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Peacemaking for Families (Part 1)

Truth in Love 456

How do we pursue peacemaking within our family?

Mar 11, 2024

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me Dr. Robert Jones. He has served as a Biblical Counseling Professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2016, and recently, he became the department chair. Prior to this, he served 19 years as lead Pastor in West Virginia and then 12 years as a full-time professor at South Eastern Seminary. Bob is a certified Christian conciliator with the Institute for Christian Conciliation and a member and fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He’s written five books, including Uprooting Anger and Pursuing Peace, several mini booklets, and numerous chapters and articles on counseling and pastoral ministry. Bob and his wife, Lauren, have been married for 40 years, and they have two married sons and two Christian daughters-in-law that he considers to be “top shelf.” I love that. That’s a really good description. This is what we pray for in our family as well. He also has four granddaughters. He serves as an elder, counselor, counselor trainer, adult teacher, and nursery worker at Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Bob, it’s always good to be with you. Thanks for joining us today.

Robert Jones: Thank you, Dale. And yes, they indeed are top-shelf daughters-in-law. My sons married up by God’s goodness.

Dale Johnson: Well, amen. And I’m going to start praying exactly that for my children. Lord, give us top-shelf. That would be great. So I love that. So now we’re going to talk today about peacemaking, and we’re going to talk about how to deal with conflict, how to resolve conflict. And in my counseling experience Bob—I’m sure it’s the same in your counseling experience—when you have issues of conflict, they’re usually in significant relationships. They’re usually in those vulnerable relationships, oftentimes in the family. A high percentage of these types of problems exist in the family. So we want to talk about this today within the context of “How do we do peacemaking?” and “How do we pursue that within the family?” Now, let’s talk as biblical counselors. We often seek to root our counseling in the bigger context of God’s redemptive work in the Lord Jesus. I want you to describe, if you can, Bob, how do you see biblical peacemaking reflecting God and the gospel, seeing this redemptive work, this work of conflict resolution and peacemaking within the broader context of God’s redemption?

Robert Jones: Yeah, and let me just echo, I think about family relationships, probably the person with whom I’ve had the most conflict in my 40 years has been my wife because of our closeness. And when you get two sinners together, that’s what happens. I think about the gospel, Dale, it’s such an interesting passage of Scripture in Romans 16:20; Paul says the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. That’s that glorious gospel promise, but it’s interesting Paul calls him the God of Peace, and he’s alluding back to Genesis 3:15, where there’s this wonderful promise that I will put enmity between you and the woman (God is speaking to the serpent), between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel. It’s as if the whole Gospel of the crushing of Satan, the whole redemptive storyline that starts in Genesis 3, is all done by a particular God who was named the God of Peace. And when you look at the whole of Scripture, you see that, in many ways, it is the work of God, the God of Peace. That’s what the gospel is really all about. And so, we want to try to bring that right into the family life.

Dale Johnson: I love this is a framework, Bob. The way you set that up, I think, is so helpful. And that we see as a part of God’s story that pursuing peace with us, I think that’s brilliant to think about Christ in that way. But sometimes we get lost in sort of the high and lofty theological understanding and, man, what does that mean on the ground? And we have a tendency to think about resolution or redemption or peacemaking and we start to get pragmatic in some ways. I mean what I see a lot is peacemaking or how to deal with conflict is often reciprocation. I’ll do this for you, Bob, if you also do this for me, and at some point when that breaks down then conflict ensues and we can’t get over that and we decide to change our environment and that sort of thing.

So, if I were to ask a follow-up, how does this framework that you’ve just set up for us, that God is a God of Peace and we see this redemption pursuit through the whole story of the scripture, how does this impact married couples on the ground? How do we think about that in a very practical way and how they should pursue peace with each other, and the way we as counselors should help them to do that?

Robert Jones: Yeah. It’s tempting to want to give a lot of, you know, “here go do this and fix it” type things, but as biblical counselors, Dale, you and I would share this conviction that it is the work of God in us and the work of Christ in us. And so for me, the starting point has to be a recognition of this work that God has done in my soul, my own sin problem, and I think of pastors like Matthew 18:21-35 where, you know, I am that person who owed God a multi-million, unpayable debt and He has come to me in Christ and He’s forgiven that. And it really does change the way I look at those family members with whom I have conflict. And so, Jesus and His Word is really driving everything that we do.

Dale Johnson: I love that and that helps to bring theology to real life, and that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do. But Bob, I’ll have to be honest with you, I find this difficult at times, and I think about this even right now I’m very convicted as we talked about this in the things that I know intellectually and in my mind and all the things that you said ring true, but the practice of it is a different matter. The next thing I want to ask you about is the steps to pursuing peace. Like this is intentional, this is something that we have to pursue. It’s not just because we know these things intellectually, we’re going to have peace with another. We actually have to pursue that. So I want you to talk a little bit about some of the steps that we should take to pursue peace within our families.

