Resolving Conflict from a Biblical Perspective
a strong disagreement or argument
a state of disharmony or opposition
synonyms: dispute, quarrel, strife, dissension, discord, division
As flawed human beings with a carnal fallen nature, it is inevitable that we will experience conflict and strife amongst one another. Just as the word suggests, conflict is caused by conflicting ideas, goals, motives, opinions, perspectives, values, etc.
Conflicts happen within our families, our marriages, our friends, and our co-workers. As individuals, we don’t always see eye to eye on certain issues and thus, conflicts arise.
Because conflict ultimately causes division- the ultimate goal of resolving conflict should be unity.
to settle or find a solution to a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
synonyms: settle, solve, rectify, amend
Conflict resolution is the process of trying to find a solution to a conflict.
Ideally, conflict resolution is a collaborative and cooperative communication process that leads to an agreement in which both groups or individuals feel satisfied with. When conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases our understanding of one another, builds trust, and strengthens the bonds of our relationships.
Conflict left unresolved can eventually grow into bitterness, resentment, and ultimately even hatred. For this reason, it is best to address and attempt to resolve these conflicts as soon as they arise.
Often times, we try to avoid the issue of the conflict in hopes that it will dissipate on its own, given enough time.
However, avoidance only delays the issue, allowing it to boil beneath the surface before future outbursts.
The sooner we begin to resolve the conflict, the easier it will be to resolve.
Therefore, do not wait. Do not allow the issue to grow into something worse than it already is.
In Matthew chapter five, Jesus Himself instructs us, “come to terms quickly with your adversary.” -Matthew 5:25
So what is the source of conflict?
In Chapter 4 of his epistle, James presents this question and then provides the answer
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?
Is not the source your pleasures that wage war within you?
You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Did you catch the recurring theme in that passage?
Envy and jealousy are two major causes for conflicts, and these both stem from selfishness.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving like mere men?
-1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
A major step in resolving as well as preventing conflict, is by being thoughtful and considerate of others instead of being self-centered.
I believe this is why the New Testament has so much to say in regard to considering others above ourselves.
Let love be without hypocrisy (genuine). Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
-1 Corinthians 10:24
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility regard others as more significant than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Another key step in preventing and resolving conflict, is through the pursuit of peace.
Peace is the antithesis of strife, which is why we are repeatedly instructed to seek peace with one another.
Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
-Psalm 34:14 (also 1 Peter3:11)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Therefore, let us pursue what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Finally, brothers, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
-2 Corinthians 13:11
Therefore I, a prisoner for the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged
-2 Timothy 2:22-24
Pursue peace with all men, and sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
The truth is- before we can ever honestly learn to act selflessly or be considerate of others, we must first learn to have the correct motivation.
Jesus Christ Himself makes it clear, that our chief motivation is to be love.
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“This I command you, that you love one another.”
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (philadelphia). Honor one another above yourselves.
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Let all that you do be done in love.
-1 Corinthians 16:14
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Therefore I, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any comfort from love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, complete my joy by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against another, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater
-2 Thessalonians 1:3
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
-1 Timothy 1:5
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good works
Choosing our words carefully.
As Proverbs 18:21 states, death and life are in the power of the tongue.
This is why we must continually be mindful of how we choose to use our words.
This will play a large part in preventing and resolving conflict.
Our speech can either be used constructively or destructively- for building up or for tearing down.
Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him.
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
God expects forgiven people to forgive.
An essential part of conflict resolution is found in forgiveness.
God makes clear throughout His word, that reconciliation is such an important issue, that peace with Him and peace with others are inextricably entwined.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother ‘Raca’ (worthless) will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to hell fire. 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.”
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
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 times seven.”
(Jesus then gives the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant -Matthew 18:23-35)
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Conflict Resolution According to Jesus
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus Himself gives us a step by step process for addressing and resolving conflict with a brother (fellow believer) who has sinned against us.
“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.”
The Apostle Paul confronts Peter and publicly rebukes him for acting hypocritically:
But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
In some cases, when an agreement cannot be reached by each party, the best solution is a mutual separation
So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate yourself from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right, then I will go to the left.”
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit our brethren in every city where we have proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John, called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.