So where are we in dealing with conflict? Do we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.
Conflicts are a way of life for us, right? Who among us has lived their life without ANY conflict? The answer is none. So while we will have conflict we don’t have to allow that conflict to divide us or destroy our fellowship. Sadly far too often this division and destruction is what happens. But why? If we are all filled by the Holy Spirit and have the same Savior, why do we let conflict make us into strangers? The answer, to quote Sherlock Holmes, is “elementary my dear Watson”. Conflict divides and destroys because we don’t deal with it in a biblical manner. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We (wrongly) assume that the admission of conflict in one’s life is an admission of failure. In short, we don’t do the right thing when there are problems. And that relatively small problem grows and grows until it explodes. We are then left with a ruined relationship and an astonished look. But really it doesn’t have to be this way.
Nehemiah teaches us here in chapter 5 how to handle conflict. There are six principles I’d like to address that I have gleaned from this chapter. Each one is important enough to stand on its own so I’ll address each one separately. Let’s dig in and learn how to resolve conflict because is we ever want to do the Lord’s work, we must – MUST – resolve the conflicts we have with others in a biblical manner.
Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.
While chapter four dealt with opposition from outside, chapter five is going to help us deal with opposition from inside.
So what was the complaint? Well, they were being charged exorbitant amounts of money for food. See in v. 2 that they were mortgaging their possessions so that they could eat. These folks felt helpless and some of their children were being forced into slavery because the workers no longer owned their fields because they had mortgaged them to either eat or pay taxes. Pretty tough, huh! But this situation should not have existed within the community there. There were some who were taking advantage of others through high interest rate loans (we find this out later). These weren’t happy campers!
In order to deal with conflicts biblically, those in authority need to know about the problem. That seems obvious but it is overlooked quite a bit. Now here either they told Nehemiah directly or Nehemiah heard about it through the proverbial grapevine. How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? Do you let the ones in authority know or do you act in a different way? We must remember that when something is wrong, we must address it to those who are in a position to effect change. Nehemiah is a wonderful example regarding how we should deal with conflicts.
First he got some righteous anger. Look at the beginning of verse 6 “Then I was very angry…”
This may surprise some of you reading this. “Nehemiah got angry? Really?” You may ask. Yep. He got some holy heat going on. Anger is not wrong (Eph 4:26, 31). It’s the motivation and the result of that anger that controls whether it is right or wrong. Anger that causes one to sin is likely unrighteous. Anger that causes one to act in a positive manner is righteous. To be angry about something that is corrupt, anti-God, anti-Christ is no vice. It may well be a virtue. When we who know God and are His friend hear His name used as part of a cuss word, how can we not be angry? When we see His word perverted into some weird list of rules one must follow a specific way in order to gain eternal life, how can that not cause some discomfort in the people of grace?
If our anger motivates us to right a wrong, stand up for an oppressed person, or help someone in dire need, that anger is indeed righteous.
The next thing that Nehemiah did was he stopped and thought about his response. He showed some control over his emotions. He showed some discipline. Look in v. 7 “I consulted with myself…”
Nehemiah took time to reflect on his situation. He didn’t go off and start blasting away at those causing these conflicts. He took some time to ponder the situation and maybe even his response. We’re taught in Proverbs 16:32 that the one who is slow to grow angry is better than the strong ones or the mighty army rulers (my paraphrase).
So are you short-fused or long-fused? I hope you have a long fuse. If you don’t, look for ways to extend your fuse and remember that reflecting on your situation that is causing anger is an important step in handling the situation biblically.
Third Nehemiah followed the principles of biblical confrontation. You know sometimes when we cool off after being initially hot with anger we can decide to do nothing. But that is exactly the wrong response! Although cooling off is vitally important, we can’t cool off so much that we don’t care anymore.
Nehemiah situation was a significantly sticky one. He had to talk to the rich and powerful folks who were financing the project and providing labor. What would happen if these folks withdrew their support? Well, the facts seem to point to the fact that Nehemiah didn’t worry too much about these complications. He went to the ones causing the problems: “[I] contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’” Nehemiah confronted those who were part of the problem. We are taught this principle in the New Testament (see Matt 18:15-16). Nehemiah privately confronted these rich men before her did anything in public. We could stand to listen to Nehemiah here. If someone has caused conflict, go to them first. Talk to them before anyone else knows. We don’t know if Nehemiah was successful in this private confrontation. We do know that this confrontation moved on to the public realm because he recounts that he held a “great assembly” against them.
In this public forum, Nehemiah spells out the problem. He doesn’t hold anything back. But notice what he doesn’t do. Nehemiah doesn’t attack the rich for who they are. No, he points out what they are doing that is wrong. He rebuked them (v. 8) and pointed out that their enemies would mock the Jews (v. 9) for the Jews treatment of their own people. Have you ever experienced this in the church? I have. And unsaved folks love to mock us. Oh boy, we should learn how to treat each other so that we would not be the object of ridicule.
We cannot allow fear to keep us from confronting other Christians about their sin. We must be willing to love someone enough to point out where their actions oppress others and cause others to stumble.
The next thing Nehemiah did was that he set an example of godly behavior. He had redeemed (purchased out of slavery) some of the Jews with his own money (v. 8). He loaned money without charging interest (v. 10). He didn’t do this out of pride but as an example of godly leadership. He didn’t use his position or power to extract anything from the people (vv. 14-15), he feared God and genuinely cared for those who were hurting (vv. 15b, 18b), he was committed to the work at hand (v. 16) and he was generous (vv. 17-18).
Do you live your life as an example to others?
The last principle is that if we want to handle conflict biblically, we must be accountable and willing to submit to God, His word, and His leaders. In v. 13 we see that Nehemiah demanded accountability:
I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’
Nehemiah sets the standard here. This was a serious charge before God. Do you think God would shake someone or empty someone easily if that person continued to take advantage of others? Later, in v. 19 Nehemiah asks God to remember him for what he has done. He has no fear of asking God to remember him for his actions. But can we do this when dealing with conflict? Hmmmm.
So where are we in dealing with conflict? DO we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.
Our answers to those questions really determines if we desire to handle conflict biblically or simply expediently.