Dealing with Conflict
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
This earthly life we lead is fraught with misunderstanding, miscommunication, and hurt. There are times when people deliberately hurt us. There are times when people do so accidentally. And there are times when we do one or the other to other people. What comes next is important. It is important to Jesus Christ. It is important to His Father in heaven. It should by all rights, therefore, be important to us. As Christ-followers, we want to be peacemakers not peace-breakers. We see the importance of loving, biblical, Christ-commanded confrontation throughout the New Testament. Matthew 18 is one example:
“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).
Often, but not always, the offense taken is a misunderstanding. That’s why you go to your sister or brother in Christ, privately. Sometimes, your private approach is not well-received or productive. Jesus offers a solution. Bring others into the equation to help (to help you both). The aim here is not embarrassment but restoration. You see this at the end of verse 15—“you have gained your brother.” Why involve others? An extra pair of eyes, or two, or an uninterested third party can bring objectivity to the conflict. This is as much to hold you accountable as to hold the one with whom are in conflict accountable. The aim is objectivity. The goal here is to confirm the facts. You may discover you’ve got the whole thing wrong. Or… they may come to the conclusion through an extra set of eyes that they were in fact at fault. Again, the goal isn’t vindication but the restoration of relationships.
On rare occasions conflict or misunderstanding uncovers deeper issues. This comes through in verse 17: “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 18:17).” Most of the time this is not the case. Most of the time these are loving discussions between friends or associates. There are times you can look the other way and there are times you must speak into a matter:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
There are times we are forced out of love for God and our neighbor to speak into a matter. Once again, the goal is never vindication (i.e. vindictiveness) but the other person’s good and ultimately a restoration of relationships. And, once again, much, if not most, of the time these are small matters. Both passages (Matthew 18 and James 5) also cover serious issues.
Most of us dislike conflict. Most of us just want to put it behind us. However, when we ignore our problems they often fester and get worse—like a cavity in a tooth. Conflicts and misunderstanding require action and effort to resolve. On occasion, we fall into the trap of acting like children, “Well, I’ll forgive them when they come to me begging…” Christ calls us to be proactive. There’s an old saying, “Meet them half way.” Sometimes we employ this adage as an excuse: “I’ll meet them half way, if they will come half way.” Or, we say, “They won’t even meet me half way.” Jesus calls us to a higher standard:
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)
The careful observer will notice this comes close on the heels of Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:23-24 indicates if you are aware that someone has a problem with you take the initiative to go to them---there’s no “meet me half way.” Just as God took the initiative to reconcile mankind to Himself in Jesus Christ, we, as His followers, must take the initiative to reconcile others to ourselves—even if they are at fault. No, we are not God. We are not playing God. We are, however, His servants.
Are you at odds with someone? Are they harboring a grudge against you? Have they slandered you? Reach out to them. Show grace, as one who has received grace. Step into the breech and try and heal it. And if you fail? You will have failed during an attempt to demonstrate your loyal love for God and your care for your neighbor by this act of obedience. You will show yourself to be a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).” There are worse things to be called.