Summary: An Expository Sermon from Genesis 21:22-31 concerning handling conflict and bulding better relationships. Genesis Series #44

Genesis Lesson # 44 April 14, 2002

Read Genesis 21:22-31

Introduction: There are many stories about people who get into fights and conflicts about crazy things and the terrible results.

In Orlando, a 48-year-old man was shot to death by his wife after a fight over the satellite TV controls.

In California, a man was stabbed to death by his girlfriend because he brought home a McDonalds ham, egg, and cheese bagel instead of the two Egg Mcmuffins that she’d asked for. (Husbands, let that be a lesson to all of you -- get it right!)

In Dallas, a 37-year-old man was beaten to death by his roommate after a fight over the thermostat setting in their house.

In Maryland, a 15-year-old boy has been charged with in the shooting death of a man who was playing reggae music on his car stereo. Apparently, the boy really hates reggae music.

Source: Sermon “Building Positive Relationships”

Although these are extreme cases and responses, it can be difficult maintaining positive relationships with others. As Christians we will have times of conflict; sometimes with a neighbor who seems unbearable, sometimes with an employer, customer, or government official who seems overly demanding or unfair, sometimes with a relative, fellow Christian or even another church. The answer to handling these type problems is not revenge, hostility or avoidance of the problem, which is not a real possibility anyways. What does the Bible (our perfect instruction book) tell us about relationships?

The Bible tells us that we are to "Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody." (Romans 12:18) So our need and goal should be to know how to build better relationships. I believe this passage of Scripture can help us in that goal because in it we find Four Principles for Building Better Relationships.

Read Verse 22

As you may recall from Genesis chapter 20, Abraham and Abimelech had a prior relationship that was anything but positive and so they each went their separate ways. Nevertheless it became obvious to Abimelech that something more needed to be done because as he said to Abraham, "God is with you in everything you do." God’s promised favor was upon Abraham and therefore his entourage was growing. Abraham was acquiring more livestock and more people, therefore he would soon need even more area to support them and the only available pasture was in what was considered Abimelech’s territory. Abimelech rightly perceived this as a potential conflict so he takes the initiative in resolving this problem before it starts. In essence, he comes to Abraham and says, "Let’s come to an agreement and understanding." In this act he reveals the first principal of building better relationships.

Principal #1: Be Proactive In Avoiding Future Conflicts

Most people are reactive that is they wait for conflict to manifest itself and intensify before they do anything to try and resolve it. This is better than ignoring the problem or resorting to worldly solutions (hostility, revenge, etc.) but in many cases we can avoid conflict altogether by being proactive. We need to use godly wisdom to see potential conflicts and respond accordingly.

Illustration: I can give you a personal application of this principle. As you know we are considering affiliating with Calvary Chapel. Now there is another Calvary Chapel located 10 mi. away in Port Saint Lucie. The Pastor there is Logan Dalton and we’ve been meeting and have a growing friendship. Now recently we have had some people start attending New Life in Christ who were attending Pastor Logan’s church because we are located closer to them. Pastor Logan is a very humble, kind, and cooperative person and probably has no problem with this but I do see the potential for conflict. Therefore I am going to meet with Pastor Logan, acknowledge what is happening, and come to an understanding so that we can avoid any future problems. Why do this when no problem currently exist? Because it is one of the principles of building better relationships

Principal #1: Be Proactive In Avoiding Future Conflicts

This is true when dealing with neighbors, employers, or anyone else. It is much easier to avoid problems than it is to solve them later. In the same way that it is easier to use sunscreen now that it is to treat skin cancer later.

Read Verses 23-24

Here Abimelech along with Phicol (Chief of Staff) seek to enter into a covenant relationship with Abraham. This was the typical way in ancient times that people and nations avoided conflict. He asked Abraham for such an agreement which is not unusual but he also adds one unusual phrase to the wording of the agreement when he says, "Swear... that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants."

Why would Abimelech use this phrase? Past Experience! Abraham’s deceitfulness about Sarah’s relationship to him had caused problems in the past and Abimelech recognizes that dishonesty can be a source of conflict in the future. This leads us to principle #2 of building better relationships.

Principle # 2: Deal Honestly With Others

It is amazing how many conflicts are caused or magnified by simple dishonesty. This is a common theme in Genesis, especially in the story of how Jacob’s dishonesty led to conflict Esau and how Laban’s dishonesty led to conflict with Jacob. In Ephesians 4:25 we are told to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor...” The context of this Scripture passage deals with unity so it again is showing us how dishonesty spoils positive relationships. Abimelech could never have a positive relationship with Abraham until he was sure he could trust him. This could only happen if Abraham was honest from this point forward.

Principle # 2: Deal Honestly With Others

In practice this means being honest but kind about our feelings, situations, likes and dislikes, etc. In addition to his request for honesty from Abraham, Abimelech reminds Abraham of the kindness that he had shown to him even though he was "living as an alien" in the land. In essence he is saying, "When I had the upper hand I did not take advantage of your situation so you should do the same for me." Your acts of kindness in the past can be very rewarding in the future.

