3. Responding in Faith to Conflict (Genesis 13)Related Media
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD. Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left.” Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD. (Genesis 13)
How should believers respond in faith to conflict? We live in an age where conflict is everywhere. We see it in society with the constant lawsuits and globally with the never-ending wars. But even worse, we commonly see it in the church. Churches split; the divorce rate in the church is virtually the same as the world; and many casualties in our families are related to these problems.
In fact, when we look at the narrative of Scripture, we see that discord was common among God’s people. Cain did not like his brother Abel. Jacob’s ten sons sold Joseph into slavery. Even in the New Testament, we see a fight in the church of Philippi between two women Euodia and Syntyche. The church of Corinth was separating into religious factions and believers were even suing one another. Paul and Barnabas got into a dispute over John Mark, about whether he should accompany them on a mission trip—leading them to separate and go different ways.
In fact, discord was so prevalent that Paul said this in Ephesians 4:26: “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Paul essentially says that you’re going to get angry, you’re going to have disagreements, but in your anger and disagreements, do not sin because you will give the devil a foothold. Satan works where there is disorder. It gives him a stronghold to continually attack believers from.
Even now, if we look at our relationships and find anger and discord there, we can be sure that the enemy of our souls is at work. Scripture says that God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor 14:33). Therefore, when there is disorder and conflict, we lose God’s blessing on our lives, our families, our ministries, and our workplace; instead, we open the door for the enemy.
Since, as believers, we will have times of conflict, how should we respond to them? In Genesis 13, we learn a great deal about responding to conflict as we consider Abraham’s conflict with his nephew, Lot. In Hebrews 11, Abraham is listed as a hero of faith—somebody that should be modeled. In fact, Paul teaches in Galatians 3:7 that he is the father of all who believe—he is the father of those with faith. Abraham is someone worth modeling and that is why great emphasis is placed on him in the biblical record. His narrative is in Genesis 12–25; he is mentioned several other times in the Old Testament and in four books of the New Testament (Romans, Galatians, James, and Hebrews).
In this narrative, we learn from the “Father of Faith” about how “faith” should respond when in discord with others. Scripture says that faith is not just the way that we are saved; it should also be the lifestyle of believers. Hebrews 10:38 says, “my righteous one shall live by faith” or “the just shall live by faith.” Faith should affect every aspect of our lives including how we respond to conflict.
What principles can we learn from Abraham about how faith responds to conflict so that we will not give Satan a stronghold and lose God’s blessing? This is especially important to hear because, not doubt, many Christians have lost God’s blessing on their lives, because of discord.
In fact, we should notice God’s response to how Abraham handles this conflict: he reaffirms his covenant promises. Genesis 13:14–17 says,
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
This is essentially God saying, “Abraham you have done well, and I will surely bless you.” It is the same thing God said to Abraham after he left Haran and came to Canaan in chapter 12. It’s the same thing God said after Abraham won the battle with the raiding armies in chapter 15, and it’s the same thing God said to Abraham before he offered his son as a sacrifice in Genesis 22. Responding properly to conflict brought God’s blessing and affirmation in Abraham’s life. Similarly, how we respond to conflict will affect God’s blessing upon our lives.
In this narrative, we see principles for responding in faith to difficult relationships. We should be aware that these difficult relationships will often be with people close to us: a wife, a husband, a brother, a sister, or a member of the church—just as Abraham’s conflict was with his nephew, Lot. Those who faithfully respond to conflict will receive God’s blessing on their lives.
Big Question: What principles can we learn about responding in faith to conflict, as we consider the conflict between Abraham and Lot?
To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Living in Communion with God
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD… So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD. (Genesis 13:1–4, 18)
Interpretation Question: What is the significance of Abraham’s altars mentioned in Genesis 13:4 and verse 18?
