Dealing with strife

Judges 6:6 “And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.”

As we’ve weathered the coronavirus pandemic together, it’s been interesting to observe how people have reacted over the last three years. On the one hand, there has been a sense of unity as we have recognized that we are all in this thing together. It’s been an unprecedented time to spend time with our families as many of our outside interests and responsibilities have been placed on hold. On the other hand, I’ve read that domestic violence has been on the upswing. Apparently, people were getting on each other’s nerves as they were forced to be around each other more in this close setting, a situation that lends itself to an escalation of intrafamily strife, particularly where such problems had already existed. And have you watched the news? On one hand there have been words of praise for those on the front lines such as doctors, nurses, grocery store works, and truck drivers. There has likewise been praise for the public’s response to social distancing and to how people have been creative in finding ways to help one another in the midst of this storm. On the other hand, there has been increasing contention between the press and government officials and growing dissatisfaction being expressed on social media regarding what could have been done differently and what should be done now.

So how are we as believers to react to all this? In this obvious time of testing, what should be our response? In my current study of the book of Judges, I’ve come to chapter 6, the story of Gideon. Gideon was called by the Lord to save Israel from the hand of the Midianites, who were bringing great hardship to the nation at that time. We are told that “they would encamp against them (the Israelites) and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in (Judges 6:4-5).” Their actions were oppressing the people of Israel greatly. We are told in the verse above that Israel was “brought very low” because of them. If you look at the root word from which the word Midian is derived, it means “strife.”

Strife is defined as “angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.” The Bible has a lot to say about it. In some places the Greek word for “strife” is translated “selfish ambition.” James 3:14-16 speaks of it in this way: “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (i.e., strife) in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” James contrasts this with a godly attitude with these words: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17). The apostle Paul expressed similar thoughts in his instructions to Timothy with these words: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:17-18).”

Quarreling, strife, and selfish-ambition are some of the ways the enemy tempts us to react in times of stress. Nothing good comes of these things, as the enemy of our souls works to discourage us and tear us apart by various ways and means. But the believer, the one who trusts God’s sovereignty in all things, should demonstrate peace and not strife in the storms of life. The believer should not be a contributor to strife. He or she is called to be a peacemaker by our Lord.

May God help us that know Him to sow words and actions that encourage peace rather than strife. May the Lord help us to keep from playing into the enemy’s hands with self-serving and quarrelsome attitudes when our natural reaction could be just that. It’s something we should be praying about, just as Israel prayed for deliverance from the strife of the Midianites, but in that prayer, we should be ready to be part of the answer as God guides us in His ways rather than in the ways of the world.

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