How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

Christianity is unique in that it brings people together from all walks of life to live in community with one another. While our hearts have been changed, we are still sinners, which means we are bound to experience conflict with one another. How we handle that conflict is important because it often means the difference between ongoing fights that throw us off mission or increased unity that brings us together on mission for Christ.

How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

(1) We have to address conflict quickly.

In Genesis 13 a conflict arises between Abraham and Lot’s shepherds over the land allotted for their livestock.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:5–8)

After realizing there was a conflict between his shepherds and Lot’s, Abraham goes to Lot right away. He doesn’t let it stew. He doesn’t start a family feud by telling his men to fight back. He doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he addressed the conflict soon after he found out it was happening.

We are to do the same. In fact, the urgency with which we handle conflict should be of top priority. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5:23-24 when He says,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23–24)

Jesus’ words tell us that God takes unresolved conflict seriously, so seriously that if you are at the altar about to sacrifice and you remember that your brother has something against you, you are to leave the altar, presumably your sacrifice as well, to go reconcile with him. Only once you have sought reconciliation, should you come back and move forward with your worship.

Conflict should not only be dealt with quickly because it hinders our worship, it should also be dealt with quickly because it hinders our witness to the community.  In verse 7 of Genesis 13, there is what seems like an unremarkable statement about the Canaanites and Perizzites living in the land. That statement, however, is important. Its inclusion reminds us that the world is watching. They see how we interact with one another. What they see may help or hurt our witness. Think about it, if all the world sees in our churches is conflict and disunity, our witness to them about the power of the gospel to change lives will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, if the world sees people who are loving and forgiving one another in ways that they would never think of doing, if they see people dealing with conflict well and are, for the most part, unified, they may begin to think there is actually something about the message we are proclaiming.

So for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God, we need to deal with conflict when it arises. We can’t wait until sometime in the distant future or just hope it will disappear. We must deal with it quickly if we want our worship and witness to be God honoring.

(2) We have to approach the other person in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Notice how Abraham approaches Lot in verse 8. He says,

“Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:8)

I quoted verse 8 out of the ESV, but if you read it in the NASB or NKJV verse 8 begins with the word “Please”, so that Abraham says, “Please let there be…”. I believe the translators chose to include “please” to emphasize the manner in which Abraham approached Lot. He didn’t go at him in a harsh, domineering, or aggressive way. Instead, he appeals to him in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Like Abraham, we have to approach others in a tender, gracious, and loving manner if we want to de-escalate the situation and work towards a resolution.

So while we should handle conflict quickly, we must also choose our approach and words carefully. If we don’t, things can quickly escalate or get worse, even if that wasn’t our intention.

(3) We have to be willing to stand down, even taking a loss for the sake of our relationship.

After Abraham approaches Lot, he says in verse 9,

“Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”” (Ge 13:9)

Of course, this means that Abraham is giving Lot the opportunity to pick the best land for himself. Certainly, Abraham knew this could result in a loss. A loss that he didn’t have to take. God had given him the land, not Lot. He could have told his nephew where to go, but he didn’t. Instead, he was willing to stand down, even willing to take a loss for the sake of their relationship.

Taking a loss for the sake of our relationship might seem radical, but in doing so, we are modeling the gospel. Starting in Philippians 2:4 we read,

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php 2:4–8)

You see, Jesus took a loss for us. He died a death He didn’t have to die. He did so to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might have a restored relationship with the Father and everlasting life.

We must, as Paul tells us, have the mind of Christ. We must not only look out for our own interests but for the interests of others as well. So following in the footsteps of Jesus, we should be willing to stand down, even to take a loss for the sake of another and our relationship with them.

Of course, doing so goes against all that is natural to us. As one commentator says,

“The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one, but God’s way is to look up to number one and to be a blessing to others.” [1]

As Christians, we not only have the example but the power to be a blessing to others by taking a loss because we have been changed by the gospel. As well as we have God’s promise to provide for all our needs. The latter half of Matthew 6 comes to minds. In verse 31, Jesus says,

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:31–33)

When we believe God’s promise to care for our needs, we are freed to be generous even to take a loss because we know that God is in control and He will provide for us.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you handle conflict?
  2. Are you willing to take a loss for the sake of resolving conflict?
  3. Are God’s glory and your witness foremost when you consider dealing with conflict in your relationships?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: Do Our Choices Matter?

