Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-13, Psalm 51:1-17

Today, and for the weeks during August and the first of September, we're going to get really practical, similar to what we did in Lent. But instead of spiritual disciplines, we're going to look at conflict, and look at different stories of conflict in the Bible to see what we can learn from them about conflict in our own lives and relationships. As many of you know, my field work in seminary was as a certified mediator in Georgia and for the Atlanta court system. So I've had some experience and some training in that area. That doesn't mean that I always handle my own conflicts perfectly, or even well, but it does mean that I've learned a lot, and that I'm much better at handling conflict in my life than I once was.

You might ask why a series on conflict belongs in sermons. What's that got to do with our faith? I invite you to think about that for a minute. The nature of God is love. I John 4:7 and 8 says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Pretty plain and simple. We start with focusing on that as the center of our faith. The God who is love commands us to love others as God has loved us. That means that our faith is ultimately about relationships -- our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

Now unless you've lived your whole life in a bubble, you know that to be in relationship with anybody means that you will have conflict. Every time two or more people do more than say hello passing on the street we invite the opportunity for conflict, because we're just different people. I'm here to tell you that that's not necessarily a bad thing. This is point number 1 in lessons about conflict. Conflict itself is a neutral thing, because conflict merely represents a difference. Being different isn't wrong. The conflict itself is not sin.

It's the way we handle conflicts that can result in sin. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the healthier a relationship is, the more likely you are to have conflict in it. A healthy relationship isn't defined by being free of conflict. Rather, it's defined by the way that people use that inevitable conflict to build trust and to learn to respect the differences between them. Every conflict that comes up in a relationship is an opportunity to make the relationship better, stronger, and to develop trust.

It happens as we face the little things. That's why it's so important to deal with the little conflicts that come up in our lives. They're relatively easy and that's a foundational way to build trust between us. When you meet your differences face to face and nobody bails out of the relationship and both sides treat each other with respect and openness, then you've paved your way to have a means for dealing with the bigger conflicts when they come up. If you don't deal with all the little ones, the big one is going to throw you for a loop and you won't know what to do.

When you start working on the little ones and you resolve those, you start to realize that you don't have to sell your soul down the river in order to be in relationship with somebody else. I don't think there's any realization that's more needed in our Christian community today, both for our lives in individual relationships with each other and for our life together as a church.

Resolving conflict is not about making clones of each other. It's about learning how to live and love together despite being very different people. In the church we have different theologies, we vote for different political candidates, we support different causes, we appreciate different styles of worship and different things in it, and have different personalities with different gifts and talents. How does all of that come together as one body in Christ? That's the challenge of today's church and it's a challenge in every single relationship that we have.

Can I be myself and still be loved by you? That's the driving need, I think, behind every single relationship we have -- with friends, with spouses, with parents and children. Can you love me for me? Can you give me even some degree of unconditional love? Can you love me without having to make me into you? That's the need we all have. We can meet that for each other to some degree. But the only one who can meet it fully for us is God. That's the joy of being in relationship with God. It's also the difficult hurdle that we have to get over in realizing that God is better than any single one of our human relationships, because God is the only one who can truly give us unconditional love.

That's why we're doing a series on conflict.

As I said earlier, conflict itself is neutral. It doesn't automatically mean that somebody has sinned when there's a conflict. If two groups here want to use Hartford Hall on the same night, nobody's sinned in that but there's very definitely a conflict. There's a difference, we have limited space, and somehow we need to work that out.

But sometimes conflict is caused by sin. I just want you to separate that out as being a necessity. It doesn't always happen that way, but sometimes it does, as in the story that we've been looking at for a few weeks about David and Bathsheba. That's where I want to focus today. I want us to look at this today in a purely practical way. What can we learn about being in relationship with each other from this particular story?

It's an ugly story. Basically David raped a woman, got her pregnant, and then tried to cover it up by having her husband murdered so he could add her to his already substantial harem. That's a classic example of a conflict that never need have happened if David had been living his life according to God's principles. He had no prior issues with Bathsheba's husband. In fact, Uriah was one of his best and most trusted men. He had no issues with Bathsheba at all. He didn't even know who she was until he saw her. It was simple lust, adultery, and murder -- completely avoidable.

As much as we cringe to see that behavior in King David, the little guy with the slingshot who slew Goliath, we need to realize that that was pretty standard fare for the kings of his day. Israel was the only culture around that had a law above the king. In most places if the king did it, it was right simply by definition. That was the sort of power that a king had. Only in Israel was the king supposed to be under a higher power, which was the law of God.

It seems possible to me that after years of running the country, fighting wars, and interacting with the surrounding nations, David may well have forgotten that he did not have the same license that other kings did. That's why, when Nathan comes to him David does something that, when you consider his position, is completely amazing. In verse 13, David repents. "I have sinned against the Lord," he says.

If David had sinned because he consciously decided that he wanted to have what he wanted and live by his own law rather than God's, if he had consciously decided to throw God's law out the window, David would not have responded this way. He would simply have had Nathan executed, which was within his power, and Nathan knew that when he took this step to confront David. But he didn't. David repented, and the fullness of his grief at having offended God in this way is expressed in Psalm 51, which was written in the wake of this event.

