Blessed Builders: Handling Conflict

Blessed Builders: Handling Conflict

Opening Illustration: I’d Drink It

I heard a story about an old man who was having an argument with an old bitter lady in his church.  They got mad at each other and they began to shout at one another.  The old lady said “if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.”

Quickly the old man responded “if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”

Friends, conflict is everywhere.  It is in our homes.  It is at work.  Its on the ball field.  Yet, not all conflict is bad.  Conflict, if handled appropriately can lead to some very positive outcomes.  

That is where we are today.  We see Nehemiah confronted with conflict.  The Scripture even tells us that he was angry in the midst of the conflict.  Yet, even in his anger, Nehemiah chooses the high road.  He uses the conflict to bring about an encouraging result.  So, how do you handle conflict?  How do you handle conflict at home, at work or even here at church?

How Do You Handle Conflict? Confrontational or Compassionate?

Background and Context:
So, in Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah has a burden.  Jerusalem is busted, burned and broken down.  That is some pretty bad news.  

Next, in Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah transforms the burden to a kingly blessing.  Nehemiah asks the King if he can depart for his hometown to rebuild.  The King shows Nehemiah and his friends some pretty unbelievable favor. He gives him papers to secure his journey and even gives him some building materials.  

In the second half of Nehemiah 2 and the entire chapter of Nehemiah 3, Nehemiah begins to build.  He begins to rebuild the gates and the walls.  It was a big job and lots of people got involved.  People began to really believe in what Nehemiah was trying to do.  They caught the vision.  

Last week we came to Nehemiah 4.  Things are going well.  People have work.  They have jobs.  They are constructing and seem to be overall satisfied in their lives.  Yet, something happens.  Nehemiah encounters bullies.  Sanballat and Tobiah begin to try to tear down all the good that Nehemiah has achieved.  They are the worst sort of critics.  They just hang out while everyone is working and they critique everything.  They are nit pickers.  They are the sidewalk superintendents.  Always talking and never working.  

Today we will examine Nehemiah 5.  In Nehemiah 4, we saw complaints from outsiders.  Today we will see conflict from the inside.  The people are working in harmony until they realize that the payment for their work is not covering the needs of their family.  They are having to sell their homes and their children into slavery just to make ends meat.  What makes matters worse, the wealthy and the elite in the community are taking advantage of the poor.  They are charging them huge interest rates for borrowing money and they are capitalizing on the misfortune of their own people.  Nehemiah, after hearing this complaint becomes angry.  Yet, instead of adding to the problem, Nehemiah creates peace.  He handles the conflict in a beautiful way and restores trust back to his community.  

What Have We Learned?

Nehemiah 1: Nehemiah’s Burden
Nehemiah 2: The King’s Blessing 
Nehemiah 3: Jerusalem’s Building
Nehemiah 4: Nehemiah’s Bullies
Nehemiah 5: Israel’s Bother  

Nehemiah 5:1-13 ESV
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold[a] of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

What Can We Learn From Nehemiah’s Leadership

I. Israel’s Complaints vs. 1-5
Nehemiah 5:1-5 ESV
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

Point:
As a pastor I hear a lot of complaining.  Sure, I hear it here at church but everywhere I go people know that I am pastor.  People from all walks of life come to me for advice and also to complain about whatever situation they find themselves in.  If I am being honest, I complain to.  I complain about lots of things.  We all do.  

Sometimes we complain about things that don’t matter and have no bearing on our lives.  We just like to complain. We complain about the weather.  We complain about politics.  We complain about the church.  We just complain.  

Yet, not all complaints are created equal.  Some complaints are real and true and deserve to be heard.  Such is the case with Israel.  They are poor.  They don’t have enough food to eat.  They are having to borrow money from their brothers and sisters to pay their taxes.  They have found themselves and indentured servants.  They are slaves not only to the King but also to their own neighbors.  

Point:
Do me a favor.  I want you to think for a second.  What is the last thing that you complained about?  Thank about it.  Go ahead.  

No, write that complaint down on your outline.  Ask yourself these questions.

1. Am I willing to find a solution to this problem or am I just wanting to complain. 

2. Am I complaining about something that has an eternal impact?

3. How many people have I complained to about this issue all the while doing nothing to solve the problem?

4. Would I be willing to share this complaint publicly or would I rather complain about it in dark private places with people who will keep my complaint a secret.

5. In complaining am I hoping that someone else will get in trouble?  

6. Does my complaint make me look good and someone else bad?

Point:
You see, Israel had a valid point.  They had a right to complain.  They were busy working.  They were following God’s plan for their lives and their own people were mistreating them.  So, they went to Nehemiah to be heard.  

If we are being honest, most of the stuff we complain about have no eternal value.  Most of the time we complain in hopes that we will be lifted high while tearing down someone else.  We are complaining because it is in our nature to complain.  We complain but have no desire to solve a problem or get our hands dirty.  

The Bible has a lot to say about corrupt and complacent complainers:

Philippians 2:14 ESV
Do all things without grumbling…

James 5:9 ESV
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

Illustration:
Friends, my parents instilled in me many fine qualities.  One of those qualities was to not complain about something if I am unwilling to help or work to solve the problem.  

I have shared the same lessons with my boys.

Quote:
Complaining not only ruins everybody else's day, it ruins the complainer's day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.
Dennis Prager

Point:
So, Nehemiah runs into some pretty valid complaints.  Again, not all conflicts have to be bad.  Some can be beneficial.  Let’s see what Nehemiah does with this conflict.  

What Can We Learn From Nehemiah’s Leadership

I. Israel’s Complaints vs. 1-5
II. Nehemiah’s Call Out vs. 6-10
Nehemiah 5:6-10
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 

Point:
Have you ever been there?  Someone comes to you and drops a little truth bomb on you and BOOM, you are angry.  You went from totally calm to out of control.  You were angry and your had reason to be upset.  