Abraham’s altars should not go unnoticed in the story. In the previous narrative, we saw Abraham go down to Egypt (Gen 12:10–20). He decided to not trust in God when he encountered a famine in Canaan. He took things into his own hands. He built no altars to worship and seek the Lord, and consequently, almost lost his wife. In contrast, this narrative is enclosed by altars. After leaving Egypt, Abraham essentially repents of his sin as he returns to the first altar he built in Canaan. Soon after he works out the discord with Lot, he then builds another altar to God in Hebron. The word “Hebron” means communion.1
From this we can learn a great deal: if we are going to have a faith-filled response to discord, then, we must live in worship—we must live in constant communion with God. In chapter 12, Abraham does not respond in faith when he encounters the famine; he heads to Egypt. But, while in Egypt, his faith is strengthened. He learns that even while he is unfaithful to God, God is faithful to him. God miraculously protects his wife when she is taken by Pharaoh for marriage. In thankfulness and trust to God, Abraham worships at the altar he originally made, and soon after resolving the conflict with Lot, he builds another altar and worships God. This is what enabled Abraham to walk in faith when discord and conflict struck his family.
How can we properly respond to conflict in our lives—conflict with friends, family, co-workers, and church members? We must be people who live in communion with God. We must be a community of worship—not just on Sundays but every day.
In Galatians 5:20, Paul shares what the fruits of the flesh—our sinful nature—are: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” Therefore, to be human means to be in discord. Right after Adam and Eve sinned, Adam by implication blamed God and then the woman. The woman blamed the serpent. Discord was a result of sin. Therefore, many people know nothing of a day without some type of discord with others. It has been part of our human nature since the fall.
However, in the same text, Paul describes how God has given us his Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22–23). One of the reasons that Christ came was to give us his Spirit. He came to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. By giving us his Spirit, we can love those who hurt us, be patient with difficult people, respond with gentleness instead of harshness, and have self-control instead of anger. This is the fruit that the Spirit bears in our lives.
How do we gain this fruit so that we can have peace in our relationships? Galatians 5:16 says, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Each of us experiences a battle between the sinful nature and the Spirit. The acts of the sinful nature bring discord, but the fruit of the Spirit brings peace and fellowship. In order to live in the Spirit, or walk in the Spirit as some translations say, we must live in God’s Word, prayer, worship, service, and fellowship with the saints. We also must faithfully obey the Scripture. When we choose to get up each morning and not fill ourselves with the Spirit of God (Eph 5:18), we become vulnerable to the works of the flesh. We find ourselves angrier, less patient, and even prone to cut people off.
How was Abraham able to respond in faith when encountering conflict? Abraham responded in faith because he was living in the Spirit. He was living in communion with God. He worshiped before the altercation and after it. He was abiding in God, and therefore, the fruit of the Spirit grew in his life.
Are you a worshiper? Are you living in the Word and prayer? If not, you will be prone to the works of the flesh: anger, fits of rage, and discord. Are you living in the Spirit or walking in the flesh? You can tell by your response to those who upset or fail you. We must walk in the path of our father Abraham. Let us worship before the trial and after the trial, for only there will we find the fruit of the Spirit, which brings peace.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced a propensity towards discord when not living in communion with God? In what ways have you experienced the ability to seek unity when living in communion with God? How is God calling you to live more in his presence?
To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Considering Our Witness to Unbelievers
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine. (Genesis 13:5–8)
Interpretation Question: What is the significance of the narrator mentioning the “Canaanites and the Perizzites” who were in the land?
Here in this narrative, Abraham had just returned from Egypt with his nephew Lot, and they had become very wealthy people. Pharaoh gave Abraham great wealth for the sake of Sarah, and obviously, much of it was shared with Lot. They had flocks, herds, tents, and herdsmen, and therefore, they weren’t able to stay together. Moses, the narrator, said that the land could not support them (v. 6). Obviously, Moses is not saying that the land wasn’t big enough; he is probably referring to the amount of food available during the famine. If Abraham’s and Lot’s camps stayed together, it would be hard to find enough food.
