Churchill certainly got it right when he said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Of course, most of us would love to get through life without offending anyone. . Conflict, after all, isn’t generally fun.
In this world, few people escape unscathed by conflict. Sometimes our very existence is enough to offend another.
Conflict, then, not only appears inevitable but also inescapable. If you step out the door and onto the field, you enter life’s conflict. Attempt to accomplish anything, your chances of developing enemies increases exponentially.
For me, the most memorable of such attacks came after I had received a tremendous honor. I had taken some time off from my writing career, and picked up work as an English Literature Instructor.
Because of my educational background, I was given several very sought after sections of English Literature. Naturally, I was delighted.
But apparently, my new department chair? Not so much.
She had eyed those particular classes for some time. And unfortunately for her, the powers above had selected me.
Uh, huh. Circumstances beyond my control created conflict before I stepped on campus.
And so it was… The fall semester inaugurated my colleague’s campaign against me. She aimed for sole control of the field. In her ideal work scenario, all others should play second fiddle.
At first, I didn’t notice. Since she asked a lot of questions and made some seemingly valid suggestions, I initially thought her friendly.
Little by little, however, she poisoned my reputation. Reports of her betrayal began to filter back to me. At first, I viewed such stories as skewed rumors, the kind passed along in a children’s game of “telephone.”
However, the more closely she worked with the administrator the more frequently the administrator questioned my work. In fact, I became the brunt of jokes between them.
Evidently, the department chair was rallying support for her cause.
It made no difference that I worked hard. It mattered not that I taught well.
I stood in her way.
In time, her attacks extended beyond professional. They became personal.
Maybe, you’ve been there, too. It’s a common scenario, especially in the workplace.
Out in the field, you and I meet all kinds of people.
And although you may remain standing after an enemy’s attack, you’ve certainly had the wind knocked out of you.
I’ve been there. I get that.
Persecution in the workplace, at school, in your neighborhood, or a social organization can leave you disheartened at the very least.
Your work is undermined; your character slandered.
The colleagues, friends or even family members that you most trust may even turn on you.
Such betrayal seems more than you can bear. Reeling from such blows, you and I naturally feel anger, disappointment and yes, heartbreak.
Human nature longs to self-protect. Under the right conditions, retaliation actually appeals.
And we certainly don’t have to look far to find someone who will applaud revenge.
Of course, Christ taught us to forgive our enemies; to offer grace; to walk the second mile.
But I’ve often wondered just how His teaching fit into the marketplace. Does walking with mercy and grace mean I play the doormat?
Of course, sitting in a Bible study or at church, I wholeheartedly applaud my Savior’s admonition to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44).
I nod and give a hearty “amen” when I read Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
But I haven’t always understood how that all plays out in the field.
After all, the world can be a ruthless place.
How do I respond with mercy and grace when dealing with those who war against me in business, educational, or social settings?
Until recently, I wasn’t sure that God directly addressed the issue.
But the Holy Spirit has a way of teaching me something new every time I read through God’s word.
In fact, as I plodded my way through Exodus’ lengthy list of civil and moral codes, I found the story of one godly man’s travail out in the field.
That’s right. Moses was no stranger to conflict. After all, he had confronted Pharaoh over and over again.
After such a dramatic demonstration of God’s power, he probably never expected the events of Exodus chapter 32.
Of course, God had previously commissioned Moses to lead the Israelis out of Egypt and had even appointed Aaron, Mo’s brother, as an assistant.
Conflict with Pharaoh was inevitable but not surprising. Secure in God’s calling, Moses moved forward. And ten plagues later, Moses, Aaron and the people walked out of Egypt with all their worldly possessions as well as with gifts from the Egyptians.
Aaron stood by Moses through the desert; he experienced the miracle at the Red Sea. He saw Yahweh provide manna and water in the wilderness. And when Moses stood before God on Mount Sinai, God outlined Aaron’s honored role as high priest in service to God.
I’m sure Moses could think of no better right-hand than his brother. After all, they’d been through a lot together.
For this reason, Aaron lead in Moses’ stead when brother Mo’ met with God on Sinai.
Evidently, God had a lot to say because Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the Mount (Exodus 24:18). During that time, God gave Moses the law and detailed specifications for daily life and worship for the nation.
And because chapters twenty-five through thirty-one give us a condensed report of civil law, it might be easy to simply move past this portion of the book. Yet, herein lies much of Moses’ resume.
Forty days with God. Literally, a mountain-top experience to beat all mountain-top experiences! As their time together came to a close, Yahweh gave Moses the law inscribed by the “hand of God.”
I can’t even begin to imagine the awe as well as peace and joy that filled Mo’s heart as he returned to the Israeli camp. He had so much to share with his brother as well as God’s people. I imagine his step quickened as he eagerly anticipated telling Aaron all that God had spoken.
