Relationships and Disagreements: Part I
Their Origin and Their Solution
Introduction: This two-part series: Relationships and Disagreements: Their origin and Their solution address the genesis of and God’s solution for problems. Relationships matter. Moreover, relationships are never the problem – people in them are and people are sinners! God has answers for so-called “relational problems.”
Disagreement is an interesting term. The dictionary definition includes divergence, difference, disparity, and deviation. The term always involves a standard and activity or inactivity based on that standard. The term speaks of cognition and thinking as well as desire. It involves decision making, choice, and the expression of that choice. So much is involved in the term itself. Moreover, it is a pregnant relational term. In the area of relationships it is helpful to view disagreement on a spectrum: difference of opinion, disagreement, argument, and conflict.
In the Garden of Eden, before sin, there was no disagreement between God and man and between Adam and Eve. This was a partial picture of heaven. Adam and Eve were in the presence of God and they were enjoying Him and themselves. Being in God’s presence was a privilege and blessing. God planted Adam in the Garden (Genesis 2:9, 15). He brought Adam into His presence and Adam did not die! There was no sin on earth. Adam and Eve enjoyed the company of each other because they enjoyed being in the presence of God.
For those living after the institution of the Levitical sacrificial system, Pre-fall Eden was at least a partial reminder of the events described in Leviticus 16. Pre-fall Eden was much like the Holy of Holiness but without sin. Adam and Eve were privileged and chosen to be placed in the Garden and with direct access to the presence of God. The book of Leviticus records the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). The privileged and chosen high priest once a year entered into God’s presence. Unlike pre-fall Adam and Eve, the high priest did so after he offered sacrifices for himself as well as the people so that he would be set aside, consecrated and made holy unto the Lord. In that way there would be no disagreement between God and Israel. He could enter into the Holy of Holiness for himself and the people. Pre-fall, Adam and Eve had no need of a blood sacrifice.
The reality of entrance and presence into the Garden of Eden and the Holy of Holiness were exciting and harmonious times. The high priest was faced with some uncertainty as to his acceptability prior to entering; the concept was similar to the Adam and Eve in the Garden. There were no disagreements and I doubt no differences of opinion between Adam and Eve. There was harmony between Adam and Eve and God and harmony between Adam and Eve. This harmony was a picture of Trinity and God’s Intratrinitarian activity. There were no differences of opinion or disagreements within the Trinity. You could say, things were excellent which would be an understatement!
The fall and God’s judgment ushered in a whole new dynamic in interpersonal relationships between man and man and man and God. We have to be careful here. Differences of opinion and disagreements are not necessarily sinful. However, based on Genesis 1:28, there were no disagreements between Adam and Eve and God. Adam and Eve were naked and not afraid (2:25). Harmony was an essential, ingredient in their relationship.
Pre-fall, there may have been differences of opinion between Adam and Eve but there were no disagreements between Adam and Eve and God. They received God’s revelation – His self-expression by revealing His truth and Himself. They received direct revelation and perceived with their senses God’s presence and creative activity. They heard His word. In the Garden, they received both types of revelation: natural or general revelation and special or word revelation. They accepted it and apparently for a time acted on it.
They also interpreted God’s revelation drawing conclusions about God, themselves, their responsibilities, each other, and creation based on truth: a right view of God and self. Their interpretative grid enabled them to rightly perceive God, His world, and themselves. They were in sync with God and each other. They were busy interpreting God’s words as God intended. Genesis 1:28 records His positive commands to them: be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule. The specifics of carrying out these “marching orders” are not given in Scripture. It is possible that Adam and Eve had differences of opinion on how to implement these orders, but there was no disagreement and no conflict.
Adam’s sin and God’s judgment changed man’s relationship between man and man and between man and God. Post-fall man re-interpreted God’s revelation according to a heart that was for and to self and opposed to God. Predictably, differences of opinion multiplied. Self-protection and self-fulfillment led to disagreements and then to conflict. Relationships were complicated by disagreements. Self-protection and fear of man and sinful fear of God and began to be a driving motif in their lives (Genesis 3:7). I call this the fig -leaf function of life – for self, by self, and to self. Sadly, conflict is part of living with and as sinners, both saved and unsaved. All men on earth with the exception of Christ contended and jostled for their position and space.
The question for anyone especially the Christian is: What do you do when someone disagrees with you? The Bible teaches that man has both a vertical relationship to God and horizontal relationships to people. The vertical relationship always controls the horizontal one (Romans 14:1-15:6; 2 Corinthians 5:9, 14-15; Philippians 2:3-5; James 4:1-3). Romans 14-15 and James 4:1-3 document that division is the result of I wants and consequently addressing disagreements in a non-biblical manner. Therefore for the believer who is indwelt by Christ and has a relationship with Christ, disagreement should not lead to conflict, strife, and division.
