I am intrigued by motorcycles. I dream about ascending the back of a “hog,” journeying out on the open highway, and riding into the sunset.
But it will never happen because my mother was a physical therapist. She regularly came home from work and told us horror stories about motorcycle accidents. Her job consisted of helping those who had been injured. That was her calling.
As a pastor, I have found over the past thirteen years that much of my calling deals with helping those who have been injured, not in a car accident, but by other people—and often it is by other people in the church. A relationship fractures. The need for restoration, forgiveness, comfort, love, healing, and peace manifests itself. I am asked for counsel or tasked with bringing the gospel to bear in the situation.
What is helpful in such times of conflict between Christians? We could detail numerous helpful approaches, but one that is often neglected and proves amazingly helpful is to remind the offended parties of eternity.
Paul takes this approach regularly because he knows that reconciliation in the body of Christ flows from the reconciling Savior. We can see this especially in his counsel to Philemon regarding his runaway slave Onesimus. He reminds Philemon that Onesimus was his slave in the flesh (Philem. 16), which refers to the temporal world. But then he encourages him that now Onesimus is a beloved brother “in the Lord.” This is placing an eternal view upon these present circumstances. Here is a relationship that is greater, deeper, and fuller, and that will never end. It lifts their eyes from their present conflict—which may have included Onesimus’ stealing from Philemon (v. 18)—to what they will enjoy with one another forever.
Paul even offers an interesting comment that Onesimus may have been predestined to run away from Philemon in order that he might have him back not just for the present but for all of eternity (v. 15). He doesn’t speak definitively about God’s providence, but he is willing to guess that the conflict was for Philemon’s eternal benefit.
We have all observed as two small children sit together and a fight suddenly erupts. Tears flow, screaming ensues, and sometimes a hit or even a bite will be employed. Why? Because both children desire the same toy. It could be a doll or a whistle or a ball—the object doesn’t really matter because once the child possesses it, he only plays with it for a few minutes. As adults watching all of this, we can’t help but shake our heads. The reason for their conflict and high emotions is so fleeting, trivial, and inconsequential.
So it is with many of our conflicts in the body of Christ when eternity is kept in view. May we remember that we are forever united to one another in Christ and will dwell before His throne as siblings singing the same song to the same Lord because we have been purchased by the same blood. And we will be marked by this reality forever.