In addition, Moses chooses to add another bit of information after describing Abraham and Lot’s conflict. He says,
The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. (Genesis 13:7–8 )
The narrator says there were Canaanites and Perizzites living in the land and for that reason, he says “So Abraham said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me’” (v.8). Therefore, it wasn’t just because of the conflict with Lot’s herdsmen that Abraham approached Lot or because of the scarce resources; it was also because of the Canaanites and Perizzites who lived in the land.
This could mean one of two things. (1) It could mean that Canaan is so saturated with the four camps of people (Abraham’s, Lot’s, the Canaanites, and Perizzites) that there was great competition for food. (2) Or it could mean that Abraham approached Lot to fix the problem, in part, because of their witness to the Canaanites and Perizzites.
We must remember that God’s plan for Abraham wasn’t just to make his name great and make him a great nation. God was going to do those things primarily so that “all the nations of the world would be blessed through him” (Gen 12:3). Abraham was called to be a witness of God to the pagans, and one day the messiah would come through his lineage. In fact, if you remember, when he first got to the land he built an altar right next to the “great tree of Moreh” (Gen 12:6). This was probably a pagan shrine where the Canaanites worshiped. “Moreh” actually means “teaching.” Trees were symbols of fertility, so the Canaanites placed shrines in them and used them for worship. This particular tree was probably a place where the Canaanite prophets taught the people. However, Abraham places his altar to the God of heaven and earth right next to their shrine. He was a bold witness who desired for the pagans to know the true God.
At this time, Abraham was one of the only people in Canaan who still worshiped Yahweh God. At the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, we see that the majority of the world was already rebelling against God after the flood. They also had become increasingly polytheistic, worshiping many gods. When Abraham came to town, he started building altars to the one God, the only God, as a witness to the pagans in the land.
One of the reasons that Abraham seeks to fix this situation with his nephew is probably because of his witness. This was perhaps even more pressing on Abraham’s heart after he had failed before Pharaoh and the entire nation of Egypt. When he lied about his wife and Pharaoh confronted him, Abraham had nothing to say. He had lost his witness.
When Abraham returned to Canaan and built the first altar, his initial worship was probably repentance (Gen 13:1–4). No doubt, he repented for not trusting God and also because of his bad witness to the Egyptians. Now, he is motivated to honor God with his witness in the land. Division between him and Lot would only further push the pagans away from God. The Canaanites would say, “They are just like us.” And, it would give them no reason to believe in and follow God.
This is an important concept for us to understand. It should help keep families, marriages, friendships, and even churches together. How we interact with each other will either promote our God or it will disgrace his name. We see this taught throughout Scripture. Consider what Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in John 17:23: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Essentially, Jesus says, “I pray that believers will love one another and walk in unity, even when things are difficult, because it affects evangelism.” It affects people believing that God sent Jesus into the world.
The world is always looking at how we relate to one another, and they value Christ not just on how we live individually, but how we live corporately. In fact, Jesus said, “they will know you’re my disciples by how you love one another” (John 13:35). Our relationships say something about Christ, and they also say something about us. Warren Wiersbe said this about the tragic effects of Christian disunity on the lost:
In my pastoral ministry, I frequently visited the unsaved relatives and friends of church members, seeking to interest them in spiritual things, only to discover that they knew about every “church fight” in town.2
Similarly, Ghandi said, "I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."
Nonbelievers are always watching and looking for a reason to mock Christians and their Christ. Therefore, when there is a scandal, it is always highly publicized in the news and on the Internet. Our unity is important for evangelism; therefore, this should encourage us to seek reconciliation.
How do we learn to respond in faith to discord? One way is by remembering the importance of our witness to unbelievers. Our unity affects evangelism
Do you think about the lost or other weak Christians when at odds with people in the church? Do you consider your witness and how people view Christ?
