“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, NIV)
In my last post, I wrote about unity in the midst of adversity. So, of course, when I open my Bible to continue a year-long journey through Luke-Acts, Jesus is talking about fire, division, and conflict.
Thanks a lot, Jesus.
Being temperamentally averse to conflict, I am greatly challenged when I come across passages such as this. But I think we are wrong if we read this as in some way a call to seek out conflict or to relish in it.
As I read the entire chapter, Jesus is saying that standing up for him and following his commands will result in us being put into situations of conflict. We are warned about falling prey to hypocrisy (vv. 1-2) and rejection of Christ (v.8) under persecution or pressure (vv. 11-12). We are warned not to be tempted by the pursuit of earthly riches and security (vv. 13-34). We are warned not flag in keeping the Lord’s commands as we await the return of Christ (vv. 35-48).
In these various ways, we will be pulled by others. For instance, we will be urged not to be “too religious” or to take God too seriously. And when we do, we will fall into conflict with family and loved ones because of our loyalty to Christ.
The irony for me is that both sides on our denomination’s conflict probably appeal to this passage for comfort. That may make me read the final verses of the chapter in a way that seems wrong to others:
As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Luke 12: 58-59, NIV)
Conflict is inevitable. We will have adversaries in the life of this world and the life of the church. Jesus the judge is coming, perhaps today. How hard are we trying to be reconciled before Jesus Christ returns? It is better that we be reconciled than we run the risk of Jesus turning to us and saying, “Off to prison with you.”
Do we hear this? How do we do it?