I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
How do you handle conflict? Do you see it as a tragedy when conflicts arise? Or do you see it as a necessary evil to fight injustice? Is there any way you can perceive conflict as a good and healthy thing? Is there any way you could see yourself desiring conflict? The fact of the matter is, our modern culture avoids and stigmatizes conflict. For many, to enter into conflict at all is perceived as a moral failure. After all, conflict is uncomfortable. Conflict means people are upset. Conflict means that someone does not like you at the moment.
And yet, conflict and discomfort are seen all over nature as signs of growth. A plant cracks open the seed that nurtured it. A baby bird breaks its shell to be free of it. A snake sheds its skin when it has outgrown its bounds. What precedes these natural miracles is not comfort, but intense discomfort. What precedes it is the unconscious realization that life cannot continue as it is. In these instances, the conflict arises as nature is moving to the next step.
On the spiritual level, growth can often take the form of conflict and discomfort. God will rock us out of our comfort zones in order that we can make some serious changes in our lives. Before we can move towards righteousness, we have to be deeply convicted of our sinfulness. Without this conviction, we will not have the desire to reject the sin and move toward God. This is the fire that Jesus talks about in the Gospel. He desires that the earth be already burning with zeal for God. He desires that his people be alive and passionate about the things God is passionate about: the salvation of souls. If we are burning with this passion, we are not afraid of conflict. We are not afraid to choose God, even if it makes other people unhappy. We are not afraid to follow through with our convictions, even in the face of opposition. When we are on fire for God, we are not willing to sacrifice our belief merely to avoid conflict.
The fact is, the Christian walk is a difficult walk that flies in the face of secular principles. Very often it makes unbelievers uncomfortable to hear expressions of faith. And though we are called to never abandon the law of love and always be patient, kind, and charitable, that does not mean we give up our faith and its expressions for the sake of someone else’s comfort. Rather, we are called to remain steadfast in the faith, not hiding it because we dislike conflict, and not shoving it in people’s faces for the sake of starting conflict. But we are called to be self-possessed and entirely ourselves, namely children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. As we hold fast to God, we pray that the many conflicts we endure in this life may lead to greater spiritual growth for ourselves and for those we encounter. Let us pray today for greater spiritual growth and for the gift of patience with this process of discomfort. Amen.