Weak faith only considers my pride, my wants, what I think is right, or how bad I was treated. But strong faith thinks about the gospel, other people’s faith, and ultimately, the glory of Christ. How do you respond when there is conflict? What does your response say about your faith?
Application Question: What should be our response to the reality that disunity amidst Christians deters people from the beauty of Christ and the gospel?
1. We should pray for unity in the church just like Christ did.
Christ understood how critically important Christian unity is. Therefore, he prayed for it before he died, and no doubt, he still prays for it today, as our heavenly high priest (Heb 7:25). Similarly, Paul prayed for the Philippians to grow in love for one another (Phil 1:9). He also prayed that the Thessalonians love for one another would overflow (1 Thess 3:12). Are you praying for the unity of the church?
Christ prayed for it, Paul prayed for it, and we should pray for it as well. We should also pray for Christian families. We should pray that the hearts of the fathers be turned back to the children (cf. Mal 4:6). We should pray for God to heal broken families. As we consider the importance of unity to the gospel, we must continually intercede for it as our Lord does.
2. We should seek to reconcile on the basis of our witness.
This is what Abraham did. If we are in discord with others, if we are holding grudges, then we should seek unity because of the Canaanites in the land, who do not believe in our God. The world judges Christ based on how you interact with your husband, your wife, your coworkers, your friends, and your church. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Are you doing your part to forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt you?
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced disunity in a church, a family, or Christian friends that pushed people away from Christ? How do we help bring healing and restoration to those who have fallen away because of church conflict (cf. Phil 4:2–3)?
To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Focusing on Our Commonality in Christ
So Abram said to Lot, “Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. (Genesis 13:8)
Observation Question: What reason did Abraham give to Lot for seeking to resolve their quarrel in Genesis 13:8?
In Genesis 13:8, we learn another wise principle from Abraham about how to resolve conflict. He essentially approached Lot and said, “Let’s not fight because we are brothers—we are family.” Abraham sought unity based on their commonality. Because they were family, he essentially said that being in discord was not an option.
However, when there is discord, typically, people choose to focus on their differences rather than their commonalities. We often make comments like, “We just don’t think alike,” “We are from different cultures,” and “We don’t understand one another,” instead of focusing on what is shared. Abraham didn’t say, “We have these differences, so let’s split.” He said, “We’ve got this in common, let’s figure this out in an amicable way.” That is a fundamental difference from the way most handle their conflicts.
We see something similar in what Paul says to the Philippians—a church also having conflict (cf. Phil 4:2). He says,
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:1–2)
The word “if” essentially means “since.” “Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ, since you have comfort from his love, since you have fellowship with the Spirit … then make my joy complete by being like-minded … one in spirit and purpose.” Paul says because you have so much commonality in Christ—be one. God did something unique in the life of every believer. We have become one in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Essentially, Paul says because the Spirit made us one, we must make every effort to live it. “Make every effort” can also be translated “Make haste”—meaning that we should seek unity quickly.3 Paul, later says, in Ephesians 4:26 says that we should not even let the sun go down while angry. We must quickly seek restoration.
This is a principle that has been lost in our Christian friendships, marriages, and churches. We are one and, therefore, living in discord is not an option. For many, it seems they would rather stay at war, move away, or never seek resolution. Thus, many Christians commonly bounce from church to church every time they encounter a problem. We also have many who bounce from friendship to friendship and marriage to marriage.
The church is often a place where we find very little commitment. There are splits over the color of the carpet, the style of worship, and the time worship should begin. The church often struggles with many petty discords and many big ones.
However, just like Abraham, we must seek unity on the basis of our family relationship, which came through our union to Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work. Having peace doesn’t mean that we don’t ever disagree or go our separate ways, but it means that we honor God and keep peaceful relationships, even when it comes to that. We need this mindset back in our churches; we need this mindset back in our families. We are one; therefore, we must make haste to keep the unity of the Spirit.
It has been said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. God in his sovereignty chose to unite us as a body and as a family. We are called to treat each person in the church as members of our family. Look at what Paul said to Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2).
