What is Strife?
From time to time we all experience mistreatment from others. It could be that someone we work for has spoken harshly to us or a we heard that someone has made negative comments about us; a family member may have been critical of our behavior, we may have received bad service from a business or we have had a disagreement with neighbor who is difficult to get along with. These and other similar situations usually cause us to react with negative words and actions that lead to bitterness and conflict. This is what the Bible calls strife. Strife is defined as bitter conflict, discord, lack of agreement or harmony. It is characterized by a resistance to cooperate with and get along with others. But creating strife, which usually happens when we become offended is not something that we should participate in as followers of Christ. This is because God’s nature is to love and which we see demonstrated in Bible. Even though the world had disobeyed and rebelled against God, he sent his son Jesus to die for us; He sent that which was his very best. When Jesus died on the cross he willingly sacrificed himself for us. It is this kind of self-giving love that we as God’s children are to manifest in our lives. But strife is contrary to God’s nature and will. It defeats the purposes of God. Giving in to strife leads to separation. It creates barriers. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 18:19 that, “A brother offended is more difficult than a fortified city; And disputes are like the bars of a castle.” The barriers it creates are not only barriers between ourselves and others but also between us and God and between us and his blessings.
Strife is Satan’s Trap
It is vitally important for us as followers of Christ to realize how detrimental strife is to our spiritual lives. Every opportunity to be involved in strife and offense is a trap from Satan. It destroys our unity. David wrote in Psalm 133:1, “See how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity! ” God meant for his people to dwell together in unity. But Satan wants to get God’s people off track and get them fighting flesh and blood rather than fighting against the spiritual forces of darkness. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy saying:
But refuse foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing that they generate strife. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but be gentle towards all, able to teach, patient, in gentleness correcting those who oppose him: perhaps God may give them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the devil’s snare, having been taken captive by him to his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26
Paul understood that when we yield ourselves to participate in strife or offense we are taken captive by Satan to do his will instead of God’s will. Strife, hatred, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions and envyings are listed by Paul as works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20 and 21. James writes about the same issue in James 3:16 saying, “ For where jealousy and selfish ambition [or strife] are, there is confusion and every evil deed.” Thus, in the same manner, Paul warns the believers in Ephesus, “Be angry, and don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil,” Ephesians 4:26, 27. We must not be unaware of Satan’s schemes. His desire is to kill, steal and destroy, but Christ has defeated and disarmed him. So the only weapon he has left is deception. Therefore he seeks to lead God’s people into strife and offense to get them out of love and out of fellowship.
Now let us look what happens we get out of love. Paul tells us what we are without love:
If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Without love we amount to nothing; we can accomplish nothing. Getting into strife or responding to offense will not advance our cause. Also, getting out of love effects the results of our faith. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love.” Faith works by love just like a car works by gasoline. If we run out of gas, our car will not run. If we run out of love, our faith will no longer deliver the results that we seek for our lives. The Apostle John, who has been called the Apostle of Love, vividly describes the consequence of not loving others:
He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no occasion for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11
God, John explained in 1 John 1:5-7 is light, that is he is pure and holy, and there is no darkness in him at all. And if we are walking in the light, then we will enjoy fellowship both with God and with others. Yet, if we are operating without love for others, then we are walking in darkness and are no longer in fellowship with God. And the darkness we are in will cause us to stumble. Neither will we know what direction we are going. Thus, if we want to stay in close fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reach the destination and destiny that God has for us and receive all of his blessings, we must resist the temptation to give in to strife or offense.
Neither can we allow unforgiveness in our hearts. As Jesus said in Mark 11:25, 26
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions.
Avoiding strife and maintaining our unity makes us, the Body of Christ, strong. But discord and conflicts will make us weak. Remember Jesus said that a divided house will not stand (Mark 3:25), On multiple occasions Paul instructed believers to:
- Follow after things that make for peace and build others us – Romans 14:19
- Be of the same mind so we can glorify God together – Romans 15:5, 6
- Have no divisions – 1 Corinthians 1:10
- Bear with one another in love – Ephesians 4:1-3
- Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit – Philippians 2:2
- Look beyond your own concerns to the concerns of others – Philippians 2:3, 4
And the Apostle Peter advises us to:
…be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tenderhearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were you called, that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8, 9
This means that if someone is not kind to or mistreats we should respond by doing something nice for them. Such actions will get their attention of those who were unkind to us because it is not the way the world behaves. It will break down barriers rather than create them.
