The newspaper report described a fifty-three-year-old man who was charged with assault after a fifteen-minute brawl at the rural Full Gospel Holiness Church. The brawl began when one person wanted to occupy the back pew, which was occupied, as usual, by a church regular. The article went on to say that the church minister's son suffered a bite to the neck that required 31 stitches.
You can’t make this stuff up. It’s a true story. Hard to believe, but true. While it is unlikely that you've ever been in a brawl inside a church building, the chances are that there is at least one other person in your life with whom you tend to have problems. How can we get along with people with whom it is often hard to live peaceably?
The Apostle Paul had a word on the matter than can help immeasurably. He wrote, "From now on, we know no one according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16). Then in the next verse he said, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature."
What does this have to do with getting along with people? It has to do with the way we choose to relate to them. To know somebody after the flesh is to decide their identity based on superficial, earthly things - such as their behavior, their position, - things like that.
Paul said that he chose not to know people within that context. Instead, he points to the fact that, in Christ, we are new creatures. When we choose by faith to look past the human flaws in other people and to see Jesus in them, it becomes much easier to "be at peace with them." We can't control how others act, but we can determine how we will respond to them.
Jesus described how we are to relate to others saying, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-38).
The words of Jesus sounded as strange to those who heard Him speak them in His own day as they sound in modern times. How are we to love our enemies? It is by recognizing that He loves them. He blesses them just as He blesses you.
Jesus then goes on to tell us something that seems impossible at first glance. He says,
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can any of us possibly do such a thing? The answer isn't complicated. We execute perfection in our love for others by resting in His perfect love.
We don’t muster up love from within ourselves, apart from Him. To the contrary, it is His love that we express to others, even those who we would otherwise find hard to love.
1 John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” The answer becomes clear in this verse. We don’t love those who are difficult by reaching into our own abilities. We simply become channels of God’s love. Love is from God. We are conduits through which that love flows.
When you find it hard to get along with somebody, start by praying a quick prayer for the person. Ask Jesus to express love to them through you. When we react to the bad mood of others with a negative response, we have allowed them to control us. Why let somebody else cause you to get in a bad mood? You can choose to express love to them and not allow the circumstance to rob you of your own joy.
Then, remember that he may have some kind of conflict going on inside himself. A sales clerk in a store once acted very rudely to me. My first impulse was to react the same way, but instead I paused, looked at the lady and sincerely asked, "Are you having a bad day?"
To my amazement, she began to pour out the details of her personal life that were causing trouble for her. I was so glad that I hadn't acted on my first impulse. Her demeanor instantly softened when I asked that question. It was one of those "God-moments" when He allowed me to see the importance of responding in love and not reacting impulsively.
Finally recognize the fact that the problem may be within you and not the other person. There have been times when I've found myself irritated several times by other people before it finally dawned on me: "They aren't doing anything wrong. I'm just in a bad mood today!" Maybe the quality in another person that irritates you isn't a bad quality. Maybe you're just in a bad mood yourself.
Paul determined to look beyond human characteristics and see Jesus in others. Mother Teresa was once asked about her work with the lepers, "Do you imagine that it is Jesus ministering to them when you serve them?" "No," she answered. "When I look at them, I see the face of Jesus."
There's the key - seeing Jesus in others. Look beyond the misbehavior and see Jesus in the face of those you meet. As much as it is possible, live at peace. That choice expresses the life of Christ.
By the way, if anybody ever wants to take your seat in church, especially if it is on the back row – let him.