In the past few weeks I have found myself in the throes of conflict more than usual. The settings and circumstances are different, but each conflict has burned emotional energy and left me feeling depleted.
All these clashes got me thinking. Is it me? Am I the common denominator here? I hoped I wasn’t just looking for a fight. I began thinking about the basic biblical principles regarding how to handle conflict. What rules of thumb does Scripture provide? Here are a few I found:
In Romans 12:18 Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). Over the years, that verse has saved me from many needless conflicts. Many times, I own the control to start a conflict. Scripture tells me I am to wield that control to bring about peace. In a world that tells us to fight for what we deserve, choosing peace can seem like a foreign concept. When conflict rears its ugly head, I try to think about the most peaceable way to navigate the situation.
Don’t stir up dissention.
Certain kinds of conflict behaviors are simply off limits for Christians, including quarreling, slander and gossip. Paul addressed this when he wrote to the Corinthian church and called them out on their unfruitful behaviors. “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish … that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20). When we bring these elements into our conflicts, we stir up dissention and create a kind of ugly turmoil the enemy loves. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists dissensions as one of the “works of the flesh” that has no place in a believer’s life.
Focus on love.
When people in your life irritate you, particularly those who are part of the family of God, Scripture makes clear the proper course of action. We are to love each other. In my life, a lot of conflict happens when I’m focused on my own needs and rights instead of loving others. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” When conflict seems to be ever-present in my life and relationships, I need to ask myself if I’m loving earnestly. Many times when I ask that question, I find that I am more focused on myself and not truly looking for how to love the other person.
Overlook an offense.
This is another conflict-resolution move that can seem odd. Nobody wants to be a doormat, which can lead to us feeling we must call people to account each and every time they wrong us. But Scripture talks about another way. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). This verse says that when you choose to let an offense go, you do something worthy of praise. Maybe that’s because God overlooks our offenses regularly because of Christ. When we forgive others by not making an issue out of a minor wrong inflicted, we reflect our patient, forgiving God.
Choosing the Way of Peace
Conflict is a part of life. And conflict-resolution skills can serve us well in many arenas — in dating, with friends, at work and in ministry. Finding healthy ways to work through the conflicts we encounter each day is vital to a joy-filled life and vibrant walk with Christ. In fact, believers are called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
As I have personally experienced, Christians are not immune to disagreements and misunderstandings. Even Paul and Barnabas parted ways after a sharp disagreement over whether they should include the young man John Mark on their next journey (Acts 15:36-39). At times, parting ways may be the best option for avoiding further dissension and division. However, most conflicts can be resolved by following these basic principles from Scripture. As I take my cue from Scripture by focusing on love and peace, and refusing to cultivate dissension, I can glorify God even in the way I handle conflict.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.