Conflict is everywhere. Wars exist all over the world. Political battles are constantly taking place. Jealousies and prejudices produce hateful acts of violence or various forms of persecution. Arguments occur daily between family members, many leading to broken homes. People in churches and communities don’t get along, often not speaking to each other. We all have different opinions about various subjects and can be feisty toward those who disagree. Ideological differences create head-to-head confrontations, for example, those who believe in creation and those who believe in evolution are good at accusations and put-downs of each other. Differences occur between Christians and secularists over what behaviors are right or wrong, for example, culture wars are fought over abortion, sexual orientation issues, Bible reading and prayer in public schools, and so forth. Christians differ with each other over their Christian theologies. And differing personalities can be irritating to the point that we can be repulsed by attitudes, behaviors, mannerisms, or appearances. All of these, and many other kinds of conflicts, create tension and often lead to negative or detrimental relationships.
Quite often it seems that people will object and bring up another side, thus giving voice to the common saying, “There are always two sides to everything.” In a marriage that is experiencing relationship problems, it is common for each spouse to blame the other for the problems, as if to say, it is your fault, not mine. Why is it that we so often tend to take a strong stand on one side, usually ours, without considering what the other side is saying? It is easy to have the attitude, “I know I am right, you must be wrong.” Our being right may be true; but certainly not always. When people give another side to what we have said, they are trying to tell us, “You haven’t thought of all the facts”, which is probably true. The concept of arguing, or bringing up a missed point, is a common practice, not only in marriage relationships, but in other contexts as well; religious, political, or social. We must remember that all of us come from different backgrounds – families, cultures, schools, churches, experiences – and we have acquired very different ideas, opinions, values, beliefs, and character.
We can easily decide to separate ourselves from those who differ with us. Do we stay and deal with a conflicting situation, or do we run away? Perhaps we withdraw because we cannot handle what is going on, or we want to make the statement, “I am right and you are wrong”, or we are fearful of conflict, or we are not being heard, or we want to get even, or we simply disagree. Often our natural human tendency is to react wrongly or too hastily in dealing with our differences. The Bible says that the person who separates himself seeks his own desire and that this is against all sound wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1) I have heard some Christians justify going separate ways by referring to the situation between the apostle Paul and Barnabas, who differed over whether Mark should be allowed to accompany them on a mission journey. As a result, Paul decided they should part company. (Acts 15:36-40) We forget that in the end, Paul reconciled with Mark and invited him to be part of his team. (2 Timothy 4:11) Although there are legitimate times and reasons for separating from others (Proverbs 4:14-15; 14:7; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Timothy 3:2-5), we should try and do it peacefully, and at least bring closure so that people are not left with assumptions or guesses as to what happened and thereby continue in confusion and hard feelings and ongoing strained relationship.
Am I a person who seeks to resolve a situation; or one who runs from it? We can run and withdraw from conflicting people or situations and let our hearts become more hardened by harboring anger, bitterness, a critical spirit, or justification for our self-righteous attitudes. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Or, we can depend on God to guide us in dealing with the people or issues involved, and let God use the conflict to grow us. Although there are times to not engage the conflict, the Bible generally promotes engaging those who differ with us. To run away is to lose; to engage is to win – not necessarily winning at how we want things to be, but winning by developing a more mature godly character. There are defects in our ungodly and spiritually deprived lives that prevent us from properly engaging those who differ with us and with whom we feel conflict. Those defects include things like fears, pride, the lack of wisdom, prejudice, judgmentalism, mistrust, self-protection, or self-centeredness. God would have us take courage to engage in conflict, if for no other reason than to overcome our defects of character and become the strong and spiritual kind of people God wants to grow us into. We will not respond perfectly every time someone differs with us. Fortunately, like the apostle Paul with Barnabas and Mark, when we mess up, we can always correct our wrong reactions or responses and regain some form of right relationship. We need to learn to engage those with whom we differ in a Christ-like and Biblical manner. We must unlearn old ways and learn new ways; we must walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. (Ephesians 4:22-25, 30)
The place to begin is with our selves. Proverbs in the Bible offers much practical wisdom on how to deal with those who differ with us. One thing we need to see is that God may be using those who differ with us as tools to make us wiser or more mature in our thinking or daily living. We need to listen and understand what those who differ with us are saying. The Biblical book of Proverbs speaks much about reproofs and the need to receive them as a way to grow. (Proverbs 10:17; 15:31-32) Being defensive, upset, or angry, often prevents us from understanding why things are the way they are and we end up handling the differences inappropriately. Conflict cannot be understood and resolved when we allow anger, contrariness, or selfishness to be controlling us. (Proverbs 15:1, 18, 28; 16:32; 17:14, 27) Too often we maintain that we are right, instead of being willing to listen to something God may be trying to show us from those who differ. (Proverbs 18:1-2, 13, 17) We should not always presume that we are right. (Proverbs 21:2) What is wrong with trying to see things from the other person’s point of view? The Bible encourages us to be people of understanding. (Proverbs 2:2; 3:13-15)
