Isaac went to great lengths to avoid conflict. Until Abimelech busted him having a poolside cuddle, Isaac had been pretending that Rebekah was his sister. When the Philistines plugged up his wells, Isaac moved on and dug bigger wells (Genesis 26:1-33).
For some, avoiding conflict is an act of cowardice. For others, it’s a means of avoiding exposure for guilt or sin. For others, it is simply that they want some peace and quiet.
And for others still, it’s a tactical manoeuvre known as fighting shy.
Then there are those who love nothing more than a bun fight. We live in a litigious culture. In such a culture, when a child falls off a swing at school, the teachers brace themselves for a lawsuit. If a medical test for cancer is delayed, the standard response from patients in some neighbourhoods is to sue.1
Even in Paul’s day, the church was caught up in this sort of thing, with brother suing brother.
By contrast, the Christian man or woman is learning that it is not with man, but with God, that he must contend.
The Christian contends with God for his own sake and for the sake of others.
First, he wrestles with God for the sake of himself. Having pushed his family across the river, Jacob spent the night wrestling with Jesus.
The word, “wrestle”, more literally means, “to kick up the dust” and is presumably where we get the expression, “a dust-up” from. As a result, he got a name change (Israel) and a blessing (Genesis 32:24-29).
David was surrounded by enemies and even betrayed by one of his closest friends. And so he contended with God in Psalm 55:16-22 and sought his deliverance from above.
In Jude 3 we are taught to,
…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)
Jude then goes on to talk about those who bring in divisive, false and destructive heresies. But it’s not until Jude 20-23 that we are actually taught how to deal with it.
But you, beloved, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God as you await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life. (Jude 20-21)
Yes, the church will need to contend with the heretics. But the believer contends with God for a stable faith so that he is not swept away by the lies.
Not only does the believer contend with God for his own sake, but he also contends with God for the sake of others.
We see this at Mount Carmel. There, in between the humiliating sacrifice of the priests of Baal and the divine fire that falls to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, Elijah draws near to God and wrestles with God for a victory (1 Kings 18:36-37).
In Romans 15:30-32, Paul implores the believers to strive or contend together in prayer before God for his sake; that he may give a good testimony and bring the gospel to more and more people.
As believers, all of this contending is grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who contends with God for Himself, and then for us.
If ever there was a man who had the right to sue for injustices committed against him, it was Jesus.
But Jesus did not take the injustices that were about to incur against him to the senate in Rome. He took them to God at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:41-44). And He did it so that He might stand before God continually as a Mediator and contend for us.
Even at His death, He would contend with God for mercy.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Learning to contend with God instead of man is a difficult groove for us to get into. We see ourselves as the centre of all things and therefore all things are ours to contend with.
But the wise man starts with God.
In our grief, we contend with God for relief. In our war against sin, the world and the devil, we contend with God for deliverance.
Where injustice has occurred, we contend with God and are willing to be wronged. In our guilt and shame and judgement, we contend with God through Jesus for our salvation.
In short, if we are going to get into a dust-up, as far as it depends on us, we will have our dust-ups with God first, and not with one another.
You can tell a man whose life is characterised by dust-ups with God. He has a limp. He has wrestled with God and he has been humbled. But he has also, prevailed, like Jacob, and been seriously blessed.
1 Jeremy Laurence, The Independent, September 2012.