Conflict is inevitable in any enduring relationship. Ken Sande’s book Peacemaking for Families makes this clear and reminds us that conflict is more an assignment from God than an accident waiting to happen. So if conflict is one way God refines us, and is something we should embrace as part of sanctification, wouldn’t we want to be pretty good at resolving it biblically? The problem is, most of us do not know how to be a peacemaker or, when we do try to resolve conflict biblically, our flesh gets in the way. I believe the secret to handling conflict well lies in knowing where and how it starts!
The Bible gives us an abundantly clear picture in James 4:1-12. The chapter opens with a million dollar question and a somewhat surprising answer:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?”
Notice the source of conflict? Is it a difficult person? An unreasonable child? A nagging or domineering spouse? No doubt all those relational struggles may explain the opportunity for conflict but not the source of it or why we sometimes choose to return evil or even engage in the relational war. The Bible points to our heart, our passions, what we want most, as the culpable party in any conflict we chose to get entangled in. With that being the case, the key to handling conflict biblically is the condition of our heart. To be a peacemaker, we need to cultivate a renewed mind, well informed emotions, and a will submitted to God and His Word.
Here are six questions I have learned to ask myself when preparing for potential conflict situations or hard conversations. I want to share them with you and explain how they will go a long way to helping you approach, handle, and often resolve conflict at least as far as it has to do with you (Roman 12:18).
- How do I approach this person or situation? (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
How you approach conflict depends on your assessment of the potential for true biblical resolution. Is the other person rebellious (perhaps even dangerous), fearful, ignorant, or just really hurt by something you or someone else did? The Bible is clear there are people who are not interested in advice, reconciliation, or real peace. So, you may choose to wait or not approach that person directly.
The proper position is a heart willing to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35) and desiring to make a prayerful appeal for the other person’s heart (1 Samuel 25:23-31). If they are more fearful and perhaps you are in a position of seniority or authority, your position may be more one of encouragement or drawing out why they seem unsettled or defensive around you. Is the person contemptuous, careless or clueless toward how they are adding to the tension? You might consider Scriptures like Matthew 18:15 which challenge us to try to winning our adversary back to God and us to go directly to them and raising the issue. If that doesn’t work, finding a neutral party who cares about you both to help mediate is a next step. Finally, some may really be hurt or weak and just blessing them in some way could break the ice.
- Is my motive to be right or restore? (Galatians 6:1-2)
Have you ever been a bit too hasty in your desire for resolution? Like “We are going to get this right, and we are doing it right now!” Maybe you know you are right and you can’t believe how difficult the other party is being. We have a saying in our church…
“When you are wrong in the way that you right, then you are wrong, even if you’re right.”
Here is the point, how you go to someone really matters. What is your motive? Is it truly toward restoration? If it is, you will have calmed down and settled the matter in prayer with God so you can go as His ambassador. Remember the passage in Galatians say to “go in a spirit of gentleness”!
- Is what is true being distorted by emotion? (Ephesians 4:25)
At this point you may be thinking these questions may work for some but you have no idea about my situation. Easy for him to say, but I have been abused, slandered, and mistreated in a heinous way. My heart grieves for any brother or sister who has been wounded like this! I too have experienced betrayal, deep disappointments, and unfair treatment, but understand I am not comparing my pain to yours. Here is what I do know. Christ set an example of enduring tremendous mistreatment and abuse for us and did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23).
When you ask yourself what is true about this opportunity to resolve conflict, do it at the foot of the cross! Do I have more in common with the antagonist than I do with Christ? Am I nursing resentment or bitterness when I have been forgiving by one who is perfect and holy? Have I cried out to God and let Him comfort me so as not to need anything from this person to feel peace? Do I have all the facts or have I let my emotions distort reality? Have I even recruited people to my perspective to make provision for my flesh or justify my unbiblical response?
Don’t get me wrong you can be emotional. I am not asking you to stuff or deny hurt, anger or pain. But take your emotions vertically first, like the Psalmists often did, and let God minister to you before you confront someone with unchecked emotions!
Please join us next Monday for the second Part of this article, with three more questions to consider if your family is battling conflict, and how to move forward.
Dr. Garrett Higbee