Maybe, you are in conflict right now with another believer and all you can think about is how you disagree with this person or how you can’t believe what this person said or did. In order to have unity, we must choose to focus on, not our differences, but on what we share in common. We are children of God—people for whom Christ died. We have been filled and indwelled with the Holy Spirit. We have been given the same mission to reach the lost for Christ. God has raised us up with him and seated us in heavenly places. We are citizens of heaven and the list goes on and on. We must seek unity based on our commonality in Christ. This commonality is greater than any other earthly commonality, because it is eternal.
Like Abraham, we must seek peace based on our family relationship, our commonality, which ultimately comes from the Lord. Certainly, this principle applies specifically to our Christian relationships, but it can be applied generally to all. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should focus on our commonalities in order to resolve conflict.
Application Question: In what ways should our commonality in Christ encourage us to seek unity? How can we focus on our commonality, instead of our differences, in the midst of discord?
To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Humbly Putting the Interests of Others’ First
So Abram said to Lot, “Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left.” (Genesis 13:8–9)
Interpretation Question: Why does Abraham offer Lot the first choice of the land, even though God promised it to him?
We should notice another aspect of Abraham’s response. He humbled himself by giving Lot the pick of the land. See, in the Semitic culture, Abraham was the patriarch—the oldest male and, therefore, the chief. Lot was his nephew, the son of Abraham’s brother. In that culture, Lot had to submit to Abraham. However, Abraham did something uncommon in that culture by giving up his rights and humbling himself before his younger relative.
But not only did Abraham have a cultural right to the best of the land, he also had a divine right. God promised Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan. However, Abraham still offers the best of the land to Lot. This not only shows Abraham’s humility, but also his faith. In the previous narrative, when Abraham left the promised land and went to Egypt, he tried to protect his family and his interests by his own power and wisdom, as he lied to Pharaoh. However, here he offers the best of the land to Lot, no doubt, in part because he trusts that God is going to give it to him and his descendants in the future. Abraham is not fighting for his rights because he has entrusted them to God.
See, if we are going to respond in faith to conflict, we must learn how to humble ourselves in faith and seek the interests of others before our own.
Most conflict and division are a result of our pride. We fight because we don’t want to give in or relinquish what we think is our right. However, faith doesn’t respond that way. Faith sees any right we have as coming from God, and therefore, God will defend those rights if it is truly his will.
Here, in Abraham, we see a picture of Christ’s attitude. Paul describes this attitude in Philippians 2:3–5:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Christ gave up his rights as a member of the Godhead and took the form of a servant on earth, serving others even unto death. And, we are exhorted to have this mind in us—a humble mind that puts others first and does not grasp for one’s rights.
How do we implement this practically? We do the same thing that Abraham did, as he sought to resolve this conflict; he humbled himself and gave up his rights. He gave up his right as the patriarch and as the one God promised the land to, in order to mend his relationship with his nephew.
Jesus said this in Matthew 5:38–40:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was legal terminology from the Mosaic law for fairness. If a person sinned, there needed to be equal compensation given to the person wronged or an equal consequence given to the person who sinned. However, Jesus said that one of the characteristics of the people in his kingdom would be their willingness to humble themselves and give up their rights. Instead of demanding their rights, they would rather turn the other cheek and not only give away their shirt but their jacket as well.
Similarly, Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” The meek are commonly perceived as weak, but actually, they are not. They have a great inner strength. Even though they could fight, they instead humbly serve or suffer injustice. Christ could have called thousands of angels at his crucifixion, but instead, he gave up his rights. And consequently, the earth will one day be given to him. It will also be given to those who follow his example.
Paul taught the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6:7 to a congregation that was suing one another. He says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” This is a characteristic that we see in Abraham, the father of those who believe. He humbled himself by giving up his cultural right and divine right, in order to mend his relationship with his nephew.