But as Moses descended, he likely became more and more uneasy. Joshua, who had stood guard part way up the mountain, finally put Mo’s concerns into words.
He noted the great clamor rising from the camp and suggested, “There is a sound of war in the camp,” (Exodus 32:18).
Moses, however, questioned Josh’s theory. “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; But the sound of singing I hear,” he said (Exodus 32:18).
When Moses arrived at camp, what he found likely turned his stomach. After forty days with his all-powerful Creator, Moses discovered God’s chosen high priest leading the people in idolatry.
From the mountaintop to the desert floor; from the hilltops to the plains… Moses returned to face opposition and hardship in his day-to-day workplace.
Betrayed by his brother. Disappointed by God’s people.
It isn’t surprising that Moses became angry. Understandable, in fact.
He smashed the tablets… Actually, when I think about it, it was a fitting response. The people had already broken the law of God even before Moses had a chance to present it to them. Their pagan revelry broke a good many of the ten commandments even beyond the obvious.
Even so, Moses’ patience with Aaron absolutely amazes me. He gave Aaron the benefit of the doubt. He trusted his brother, and thus, from Moses concluded that Aaron must have been forcibly coerced.
Moses asked, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” (Exodus 32:21).
Aaron’s response kills me. Reading Aaron’s response during my daily, morning study, I nearly spewed my cup of tea.
Aaron, of course, put his own spin on the whole event. He began in this way, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil…”
It’s not my fault…the people forced me to make the golden calf. They are evil.
Without hesitation, Aaron chose to ride the benefit of the doubt as far as it would take him.
Perhaps, one of your colleagues has betrayed you. Maybe, after being caught in gossip or slander, your co-worker attempts to cover it up. And you find yourself listening to absurd rationales.
If so, you can certainly understand the difficult position in which Moses found himself.
After explaining that the people demanded the idol, Aaron reported, “And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.'”
I didn’t do it, claimed Aaron. The calf just popped out of the fire.
I can well imagine Moses rolling his eyes.
Not only had Aaron betrayed Moses’ faith, but Aaron also failed to grant Moses respect by way of a credible explanation.
No Yahweh follower would have blamed Mo for meting out firm justice. Aaron’s excuses were flimsy at best.
Even so, the once fiery Moses, the man who killed an Egyptian who threatened an Israeli, chose to offer grace. Obviously, as a leader, Moses had to reestablish trust.
A blanket pardon would put the camp’s unity at risk. However, Moses did offer Aaron, the Levites, and the rest of God’s people an opportunity to repent.
Standing in the gate of the camp, Moses said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” (Exodus 32:26).
In other words, Moses asked for a demonstration of their loyalty to God. Grace called. Grace offered forgiveness.
The choice to turn from idolatry to Yahweh brought God’s grace. Simple enough.
The camp could not stand divided. Split loyalties would destroy God’s people. Civil war and unrest would break out. Thus, those who turned away from Yahweh must be sorted out. The nation’s survival depended upon it.
The majority chose Yahweh. As a result, Moses interceded on their behalf. And God saved the nation.
True, there were consequences for sin. There always are. But the nation survived. Moses entreated God to demonstrate grace.
When I consider Moses’ heart, I see tremendous trust in God.
Aaron had failed. He had proven untrustworthy. Scripture tells us that Moses recognized that Aaron “had let them [the people] get out of control…” (Exodus 32:25).
It would have been easy to let Aaron go.
Moses, nevertheless, repeatedly granted grace and he obviously did so with great wisdom. Moses demonstrated mercy, but he most certainly did not play the doormat.
Extending grace, he asked for a show of “good faith.” Wisdom leads with both justice and grace, (Micah 6:8).
Although Aaron’s irresponsible behavior justified strong measures, Moses did not attempt to settle the score. Instead, he trusted Yahweh to provide and protect. In this way, Moses walked humbly with his God (Micah 6:8).
Moses shows me what grace looks like in the field.
Yeah, in this world, some try to dishearten and undermine.
There are even those who seek to destroy your credibility.
Some long to completely knock us out.
Yet, like Moses, you and I are called to humbly serve in the fields.
Faith reminds me that God orchestrates everything. Moses knew that God’s purpose will not be thwarted, (Job 42:2). Our heavenly Father will bring about justice on our behalf (Hebrews 10:30).
He has promised. And we can trust our wise and compassionate Savior, (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Certainly, He has commanded us to “love our enemies” but He has also warned, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves,” (Matthew 10:16).
Our Savior understands the importance of trust. Loyalties must be established for unity’s sake. Thus, Moses said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” (Exodus 32:26).
But at the same time, no doormats here… just Christ followers who trust the Sovereign-Shepherd to complete the good work He has begun.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person,” ~1 Thessalonians 4:6
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”~ Micah 6:8