Dealing with Conflict

I appreciated the opportunity to review several articles

related to conflict and conflict resolution, particularly as it

relates to “in the trenches” ministry. It was because of this

fact that I was able to derive the greatest value. And it is

also because of this that I am able to relate these articles

back to Scriptures. To that extent the articles were full of

biblical principles.

First of all, there is a widely perpetuated myth that

conflict is immoral, or even sinful. It seems likely that this

myth is spread by the reality of our consistent failures when it

comes to how people respond to various conflicts. In other

words, because we are so accustomed to the negative outcomes

that come from handling conflict poorly, we naturally assume or

that conflict in sinful. This is not true and is supported

neither by the inspired Scriptures nor practical experience.

Reading the articles help to reinforce my thinking on this.

The truth is that our behaviors and choices before and

after the conflict is what is actually sinful or glorifying to

God. Conflict by itself is amoral. Jesus’ life serves as a clear

representation of this challenging reality. The Gospels record

one conflict after another between Jesus and His contemporaries.

For example, the Gospel of John records Jesus’ creation of

conflict and details his response.

13  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus

went up to Jerusalem.  14  In the temple courts he found people

selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at

tables exchanging money.  15  So he made a whip out of cords,

and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and

cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and

overturned their tables.  16  To those who sold doves he

said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s

house into a market!”  17  His disciples remembered that it is

written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-

17).

In this example, the fact that Jesus was involved in a

fairly serious conflict demonstrates that it is not inherently

sinful. However, in this instance (and in Jesus’ opinion) these

conflicts were initiated because of the sinful attitudes and

actions of those that he was in conflict with.

One other consideration related to the amoral nature of

conflict is its inherent inevitability. Fundamentally, conflict

is simply the absence of agreement. Or more specifically,

according to Dictionary.com it is defined as: coming into

collision or disagreement; being contradictory, at variance, or

in opposition. It seems rather obvious that disagreements and

variances are going to happen between people—even those with

especially close and loving relationships (i.e. parent/child or

spouses). Man was created to be a unique individual. That one

fact alone is bound to create conflicts.

This leads naturally to the question, “what causes

conflict”? In his article, “Seven Reasons for Staff Conflict,”

Jacobsen lists several factors that create conflict: majoring in

minors, miscommunication, environment, diversity in perspective,

generational differences, theological disagreements and a lack

of relationships.

Certainly, as has been referred to, conflict can be created

innocently; and it may simply be a matter of two people

respectfully disagreeing about an issue that is entirely

innocuous or benign. However, that is not necessarily the case;

and the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about defining those

behaviors and attitudes that instigate conflict that may not be

entirely above reproach; or that which may actually be sinful.

Paul’s comments in his letter to the Ephesians serve to frame

this conversation. He writes:

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you

live. Remember, he has identified you as his

own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of

redemption. 31  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh

words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

32  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving

one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Through these comments, Paul appears to be making the case that

these particular behaviors contradict the will and nature of the

Holy Spirit: bitterness, rage, anger, harsh and slanderous words

and all other types of evil behaviors. He then gives three

directions that, not coincidently, align themselves with his

more famous list found in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-

control). It’s clear that (according to v.32) Paul is providing

direction that, if followed, will limit unnecessary conflict.

For example, Paul is saying that we ought to live without rage,

anger, harsh words and slander—the perfect ingredients for a

feud. So what causes conflict? At least according to Paul,

conflict is created when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Proverbs mirrors Paul’s thinking. Or perhaps,

it’s more accurate to say that Paul’s direction may actually be

reflecting teachings found in the Proverbs. Specifically, 15:1

states that “a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words

make tempers flare.” This clearly teaches that angry and harsh

words incite tempers; which in turn produces or exacerbates

conflict. Anger and harshness is in direct opposition to

gentleness and kindness, two “Fruits of the Spirit.”

Proverbs 18:13 shares another direction that aligns itself

with Paul’s teachings in Galatians. It states that, “spouting

off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

This is a clear indictment against a lack of patience, another

“fruit of the Spirit”. Proverbs 26:20-21 provides one additional

example. “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear

when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights easily as

hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.” The first of

these two proverbs indicate that gossip is a common source of

conflict. It’s reasonable to conclude that a lack of self-

control is a common source of gossip. In the second proverb, the

writer indicates that a quarrelsome person does not live at

peace. These are two more “fruits of the Spirit. One last time .

. . based upon this evidence, it seems that at least some

conflict is generated when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

As was discussed previously, this truly lays at the crux of

the matter because it is often at this point that sin enters

into the picture. Again, conflict alone is not sinful. However,

manner in which it is created and resolved may certainly be. So

what does the Bible say with regard to resolving conflict? What

direction exists that would lead a God-fearing and Spirit-

following person to successfully navigate conflict? The answer .

. . plenty.

Keeping in mind that giving in to the opposite party is not

necessarily the right choice, Proverbs 19:11 provides a

compelling argument. It states that “sensible people control

their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” In

short, it may well be the case that the best way to resolve a

conflict is to ignore the transgression that instigated it.

Paul provides several strong teachings on handling

conflict. For example, in Colossians 3:13-15 Paul says that we

ought to:

make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone

who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you

must forgive others.  14  Above all, clothe yourselves with

love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  15  And

let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.

For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.

And always be thankful.

He also shares in 1 Peter 3:8-9 that

all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each

other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be

tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.  9  Don’t repay

evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people

insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is

what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for

it.

Perhaps the greatest teaching on handling conflict comes

from Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:3-5. In this letter

it seems that Paul was attempting to reconcile damaged

relationships. He writes in this text, “don’t be selfish; don’t

try impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than

yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take

an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that

Christ Jesus had.”

Thanks to Garage Door Service Aurora for sponsoring this weeks blog!