How should you respond to someone who disagrees with you? In part it depends on at least two factors: your relationship with the other person and the issue itself. Every issue is actually relational. Believers, both the one who disagrees and the one who is the target of the disagreement, are united in Christ and to each other. That simple fact changes the playing field and the rules of engagement. Believers are not to approach relationships in the same way the world does (John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
1. What is the origin of differences of opinion, disagreements, and conflict?
2. What is the model for relational horizontal activity – man to man: “getting along”?
3. What is the main message in Romans 14:1-15:6 and James 4:1-3?
Relationships and Disagreements: Part II
The Bible accurately and boldly addresses relationships and rightly so (Matthew 22:37-40 and 1 John 4:7-12, 19). Man, an image bearer of God, is a relational and social being. He follows the very nature of the Triune God. Obviously by the very nature of the Trinity, God did not intend Himself to be alone. The three-in-one God is relational within the Trinity and outside of the Trinity. There is harmony within the Trinity. Without being sacrilegious, the harmony within the Trinity can be expressed as: all for one and one for all. The three-in-one God is never at odds with Himself. There are no differences of opinion, no disagreements, no conflicts, and no strife within the Trinity. There is divine and heavenly harmony. It is a foretaste of heaven as the believer ponders life in heaven.
As God’s image, man is to function in relationships as God does in His. However since man is not God, man must approach God and others differently than God does. However, God has established a relationship between Him and every believer via union with Christ. The believer is in Christ via the Holy Spirit. The Spirit indwells every believer and every believer has access to God’s word. God has prepared and empowered every believer to relate to Him and others in a God-honoring way. There should never be differences of opinion or disagreement on the fundamental truth that pleasing and honoring God controls all interpersonal relationships. Differences of opinion and even communication are not the problem – people are! After the fall, relationships and disagreements are common. Unless recognized, the disagreements are handled wrongly which leads to a widening and downhill spirit. The believer recognizes these facts is aware that relationships and disagreements don’t have to lead to conflict. In fact, they should not!
Consider these general principles for relationships and disagreements. These principles are designed to maintain and restore godly relationships. They are based on the fact that man is a relational, social being and image bearer of God.
First each person must be a learner. Relationships and disagreements are bound to occur. That is not the issue. Each person is to always function as a learner to the degree that the other person allows. Learn the person’s standard for saying what he is saying. Make sure you understand him – where he is coming from. proper understanding of the other person facilitates relationships complicated by disagreements.
Second, make sure you understand the issue and his concerns and not simply his solution. The issue and his concern about the issue are linked but they are not the same. For example, one party wants to drive through the night and the other prefers to stop. Here is a difference of opinion and even a disagreement. Both parties need to determine the issue by determining the concerns of each. When they learn that one wants to be frugal and the other wants to be safe, differences of opinion can be seen in a different light and proper, God-honoring solutions will be developed.
Third, learn from the other person any amount of truth that he offers regarding you that may not be pleasing to God. According to world’s mindset that is radical and counterintuitive. But it is biblical (John 8:46). Remember the person is God’s agent. It is God’s world not yours or the other person’s, even though he, or you, or both may act as if it is. The key is to listen to learn to love and to change. Change is not simply to avoid conflict and function as a peace-lover rather than as a peacemaker. God loves a peacemaker because His Son was the ultimate Peacemaker (Matthew 5:9)! Change is for the sole purpose of honoring God.
Fourth, make it easy for him not to sin and easy for him to do right. Being right or winning or changing his mind should not be your goal. Becoming more like Christ by pleasing God is every believer’s goal as it was Christ’s (John 4:31-34; 2 Corinthians 5:9).
There are three additional points to be applied to any relationship:
1. Consider your message. The content of what you say is very important. Apply these simple, basic biblical principles: speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 25), be slow in responding and respond with a gentle answer – both prevent strife (James 1:19; Proverbs 15:1).
2. Consider your manner: Speaking the truth begins by thinking God’s truth and presenting it in love. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25). Truth is defined God’s way. You must first be a learner and exam yourself. In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus commands every believer to begin with self. Every person has a log (his sin) and a speck (the other’s person’s sin). Your sin is your log and his sin is your speck because your sin is yours and it is your responsibility before God and others. His sin is your speck because it is his. Be just as aggressive about your sin as you are someone else’s. You are NOT his Holy Spirit. His sin is his log, his responsibility, and his speck is your sin, your responsibility. Jesus did not mean cease being a blessing to others (Galatians 6:1-5). He is teaching you and all believers how to be blessing God’s way.
3. Consider your method: how do you speak the truth and what is your motivation for speaking it? Several questions follow: What weapons of warfare do you use and for what reason (James 4:1-3)? Are you more interested in defending or deceiving yourself and others? Evaluate your approach to those who disagree with you. Do you give them the “silent treatment,” do you use the “escape method,” do you use loud voices and mean looks to shut down the conversation or preventing them from coming?
Differences of opinion, disagreements, and problems are part of living in a sin-cursed world. God intends His people to be problem solvers especially in regard to relationships. He won the victory at the cross. Among other truths, the cross teaches what lengths God went to in order to resolve conflict and severed relationships. He gave Himself to every believer and every believer to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Ephesians 4:1-3, 11-15). It is essential that we follow His example as given in His Word.
1. What does God require of you in order for you to reevaluate your view of differences of opinion and disagreements?
2. What thoughts, desires, and actions do you need to replace and what is your plan?
3. Make a record of your differences of opinion and disagreements. What is a major theme or themes? Develop a biblical-based plan and keep a record of the results of implementing it.