If there is one thing that I have learned in life about people, is that things get messy. Because, ultimately, we are messy. That's right, you, me, and everyone you meet, are messy. We are impulsive, reactionary, and biting. Sometimes things get out of control, and loud. Disagreements turn into arguments, and eventually broken relationships. It's inevitable, confrontation will come. So then the question becomes, how do we deal with it all? How do we deal with people?
If you could get that right, how would your life go? Perfect, certainly not. Better, yes! That's what we want to get to. We can be better, and it starts with us. I have read many books about relationships. Every time I do, I recognize all the behaviors that set me off. I immediately see the things that drive me crazy. It takes time to see the things that I do, that set other people off, or exacerbate the situation. In fact, I can clearly see when situations get out of control and people get hurt, but have no idea how they got there.
Jesus said, "First remove the plank out of your eye, before you remove the speck from your brothers." Matthew 7:5. The simple fact is, we can pray for change in others, but we control our own actions. You can't control others, only yourself. Let that sink in a bit. Good and deep. As much as we don't want that to be true, it is. The only thing we can control is our own actions! So where can we start?
There are so many places in the Bible that talk about how we are to treat others, but in I Peter chapter 3, there is a key to all relationships. "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, knowing you were called to this." This almost seems so idealistic it's unreal. So let's break it down. There are four everyday truths to deal with conflict.
The first is this, love as an action, as well as a mindset. Peter says, "having compassion for one another; love as brothers; be tenderhearted; be courteous..." Not only should we act out the love for others, even as they offend us, but we need to keep this in our mind. It has to be a conscious thought. As someone is offending you, stop, think about the fact that you need to love them. It's up to you to bring the situation back from the brink, because you love them. Keep your pride in check, because the person is greater than your pride. Finally, simply be courteous. Be polite, and civil, even obliging, which is the very definition of courteous.
The next part is the fastest, most effective, and hardest thing to do. "...not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling..." Think back to the last argument you had, with your spouse, your friend, or family. In the heat of the argument, are you ready to stop the cycle? The more they offend, disrespect, and hurt you, the more we want to pay that back, plus some! I can truly say, I tend to go for the throat, like a lion, in an argument. I want to put them in their place! Because I don't have the right mindset, and because of that, I exacerbate the situation. There is no getting around this, it's hard. There is no guarantee that they won't stop their side, but this is on you, not them. You are the only one that control's you!
Finally, the reason and base to accomplish this seemingly impossible diffusing of the situation, is the latter end of the verse. "...but on the contrary, knowing you were called to this." On the contrary means we return the reviling, treating with reproachful or contemptuous language, and the evil with respect, and blessing. Sounds amazing right? But put yourself in the middle of conflict and then you won't feel like blessing them. Blessing is a wish of happiness pronounced, or a prayer imploring happiness upon another. It's hard to do that when you don't feel like it. The only way to actually do it is to know that your literally called to. A calling goes beyond a goal, or wish. It goes beyond good feelings, beyond what sounds good. It's something you sacrifice for. Think about this way. Many people feel a calling into their occupation. Like a medical doctor. You have to sacrifice to pay for medical school, sacrifice to study, get through your residency, until you finally make it to be a doctor. Then you spend your life helping people. Our calling is the same. We have to sacrifice our own pride, our own feelings, and sense of respect to love someone.
Jesus calls us to live a life so radically different that we can do this. But only if we call Him Lord. If we call Jesus Lord, what pride can we have? If we call Jesus Lord, what respect do we really need? If we call Jesus Lord, what kind of love do we need from others? The difference that being a christian is, is that we draw all of those things, pride, respect, and love, from God. Jesus can be the ultimate source of everything we need in this life, and here Peter is making that claim. Peter is telling us that everything we need comes from Christ, and since that is true, we can draw on that sense of acceptance, love, pride, and respect from the Lord. We don't need it from others! Since that is true, we can be free to keep the mindset of love toward people disrespecting us, free to love them, free to repay evil and reviling with love and blessing. We are called to this.
Relationships are hard. They are not going to be easy. We have to fight the urge to change others. That job belongs to the Lord. If we focus on the change God is working in us and through us, we will change. From those who make the world harsher, to those who are a catalyst for change.