Turbulent Priests and Blessed Peacemakers

Gary Clayton shares how believers can respond when dealing with unchristian behaviour – whether of others or their own

In 1170, frustrated at the apparent intransigence of Archbishop Thomas Becket, Henry II allegedly cried, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

It’s a feeling – whether at work or in church – that we may have encountered when dealing with fellow believers!

Many years ago, an unsuitable Christian manager attempted to bully and control his staff. (You’ll be glad to hear he didn’t work for my current employer, the brilliant Mission Aviation Fellowship.)

One of his ideas involved producing an exhibition display that didn’t contain the organisation’s name. “t will add an air of mystery,” he explained. “People will wonder who we are.”

But people just walked past us without bothering to ask.

When we mentioned this, the boss became increasingly angry and said the literature he’d given us should have made our identity obvious.

“Yes,” we said, “but you told us to only give out leaflets if someone stopped at the stand and asked for them!”

So how do we act if a fellow Christian turns against us or makes life difficult? Do we take a stand for the sake of the Gospel, or take it lying down?

And why do people sometimes behave badly?

Perhaps they do so because they’re somewhat thick-skinned, insensitive or self-absorbed – though, with prayer and appropriate support, they might possibly change.

Maybe they’re hurt or unhappy, and need love, affirmation, encouragement and support – their bad behaviour a cry for help.

Perhaps they’re somewhere on the autistic spectrum and are unaware of how poorly they come across or how tactless they can be when relating to others. People who could benefit from suitable feedback, or training on emotional intelligence.

Or maybe the person is just a big bully who’s determined to get their own way. Someone who gains a perverse satisfaction from dragging others down whilst boosting themselves up to increase their fragile self-confidence.

Some even suffer from what my wife calls ‘cuckoo in the nest syndrome’. The Machiavellian type who charms all the movers and shakers in church or at work and who, in attempting to climb onto a higher perch, attempts to push others off!

So, it not only depends on what damage the person is doing, but on what’s causing their painful or unhelpful actions.

Sometimes it’s right to ride out the storm, forgiving those who sin against us ‘not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ (Matthew 18:22), being aware that, because love is patient, isn’t easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5), we should forgive one another, just as in Christ God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

But there may be times when we need to prayerfully balance Romans 12:18, ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’, with Titus 3:10, ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.’

As a complacent Christian once said,

If you don’t think much of me now, you should’ve seen what I was like before I was a Christian!

So, although Proverbs 19:11 reminds us that it is to our glory to overlook an offence – encouraging us to take it to the Lord rather than taking it out on the person who offends us – there are times when, after soul-searching and prayer, it’s appropriate to act.

(This assumes, of course, that we’re acting from right motives, that the person in question is in the wrong and that, when we do act, we don’t make a production out of it!)

Matthew 18:15-17 tells us to talk to the erring brother or sister in private before involving others – aiming for reconciliation rather than self-vindication. After all, if the person who has upset us is a Christian, we’ll have to live with them for all eternity, so we may as well try to get on with them while we’re still on earth!

But what do we do if we’re the one whose behaviour is causing problems? Let’s pray that, if our own bad behaviour is appropriately challenged, then we will change, and become more Christlike.

We may not like people showing us our faults, but God can use such encounters to convict us of sin – enabling us to repair our relationships, mend our ways, and prevent other civilians from getting hurt.

The one thing we mustn’t do is follow the example of Henry II, who spoke hastily and intemperately to his knights and later regretted the death of Thomas Becket at the hands of those who’d heard his angry complaint!  

Gary Clayton is married to Julie, the father of Christopher (19) and Emma (16) and works for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn how MAF aircraft bring Christ’s love to some of the world’s most isolated areas, visit www.maf-uk.org

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