When the sword of vengeance is unsheathed, blade and handle become infected, ultimately destroying those at both ends.
Recently a reporter interviewed a lady hiker who happened upon an unusual sight in the woods; two deer, antlers locked, one with a broken neck, both dead. After the forestry department investigated, first believing poachers to be responsible, it was determined these two deer got into a fight. Both decided to kill the other; one was finally successful in breaking the other deer’s neck. Yet, because their antlers were locked, after a long and drawn-out skirmish, the “victorious” deer was unable to free himself, thus forced to succumb to the same fate as his opponent. Even though both deer fought their best, there was no winner.
At the age of 28, I accepted my first pastorate, a small church in North Carolina. Very early on, I was faced with two congregational members that had been bickering for years, with outbursts that increased in both frequency and severity. Because of my inexperience, attempts to reconcile these two proved to be in vain. After one particularly vocal conflict during the Sunday School hour between these two women, the deacon’s chairman had enough and gathered them together in one of the small classrooms. After telling them that their bickering was hurting them both and affecting the congregation, he told them they would not be allowed out of that room until they could apologize to each other, confess their sins to God, and move forward in grace. He then stepped into the hall, closed and locked the door, and watching through the window; he waited for them to reconcile. After the Sunday School hour was over, I made my way to the sanctuary and found this man outside the door. Once he brought me up to speed, I asked him to let them out, especially since one of them was our pianist, the other our choir director, and the church service was about to start! The chairman held his ground, and I nervously made my way to the sanctuary. Just a few minutes after I welcomed everyone to the service, the side door to the sanctuary opened up, and in came that chairman followed by the two ladies, each taking their positions, and the service began. It turns out, the unorthodox approach by the chairman of the deacons was just the wake-up call these two ladies needed as they both repented to God and reconciled with each other. The remainder of my tenure there was marked with love and unity.
I am now in my 50’s, and while I celebrate victories like that, I must say they are rare; generally, feuds between people are taken to the grave. Two people, antlers locked, doing everything they can to have the last word and make the winning point. Even if one can pull off a victory by silencing their opponent, success remains elusive, with guilt, shame, and bitterness being the only trophies on display. The Bible is very clear on this topic; when Christians argue amongst each other, the watching world; desperately searching for hope, walks away unchanged with Christians now being the excuse they use not to attend church at best or reject Christ at worst (Proverbs 18:13, Titus 2:7-8, Hebrews 12:14).
Scripture: “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” -II Timothy 2:14, ESV
Question: Is there someone in your life standing as a reminder of an open argument? Would you be willing to be the biblical model in that relationship to make things right?
Prayer: Father, I struggle with being “right” in a situation yet remaining silent. Please help me to sacrifice my “right to be right” on your altar of love for the sake of unity that the message of hope would go forth unrestricted. Remind me that you see and hear everything and have promised to be my defense. And, remind me that vengeance is yours and yours alone. For those in my life where there remains strife, please open their hearts to you, that when I take that first step of reconciliation, they will greet me with the open arms of your love. Thank you for having patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.