Every time I look at an antique music box that is prominently displayed in my home, I have conflict within myself. I love the music box because it belonged to my paternal grandmother’s family. It is a very beautiful one and works perfectly. The problem is it does not have a lid because around 25 years ago I entrusted the lid to a friend to repair some loose filigree. After a few months, I did not get the lid back because this friend had a quarrel with a mutual friend. I was told the person never had the lid. I still have no lid on this precious box. The conflict I have is whether or not to give the music box in its damaged form to a relative so I do not look at it anymore. Looking at it tends to remind me of the meanness of people which saddens me and causes me pain because I want my family music box intact. I get angry. Or I work at forgiving the person, yet again, and let the conflict go. There are times I think I have forgiven and let it go, and then I let the presence of the box remind me of it again, and so I go around in circles with conflict. It sits there in my soul like a cold, damp blanket.
Other conflict comes to us at work or school. A child or teen may suffer from the conflict of being bullied by cruel, mean words and actions from those who are supposed to be friends. Do I fight back physically? Do I say mean things back? Do I try to reason with those who are unreasonable? Do I say something to authorities and get ridiculed for that? As parents we scratch our heads in wonder of what to do to resolve these types of conflicts today.
Some conflict appears in our lives due to differing moral and ethical values. Questions such as living with someone before marriage or wondering if doing personal tasks on the computer at work is wrong can cause many a conflict. Still other conflict may arise easily in the form of a Facebook message or a text. These forms of communication are words on a page which do not have the added benefit of physical cues or voice intonation that relay the emotion behind the words. One can state a sentence in many different ways with differing underlying meanings. Any actor can show how this is done. Arguments frequently begin over miscommunication.
If we have conflict, we are very fortunate if the conflict is with a person who listens to reason and has a heart to live a Christ-like life. If both parties are willing to say, “I may be wrong, you may be right; let’s talk about this,” and then listen carefully to each other’s ideas and thoughts without judgment or having to agree with the other person, we can find out a lot of information that we did not know to help us better sort out our own thoughts on the subject. Many times carefully listening to the other person helps us to see we are saying the same thing, only in different ways. Conflict resolved. That is good.
The steps to having godly conflict are:
- Search yourself. Look at your own motives in the matter. Ask if they line up with Scripture.
- Be willing to relate to others without pride and arrogance. Godly humility can bring a good end to conflict quickly.
- Be aware of what is being said and is going on in our immediate environment. If we have trouble being able to connect with people on an emotional level, we need to ask more frequently what the person is trying to communicate so that we correctly assess the situation. If we avoid physical and voice cues, we have not correctly assessed the situation. A wife may say, “Go ahead and go,” but she may mean something entirely different. Being alert to our environments and mindful of what is going on around us will help us to avoid these kinds of conflicts.
- A mature Christian approach is to be responsible for what you say and do. Ask yourself questions such as, “Am I being loving; am I really listening to the other person with an open mind, or do I need to be right?” We need to communicate with an attentive heart of love for others in wholesome words, not cursing and bitterness. When we are the most important person in the conflict, we are not looking at the conflict correctly. Godly conflict with REASONABLE people mostly ends in both parties becoming better people.*
Jesus covered these principles in Matthew 5. A short synopsis of these verses in the context of having godly conflict follows.
Matthew 5:1-3 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The phrase “poor in spirit” means a lack of arrogance. In the context of conflict, one who has no arrogance is one who is able to admit personal fault in the matter. Generally, we enter conflict with an “I am right and you are wrong” mentality. Godly action allows for us to contemplate if, by chance, the other person may be right and I could possibly be wrong, or that both arguments have merit. This is a good place to start. Think about what it is that you are trying to accomplish by your stance, and ask yourself if there really is more merit to your ideas than the other person’s ideas. At this point, it is profitable to determine whether being right on your part is worth the risk of seriously offending someone.
Those who are gentle are humble. The humble are willing to look at the whole picture, to be able to hear difficult things, and to keep open communication.
Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Jesus taught that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be contented. Being righteous requires living the principles the Scriptures teach us. Our old natural man has a tremendous need to win when in conflict. It takes the love of God working in us to be able to admit that we could be wrong and to work through listening and trying to understand the other argument.
Diligence in looking to find the righteous way requires we are able to distance ourselves from ourselves to have a better point of view concerning the conflict. Doing this helps us see if there is something we are missing within us that needs to be addressed. Is there resentment, bitterness, sadness, fear, pain, pride, selfishness, or jealousy that is fueling our inability to have peace in the situation? Being open and honest about our motives is imperative to being able to understand our part of the conflict.
Matthew 5:7-8 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Understanding “where we are coming from” may not be a fun process for us. Behaving in ways that causes pain in others should lead us to repentance. Being emotionally aware of how our actions and words harm others is a godly deterrent to our continuing those behaviors. Being merciful, kind, and pure in heart are the Christ-like actions expected of us all the time.
Some people are not able to feel empathy when what they have done causes pain in someone. We can become hardened, rude, and callous. If we find ourselves in that sinking ship, we need to ask God for help to soften our hearts and have kindness in its place. Be relentless in prayer and taking charge of thoughts so that kindness, mercy, and humility are what emanate from the heart. It takes more fortitude to live a Christ-like life than to live a mean-spirited one.
Matthew 5:10-11 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
At times, we become involved with people that are unreasonable and refuse to see any other way but their own. They have to win at all costs, and reason and living by the Word are not an option to them. Besides being hugely annoying and quite frustrating, this conflict needs to be dealt with. Ignoring it may seem like a plan, but in the long run, it is not a good solution. The negative emotions go under the consciousness of our minds and become putrid over time.
When we are in conflict with someone that is not willing to listen to reason, compromise, or agree to disagree, we find ourselves having a battle within ourselves over the disagreement. Talking, listening, and compromising with the other person do not seem to work because the other person is unyielding and demanding one way and one way only. We may relate to the cartoon that has a circle drawn on a cement brick wall with an X inside the circle. Underneath the circular drawing is a note that says, “Bang head here.” We have about that much productivity when dealing with people who act in extreme manipulative and selfish ways.
There are times we just have to walk away and keep our distance. In doing this, we have to guard our heart not to become bitter, resentful, or hurt by the unloving responses or the pain of a broken relationship. Some conflicts will not be settled. Some will be perpetual. Married couples may be prone to this type of conflict. Receiving help from a pastor or counselor who works with marriage counseling can be of great benefit to assist with effective communicate skills. We can also develop ways of not letting these perpetual troubles cause constant strife in the marriage.
Those who manipulate others with their views and demands are ways that Satan tries to distract us from trusting and serving Yahweh. We get embroiled in being right and teaching the other person a lesson, and we also may think that that person is not going to get the best of us! We fall into evil thinking which exhausts us with never ending fights.
Those who are unreasonable in conflicts will require patience and persistence. Be lovingly firm with the other person. Some people are just toxic, and no matter how hard we try, the conflict remains. We continue to pray for ourselves and the other person while letting the conflict go.
Matthew 5:23-26 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
If having a conflict and handling it in a godly manner means that you and the other person gain better insight into yourselves and the other by applying Scripture and Yahweh’s love to the situation, it is a very good conflict. This is the essence of the Proverb that describes this kind of conflict as iron sharpening iron. If you were humble and not arrogant, if you became more aware of those around you and their needs, if you took responsibility for your part of the problem and changed behaviors and thoughts, if you acted in lovingkindness toward another person while being true to the Scriptures, you have lived righteously and helped the body of Christ to be whole and sound. We all rejoice in that victory.
*Adapted from Godwin, A., How to Solve Your People Problems; Dealing with your difficult relationships.