Friday, August 30, 2013


We’ve got two dogs—Bean and Rory.  Bean is a black and white half-Lab/half-Dalmatian.  Rory is a 3 year old Golden Retriever.  They’re friends and most of the time they get along pretty well—sometimes Bean will even lick and clean Rory’s ears for her.  But Rory is kind of spoiled and tends to get a little more attention.  Bean’s response?—he sneaks in behind her, chomps on her leg, and pulls.  Kind one minute, chomping on her the next.  Dogs can be unpredictable in their behavior—just like humans.

For the last year or two--I’ve lost track of when we started--our Men’s Bible study has been doing a study through a book written by Alexander Strauch entitled “If You Bite and Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict.”  The title for the book comes from Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you consume one another.”  It has been a wonderful study for our group.  I highly recommend it.

The title and verse speak to a very real problem—it is possible for Christians to engage in “Christian cannibalism.”  I’m not speaking, of course, of the physical kind, but Paul used such language to graphically depict what happens when Christians fail to act by the Spirit in love in their relationships to one another.  The sad reality is that you don’t have to be a Christian very long until you’ve been “chomped on” by a fellow brother or sister in Christ.

That we would engage is such behavior is testimony to the reality and tenacity of sin, though forgiven the believer is nonetheless still capable, in the flesh, of engaging in gross acts of unloving behavior.  You’ve probably got a few pieces of missing flesh or at least some tooth marks.  And you’ve likely, on more than one occasion, taken a bite out of a fellow saint.  Not very tasty!

A variety of fleshly responses can be applied to difficult situations.  Sometimes we flee the situation (how many Christians leave a church because of their unwillingness to lovingly confront a matter?).  We can fight—“enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” are listed amongst the various deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:20).  These kind of responses require no effort on our part.  We tend to gravitate towards them.  Like weeds in a garden their propensity to dictate our response is an ever present reality.  Even if not visibly present, they are there, lying just below the surface.

The remedy for our tendency to respond in fleshly ways is to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).  We lack the wisdom, power, or compassion to respond on our own, to difficult situations in a God-honoring way.  It is by the Spirit that Divine resources and Christ-like virtues are borne in us and brought to bear upon a conflict.  The person of the Spirit (the one called alongside to Help) uses the Word of God to help us.  It is as the “Word of Christ richly dwells within us” that we are led to relate to one another properly (Cf. Eph. 5:18f; Col. 3:16f).

The context of Gal. 5:15-16 instructs us in the universally correct response to one another: “Through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love must always govern our relationships within the body of Christ and our response to difficult situations.  There is never an “opt-out” when it comes to the command for us to love one another (Cf. John 13:34-35).  In our day one cannot mention the command to love without qualifying it according to its Biblical definition.  Love does not equate to tolerance, love is something far greater than that.  It has demonstrated to us and defined for us in the loving sacrifice of the Lord Jesus (1 John 3:16).  In the context of what is taught elsewhere in Scripture, a good definition of Christ-like love would be: that which actively, purposefully, and sacrificially pursues that which is best for its object.  Love coexists with truth and can only be understood in the sense of desiring “Christ’s best” for those whom we care about.  The exercise of Christ-like love depends on knowledge of the truth and discernment (Cf. Phil. 1:6).  This is the kind of love that we are to show to others, even when they don’t respond in kind.

In our study of Stauch’s book one theme has repeatedly drawn our attention—the example of Christ.  In every good way He is the perfect example for us.  He faced more and greater difficult situations than any of us will ever face, yet He never sinned in His response (Cf. Heb. 4:15).  Without condoning or tolerating sin, He was able to “speak the truth in love” in a remarkable manner (Cf. John 3:1-9; 4:11-8; 8:1-11).  He has set the standard for us in how we are to love (Cf. John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:32-5:2; 1 John 3:16).  To love like Jesus is to love in terms of 1 Cor. 13:4-7.  In consideration of His example it is readily apparent that we all have room to grow.

That reality helps us when it comes to dealing with difficult situations. Christ has for us to grow.  There is no way to avoid difficult situations.  We are all going to be “chomped on” sometime—that’s something we can’t control.  But here’s something we can control—our response.  We can respond, by the Spirit in love, in a way that honors God, contributes to healthy relationships, and adorns our testimony before the lost.  We can respond in a way that will contribute to our growing in Christ—a matter of utmost and mutual importance.

Bean doesn’t know any better, he’s just a dog.  But thank God that, in Christ, He is able to change us and grant us victory over our tendency to cannibalize ourselves.  It is in the nature of man in this dog-eat-dog world to chomp on each other, it is the nature and work of the Spirit to lead us to a higher plane of living.

Pastor Jerry