God does not disregard David's sin. God doesn't say, "You've repented so it's ok." There are some pretty heavy consequences for David's acts. But God does not take David's life, God leaves David as king of Israel, and God makes David the ancestor of Jesus Christ. Those are some pretty hefty rewards, considering what David has done. We call that grace -- amazing grace.

We also call that a good example of conflict resolution, when the conflict has been caused by sin. I want you to look at how extremely well this conflict is handled. First, the sin is not ignored. Nathan, at the risk of his own life, goes to David to confront him with his sin. It's serious business. It can't be ignored. Nathan doesn't hide it or pretend that it never happened in order to save his own skin. But notice how the confrontation goes.

Nathan doesn't go raging into the king's chambers, calling him ugly names, yelling at him, threatening, and demanding. Nathan's thought about this ahead of time. In one sense, what he says gives evidence that Nathan is giving David the benefit of the doubt. Nathan, in telling the story that he does, is assuming that David's heart is still good, that David will understand the nature of his sin, if it can only be put in terms that he can relate to.

So Nathan tells a story about a man and a sheep. Remember that David grew up as a shepherd. Nathan was the court prophet, but he also knew David well enough to know his history and to know his heart. This sort of confrontation would never have been successful if it was done by a stranger, or if it was done by one who thought that David was completely evil. This story isn't designed just to condemn the act. The story is designed to awaken David's heart. You can't do that unless you believe that there is a heart in there to be awakened.

We can learn so much from that. When a conflict is caused by sin, the sin needs to be confronted. But it should be confronted by someone who loves and understands the sinner, and by someone who truly believes that the sin does not represent that person's true heart -- someone who believes that there is a better person than that, underneath, who will recognize and make amends if it's just put in the right way. It also needs to be a person who values the relationship more than they value being right and proving a point.

Nathan's confrontation is not soft and sugary. He says what needs to be said. But he also doesn't rub David's nose in it. Once David has made his apology, it's done with. Nathan does it in private, and he doesn't spend the next week at court bringing it up at every opportunity and trying to get David to apologize for it again and again and again. He says his words, they're effective, and as far as Nathan's concerned that's the end of it.

We need to hear that. When someone offers us an apology, the ball is back in our court then, to accept that apology with grace and to be done with it. We may not be done with the consequences of it, but we don't have any business dwelling more on the sin itself. Don't make the apology so agonizing that the person will never apologize for anything ever again. We have a dual responsibility when we confront.

We learn from Nathan how to confront sin. But we also learn from David. Sometimes the one who has caused the conflict through sin is not the other person, but us. As ugly as this sin is, and as hard as this story must have been on David's ears, David takes the medicine and he swallows it. He doesn't make excuses for his behavior, he doesn't get defensive, he doesn't make a counter-attack on Nathan. He simply swallows hard and says, "I have sinned against the Lord." Then he goes to his chambers and writes the passionate repentance of Psalm 51.

This Psalm is such an elegant expression of confession and repentance that we use parts of it in our prayer of confession every week during the winter months at the second service. They are beautiful words. Those words recognize the unfailing love and compassion of God and they ask for mercy. It acknowledges the sin and it acknowledges that whatever consequences God imposes will be just.

The lesson David gives us here is powerful. If you're the one who has sinned, take it like a grownup. Don't make excuses, don't get defensive, don't retaliate, and don't use it as an excuse to point out the sin of the one who is confronting you. Simply repent, apologize, acknowledge you were wrong, and accept the consequences. That's the most basic of all conflict lessons. It's the stuff we try to get across to kids in kindergarten. Try to live well but if you mess up, apologize, and make amends if you can.

How much simpler life would be if we could just get that basic lesson across. When we respond to our own sin in this way, it doesn't have to be the end of our relationships. And we see from this lesson played out in the life of David that, more importantly, our sin is not the end of our relationship with God. Even with all that David did, David repents, throws himself on the mercy of God, and he is still the ancestor of Jesus Christ. Jesus is called openly "Son of David" and he doesn't slap anybody for saying it.

In fact, the confession of our sin to one another and to God becomes the vehicle by which we know God's love, through other people and directly from God. I've said it before and I'll say it a million times more, it's all about love. If you need to confront somebody, the only proper way to do it is with love in your heart. If you haven't got it, then hold your tongue until you do have it. You have to remember that whenever we confront someone we're confronting someone made in the image of God, whether they recognize that or not. That doesn't mean that what you have to say will be easy to hear or that it will be fun to do. But the love with which you express it will make it possible to be heard.

If you're the one who sinned, try not to wait for that confrontation. Confess, apologize, make amends, swallow the medicine. If you're truly oblivious that something you've done has hurt someone and they confront you, respond in love -- love for the one telling you, love for the person who is hurt, love for the God that your sin has offended.

Remember the words of David in Psalm 51. Make it your prayer daily. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."


(c) 2000, Anne Robertson

Return to