Living for a Heavenly Country
How could Abraham do this, especially, if he knew this land was promised to him? How can we do this with our jobs, careers, and other rights that are so important to us?
Not only was it because he believed God would give him the land, but it also was because Abraham’s heart was ultimately not focused on the earthly land of Canaan but on the heavenly land. The land of Canaan (Israel) is primarily a picture of heaven. Hebrews 11:16 says this about Abraham and others of faith: “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
It says he was really seeking a heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem. Hebrews 12:22 says how we, as believers, have come to the heavenly Jerusalem where the righteous men made perfect, the church, and the angels dwell. In fact, when we continue to follow the story of Israel under the leadership of Moses, we see that they were called to build a tabernacle according to the pattern of the heavenly one (cf. Exod 25:9; Heb 8:5). God gave Israel a land, a tabernacle, and laws that were all shadows of heavenly realities to make them thirst for heaven and Jesus their king.
Why could Abraham willingly give up the land? It was because earthly Jerusalem ultimately wasn’t his final destination. His sights were set on a heavenly kingdom. Earthly Canaan was just preparation for heaven—a foretaste of it.
It should be the same for us. Why should Christians willingly give up their rights here on earth: humbling themselves, giving up their shirts, and turning their cheeks? It is because this is not our home. The more we have a grasp on our heavenly home, the less our earthly home and its privileges will have a grip on us.
How does faith respond to conflict and discord? Faith responds by humbling itself and seeking the interests of others. Are you willing to humble yourself and seek the interest of others like Abraham and ultimately like Christ? Christ left heaven and its privileges to serve others here on earth.
Are you in discord with family or a friend? Maybe this world and its privileges have too much of a hold on your heart. God is calling you to humble yourself, give up your rights, and live a life of faith—seeking the heavenly country that is waiting for you.
Application Question: What makes it so hard to humble ourselves and seek the benefit of those who have offended us? How can we grow in this practice, especially when in conflict? Share a time when you felt God called you to give up your rights in order to work for unity.
To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Pursuing God and His Blessing
Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD. (Genesis 13:10–18)
Next, we see that Lot took Abraham up on his offer. He looked around at the land, but instead of focusing on Canaan, the land of promise, he looked at the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. He saw that it was well-watered like Egypt, and he decided to go there instead of staying in the land of Canaan. The narrator said, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD” (Gen 13:12–13).
We see that Lot, though a righteous man according to 2 Peter 2:7, chose to pitch his tent near Sodom at the edge of the promised land. As we follow the narrative, he first lives outside of Sodom, even though it was a wicked city, but then he moves into the land in chapter 14. Then, in chapter 19, he is not only living in Sodom but has prospered there. We see him at the “gateway of the city” when the angels enter the land to save him (19:1). This probably means that he became an elder in the city.
Finally, we see that all the riches and prestige he gained was lost when God destroyed Sodom. He also lost his family because Sodom was in their hearts. His wife looked back to Sodom, as it was being destroyed, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. His daughters raped him to have children. Lot’s children were the founders of the Moabites and Ammonites, who throughout Old Testament history were enemies of God. Lot’s decision to choose the world over the things of God cost him everything.
Lot was a righteous man, but he made his decision based on the prosperity of this world. He didn’t choose the prosperity of Sodom over God. Lot thought he could have the prosperity of Sodom and still have the blessing of God. He wanted both.
Sadly, this is true for many Christians. They want to follow God, but they also want the esteem and prosperity of the world. However, this desire for the things of the world often destroys them as well. First John 2:15–17 says,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
For many Christians, like Lot, their primary focus in life is the world’s prosperity instead of God and his blessing. A person gets offered more money at a company, and they give no thought to the spiritual condition of the company. They don’t ask themselves, “Where can I be more faithful to God?” or “How can I be most profitable for the kingdom?” Many Christians makes their decisions solely based on money and prosperity, and therefore, often find themselves in dry seasons, as they leave their church home, their former ministry, and accountability partners. Lot, though a righteous man, only cared about secular success and not spiritual blessing, and it destroyed him and his family. First Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Yes, Lot’s story is the story of many righteous Christians. Psalm 1 declares a blessing on the one who does not walk, stand, or sit in the counsel, the way, or the seat of the ungodly. Believers can lose their blessings by simply being in the wrong place. Lot wanted the prosperity of the world and lost the blessing that came from God. The promised land did not have the prosperity of Sodom, but it did have the blessing and promise of God.
