We all deal with conflict at least occasionally. So let's talk about how we can be better at responding to it and hopefully resolving it.
I'm going to break it down into two categories:
Conflict with other followers of Jesus and
Conflict with those who are not followers of Jesus.
Why am I breaking it down like this? Because that’s what the scriptures do.
Here's how to respond to conflict with people who are NOT FOLLOWERS of Jesus:
1 Peter 3:9 “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.”
In following the example of Jesus, we are called to meet injustice with sacrifice.
I’m not saying you have to be a doormat. Jesus wasn’t a doormat. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a doormat. Mother Teresa wasn’t a doormat.
But when people who are not followers of Jesus give you grief, generally speaking, I suggest you should respond with grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you’re looking for easy, you wouldn’t be following a homeless Messiah who tells you to take up your cross daily, right?
Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18?
Let me summarize it in bullet points:
The king has a servant in debt.
The king forgives the debt.
The forgiven servant subsequently won’t forgive a minor debt he is owed by another servant.
The king is furious with the servant who refuses to forgive, and punishes him.
When somebody wrongs me and I don’t want to forgive them, I remind myself of the amount of forgiveness Jesus gives me; and if I refuse to forgive, I ask how I am any different from that wicked servant?
So I try to err on the side of forgiveness in that situation.
But the main discussion I want to have is with OTHER BELIEVERS
Do you think followers of Jesus are going to have problems throwing shade at one another? We know the answer is yes, because unfortunately we see it all the time.
It’s why the church has so many divisions, in my personal opinion. And think that’s a tragedy.
Here’s why: John 13:35: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Our love for one another is supposed to be a beacon to the world of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
But most people look at the church and see angry, political, judgmental, hypocritical people. We don’t often get categorized as a whole as loving by people who are not yet part of the body of Christ.
Let’s be honest, there’s enough truth behind those criticisms to keep a lot of people away from engaging in the church.
Jesus knew that creating an efficient organization to speak information about Jesus wasn’t going to change the world in the way he intended.
It would take people who are willing to love others in the midst of the junk we all deal with, both within ourselves and in the circumstances and situations we face - to make a difference.
So with that being said, Jesus (who isn’t an idiot) gave us a specific outline for dealing with conflict between those of us who are followers of Christ.
Not coincidentally, it’s in the same chapter as the story about the unforgiving servant we just discussed.
Here’s what Matthew records him saying:
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church...” Matthew 18:15-17
So let’s walk through this:
“If another believer sins against you”
Other translations use the term ‘brother’ or ‘brother or sister’. Resolving a conflict within the body of Christ isn’t a business transaction. It must be relational. To get someone to talk to you one on one, you need some kind of relationship. If a stranger tells me I did something offensive, I’ll listen, but if a friend says they need to talk to me, I’m all ears. On the flip side, If somebody hurts you and you don’t know them from Adam, try to get to know them a little. It’s much easier to humanize people when we know some of their story – some of who they are.
Mr. Rogers carried a note with him at all times - “There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story. ” ― Mary Lou Kownacki.
We need to try to form relationship - if possible - where hurt has occurred.
Don’t wait for a situation to get explosive. Deal with it when it is small. Don’t let this become fodder for bitterness or passive aggressive behavior. As soon as you are offended, you must deal with it, according to Jesus.
Have you ever seen somebody wrestle an alligator?
If you tell me I have to wrestle an alligator, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to find a newborn gator who doesn’t even have teeth yet.
Why would I wait until the gator had a chance to feed and get bigger and stronger and more dangerous?
Likewise, we should resolve conflicts when they are small instead of waiting for them to grow large.
Joseph Grenny says “If you don’t talk it out, you will act it out.” I agree with this. I want to talk it out before I start feeling the urge to do something dumb or unconstructive.
Go to the person privately. NOT ON FACEBOOK. NOT ON EMAIL. NOT ON TEXT. PREFERABLY NOT ON THE PHONE.
Tone does not exist in written communication, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen an explosive argument resolved over social media, email or texting.
