Friend or foe? by Gary Clayton

Having looked at biblically based friendships in the last issue, Gary Clayton, MAF Copywriter and Editor, warns against the fallout when church friends fall out. 

The article ‘Friends in High Places’ (Issue 109) looked at the many joys and blessings friendships provide. But what if things go wrong and relationships break down? For those who’ve experienced this, it can be one of the most painful things in the world. 

I remember falling out with a friend at school, and feeling so sad that I jammed part of my gum into my dental brace to prevent me from crying. The loss of a dear friend proved painful in every sense of the word! But what about the times we fall out with others in church?

Sometimes, rather than confronting them outright, it might be better to ask God to change our heart – and theirs – in private, rather than getting into fruitless arguments that will not only yield bad fruit, but set our teeth on edge and leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Not every grievance needs to be aired, especially if it leads to bad blood or bad feelings. Indeed, we can be so blinded by hurt, rage or anger that, when we find ourselves on a collision course with a fellow believer, we’re sometimes blind to the potential consequences. 

It’s also hard to take the speck out of our own eye (Luke 6:41-42) if we’re at loggerheads with someone else!

Sadly, tragically, there are even times when differences, issues or disagreements become so contentious that others take sides, causing the worrying danger of a possible church split. 

I’ve seen it occur a couple of times, and can’t help noticing that, whenever there’s tension in the church and the risk of people splitting, the congregation invariably ends up singing ‘Bind us together, Lord, bind us together’ as a forlorn and unattainable hope, rather than an inspirational act of worship. 

And yet, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:9 – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ There are enough conflicts raging throughout the globe – many in the countries MAF serves with its fleet of life-saving aircraft – without our throwing caution to the winds, adding fuel to the fire, and kindling another. 

Romans 12:18, acknowledging this issue, says: ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’, while James 4:1-2 asks: ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.’ 

John 2:11 provides an equally sobering warning: ‘Anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness… They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.’ 

In life, being able to see clearly in all senses of the word is clearly necessary for our physical and spiritual survival. It’s not just the Pharisees who, like the blind leading the blind, can end up falling into a pit!

Luke 6:27-37 is particularly challenging: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them… Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Experience indicates that, when Matthew 18:21-22 says to forgive those who sin against us “not seven times, but seventy-seven times”, this not only includes wrongs caused by ‘repeat offenders’ but our need to stop reciting, recalling or reliving the offence originally caused. 

So we should be careful not to speak out when situations don’t demand it, God doesn’t require it, and Scripture doesn’t command it. 

But there’s another reason why it’s good to avoid conflict and to strive for peace. Christians, someone once said, are a bit like cards in a pack. At some point or other, we’ll probably be reshuffled and may end up next to someone we used to know, worked for, or went out with. 

It’s happened to me on a number of occasions when, to my surprise and embarrassment, an ex-girlfriend or former boss unexpectedly materialised! Thank goodness I’d managed to remain on reasonably good terms…

Indeed, I used to think that, unless we’re very different by the time we see our heavenly Father, there’s a danger we’ll spend the rest of eternity attempting to hide from the people we couldn’t get on with on earth! 

Mercifully, Scripture indicates that we’ll be completely changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), so thank heaven that the life to come will be vastly different to our life on earth! 

Gary Clayton is blessed to be married to Julie, his best friend, and father of Christopher (15) and Emma (12). He is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship. To learn how MAF’s pilots and personnel befriend communities living in 27 of the world’s poorest nations, visit www.maf-uk.org.

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