Healthy, Biblical Tips for Dealing with Conflict
Conflict is an inevitable part of life, whether it’s conflict in marriage, on the job, with a friend or family member. It’s so inevitable that it happens at times when you’d least expect it to. For example, conflict arising with your spouse as you’re driving to church. Does this sound familiar? You’re headed to the house of God as a family, doing one of the spiritual practices that produces a higher level of spiritual maturity and character development, and wham – conflict.
My wife and I have mastered this particular trap – we take separate cars!
Conflict is often caused by selfishness; we want what we want.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but you don’t get it” (James 4:1).
We can see this even in the little things of life. We have dual controls on electric blankets and zone controls for our car’s air conditioning. It’s why we argue over whether towels should be folded in half or in thirds, and whether the toilet seat should be left up or down. What’s the solution when our opinions and preferences are based on what is simply more convenient for ourselves? Consideration for others generally runs against the human condition of selfishness.
And the truth is, we don’t usually handle conflict well. In fact, we humans have developed some pretty interesting ways of improperly handling conflict.
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The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is a method of handling conflict by ignoring the problem (I’m fine!). Of course, this is not a biblical solution to conflict, as Paul writes in Galatians 6:2:
“Share each other’s troubles and problems and in this way observe the law of Christ.”
And when we choose to ignore conflict instead of addressing it head on, the result is what David wrote of in the Psalms.
“Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, and lived with a stomach full of pain” (Psalm 13:12).
“My life leaks away, groan by groan, my years fade out in sighs. My troubles have worn me out, turned my bones to powder” (Psalm 31:10).
The Invisible Conversation
How many of us have ever “had it out” with someone without them being there, or even knowing how soundly we put them in their place? And it seems having invisible arguments using Scripture just may be Christians favorite way of praying for our enemies!
But this is also not a biblical way of resolving conflict. The Word of God challenges us to do just the opposite – don’t ignore the person, but rather go to them and talk through the conflict. That means, no anonymous emails, no gossiping, no seeding division, and no subtle shaming.
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him, work it out between the two of you. If he listens you’ve made a friend” (Matthew 18:15).
Perhaps we’ll fall into a state of denial, which simply ignores the pain. We go on with our lives and deny the necessity of resolving conflict or past injustice. But do you know what ignoring the pain eventually does? The same thing that ignoring the problem does – it will cause tremendous damage, emotionally and physically.
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The Volcanic Method
Some people deal with conflict by becoming angry, or “volcanic,” which ignores the consequences. While it may temporarily feel good to give in to the expression of anger, it is a conflict resolution catastrophe. And yes, this also is not a biblical response to handling conflict.
“’Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:26-32).
Scripture tells us emphatically that the volcanic approach – losing one’s self-control and unleashing your best shot onto another person – leads to some pretty painful consequences; you may win the fight, but lose the friend. And perhaps even more damaging than the potential for broken relationships and a stained Christian witness, is the fact that the volcanic method gives the devil a foothold in your life. It enables the enemy to steal your inheritance in Christ, including health, wealth, joy, peace and family harmony.
The Missile Approach
A close cousin of the volcanic approach is the missile approach, which ignores the power of hurtful words. Words spoken hastily in a moment of conflict can become weapons of mass destruction in our lives: accusations, deceptions, slanders, manipulations, betrayals, even gossip.
“The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself” (James 3:5-6).
None of these approaches to handling conflict are God-honoring. Instead, the Word of God teaches that we should seek peace!
“Fools start fights everywhere; wise men try to keep peace” (Proverbs 29:8, LB).
“Try to live in peace with everyone; work hard at it” (Psalm 34:14, LB).
Seeking peace is not about avoiding the problem which causes the conflict, or simply appeasing others for the sake of keeping the peace. Appeasement merely breeds resentment, which eventually festers into even greater conflict – and may give you an ulcer to boot.
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Dealing with Conflict: Seek P.E.A.C.E.
