you’ll get the idea. Contentions are the issue at hand. That’s the reason that person is offended, whatever it might be. Remember too, that the offense may only be perceived, not real. That’s the reality that we live in. We often operate based on what we think about something rather than what the actual issue is because we don’t want to confront anyone over anything because when we do we’re made out to be the one in the wrong. It’s quite a cycle. Those issues, “Are like bars on a citadel.” A citadel is a stronghold in a city. Really get this word picture. Contentions, issues, disagreements, strife are like bars in a prison. They keep you trapped, locked away like a prisoner with no hope of escape. When we allow those issues to control us, we fall into the schemes and traps of the devil. I will admit that I have a hard time letting go. I’m a guy that really desires to resolve issues, but what I am finding more and more is that people don’t want to resolve issues. They want to stay mad or they want to pretend something never happened, but the issue is there, lying dormant until something else happens and everything resurfaces.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it seems really strange that the only place where we allow disagreements or contentions to actually separate or break relationships is in the church. You’ve got someone at work that rides your case and causes you trouble at every turn . . . you get up and go to work every morning. You’ve got that bully at school that uses every opportunity to harass you . . . you go to school every day. You’ve got that neighbor that is always complaining to you about your kids or pets, but you don’t move away. But in the church? One wrong move, one wrong word, one failure, one misstep and that’s it; they’re gone. What’s odd is that many people are oblivious to the issues because they’re unwilling to address it. I do believe these type of people are in the minority, but the wake of destruction they leave behind is widespread and if it’s not resolved, they’ll take that destruction with them wherever they might go.
Don’t think there’s no hope. Prayer is always a key to seeing hearts changed, but the heart that is changed is not necessarily the offended one. Understand where we are in the scope of eternity. We’re in the last days where people are turning away from absolute truth. Everything that happens is part of God’s eternal plan, but we’re not briefed on the specifics of that plan. We saw some important qualities from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we must put into practice on a regular basis. The screams for tolerance today is not the same tolerance Paul talks about in Scripture. Sometimes people are unwilling to acknowledge their sin choosing instead to blame others and sometimes even blame God. Contentions between people can give you the feeling that you’re trapped in a prison. Love God, love others, do what you can to spread the hope that is found in Christ and you might just find that the immovable object that was in your path will move out of the way by the power of God.