Summary: Jesus dealt with conflict head on, yet always without sin. He did not avoid conflict. Once he dealt with it in his team, he pointed them back to His mission and their mission. He does that with us also.
What did Jesus do about conflict in His team?
In their book called ’A bucket of surprises’ J. John and Mark Stibbe refer to a friend (a church leader) who said this: ’Whenever the conflict gets too much in my church I go and visit the local kennels. There’s a whole group there that’s always pleased to see me!”
The question we are asking ourselves this morning is ’What did Jesus to about conflict in his team?’ As we ask that question let’s be open to what God wants to say to us about how we handle conflict in our families, at our places of work, in the church, and anywhere else that team conflict occurs.
First of all I think it’s really important to note that Jesus dealt with his friends, his disciples, those people that were learning from him, warts and all.
William Barclay in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark tells of the court painter who was commissioned to paint a portrait of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was afflicted with warts on his face. Thinking to please him (a bit like a photographer airbrushing out imperfections), the painter omitted all of the warts in the painting. However, when Oliver Cromwell saw it he said, “Take it away! And paint me warts and all!”
As we read the Bible, and in particular as we are studying excerpts from Mark’s Gospel at the moment, Mark paints us a picture of Jesus’ disciples, warts and all. They were ordinary men. Jesus set out to change the world with ordinary people (like you and me) and he did it; and when he dealt with people he dealt with them warts and all. He deals with us today as we are!
What did Jesus do about conflict in his team? Well, I’m going to state the obvious because for some of us this is a hard lesson! Jesus dealt with the conflict.
Two of his 12 disciples (James and John) approached Jesus asking him to do for them whatever they asked (Mark 10:35). Nothing too strange there as people were often asking Jesus to do things for them, healing in particular (Mark 7:31 to 37 for example), and today God invites us to bring all kinds of prayers and requests to him in the name of Jesus.
Jesus replies, “What do you want me to do for you?” and it is James and John’s answer that brings about conflict in the team of 12 disciples. They said, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:36 to 37). In other words, we would like a place of prominence and leadership in your future glorious kingdom Jesus. Rather like us the disciples still had much learning to do. It sounds like the arguments and discussions from Mark 9:33 to 35 had surfaced again. On that occasion all of the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest. Is it Peter? Is it John? Who is the greatest?
On that earlier occasion Jesus called the 12 of them together and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (9:35); and he brought a child to stand in their midst as an example to them.
The principal was clear. Jesus called them together and dealt with the conflict. He did not avoid it. He dealt with it head on. Appropriately, and always without sin, Jesus dealt with conflict head on.
Do we deal with conflict, or do we avoid it at all costs? Have you perhaps been hurt by conflict with somebody or something? Do you have any unresolved conflict that needs to be dealt with?
Jesus’ discussion with James and John shows that they had not grasped what he had taught them after all 12 had been arguing. Just like us, the message needed to soak in.
Later on, “when the [other] 10 heard about this, they became indignant with James and John” (10:41). Can you sense the irony in this situation? All 12 of them had previously been arguing about who was the greatest and Jesus had patiently called them altogether, teaching them that “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (9:35). Now, James and John have essentially continued to toy with their idea of what it means to be great, and the other 10 are upset by it; but the irony is that the 10 are upset with almost exactly the same question that all 12 of them had misunderstood before! How do we react to the sins of others?
Does any of that sound familiar to you? Isn’t it the case that we get indignant with other people about things that we ourselves have either struggled with or still struggle with? And what did Jesus do? Once again Jesus called them together (10:42) and dealt with the conflict head on. He did not avoid it.