Does Jesus want His people to be peace-makers? Certainly, peace-making is not always possible. David said, “I am for peace, but…they are for war.” (Psalm 120:7) There are frequently those who are not willing to work out solutions. But, if peace-making is a Biblical concept God would like us to practice, should not our goal be to try, if possible, and achieve peaceful relationships with persons who differ with us? Notice, I did not say that peaceful solutions means having to agree and believe the same things, or that peace will always happen; but rather, peace-making is being concerned about working toward peaceful relationships. The Bible plainly says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” (Romans 12:18) “Pursue peace with all men.” (Hebrews 12:14) “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) Jesus is referred to as “the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) His people are to be peace-makers, for He said, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) If we know someone has something against us, we are to go to them and be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-24) If our goal is to try and be at peace with people, our concern needs to be; how can we make that happen, especially toward people with whom we disagree, even enemies? (Proverbs 16:7) One of the first steps toward peace is to listen respectfully to the other side. (James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13)
Again, a starting place for achieving peace with people is to check our own attitudes and practices. What is there about me that lends to the conflict rather than to peace? Personally, I need as much help as anyone at being able to respond with a Christ-like spirit toward those who differ with me. I can feel angry, I am prone to becoming defensive, I can easily be critical and verbally attack another, I can seek peacefulness by withdrawing and not wanting to deal with anything, and I often am under the illusion, or delusion, that I am right and the other is wrong. Sometimes, I want to be my own authority instead of putting myself under God’s authority or under the authority of those God has ordained over me. But when I am consciously walking in the Spirit, I will respond Biblically toward those with whom I disagree. (Galatians 5:14-26)
The Bible is our authority for teaching us how to deal with persons who differ with us. We can gain a lot of insight by studying the many examples and teachings in the Bible. For example, when unbelieving persons do not believe as we do about our Christian faith, the Bible tells us to not enter into foolish quarreling, but to be kind, patient, able to teach the truth of the Bible, correcting those in opposition with gentleness of spirit. We love unbelieving people when we try to help them come to their senses and to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:23-26) We are to work toward being wise in knowing how to respond to outsiders, letting our speech always be with grace. (Colossians 4:5-6) In certain situations where we believers disagree among ourselves, if God has accepted us with differences, we are to do the same toward each other. We are not to judge one another and regard one another with contempt. In certain matters of disagreement, God says we are primarily answerable to Him, not to each other. (Romans 14:2-4, 10-12) We are to walk by faith in what we believe, be fully convinced in our minds, and allow for differences. We need to be careful not to cause persons to have their faith in Christ destroyed over unnecessary arguments that unsettle them. We should not tear down the work of God in a person’s life for the sake of me being right, but rather pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:13-23) We frequently judge others’ behaviors or beliefs on the basis of outward appearances that we view as evil, wrong, or odd. God does not judge that way but takes a person’s heart into consideration. We may need to make judgments about people being wicked or wrong or whatever, but we don’t know how to judge them until we know more about them. Often getting to know someone’s heart changes our opinion of them altogether. Of course, if two people want to talk and seek a deeper understanding of their differences, there is always room for discussion and influential argument and change. But if agreement is not forthcoming, then the Biblical concept put forth by Augustine, or John Wesley, or whoever might have said it, is fitting, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Sometimes we need help to resolve our conflicts. The Bible recommends that we seek help from God, and from our fellow believers. We need to get past our pride and be willing to ask for help. The Bible portrays confidence that Christians are able to help each other to resolve things. We can give helpful counsel to one another (Romans 15:14), we can judge between disputes and offer good solutions (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), we can help people overcome their burdens (Galatians 6:2), we can help people learn how to live in harmony (Philippians 4:2-3), and we can go to one another to share our differences and be reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24). One of the keys to helping one another is being open to each other and creating the kind of environment that fosters trust and love so people feel they can come for help without being judged, put down, or criticized. Also, we should not automatically expect others to be coming to help us without us letting them know our problem. On the other hand, there may be times we need people to jump in and help us because we cannot help ourselves.