Let me tell you, I have been there.  Believe it or not, I was there recently.  There was a situation where I got so mad and in the aftermath I was surprised how short my fuse really was.  I have always tried to be a patient person who shows a lot of grace, but in that instant, I lost my cool and blew my top.  It was a sad moment for sure.  

After it was all over, I had to go and apologize to people that received my wrath.  I had to confess that I was wrong and I had to ask for their forgiveness.  

I know what you are thinking, “but Stuart you are a preacher”.  You are right but I am also human.  

Point:
Nehemiah gets upset.  He is angry.  But he does something in verse 7 that I wish I would have done. Scripture tells us “I took counsel with myself”.  

The New Living Translation puts it this way…
After thinking it over…

I really like the way the NLT puts it.  Nehemiah stopped and counted to 10.  He didn’t just go and let the words fly.  He pondered.  He thought it over.  

How many times would that have helped me?  Countless to say the least.  

How many times have you ever received that email with cutting and critical words and immediately fired off a response?  I have been there several times. 

Just the other day, I was frustrated about something, so you know what I did, I wrote a scathing email.  Thankfully, I asked Tony the Tender hearted into my office so that he could read the email.  He gave me some good advice.  

“Stuart, why don’t you save the email as a draft and give it a day.  Tomorrow, if you feel like you still need to send it, you can.”

You know I never sent that email.  I just deleted it.  

Friends, there is wisdom is thinking things over before you shoot your mouth off.  

There is wisdom in thinking things over before you post that status on Facebook or Twitter.  

Point:
Parents, do you know that your children are looking to you to set an example.  They are watching you to see how you deal with conflict and contentious people.  

Illustration:
An author for READERS DIGEST writes how he studied the Amish people in preparation for an article on them. In his observation at the school yard, he noted that the children never screamed or yelled. This amazed him. He spoke to the schoolmaster. He remarked how he had not once heard an Amish child yell, and asked why the schoolmaster thought that was so. The schoolmaster replied, "Well, have you ever heard an Amish adult yell?"

Point:
Imagine if Nehemiah blew his top.  Imagine the long term damage that would have caused.  Nehemiah gave it some time.  He paused.  He pondered.  In doing so, it saved his ministry and blessed a nation.  

Remember…

Proverbs 29:11 NIV
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.  

Transitional Statement:
So, just what did Nehemiah do to diffuse himself and the situation?  Let’s learn in the next point.

What Can We Learn From Nehemiah’s Leadership

I. Israel’s Complaints vs. 1-5
II. Nehemiah’s Call Out vs. 6-10
III. Nehemiah’s Custom vs. 7-11
7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”

Illustration:
A young daughter was working so diligently on her homework that her father became curious and asked her what she was doing. She looked up at her dad and replied, “I’m writing a report on how to bring peace to the world.” The father smiled and said, “Isn’t that a pretty big order for a little girl?” The girl continued writing as she answered, “Oh, no. Don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it.”

Illustration:
It’s easy to be naïve about peace, because it is in fact, very elusive in our church, in our relationships, in our culture, and in the world today. I recently heard about a group of people who were walking across America on a mission of peace. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get along and divided into two groups in Arkansas! That reminds me of what one person said about Christians who quarrel: “Where two or three come together in Jesus’ name…there will eventually be conflict.”

Point:
Even though Nehemiah takes a few moments to ponder the situation, he handles the conflict quickly.  He doesn’t wait till it spirals out of control.  He brought the warring parties together and figured out a solution.  

Major Points:
Friends, this sort of conflict resolution only works if you are willing to be completely obedient to God.  Everything about you must shine with Jesus.  Your words, work, witness all must be conformed in the image of God.  Otherwise, your efforts to bring resolution will be seen as hypocrisy.  

Brothers and sisters, we can follow Nehemiah’s example but we should also hear Jesus’ example for resolving issues and bringing peace to our world.

Open your Bibles to Matthew 18:15-17…

Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d]17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Follow Jesus’ Recipe For Peace!

       A. Be Prompt: “If your brother or sister sins, go...”

B. Be Precise: “and point out their fault...”

C. Be Private: “just between the two of you.”

D. Be Polite: “If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

E. Be Patient: “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along... If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church...”

F. Be Prepared: “and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

What Can We Learn From Nehemiah’s Leadership

I. Israel’s Complaints vs. 1-5
II. Nehemiah’s Call Out vs. 6-10
III. Nehemiah’s Custom vs. 7-11
IV. Confession Brings Closure vs. 12
“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”

Point:
Instead of bitterness, the Jewish officials backpedal and do the right thing.  

Instead of anger, the officials were apologetic.  

Instead of a rage the officials were remorseful.  

What if that were you?  Can you imagine if you were doing wrong and a grand meeting was scheduled and in front of everyone your misdeeds were discussed openly?  Chances are you would be incensed.  You would be angry and upset.  Yet, that is not the reaction we find.  

First we see that the officials were convicted by Nehemiah’s words vs. 9-11.  God’s Word has the ability to convict doesn’t it.  Have you ever read the Bible and it immediately opens your eyes to sin? Next they openly confess their wrong vs. 12.  There is something great and mysterious about confession.  

Nehemiah wanted the officials to confess their wrongs so that others could hold them accountable to their actions.  Lastly, they grew closer to one another and to God vs. 13.  When we know that God is watching it should motivate us to continue to do right.  Take this message and do right by your brothers and sisters today. 

Ephesians 4:26 ESV
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,


Conflict May Be Natural, But It Doesn’t Have To Be Normal!

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