Thursday, August 21, 2014


Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out lest you be consumed by one another.”

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 sometimes unpredictable in their behavior—just like humans.

Some time back our Men’s Bible study did a study through a book 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.  The book was a great resource which I would heartily recommend.  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 with 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!

We are prone to varying responses to difficult situations.  Sometimes we flee the situation (how many Christians leave a church because of their unwillingness to lovingly respond to a difficult situation?).  We can fight—“enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” are listed amongst the various deeds of the flesh (Cf. Galatians 5:20).  These kind of responses require no effort on our part.  We tend to gravitate towards them.

The remedy for our tendency to respond in fleshly ways is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).  Apart from the Spirit we lack the wisdom, power, or compassion to respond 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 work to supercede our fleshly tendencies.  The person of the Spirit (the “Helper;” John 14:16) works through the Word to change and empower us.  It is only as the “Word of Christ richly dwells within us” that we are Spirit-led and enabled to relate to one another properly (Cf. Ephesians 5:18f; Colossians 3:16f).

Galatians 5:13-14 instructs us in the God-approved manner in which we are to relate 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.”  Christ-like love is to 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 been defined for us in the loving sacrifice of the Lord Jesus (Cf. 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 and purposefully 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. Philippians 1:6).  This is the kind of love that we are to show to others, even when they don’t respond in kind.  To love like Jesus is to respond to others in terms of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  With respect to His preeminent 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. 

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