Asking is a way we can deal with those who differ with us. (James 4:2-5) There are times when we want something and we have it planned or figured out in our own minds, but others do not know it. We get frustrated and obstinate when others do not cooperate, and because we are not getting what we want, we sulk or fight or quarrel or walk out. We need to learn how to ask for what we want, be able to give good reason, and be open to talk about it. Daniel gives us an example of a person who learned how to do this. (Daniel 1:8-16) Often the problem is that we want our way for our own satisfaction or pleasure. In such cases, our hearts have a wrong focus. But why should we always have to get what we want? We may need to see that it is sometimes a right and good thing to give up what we want for the sake of right relationships. Abraham was able to prevent a dispute by letting his nephew have his way. He could do this because his focus and trust was in God’s promises and the fact that God would provide for his good, whether now or later. (Genesis 13:8-12; Hebrews 11:8-10) Some things are worth fighting over, but many are not. Asking for what you want can save many a quarrel. Asking others how to do things to better your relationship can also help avoid unnecessary conflict. For example, it is easy for people to feel stupid and put down when others disagree or oppose them over something they did or said or suggested. This creates hurt feelings and leads to anger, accusations, complaints, and divisive talk. By asking them how you can better communicate your differences so that this feeling and problem does not occur, you can gain wisdom in how to avoid conflicting situations.
Another way to deal with those who differ with us is to do the right thing, even if it means we may suffer for it.
The apostles were told not to teach about Jesus, but they disagreed and continued to do so. This meant they might suffer the wrath of their opponents. (Acts 4:13-21) We need to be ready for the possibility of having to face ongoing conflict and suffer the results that come from standing up for what is right. (1 Peter 4:1-5; Daniel 3:13-21) The Bible warns, however, that we need to make sure our suffering is because we are in God’s will, not because we are involved in wrong doing, or simply due to a personal preference. (1 Peter 2:19-20; 4:15, 19) There may be other times when we are called upon to be passive and give in to what those who differ with us are asking or demanding. (Matthew 5:40-42) This passive approach also has its sufferings because we place ourselves at their mercy. In some instances, instead of giving a contrary person what they deserve, we are called upon to turn the other cheek, that is, to walk away, and to not repay evil for evil. (Matthew 5:38-39; Romans 12:18-21) When Jesus was rejected by certain town’s people, his disciples wanted to destroy them, but Jesus rebuked them for not realizing what this age of grace was all about. (Luke 9:51-56) It is difficult sometimes to be rid of feelings of wanting to get even. One of the best ways I have found is to complain to God, believe that God is just, give those feelings to God, and let Him repay others for their wrongs against us. (Romans 12:19) David did this often. (Psalm 28:4; 35: 12-23; 70:2) This frees us to love, instead of hating our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) Certainly there are times when confrontation and force is appropriate in order to right a wrong or prevent an evil or to protect ourselves. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 2:13-16) But remember, for crimes and evils against us, it is not right to take the law into our own hands; rather, we need to appeal for relief to a God-ordained higher law. The Bible has much more to say about this whole subject. How and when to respond to those who differ with us requires God’s wisdom. If you are struggling with someone, I am confident that God has something in the Bible that will help you know what to do. Learn the Bible. Be seeking and asking God to reveal His answ