When conflict won’t go away

Many of you know that our little church family is taking a break from our time going through Luke to focus for a season on how biblical counseling and soul care ought to impact us all the time. It’s been very helpful for me to remember that I need to practice what I preach and I trust it has been beneficial to those who have participated.

Last night we talked about conflict in relationships and a biblical approach to resolving them. We’re a pretty informal group so I was very glad when we had a few questions in the middle of the lesson about what to do when conflict just doesn’t get resolved even after you work to understand the other person’s position and can charitably explain it. There are short answers and longer answers to these kinds of questions so here is more of an elaborate answer to that issue than I could get my arms around yesterday. If the Bible is clear that the ongoing conflict has sin at its root then the church restoration process in Matthew 18 needs to be followed, but what if it’s a doctrinal conflict or an issue of wisdom?

First, consider whether the issue is super important or just meaningful. There are lots of issues that have meaning to you that are not going to stop someone from getting to heaven so we need to put things in perspective. The older I have gotten the more I realize that not every issue is worth a strained relationship. We need to let the Bible be our guide – if lots of Christians hold different positions on the issue then it’s not worth holding onto it.

Second, be humble. Ephesians 4:1-3 is a helpful passage to meditate on when considering this kind of ongoing conflict.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Note how when talking about living at peace with someone else, his emphasis is on your humility and walk with Jesus. Jesus called us to follow Him and His life and ministry was characterized by humility, gentleness, patience and love. We need to do the same.

Probably nobody has helped me in this area more than Jerry Bridges who recently went home to be with the Lord. As you read his work, over and over he stresses that he disciplines himself to remember that when he is disagreeing with someone, perhaps it is him that is wrong. Of course nobody in a conflict thinks they are wrong or else there probably wouldn’t be a conflict, but unless we are open to that possibility we are showing our friend and the world that we are pretty certain we have every aspect of the issue right and have no room to grow.

Third, remember that you are never going to change anyone. Suppose you are 100% right and the other person is 100% wrong, which is almost never the case. There is only one person who will change this other person and that is the Holy Spirit. Once you have communicated what you believe to be the truth – whether that is about complementariansm or whether someone sinned against you – the true test of our faith in a God that is real is our willingness to walk away and wait on God’s timing. If your friend hasn’t changed it’s because for whatever reason God knows it is best to wait for now. Hanging onto the issue or trying to find another clever approach once things are clear is not useful or loving (which is not to say you shouldn’t evaluate how clear you have been – miscommunication is a reality in a fallen world stained by sin).

Fourth, look for ways you can accommodate your friend without violating your conscience. This is part of Paul means in Romans 12:18 when he says we ought to live at peace with all men to the degree it depends on us. When we think about it for more than a few minutes, there are usually many things we can choose to do to grow peace and unity. If your friend thinks movies are bad for Christians and you will spend time with him or her next weekend, you can choose to not watch a movie between now and then so you are less likely to reignite the conflict there. If someone you love is a vegan and you think it makes no sense, you can still choose to prepare a vegan meal for her. In fact. you could choose to eat vegan for a week to sample different dishes so that when she arrives you can be certain you are serving tasty vegan food.

Finally, it makes sense to emphasize areas where you do agree and come up with some wise plans around areas where there is disagreement. A staunch Calvinist and a rabid Armenian  can be close friends but they should not plant a church together. I have many friends who are far more egalitarian than me, but it would be foolish to marry them (if I wasn’t already married to the best lady on the planet).  I have lots of friends with different political positions, and can engage on them, but I have to go into each interaction knowing that however dangerous I believe their position to be, I can’t let our relationship be defined by the differences.Still, I will go to my grave believing that any two believers have more in common with one another than a believer and any unbeliever have so as the song says “accentuate the positive” and be enthusiastic about it.

There is no finer help to understanding the basics of biblical conflict resolution that the work done by Ken Sande during his time at Peacemakers (www.peacemakers.net).



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