However, let us shift our focus from Lot to Abraham. Abraham wanted the blessing of God and not that of the world. This is why he could offer Lot the best of the land. In the same way, we must desire the blessing of God over prosperity, if we are going to respond to conflicts with faith.
As mentioned before, it is no surprise that we see God pronounce a blessing upon Abraham right after this discourse. After Lot lifted his eyes and decided on the prosperity of Sodom, God tells Abraham to lift his eyes because the land would be given to him and his descendants. His descendants would be like the sand on the sea shore. Again, God revealed himself and blessed Abraham for his faithful response to Lot. This is the same thing God did after Abraham left Haran in chapter 12 and again in chapter 15 after Abraham heroically defeated a raiding army. Finally, God blesses him again in chapter 22 after Abraham offers his son to God. God was pleased with how Abraham handled the conflict, and therefore, he blessed him and renewed his covenant with him.
So what do we learn about how faith responds to conflict in this section? If we are going to respond in faith, we must seek the blessing of God and not the prosperity of the world.
Application Question: How do we apply this practically—desiring the blessing of God when we encounter conflict?
Consider 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Why does Peter tell husbands to treat their wives with respect in this passage? He says so that their prayers would not be hindered. Essentially, he tells them that, when in conflict, they must focus on the blessing of God. He says live at peace so you will receive God’s blessing, which is answered prayer.
I’ll be honest. I’ve been in arguments with my wife where I didn’t feel like reconciling. I didn’t feel like apologizing, but I would remember this verse and feel compelled to get right. I didn’t want to lose God’s blessing over my life or my family’s life.
There are many families where God does not hear their prayers because they live in discord. All that the family members see is their prosperity and their rights, and not God’s blessing. They live by sight and not by faith.
Psalm 133 says the same thing:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Does this mean God gives eternal life to those who are in unity? No, life forevermore or eternal life simply means a greater quality of life—a life full of God’s blessings. God promises his blessing to those who walk in unity with their brothers. He promises to hear their prayers, anoint their work, and make them fruitful.
There may be some people reading this who have been missing God’s blessing for a long time; their prayers are not being heard by God. God is waiting for them to walk in faith—to seek reconciliation with those who hurt or failed them. And when they do this, he will speak to them clearly again and renew his favor over their lives, as he did with Abraham.
If we are going to respond in faith to conflict, we must keep our eyes on God’s blessing. Discord removes God’s blessing. The blessing of God must be more important than our pride and our prosperity. Lot got what he wanted, but he lost God’s blessing. And, it eventually cost him everything. Many Christians withhold forgiveness and harbor anger towards others, because their feelings and rights are more important than obedience to God and receiving his blessing. Eventually, like Lot, they will lose everything, if they do not forgive and get right with God and others.
Are you lifting your eyes to see your prosperity? Or are you looking in faith at God’s blessing—the blessing he gives to those who walk in unity?
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced a clearer hearing of God’s voice and received his blessing after faithfully responding to conflict? How can we keep our eyes on God’s blessing instead of our prosperity when in conflict?
How should believers respond in faith to conflict and discord?
- To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Living in Communion with God
- To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Considering Our Witness to Unbelievers
- To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Focusing on Our Commonality in Christ
- To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Humbly Putting the Interests of Others’ First
- To Respond in Faith to Conflict, Believers Must Seek Unity by Pursuing God and His Blessing
Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown
The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.
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1 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 2421–2424). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 26). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.