by Matt Steltenpohl, Resonate Pocatello staff
If there is one thing that we all have in common, it’s that we all have dealt with conflict. Whether it be with family, friends, coworkers, or roommates, all of us have felt relational tension and experienced redemption as well as “fall out.” Some conflict lasts a couple minutes while other conflict can last a lifetime. Relational tension evokes the worst version of us and we deal with it in a number of ways.
Some people become passive aggressive, while others become outright aggressive. Most choose to gossip and blame shift (this includes complaining about the situation openly without any intent of doing anything about it). Over time, bitterness and anger produce wrongful assumptions and may even create hatred. Even more decide to part ways and avoid the problem all together. No matter the situation, our response to conflict is a direct reflection of what we believe about the Gospel and God.
Before we get into the meat of our content, there is one caveat that we must address. Conflict is hard. Some of the deepest wounds we experience are from conflict with our closest relationships. Broken trust with those we love the most affects our future trust in new relationships. We may desire things to be the way they were before, but feel the guilt of our own sin weighing down on us. One of the hardest truths is that pursuit of reconciliation doesn’t guarantee restoration in relationships. We must be prepared to do what is difficult expecting nothing in return. It’s ok to feel hurt. It’s ok to feel frustrated. But it’s not ok to respond with more sin. With all that said, here are are three reasons conflict resolution matters along with how Jesus commands us to deal with conflict.
1. Your relationship with others affects your relationship with God.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” -Matthew 5:23-24.
Jesus was serious about reconciliation with others. In His sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses different paradoxes within the Kingdom of God and lays a heavy expectation on believers of Christ. He picks apart the works of the people and relates their relationship with others to their relationship with God. In other words, how you love and treat others reflects your love for God. Jesus goes as far as saying you shouldn’t even give gifts to God if your relationship with others are broken. Good gifts to God are only as good as the heart that you have towards others.
Consistently throughout the Old and New Testament, God’s favor and blessing was dependent on the ways that His people interacted with one another. Belief and love for Jesus was proven by genuine love for others, even if they wronged or despised you (Matthew 5:43-47).
2. Your relationship with others affects your relationship with believers.
When we hold on to hurts and frustrations of the past, we put barriers between us and the different parts of the body of Christ. Reconciliation eliminates barriers and reunites us to our family in Christ. This gives us freedom to rely on each other's giftings and contribute our own without taking on responsibilities that we struggle to bear.
The intimacy promised in fellowship creates in us a deeper love for the God who sent His Son to redeem and unite us. When our fellowship is poisoned by strife between “brothers” and “sisters” we miss out on a huge part of what it means to be a part of the family of God. We are told to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) and even to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). This interdependency is crucial to being like Jesus, lifting up the Church, and advocating Christ to others.
3. Your relationship with others affects your relationships with non-believers.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:35.
When we fail to love one another and fight for unity in the body of Christ, we forfeit our missional validity. How can someone experience the love of Christ in the body of Christ if the body has just as much strife as the world? One of our greatest witnesses to the world is our response of love when retaliation is deserved (Matthew 5:38-42) because our example points to the way Jesus loved even those that crucified Him.
When you fail to forgive you are like the man in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (see Matthew 18:21-35 for the full story) who was forgiven a life sentence yet lacked mercy for others. The point of the parable is to help us see that when we fail to forgive, we forget the enormous debt that was forgiven us in Christ. The horror of the cross not only reveals God’s great love for us in choosing to take out debt, but also how huge the debt was that needed to be paid. When you look at the cross you must see both the gravity of your sin, the depth of God’s love, and the righteousness that results.
In the heat of conflict we try to measure what is fair and deserved, but Christ only measured His love for others and His obedience to the Father. If Christ functioned in what was fair, we would still be dead in our trespasses and lost in our sin. We ask, “What can they sacrifice to fix this?” instead of, “What did Christ sacrifice to fix me?” Therefore, when we respond to conflict as a Christian, we sacrifice to the point of personal loss for the sake of unity because of Christ’s personal loss for our unity to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
Jesus Teaches Us To Resolve Conflict
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” -Matthew 18:15-17
Before you run to the person you have conflict with, guns blazing, here are some key questions to ask yourself to filter through:
What Is my motivation?
Jesus’ motivation in confrontation was love and the “gaining” of your brother. Do you enter confrontation with accusations and bitterness or with open ears and hope for reconciliation?
Have I gossiped about this person?
Would they feel like you told their story correctly and honorably if they heard the way you talked about them? Those that go with you in confrontation must be people that fight for unity and care deeply for the person being confronted. In other words, would the person you feel conflict with feel rightly heard and represented by those that you brought in to have a conversation?
Where do I need to repent to this person?
Nine times out of ten this person will respond with things you have done that offended or hurt them. Repent to them before they even have a chance to mention it. Remember, your goal is unity and a deeper love for Jesus.
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”