Jesus and the Art of Conflict Management

April 23, 2019

What’s your conflict style? Avoid? Yell? Blame? When Jesus addressed problems, He was calm, but He tackled them head-on. While delivering the Sermon on the Mount (and later in Matthew 18) He dealt with the issue of conflicts:

“If your brother sins again you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony 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, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Jesus was clearly telling us that no matter who has caused the problem, the start of a solution is to go directly to the other person and address the conflict head-on. We are supposed to avoid gossiping or talking about it with other people, and are only to involve other people for a solution if the person to person has not worked. Wow! I would say that is one of the teachings of Jesus that is most ignored in the church.

There are so many broken relationships and much persistent hostility between people. That is a sad assessment of our spiritual health. We tend to judge ourselves on issues like smoking, drinking, bad movie choices, sexual sins, but we are not discouraged or defeated by a lack of loving relationships. John Ortberg wrote about a church-going member he called “Hank” who was defined by his complaining, judgmentalism, sour disposition, and irritation. His own children felt unloved by him, despite the fact he claimed to be a Jesus follower. Ortberg observed:

“. . . even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one seemed bothered by the condition. It was not an anomaly that caused head-scratching bewilderment. No church consultants were called in. No emergency meetings were held to probe the strange case of this person who followed the church’s general guidelines for spiritual life and yet was not transformed.”

God hates this. Jesus found it intolerable. God’s intent is for us to not simply accept and tolerate conflict, but to grow through it. Relational conflict is hard. Facing it is scary. Conflict can even cause us to doubt God. But God desires to use conflict to grow our character, draw us closer to Him, and glorify Himself through our transformation.

Christians often go to secular courts to resolve their conflict, whether it is financial, marital, or otherwise. But the Bible is full of wisdom about how believers should handle conflict. Biblical principles for conflict resolution can be applied to any type of conflict. God’s way is the best way and will lead to lasting peace if both will commit to following God’s ways. If we look to God and follow His guidance, we can experience peace from conflict, and provide a compelling witness to others of His goodness and love.

Self-reflection is the place to start. Romans 3:23 tells us, “. . . for all have sinned . . .” Jesus said in light of that: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

The first step in resolving any conflict is to first turn our inspection inward, checking our thoughts, actions, and reactions against God’s Word, repenting for the things that fall short of God’s standard. We prepare ourselves to start with a humble attitude. We can’t expect to have progress and peace unless we identify our role in the conflict. The process of self-reflection is not intended to identify where blame lies or who is at fault. The purpose is to sufficiently prepare your heart for a personal encounter with conflict that glorifies God.

I bet you have some conflict in your life right now. Chances are you feel somewhat anxious about personally addressing it. Maybe you’ve even tried before and it hasn’t gone well, so you feel somewhat hopeless about it. The next few weeks, our weekend services are going to deal with the topic of conflict, and will provide encouragement, advice, and instruction in basic peacemaking principles to equip us all to personally address conflict with one another.

We honor God when we seek to follow His commands and trust His wisdom through even the most difficult times of conflict. When we are determined to reflect God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy to those we are in conflict with, we provide a beautiful witness to God’s character and glorify Him. Peace is possible if we look to Him.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I hope you will join us and bring a friend this Sunday as we kick off a new series called High Noon.