God’s Word has some great advice on how to handle conflict, and it’s not about how to “sink the other person’s battleship.” However, first and foremost, we must be intentional and proactive about it.
P - Plan a Peace Conference
Simply put, don’t ignore conflict, go to the person with whom you are having the conflict and talk it out. But planning a peace conference first must begin in prayer. When we are having a conflict with any individual, before going to speak with them, go to God to get some wisdom and clarity.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart and test my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23, LB).
It’s healthy for us to spend time with God asking Him to help us understand our mistakes and see our own hearts clearly. When we finally see the part we played in the conflict – what we selfishly did or hurtfully said that helped create conflict – the battle is half over. After we repent before God and receive His forgiveness, we are empowered to ask for and extend forgiveness to others with a clean heart.
“If you remember that your brother has something against you, go at once to make peace” (Matthew 5:24).
The longer you wait the harder it is and the more courage you’ll need to take the first step.
E - Empathize
“Be full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds” (1 Peter 3:8).
What does it mean to empathize with another? Don’t just plan a peace conference with your husband, wife, co-worker, teenager, partner at work, or friend; make it a point to be empathetic with them when you sit down to talk it out.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8).
Paul’s instructions are clear: lay aside selfishness, it’s the root cause of conflict. Considered others better than ourselves – not others who are right, who have treated us properly, who deserve it – just others. Put yourself in their shoes; seek to feel what they feel, and see from their perspective. We must intentionally come out of our mindset and attempt to enter the world of the other person, like Jesus did when He came to earth.
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A - Attack the Problem, not the Person
Here are some rules for addressing our personal battles God’s way, to attack the problem and not the person.
Don’t Start a Military Rivalry
Never compare, or say “why can’t you be like…” or “you’re just like…”
Don’t Ratchet Up the Rhetoric
Don’t condemn, or say absolutes, like “you should be ashamed of yourself,” “you always…” or “it’s all your fault.”
Don’t Give a Command
Don’t issues ultimatums like “you must do what I say.”
Don’t Threaten Another Officer
Don’t threaten people. . . “just try that, and see what happens!”
Don’t Treat People Like Privates
Never belittle, ridicule or play psychologist, “just trust me,” or “I know why you do that.”
Don’t Contradict a Fellow Soldier
Never interrupt in the middle of a sentence. Show some respect and self-discipline; wait to take your turn to talk.
Don’t Play War Historian
Don’t dredge up the past. Stay focused on the issue in conflict and contain it to the current battlefield.
Seeking peace is hard work. Don’t appease, don’t walk away from the peace talks. Stay committed to the process and work it out. If necessary, take a break and go back into prayer.
Don’t cling to the need to be right, especially when you are clearly wrong. If you realize you’re wrong, the mature and God honoring thing to do is to send up the white flag. Admit you were wrong, say you are sorry, and ask for forgiveness.
C - Cooperate as Much as Possible
Be proactive and look for areas where you can compromise, that is, try to find common ground.
“Do everything possible, on your part, to live at peace with all men” (Romans 12:8).
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E - Emphasize Reconciliation, not Resolution
Now even though Paul was writing concerning the spread of the gospel, this verse applies regarding all our relationships and how God expects us to conduct ourselves.
There’s a big difference between the two: reconciliation means to reestablish the relationship after conflict, resolution means to resolve every issue of the conflict. But the fact is, you won’t be able to resolve every issue.
People are just different, and God made us that way on purpose! When we focus on the relationship, the issues that need to be resolved often become irrelevant, and certainly not worth ruining the relationship.
Handling Conflict God’s Way
What’s the payoff of seeking peace and dealing with conflict according to God’s rules? First and foremost, God promises us a long and prosperous life!
“Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it” (Psalm 34:12-14, NLT).
Seeking authentic peace pays off in blessing us with a good life. Seeking peace keeps us strong, healthy, happy, productive, and hopeful. It bolsters our Christian faith and demonstrates the true nature of God, our Father, in this world.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.