Conflict seems to be an inescapable part of life. Conflict between nations or groups make the headlines, and while that conflict has some effect on our lives, that is not the kind of conflict that affects us most. Rather the kind of conflict that affects us most in the conflict that results in our day to day relationships, often with the people we are closest to.
The other day, while reading Andy Farmer’s wonderful book, Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, I read his chapter on peace in the midst of conflict. The book’s premise is that real peace – shalom in the Hebrew – is found only in relationship with God, and of course, in Christ. Shalom as the ancient Hebrews defined it, is a state of being, a state in which order, security, relational harmony, well-being and wholeness rules our life. There is not anyone in the world who would not want such peace.
Farmer than brings this vision of peace to bear on the various areas of our life where we struggle to live in peace, particularly the areas of stress, anxiety, grief, depression and conflict. While all these chapters are graciously written from a pastoral heart, the chapter on conflict was especially powerful for me. As a pastor, I deal with conflict regularly. Some conflicts are resolved quickly, others fester. Some come out of family situations, others out of work experiences or ministry life. As I read Andy Farmer’s wise words, I feel the pull to boil them down into a series of blog posts about peace and conflict.
Colossians 3:1-17 is the focus of the chapter. Colossians is a book written to Christians who were struggling against false teaching. Paul begins by expressing confidence in the work of the gospel in their lives (Col. 1:6) and confidently declares that peace with God comes through the reconciling work of Christ (Col. 1:19-20). He then addresses false teaching in light of that very gospel (Col. 2).
The apostle moves on and in chapter 3 gives instructions to the believers on how the gospel of Christ should be lived out. He begins with some powerful words in Col. 3:1-4:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)
In these verses, to set the stage for his discussion abut the gospel lived out in community, Paul reminds believers of their spiritual state. Who are we? We are people who have been raised with Christ. We are united with him in new life. We have died to our old life. Our new life in Christ is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is our life, and one day, He will present us holy and blameless before God in glory.
In light of those truths, the mindset of believers is not focused on earthly things, but rather the things that are above, the things that belong to the realm of Christ. That is our highest aspiration as a Christian – to live our lives with our minds set on the things that glorify and reflect Christ. But as we will see, earthly things are all too prevalent in our lives. Earthly attitudes are the reason we have conflict. They are expressions of our selfish cravings, as we will see in the verses to come.
Before we get there, I encourage you to take the time of reflect on what it means to set our minds on the things of Christ, the things that are heavenly. Think of the conflicts in your life. What would happen in those conflicts if we had set our minds on the things of Christ? Would they have begun? Would they persist today? How could they be resolved? These are the questions we will pursue in future posts.