Conflict. It’s all around us and it’s in us. It can happen at work, school, church, or even undeniably and sadly, at home where it occurs most frequently. The Bible does not call all conflict sinful. Men like Moses, David, and Paul had conflicts in their lives and even Jesus, the very Son of God, had conflict in His life as well (His whole adult life might be said to be in conflict with someone or something). Disagreements and disputes will happen. We all know that because we’ve all had conflict.
But the way we handle and resolve our conflicts is of extreme importance. Believe it or not, conflict can become a motivator to greater understanding, closeness, and depth of a relationship; or, most unfortunately, it can bring anger and bitterness, yielding weakened or broken relationships. How you and I deal with conflict can literally shape the direction of our lives. And at the root of it all is the heart.
So how do conflicts start?
2 Samuel 15:6-12 (NLT) says this,
“When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.
After four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and fulfill a vow I made to him. For while your servant was at Geshur in Aram, I promised to sacrifice to the Lord in Hebron if he would bring me back to Jerusalem.”
“All right,” the king told him. “Go and fulfill your vow.”
So Absalom went to Hebron. But while he was there, he sent secret messengers to all the tribes of Israel to stir up a rebellion against the king. “As soon as you hear the ram’s horn,” his message read, “you are to say, ‘Absalom has been crowned king in Hebron.’ ” He took 200 men from Jerusalem with him as guests, but they knew nothing of his intentions. While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel, one of David’s counselors who lived in Giloh. Soon many others also joined Absalom, and the conspiracy gained momentum.“
Absalom simply wasn’t getting his way. The king (David) for years would not see him, then finally he did. But that did not satisfy Absalom; he and the king were still at odds. So Absalom was upset and conjured a plan of rebellion in his heart to get even with the king.
Conflict begins when you aren’t getting what you want so you confront someone to try and get it. You want someone’s behavior to be different, you want your way on some issue, you want to win, you want something you don’t have, you want a person to yield to you. The list might go on and on. However when the other person is not willing to give you what you want, you find yourself in conflict with them and that can lead to open warfare and fighting.
Anger, leading to harsh and course words, can become evident during the conflict because your will and desire has taken over your heart and then your mind. It is no longer a matter of right or wrong; it is only a matter of your way. The other person’s opinion no longer matters, the other person’s feelings no longer matter, the other person’s arguments no longer matter; in fact the other person doesn’t matter at that time of anger. It is only you that matters. It is only your way that matters. And so lashing out is the result, and it matters not how hurtful or disparaging the words are. Only one thing matters: your way.
And the words spoken in anger resulting from self-centeredness that results in conflict can have long-time damaging power to both parties. 1 It may take a long time for the pain of derogatory and shameful words to be replaced with self-worth that comes only from remembering, and taking to heart, that Jesus loves you through it all. That He did not abandon you during the conflict can replace the hurt with joy, but again, that may take quite some time depending on how close the participants in the conflict truly are.
Conflict is never righteously resolved through anger. And anger that is not righteous anger, is sin against God. Paul, speaking to the Galatian believers, says,
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 2
Paul puts outbursts of anger as sinful as sexual immorality and sorcery! Sounds like it’s pretty important to avoid, doesn’t it?
So how can we avoid conflict in the first place? For if conflict leads to anger in your heart, and that anger is sinful, then reducing conflict in your life is a necessity, not an option.
In solving conflict, someone will have to take the initiative to try and resolve it before it escalates into something hideous, unsightly, and sinful; before it escalates into words that have potential to cause long-lasting heartache. In Genesis 13:5-9 (NLT) we read,
“Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)
Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives![emphasis mine] The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”
Here we see that Abraham gave Lot the first choice, putting his family’s peace above personal desires. And this is important: Abraham thought about the result of conflict, the possible terrible ripping apart of his family, and quickly came to the conclusion that the land he might wind up with for the care of his herds was far, far less important than was the harmony between the two men and their herdsmen. Conflict was right at the doorstep; the fuse had been ignited, but Abraham quickly defused the whole possible conflict with a selfless offer. And it was over! The conflict that was peeking around the corner was destroyed and peace ensued.
No hurt feelings, no apologies needed, no working through the pain of conflict; for through kindness, selflessness, and a desire for peace, it had been totally and completely avoided.
Paul says it better than I could ever say:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. [emphasis mine]” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NLT)
Conflicts will come and go; there is simply nothing we can do about that in this fallen world where we live within sinful bodies. It is only how we respond that matters – both for now and eternity.
Anger deriving from conflict is antithetical to these words found in Colossians,
“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” 3
So, out of the two outcomes, which one would you rather be responsible for? Out of the two outcomes, which one would you rather God see? Out of the two outcomes, which one glorifies your Savior? Out of the two outcomes, which one doesn’t need repentance and forgiveness? Out of the two outcomes, which one is the only one that will please your God, bring glory to His name, and at the same time, keep you humble and then according to His Word, be the recipient of His grace? 4
You and I simply cannot allow conflict to work its way into anger if we are allowing the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts; for the two cannot live together 5. And if we let the peace of Christ rule our lives, then we will have this outcome: We will become peacemakers 6and be forever grateful to Him as we will see His goodness and beauty and not our ugliness. And then, like Abraham, the conflict will be immediately defused ;not for our sake, but for the sake of our Lord and Savior. And that is pleasing unto Him.
To Jesus be the glory now and always.
- “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:3 KJV)
- (Galatians 5:19-21, NLT)
- 3:15 (NLT)
- “…Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” 1 Peter 5:5b-7 (KJV)
- 19 “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (KJV) James 1:19-20
- “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (KJV) Matthew 5:9