Since Adam and Eve’s fall and the entrance of sin into the world, humankind has engaged in all kinds of conflict. Some of these conflicts are so serious they lead to dire consequences. Serious breaches cause discord in the body of Christ that are the result of unresolved conflict or conflict that was more like a childish brawl. Understanding conflict and handling it in a godly manner is vital to our relationship with Yahweh, family, friends, and the church community.
Conflict is nothing new. It happens all the time. Scripture is very clear that we are to resolve conflict to reap the benefits of continuing loving relationships. Proverbs 21:23 tells us: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.”
Most troubles that we have come from conflict that starts in our hearts and spills out of our mouths from fleshly lusts, selfishness, and unloving thoughts.
Please take a minute to think about your life as it is right now. Do you characterize your life as peaceful and mostly conflict free? Do you seem to have downright feuds with others? Does it seem that you cannot get through a conversation with certain people without a problem arising and becoming quite upset? Does it seem that people avoid you because you are so contentious?
Charlie Chaplin, a British actor during the silent movie era, stated, “Life could be wonderful if people would leave you alone.”
Ever feel like that? The boss at work, a spouse, a child (young or adult), neighbors, fellow Christians, or random people we meet during our daily errands and travels can all get “under our skin” so to speak.
As much as we may try, we cannot get out of this life without facing conflict. No matter what mountain you choose to live on top of by yourself or how hard you try to minimize contact with others, there will always be some kind of conflict. People who apply teachings from the Scripture and love will use the conflict to strengthen and build up relationships. Conflict can be good or bad depending on how the parties involved proceed. In this article and in Part 2, we will take a look at ungodly (bad) and godly (good) conflict.
When we are serving Yahweh and Christ is at the center of our lives, being in conflict with those close to us causes sadness because we know it is not how we are to relate with one another. The book of Genesis tells us of Moses and how he wore himself out trying to settle all the conflicts the Israelites had against each other. Jacob and Esau spent most of their younger lives in conflict. King Saul tried to kill David. Jesus had conflict with the Pharisees. Paul had life-threatening verbal and physical conflicts with individuals and groups of people as he preached the gospel. The Bible from Genesis to Revelation is full of records of conflict. Today, it is the same. Some conflict ends up with godly peace and wisdom coming out of it; some conflict ends in ungodly ways that cause us great pain, broken relationships, and sinful patterns of behavior.
We all can add to a common list many, many examples of bad conflict such as: arguing and accomplishing nothing; arguing over things that happened in the past that we cannot change, politics, religion, and such. Bad conflict is characterized with loud yelling, talking over the other person, rude remarks, swearing, slamming things, taunting the other, breaking things, running away, ignoring the other person, becoming defensive, and not budging. Bad conflict results in more bad conflict, pain, and suffering. It is like a barge full of unrighteousness that just keeps getting crammed with more crates filled with burdensome conflict. It becomes a wound in our souls that spills out into so many other areas of our lives. We, hopefully, become aware of our adding to bad conflict by wondering why we have such a wake of destroyed relationships behind us. Yahweh has a lot to say about how we are to be in good conflict and the consequences of bad conflict.
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Good conflict is a godly way to sow to the Spirit or be more righteous in our behavior. When we have a heart of love and compassion for ourselves and others, Yahweh helps us to see what it is that we are saying and doing that causes pain in others and the resulting conflict. A part of good conflict is for both parties to search themselves to see what the problems really are and how each one individually contributes to that problem. Honesty and openness are godly characteristics. When engaging in bad conflict, we see that our old man nature tends to want to blame the other person, to be right and win, and we want that person fixed right now!
Proverbs 18:6 A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows.
The Message Bible has an interesting way of saying this verse, “The words of a fool start fights; do him a favor and gag him.”
There are some people that no matter how hard we try, we just seem to get into a conflict with them. We wish we did have a gag on us so we would not keep digging a deeper hole we are in. There are three scenarios of fools and how this verse works for foolish behavior. 1) I am the fool, 2) he/she is the fool, 3) or we both are fools. Did my actions and words cause a conflict? Was I being foolish, unloving, and not living up to the standard of the Word? We can only change ourselves. If we are in conflict with a reasonable person, and we change our foolish behaviors, our godly argument will have merit to the other person, and some type of resolve can be made.
Proverbs 17:9 He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
This verse is not saying we sweep conflict under the carpet; instead, we just need to work through it the right way. When the conflict is settled, we forgive the offenses which results in a closer friendship. Yahweh is saying we do not sit on a high seat and judge others sanctimoniously and use the Word of God as a hammer to beat the other person into subjection. Love is what never fails to bind and heal wounds. The behavior here is to talk about the conflict. Both parties are to understand the Word concerning the fault (not get caught up in or be in the fault yourself), and then let it go.
Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
To have good conflict, we need to have godly, humble, inspection of our heart to see what sin is present and needs rooting out. Asking God for help with this is the only way to manage. Our hearts, when righteous, will receive the reproof and be ready to give Christ-like reproof. If you have ever tried to plant a bush in hard soil, you know how much work it takes to make just a dent in the ground. When the shovel finally breaks, we bring out the pick axe or even get machinery to break through the soil. Hard hearts are similar to the hard soil. For good conflict to take place, humility and meekness are imperative qualities to have on both sides of the conflict. Ideas can be repeated to us when we have a hard heart a hundred times, and we can nod and say, “I understand”, but we are like a fool that takes blow after blow and nothing penetrates to the heart.
What is a model of good conflict? It is when two people who want to honor Yahweh by being Christ-like in their dealings with others have a discussion about what the problem is in a rational, reasonable manner; respect each other’s opinions (you do not have to agree); both of you go to the Word for validation; figure out a resolution with Yahweh’s wisdom; and then continue in prayer and lovingkindness. The end of the conflict is the absence of conflict with a resolve that embodies the wisdom of God. Both parties become more mature. Even if you agree to disagree – which is perfectly fine – the matter is not stirred up with words to others that cause strife. The conflict is over, we move on unencumbered by the problem.
There are times we are in conflict with others who are not acting in a reasonable manner. The bottom line of how we deal with conflict really tumbles to the state of our hearts.
Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
What is it that we are thinking? What is the default that we go to at a moment’s notice? Do we think according to the prompting of the holy spirit and Scripture, or do we sink to our vile low spots and want to come out verbally and/or physically slugging or slinking away to get our way? It is prudent to prayerfully consider your day and to see where conflict arises. Is conflict in my life consistently there? What is a common thread to conflict in my life? Am I afraid of conflict? Do I enjoy a bit too much having conflict and chaos in my life? Ask Yahweh to help you to see and understand the answers to these and your own questions. Proverbs is full of many gems of wisdom of how to manage conflict. See Prov. 11:27; 12:2; 12:25; 15:15; 16:7; 30:32.
In part two, we will discuss how to avoid bad conflict, to use more godly tools to build good conflict in our lives, and to know when to lovingly walk away from harmful, impossible conflict.