Robert Jones: I use a three-step, three-phase, three-movement model, Dale, in response to that grace of God, and I can’t emphasize that enough. We really need to start there. But as God works His grace in my own ministry and in my life, I hope in my marriage and friendships. I want to do really three things in response to grace. I want to seek to please God, and that is not just a cliche. And we in biblical counseling talk about it a lot. But there’s really practical steps that that would entail. I seek to please God; as I’m seeking to please God I realize that I have to deal with my own contribution to the conflict. So I’m typically going to think in terms of repentance, and I think of that on both the heart level, James 3, James 4, passages that probably a number of our listeners are very familiar with. And then that should move me into the behavioral level where I think of dealing with the logs or planks in my eye, and then how do I go ahead and make things right with that person? And then from there I’m moving into what does it look like to show mercy? To be forgiving? What does forgiveness entail? And how do I confront a person? But all those are the third step here of love. How do I love that person? But it begins with me seeking to please God, and it begins with me then dealing with my own contribution, my own sin.

Dale Johnson: Now, I think it’s interesting that you start there, and that’s 100% the right place to start. And I think this is conceptually where people have a hard time: starting with pleasing God. Yeah, I know that, but how do we do this? So, I want to dive a little bit deeper on that particular point about pleasing God. Why do you start there? And then how do you help people to make this their goal when they’ve been blinded to it before?

Robert Jones: Well, it’s vital for me to start there because my motivation to want to pursue peace with my wife or friends or children and also the power to be able to do that is going to come from God. And so, I have to have my vertical relationship with God right with Him so that I can receive from Him: His modeling, His forgiveness for my failure, and His power by His Holy Spirit to actually pursue that. And so, making that our goal, a lot of us in the biblical counseling world who always think, and rightly so, about 2 Corinthians 5:9, our goal in life is to please God, and then I dip down to 5:14-15 where verse 15 ends by saying we no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and has raised again. And so, it’s the power of Christ and His resurrection that motivates me to want to please God and that leads to all sorts of practical implications in terms of conflict.

Dale Johnson: You mentioned practical implications. I think that’s necessary for us to flesh out a little bit because you talk about pleasing God. We get a counselee on the same page; they see it written, as you referred to, in the pages of Scripture. We see this as our motivation. They might even be able to see that their lack of pleasing God in their life has contributed to some of this conflict. How do you help them see some of the implications to pursue peace for a couple as they seek to please God?

Robert Jones: Well, I have nine implications. I’m going to start there and you can lead me as much as you want there, brother. But I think the first implication, in many ways, is to realize that a failure to seek to please God is the ultimate cause of all conflict; all conflict is going to come from one or both parties, usually both. Someone in this room, as I’ve said in counseling sessions, is not seeking to please God. I think that’s really going to be the starting point, again, in response to God’s grace.

The second goal here, or the second implication, is this goal keeps our focus on God. It is so easy in my marriage—I suspect in yours as well—that when you have a conflict you’re going to walk away from that conflict thinking one or two wrong directions. One is: I’m thinking about the issues themselves. “I can’t believe that’s her view. She’s wrong.” And you know, Dale, maybe like you, I have never lost an argument within my own mind. It’s just I’m going to be pigheaded on what I think is right. The other way I can misapply this whole thing is to focus on her behavior. “Why did she say that? How come she interrupted me?” When pleasing God becomes the goal, it’s not so much whether I’m right or wrong, it’s not so much of how she acted. It’s “Lord, how do you want me to handle this?” or “How do you want me to respond? What do you want me to do about that?” And so, there’s two of many more we can chat about here.

Dale Johnson: Man, those are so helpful. And yeah, I would confess exactly what you said. I don’t know that I’ve ever lost an argument in my own mind. But I think that points out our blindness. And you know, we’re running out of time today, but I want to talk some more about these implications. I’m going to see if you can come back and chat with us because this is where the rubber meets the road. One of the most brilliant things in the counseling room is when you see counselees start to recognize what you’re describing and then you start to put into practice some of these things that you’re referring to here that help them to move down the road. Even as you were talking, I was thinking so much about Matthew 7, and the Bible’s not unaware that conflict is going to happen, but he tells us how we’re supposed to handle that, starting first with self-examination: seeing ourselves before the Lord. We have such a tendency to want to point out other people’s flaws or their wrong thinking or their wrong practice or the wrong things they said. The Lord tells us to look at ourselves first in those points of conflict. So, if you come back, I’d love to chat some more about some of those implications.

Robert Jones: I would love to. And you emphasized the right word there: “First” is what Jesus says in Matthew 7. First deal with the plank in your own eye.

Dale Johnson: Yeah. Thanks. Bob, this has been great in helping us get started on how we pursue peacemaking in families.

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