What is Strife’s Root Cause
Yet, why do we get into strife? It is due to feelings of weakness, disadvantage or perceived abuse that arise when we are attacked or not treated accord to what we expect. It is because we are more conscience of our weakness than of our strengths and who we are in Christ. Thus, because we believe what was done or said to us will hurt us that we turn to fighting flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3) while we forget the spiritual aspects of our situation. Because of our hidden insecurities and anxieties we stumble out of God’s light into darkness for wrongly thinking that we have no other ways to respond. We become like the seed that was sown on rocky ground in the parable of the sower in Mark 4:16, 17; we lack a firm root in the security we have in Christ. We have forgotten that we have been renewed in Christ image and that he is our source of strength. So as God’s children, we are not out of ways to respond if we just simply follow God’s ways and seek his guidance.
The writer of Psalm 119 gave us the solution to overcome our conscienceness of weakness through God’s word. He wrote, “Those who love your law have great peace. Nothing causes them to stumble [or be offended]. ” That is the secret to resisting strife and offense! Love God’s law; read it, meditate on it, trust it, honor it, speak it and obey it. When the word of God fills our hearts and becomes more real to us on the inside then what is happening to us on the outside we be able to resist Satan’s trap for it is from the overflow of our hearts that our mouths speak (Luke 6:45).
How to deal with Offense and Strife
The world is filled with strife and offense, but according to Paul, when we practice living above disputes and conflicts we show the world that we are God’s children:
Do all things without murmurings and disputes, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world. Philippians 2:14, 15
What do we do then when some offends, mistreats or is unjust to us? First we must recognize that we have encountered an opportunity to get in to strife and that if we take the appropriate actions we will not get out of love and out of fellowship with the Lord. We have a choice now of whether to react or respond to the situation. To react means to act reciprocally or in return, usually without thought or consideration. Thus, when we reply in like manner or with harsh words we are reacting according to the weakness of our flesh and not according to the ways of God’s Spirit. Or we can respond which means to make a reply or answer with thought or consideration. This is in line with what Apostle James told his readers:
So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
Once we recognize that we are about to get into strife our second step is to resist it (James 4:7). And with practice we can accomplish this because we have been given self-control: “For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” 1 Timothy 1:7
And our third step is to respond based on the guidelines of scripture:
- Do repay evil: “Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men,” Romans 12:17, 18.
- Recognize that God’s grace is sufficient for you in this situation: “He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me,” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
- Do not provoke conflict: “Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another,”Galatians 5:26,
- Do not judge, speak evil or grumble about others: “Don’t speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge; Don’t grumble, brothers, against one another, so that you won’t be judged. Behold, the judge stands at the door,” James 4:11, 5:9.
- Do not respond with anger when criticized or mistreated: “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil” Ephesians 4:26, 27.
- Yield to love, “He who covers an offense promotes love; But he who repeats a matter separates best friends,” Proverbs 17:9.
- Demonstrate God’s grace and mercy: “For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment,” James 2:13
- Be quick to forgive: “…bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do,” Colossians 3:13.
- Overlook an offense; do not take it, let it pass you by: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger. It is his glory to overlook an offense,” Proverbs 19:11.
- Be a peacemaker; seek wisdom from above: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace,” James 3:17, 18; “So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up,” Romans 14:19; “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ,” Philippians 1:9, 10.
- Deal with your unloving attitudes and behaviors: unforgiveness, strife, hatred, hostility, envy, jealousy: “Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls,” James 1:21.
Along with these guidelines we will want to make a commitment to walk in selfless love. This is especially needful in order to keep strife out of our homes because we often let our guard down while in our homes. We allow ourselves to be more demanding and more selfish. Also we need to recognize the role that problems in communicating play in creating strife. Many times conflicts will arises from misunderstanding or misinterpretation; therefore, ask questions rather than jumping to conclusions.
Undoubtedly there will many opportunities for us to fall into strife or offense. Yet if we learn to respond correctly the Lord will be able to accomplish more than if we have reacted with confrontation. Such a response will cause those addressing us to reconsider their actions.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Alan Pasho, www.disciplepedia.org. All rights reserved.
Scriptures taken from the Word English Bible (WEB)