You must prioritize the dignity of the other person. Show then they matter enough for you to make time for them by going to them individually. Putting someone on blast through social media is the wrong way to go about dealing with conflict.
Point out the offense. Reminder to all of us here: sometimes feeling are hurt and the person who did it had no idea. So start like this: “I was hurt/offended when you …(said that thing on facebook) (ignored me) etc”
Don’t assume it was on purpose if at all possible. People don’t wake up wondering how to ruin your day/life.
Think the best of people rather than the worst of people. This alone will revolutionize your life.
Give them a chance to apologize and accept it if offered.
I apologized to a guy once and he just made a snarky remark and ignored me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated in my whole life. I humbled myself and he took the opportunity to metaphorically spit on me.
But that's highly unusual. Most of the time, when I apologize, people are grateful and gracious.
Apologizing is tough, so when somebody apologizes to me, I take appreciate it.
Now, this may be the end. In fact, in most situations, this will be the end.
If there are restitutions needed, discuss it. “You broke my vase, I’d like you to replace it.”
If it isn’t the end, here’s the other steps.
If the person won’t acknowledge/apologize/make it right, Jesus says take one or two others with you. This does not mean you bring in some muscle. “You didn’t want to apologize to me, but maybe you’d like to apologize to Tiny and Guido here.”
This is mediation. Take a person or two who can play referee. Not a yes man or yes woman for you, but rather somebody independent who can help work toward a resolution.
If that doesn’t work, you bring it to the church. Get your pastor or priest or minister involved. In my time as pastor, I’ve worked to resolve many conflicts. We can help simply because we have a ton of practice at it.
But here’s what frequently happens: Somebody comes to one of us and says ‘Bob/Jill hurt me’ and we say ‘Have to talked to Bob/Jill?’ and they say ‘No’ and we say ‘You should go talk to Bob/Jill’. Most of the time, they don’t.
We must not skip to step 7. That doesn’t preserve dignity of another person. Again, most of the time, it’ll never get to step 7 when we follow Jesus’ directive.
If you hate, hate, hate the idea of conflict, if you’d rather sweep it under the rug and just let it go, you need to lean in to this.
This process, when we engage in it, helps us to grow and mature emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Having hard conversations is crucial.
If you say, “oh I’ll just forgive them and try to forget about it,” I respectfully point out that isn’t what Jesus told us to do.
And if we in the Body of Christ start to resolve conflicts in healthier ways, we will have greater influence in our society and in our world.
The Bible is not a book of escape, it is a book of engagement.
We’re not biding time until we go to heaven. We’re here to bring heaven to earth.
When we deal with conflict in healthy ways, we are bringing God’s kingdom to our surrounding. We are making God’s kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus often tells us to do difficult things, and it’s not because he hates us. It’s because he loves us. And not only will following his guidance on this topic make our lives better, it’ll make the lives of those we interact with better.
Sometimes, I don’t want to do any of that.
I’d rather find ways to justify my behavior, but Jesus keeps telling me to do healthier things which will lead to a fuller life which will impact our world for his Kingdom.
God has said he will make this world new again. When we show respect and dignity to others in the midst of brokenness and pain, we are being part of God’s plan to make this world new again.
Jesus knew sometimes we would have trouble with just basic getting along. Jesus isn’t surprised by our issues. But he absolutely wants to help us deal with them in healthier ways than we do when it’s up to us.
The way I see it, conflict is going to happen. How we deal with it is an opportunity to glorify God.
But if I refuse to listen to Jesus, how can I expect to see the transformed life the scriptures talk about?
When a conflict happens, I can either listen to my feelings or to the words of a loving saviour.
I can do what’s easy - blast my feelings all over social media; or I can treat others with respect and dignity because they are made in the image of God.
Jesus calls us to (to repeat) take up our cross daily and follow him. I don’t know of many ways which embody this more than living a life of healthy conflict resolution and forgiveness.
In moments like these, I find out quickly whether I’m following Jesus, or if I’m just expecting him to tag along behind me as I do whatever seems best to me.