JEHOVAH GOD urges Christians to cherish peace, to make peace a key aspect of life. The result of our being peaceable is that true worshippers enjoy an abundance of peace. This helps to make the Christian congregation attractive to others who wish to be free of conflict.
For instance, a prominent witch doctor in Madagascar observed the harmony enjoyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. He said to himself, ‘If ever I wanted to follow a religion, this would be the one.’ In time, he quit his spiritistic practices, spent months straightening out his unscriptural marital situation, and became a worshipper of Jehovah, the God of peace.
Like that man, thousands of people every year find in the Christian congregation the peace that they so desperately desire. However, the Bible makes it clear that the presence of “bitter jealousy and contentiousness” in the congregation can destroy friendships and create trouble. (Jas. 3:14-16) Happily, the Bible also provides us with positive advice on how we can avoid those problems and strengthen peace. To set the stage for doing so, let us consider some real-life situations.
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
“I had trouble getting along with a brother who worked with me. Once when we were yelling at each other, two people came in and witnessed our blowup.”—CHRIS.
“A sister with whom I often preached suddenly ended our arrangements for the ministry. Then she stopped talking to me altogether. I had no idea why.”—JANET.
“I was on a three-person phone call. One of the others said good-bye, and I thought he was off the line. I then said unkind things about him to the other person on the phone, but the first person had not hung up.”—MICHAEL.
“In our congregation, two pioneers began having problems. One took to scolding the other. Their bickering was discouraging to others.”—GARY.
You might feel that those incidents appear minor. Still, each had the potential for causing lasting emotional and spiritual injury to those involved. You will be pleased to know, though, that peace was restored by those brothers and sisters, who all used the Bible as their guide. What Bible guidelines do you think they applied successfully?
“Do not become upset with one another on the way.” (Gen. 45:24) Joseph gave that advice to his brothers who were returning to their father. How wise his words were! When a person does not control his feelings and gets upset easily, he may provoke others to anger. Chris came to see that his weaknesses were pride and a reluctance to accept direction. Wanting to change, he apologized to the brother with whom he had been arguing and then worked hard to control his temper. Noting Chris’ effort to change, the workmate also made adjustments. Now they enjoy serving Jehovah together.
“Plans fail when there is no consultation.” (Prov. 15:22) Janet concluded that she needed to take that truth more to heart. She decided to ‘consult,’ or speak with, the other sister. During their conversation, Janet tactfully invited the sister to open up regarding her resentment. At first, the conversation was somewhat tense, but things improved as they discussed their problem in a calm way. The sister discovered that she had misunderstood a matter that did not even involve Janet. She apologized, and they are once again serving Jehovah as a team.
“If, then, 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.” (Matt. 5:23, 24) You may recall that advice Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount. Michael felt devastated when he realized how inconsiderate and unkind he had been. He was determined to make an effort to restore peace. He humbly apologized face-to-face to the brother he had hurt. With what result? Michael says, “My brother genuinely forgave me.” Their friendship was restored.
“Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely even if anyone has a cause for complaint against another.” (Col. 3:12-14) In the case of the two longtime pioneers, a kind elder helped them to reflect on such questions as these: ‘Do the two of us have the right to make others sad because of our disagreement? Do we truly have a valid reason not to put up with each other and go on serving Jehovah peacefully?’ They accepted the elder’s counsel and applied it. Now they get along well as they preach the good news.
Applying the Bible instruction just cited, Colossians 3:12-14, may be a good starting point if someone hurts you. Many have found that, with humility, they can just forgive and forget. If after some effort it seems that more is needed, could Matthew 18:15 be applied in principle? Jesus’ counsel here refers to the step to take when someone has committed a serious sin against another. But in principle it may be the course you need to follow. Simply approach your brother or sister and kindly and humbly try to discuss the matter and settle it.
Of course, the Bible provides other practical suggestions. Underlying many of them is your displaying “the fruitage of the spirit . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) Like oil that lubricates a machine, those godly qualities allow for a smooth peacemaking process.
A MIX OF PERSONALITIES ENRICHES THE CONGREGATION
Personality—the unique set of traits that each of us has and that varies from one person to another—can make for rich friendships. Differences in personality can also lead to conflicts. An experienced elder gives this example: “Someone who is shy can have a difficult time being around an outgoing, backslapping person. That difference may seem unimportant; yet, it can lead to serious problems.” Do you feel, however, that people who have distinctly different personalities are bound to have problems? Well, consider two of the apostles. What was Peter like? You may think of him as outspoken and impulsive. What of John? We may think of him as loving and usually measured in his speech and actions. There may be some basis for such ideas about those two apostles. It seems that they differed in personality. Still, they worked well together. (Acts 8:14; Gal. 2:9) Accordingly, it is possible for Christians with quite different personalities to work together today.
Perhaps there is in your congregation a brother whose speech and actions irritate you. Still, you realize that Christ died for that person and you are to show love. (John 13:34, 35; Rom. 5:6-8) So rather than write off any friendship with that one or tend to avoid him, ask yourself: ‘Is my brother doing something that is clearly wrong Scripturally? Is he maliciously trying to cause me discomfort? Or do we just have different personalities?’ Also, of great importance is the question: ‘Which of his good qualities can I benefit from?’
That last question is key. If the person is a talker and you are quiet, think of the ease with which he starts conversations in the ministry. You might offer to work with the person in the ministry and see what you can learn. If he has often shown generosity to others, whereas you tend to be a bit tightfisted, why not note the joy that comes from giving to the elderly, the sick, or the needy? The point is, even though you have different personalities, you and your brother may be able to draw closer by focusing on the positive. Your doing so may not turn you into close companions, but it can help to draw you together and increase peace—in you and in the congregation as a whole.
Euodia and Syntyche may have had distinctly different ways or personalities. Yet, the apostle Paul encouraged them “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Phil. 4:2) Will you similarly work toward that goal and the related goal of peace?
DO NOT ALLOW CONFLICT TO CONTINUE
Like weeds growing wild in a flower garden, bad feelings toward others will likely get worse unless we strive to uproot them. Once bitterness overpowers a person’s heart, it can even impact the spirit of the congregation. If we love Jehovah and our brothers, we will do all we can to keep personal differences from disturbing or diminishing the peace of God’s people.
When we address conflicts or differences with the goal of making peace, we may be surprised at the excellent results. Consider the experience of one Witness: “I felt that one sister was treating me as if I were a child. It really bothered me. As my irritation grew, I started being curt with her. I thought, ‘She does not show me the respect I deserve, so I am not going to show her respect.’”
This Witness then began to think about her own actions. “I began seeing my own personality flaws, and I was very disappointed in myself. I realized that I had to adjust my thinking. After praying to Jehovah about the matter, I bought the sister a small gift and wrote her a card to apologize for my bad attitude. We hugged each other and agreed to put the matter behind us. We have not had any more problems.”
People desperately need peace. However, when they face threats to their position and pride, many start acting in a way that is not peaceable. That is true of many who do not worship Jehovah, but among his name worshippers, peace and unity should prevail. He inspired Paul to write: “I . . . appeal to you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and mildness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to maintain the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3) That “uniting bond of peace” is priceless. Let us strengthen it and be determined to resolve any differences that may surface among us.