Principal #1: Be Proactive In Avoiding Future Conflicts

Principle # 2: Deal Honestly With Others

Read Verse 25

Principal #3: Be Open About Problems

There were few things of more importance than water in the Middle East; so many serious disputes arose over the rights to water both then and even today. Abraham could have just kept quiet and kept the peace but the reality is that such an approach would of only worsened future conflicts. It is good to overlook offenses as the Bible tells us in Proverbs 19:11 but if the problem is serious or ongoing then we are instructed to go to our brother and point out the offense as it says in Matthew 18:15.

Sometimes problems and conflicts are made much worse by not being open about the problems with the person who has offended us. We may talk to everyone else but not to them. Often in our efforts to keep the peace we make things worse by not speaking up. This is true at work where we may not be up front about issues that are bugging us. This may be the case with a neighbor when we’re not open about a serious divisive issue or it maybe in the church when we are not sharing our real concerns in an appropriate manner.

Illustration: At New Life in Christ many years ago we had division and conflict which might could have been avoided if people had been more open about their concerns about the direction of the church. For the most part people were not sharing with me the problems they were having and so I assumed everything was all right. I was just as guilty about not speaking up because I had some of the same concerns as they did but I assumed that it must just be me because everyone else "seemed" happy. In the end keeping quiet about our concerns did not solve the problem it only magnified it because eventually things came to a head like a volcano exploding under pressure. The conflict could have been handled much better if we been more open in the early stages.

It is easy for people to deceive themselves into thinking that if they ignore a problem long enough it will go away. Unfortunately, problems rarely--if ever--disappear. The longer we ignore them, the worse they become. Ignore a chest cold and it can become bronchitis; ignore a knock in your engine, and eventually it will blow; ignore a conflict with your child, and it can result in total rebellion.

Source: “The People Connection” by Steve May.

Principal #3: Be Open About Problems

This principle in no way excuses unchristlike openness. We are told to approach those who have offended us, but we are to do so with love, humility, and in private.

Read Verses 26-31

Principle # 4: Do Not Make Assumptions About Another’s Knowledge Of A Problem

Apparently the complaint of Abraham’s about the well was worded in such a way that he assumed Abimelech knew of the problem because Abimelech is quick to defend himself and say, "I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today." Sometimes we never get problems or conflicts solved or come to a mutual understanding because the offended person assumes that the offender knows of the problem. We act as if people have a sixth sense about these things or we assume that our subtle remarks and innuendos are clear, when they are not!

Many people do not even know that they have offended you or if they do sense a hostility they are bewildered as to what the problem is. It may be obvious to you but not to the offender.

Principle # 4: Do Not Make Assumptions About Another’s Knowledge Of A Problem

Illustration: Many years ago a family left New Life in Christ after being here for many years. When I asked them why they were leaving the church they spoke of a problem that they had with how the services were conducted. They expressed that they had this concern for many years. That thing is that they never directly told me of this concern. I asked them, "Why didn’t you tell me this was a problem before you left the church?" Their answer was that I already knew of their concerns. I didn’t! They had assumed that their subtle remarks about how another church did things were enough to make me aware of the problem.

I have been guilty of doing the same thing. We must be very careful not to take for granted that people are aware of a problem unless we have directly and clearly articulated the problem and its seriousness for us.

Principle # 4: Do Not Make Assumptions About Another’s Knowledge Of A Problem

Abraham accepts Abimelech’s answer and responds by entering a covenant agreement in verse 27. The animals were like a seal or confirmation of that agreement, much like a handshake or signature is today. Then to make sure that there were no misunderstandings concerning the ownership of the well that was in dispute Abraham gives Abimelech seven lambs in verses 29, 30. This was an ancient way of making a clear pronouncement of ownership. Abimelech’s acceptance acted as "a witness" or a testimony that Abraham had dug and therefore owned the well. Abraham is now the one being proactive in avoiding future conflicts. As was common in ancient times the place was named after significant event that took place in verse 31.

Illustration: In the fourth century AD, Christians were attempting to escape the pagan society. There was one Christian in Rome who came up with a novel idea for escaping worldliness without leaving Rome. At the ruins of a large building, he found a freestanding 60-foot pillar. Somehow he managed to construct a crude ladder and climb his way to the top of the pillar. Then he kicked away the ladder and watched it break into pieces as it hit the ground. There was no turning back now, no way of escape. And for the next 30 years, he called the top of this pillar "home."

How did he survive all those years on a pillar sixty feet above ground? Well, when he climbed to the top, he had the foresight to take a rope and a bucket with him. On occasion he would lower the rope, and people passing by would drop food in the bucket, or fill it with water, and he would pull up the rope.

Believe it or not, this became somewhat of a trend among the early Christians. Others began to climb to the top of abandoned pillars and take up residence. These people came to be called "pillar saints"!

You have to respect the desire of these early Christians to escape the influence of the sinful world in order to give full concentration to a relationship with God. However, the pillar saints overlooked an essential element of spirituality: a right relationship with other people.

Source: “Navigating Your Relationships” by Russ Martin

There is no true spirituality without right relationships with others. It is not God’s desire that we escape the world but that we put our efforts toward building better relationships. We can do that by applying the principles we learn in God’s Word.

Principal #1: Be Proactive In Avoiding Future Conflicts

Principle # 2: Deal Honestly With Others

Principal #3: Be Open About Problems

Principle # 4: Do Not Make Assumptions About Another’s Knowledge Of A Problem

Closing Prayer