Bad news: Conflict is going to happen. It’s been happening even in Christian circles for a long, long time…think before Christ’s ascension! God tells us that “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 NLT)
Kind of makes you wonder what our contention among ourselves proves to the world.
Much as we strive to live the love of Christ, it’s impractical to think we won’t have disagreements in his Body. So the matter becomes not that our disagreements, but rather the way we handle them, will stand out as a stark witness of whose we are. Are we God’s, or are we our own—fighting for the proud and fleshly desire to be right and justified, to have the last word, to prove we are above reproach?
In pondering that, here are four important things we can do when faced with conflict that will help us to be good witnesses, and not poor examples, of the One we serve:
1. Don’t React in Anger
Slow down. Take deep breaths. If possible, put some time and distance (not too much, but enough to cool down) between you and the offense that started the conflict, and try to look at it in a practical way. Don’t take the contention straight to other people for their insight—that often borders on gossip. Take it up with God first and ask Him what HE would have you do about this situation. Consult His Word as well for the wisdom He’s already laid out.
2. Remember that Jesus is FOR this person, not against them
Remembering how Jesus views the other person doesn’t automatically mean they’re right. But it does mean that Jesus loves them fiercely, even if they’re wrong; which also means that Jesus is fighting for their wholeness and both their temporal and eternal joy, just as he’s fighting for yours. Remember too that this person is not your enemy, and that your fight is not against them. It’s amazing the shift that can happen when we look at the person we’re in conflict with through Jesus’ eyes, and love them with his love. Human love has its limits. The love of Christ does not—not even in the face of conflict.
3. Is this person a Christian? Then they are a brother/sister in Christ and must be treated accordingly.
There is no way around this. Even if they swung the first punch, that conduct is something they must answer to God for. No matter how much your fellow Christians antagonize, aggravate, or hurt you, they are still family in Christ. That means we’re given a strict rule to love them. Easier said than done at times, but God gives no permission for us to misbehave and sin just because we’re hurt and/or righteously angry. We’re to conduct ourselves in specific ways when in contention with a brother in Christ (Matt. 18; Rom 12:17) and when working to handle conflict, we have to check our conduct frequently, if not constantly, against the godly parameters laid out in Scripture.
4. Seek Resolution, Not Revenge
Our carnal nature is a real get-backer. It wants to repay eye-for-eye, like our pre-Gospel ancestors living under the Law. But Jesus changed the rules when he told us to turn the other cheek. That doesn’t mean we need to let conflict eat at us, or be passive and just take offense as if it was all our fault it happened. Instead, in this instance, seek a peaceful resolution rather than to outdo the other person in harsh words, actions, or slander (Rom. 12:18). If someone goes to other people talking poorly about you, don’t go to those same people and stir the pot. Make your statements clearly and concisely and as much as it’s in your power, try to reconcile. Taking the high ground of a peaceful solution in conflict rather than a defensive one often says more about our character than if we rush around putting out small fires with individual people.
Above all, having the love of Christ in the face of conflict means that we are seeking the other person’s wellbeing. It means that we are not out to smear their name and prove they’re wrong, but to bring about redemption—interpersonally, and for the individual. Because the love of Christ is other-focused, it seeks to heal and restore, not to tear down and prove a point.
We can’t necessarily solve every conflict through our Christlike love alone—there’s another party involved, after all, with the free will to choose whether they will walk in the love of Christ or not. But we can be confident that we did our best to bring about a godly resolution and fought for the other person as much as possible when we imitate our Savior in times of conflict, just as in times of peace.