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/17-tale-two-men-genesis-135-18 

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“Of Whom I am the Worst”, John Newton and Amazing Grace

John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” was written from personal experience, for Newton himself was among the worst of sinners. At the age of eleven, he took to the sea, where he had many adventures: he was press-ganged into the navy; he was captured and flogged for desertion; he despaired almost to the point of suicide. Eventually, Newton became a slave-trader, a hard and wretched man. But he was shown mercy. As he feared for his life in stormy seas, he threw himself on the grace of God, which he found in abundance. Later he testified, “How wonderful is the love of God in giving his Son to die for such wretches!”

Even after he was saved, Newton continued to confess his need of God’s amazing grace. He wrote in one of his letters, “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if a toad or a serpent was put in my food or in my bed. Ah! how vile must the heart (at least my heart) be.” Newton did not despair, however. Before closing the letter, he quoted Paul’s words to Timothy: “I embrace it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

Every Christian knows how to complete Newton’s quotation in the quietness of a believing heart: “of whom I am the worst.”

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see yourself as the worst of sinners?

Resources

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This post is an extended quote by Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 29.

How Should Christians Work? – Part 1

Work, it’s something we do a lot of. I am not sure if you have ever figured it up, but on a 40 hour work week, you will spend over 2,000 hours a year working. Over 30 years that amounts to roughly 62,000 hours or 2,600 straight days at work. I think it is safe to say that work is a big part of our lives.

Work is also a necessary part of our lives because without work we wouldn’t survive. We have to pay for the place live, the food we eat, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, and the things we do. So work is not only a big part of our lives, it’s a necessity.

Since we work so much, and retirement is far away for most of us, it’s important we have a biblical understanding of work.

How Should Christians Work?

(1) As Christians, our work should always be genuine

One of the first long-term jobs I had out of college was at a staffing company. I began working for them in Atlanta and ended up moving to Dallas to help open a satellite office. I didn’t move to Dallas alone. Four other people from the corporate office moved with me. Everyone who moved to Dallas had done really well in the Atlanta office, which only makes sense, after all, you aren’t going to trust your brand new satellite office to those who are having a hard time with sales or recruiting at the Corporate office.

Our new office looked promising. There, however, was just one problem, no one was appointed as the head of the office. Instead, a bunch of twenty-somethings was thrown in an office half-way across the country and told to work without any oversight. While it wasn’t a total bust, most of us worked hard, there was one guy in our office who didn’t. It is not that he didn’t do anything. He made a few obligatory calls, participated in our daily office meetings, made sure I was working on the few jobs he had pulled in, but the rest of the day he watched videos on his computer, talked to his friends on the phone, and joked around with people in the office. That was his daily routine until one of the executives from the Atlanta office came out to check on things.

When the executives were there, his work ethic picked up 100%. He was on the phone all day setting meetings, pulling in jobs for me to work on, as well as he made it a point to talk up all that he had done in the office, or was supposed to be doing. You see, his goal was to be head of the office in Dallas. He knew if he wanted that position, he had to impress the executives, which is exactly what he set out to do, but only when they were there and they could see him.

Now, the way he worked is the exact opposite of how Paul calls Christians to work in Colossians 3. In verse 22 he says,

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Col 3:22)

According to Paul, we aren’t just to work hard when our bosses are watching. Instead, we are to work with “sincerity of heart“. In other words, what our boss sees when in the office should be what they can expect when they are out of the office. Our work, then, should always be genuine.

Our genuine work should be driven by our fear of the Lord. When the Bible talks about fearing God what it means is that we are to live in awe and wonder of Him, that we are to have an intense love and respect for Him. Those things should be what drives us to work well.

When we allow the fear of the Lord to drive our work, people will see a difference in the way we work. They won’t just see us doing things for attention, accolade, or promotion, like many of their co-workers, or even themselves. Rather they will see us as genuine. People appreciate people who are genuine, even if they aren’t genuine themselves.

Being genuine not only pleases God, but it also opens up a conversation with others about why we work the way we work. It gives us an opportunity to tell other people about Jesus. How He has changed our heart, and how that has affected our work.

So as Christians, our work should always be genuine. We shouldn’t seek to please man, but God.

Question for Reflection

  1. Is your work genuine?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon How Should We Work from a Christian Perspective?

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