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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How To Avoid Conflict In The Church | Part 4

How To Avoid Conflict Part 4

How Do We Avoid Conflict?

(4) Don’t speak evil against one another.

James says,

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (Jas 4:11–12)

Speaking evil against another is harmful speech. Harmful speech could be anything from: Questioning legitimate authority, to slandering someone in secret, to bringing false accusations against them.

Conflict arises when we want recognition from others but someone else stands in our way. Our flesh tells us to remove the obstacle by criticizing and judging others.

Politicians are a great example. Debates, TV ads, and bill boards are all designed to defame their opponents and gain an advantage. From a worldly perspective it seems to work, but the result is conflict, which is what we want to avoid.

To keep conflict out of a community, we have to watch what we say. Harmful speech doesn’t build others up, it only tears them down, creating tension between you and them.

How do we keep ourselves from speaking evil against another?

James’ tactic is to expose what evil speech and judging another actually does. He tells us speaking evil against, or judging another, means we speak evil against and judge the Law of God.

As if that is not bad enough, he takes it a step further, telling us we also take God’s right to judge away from Him. As our Creator, He has the right to judge us. We don’t have the right to judge another. When we act as judge, we infringe on God’s right.

What does James mean by judging another and the Law? 

For James, judging others holds the idea of criticizing another with slanderous remarks, or pronouncing their damnation when we have no basis to do so.

We speak evil against or judge the Law when we slander or judge others because the Law demands we love our neighbors.

In other words, we observe what the Law says, – love your brother – think through it, and decide it is not worth following. When we do that, we are essentially saying the Law’s command is wrong, and is not worth anything.

Conclusion

Conflict occurs in a sinful world. It doesn’t have to occur in our churches though. James provides the necessary tools to keep conflict at bay. He tells us:

If you want to avoid conflict, take James’ ideas and apply them to your life.

Question for Reflection

  1. How is your speech?

Resource

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How To Avoid Conflict In The Church | Part 3

How To Avoid Conflict Part 3

How Do We Avoid Conflict?

(3) Be a peacemaker by striving to be pure.

Those who are pure live opposite worldly wisdom. They live according to God’s Word: Peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

James says, 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas 3:17–18)

The peaceable person avoids arguments or violent conflict. While those who are gentle are not harsh, but careful with others feelings. 

Those open to reason don’t live by the motto “My way or the highway.” Instead they are willing to sit down and discuss with others, even yielding their will at times when a moral or unalterable theological principle is not involved.

While those full of mercy and good fruits don’t hold sins against another. They are forgiving. They have love for their neighbor and are generous in giving to others in need. 

The impartial do not show partiality to one group over the other. While the sincere are not double-minded, but free from hypocrisy or playing a part, as well as they don’t hold to a double standard.

Summary

The pure are peacemakers, sowing peace in a community instead of conflict. So if you want peace, be a peacemaker instead of a peace breaker.

Looking Forward

The next post in this series suggests we can avoid conflict by not speaking evil against one another.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you a peacemaker?

Resource

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