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.”