Practical Steps to Resolving Inevitable Conflict
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 (NIV)
We begin today by defining PEACE.
As we define PEACE, I’d like for us to look at it from two perspectives:
1. The Hebrew concept of PEACE.
- Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means much, much more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).
- Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts are fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love.
- One theologian said, “Shalom is the way things ought to be.”
- Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”
2. I will also restate what we’ve been saying for a year now: There is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.
- To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.
- Peacekeeping creates a false peace.
- Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, marriages.
- Someone makes inappropriate sexual comments to you at work. You know its not accidental because its repetitive and degrading. But you keep your mouth shut because you know they’ll threaten your job or make you miserable if you say anything.
- A family member makes a scene at a family gathering. It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing. You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.
- Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through a critical tone of voice. It grates on you. But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.
We struggle with this false peace because the conventional wisdom of the day is that its better to keep the peace than to make the peace and there is a very real difference.
Keeping this false peace insures that real issues, real concerns, and real problems are never dealt with.
True peacemakers will challenge and disrupt the false peace.
Jesus didn’t have a problem disrupting the false peace of the day.
True peacemakers will give people the benefit of the doubt while graciously bringing up concerns
But true peacemakers will deal with what is real. FIRST IN THEIR OWN LIVES…
True peacemakers will steward the conflict they find themselves in because God will often use conflict to develop things in our lives that are developed in no other way.
So how do we become peacemakers? Peacemaking is both an science and an art. There’s at least 3 Practical Steps to Resolving Inevitable Conflict that we are invited to try understand…
A. The reason for conflict
B. How we respond to conflict
C. How to resolve conflict
A. THE REASON FOR CONFLICT
If we’re going to overcome conflict in our lives, it will help us to understand first of all the reason that it’s there. The Bible is very clear about this – in fact it’s almost too blunt.
James 4:1 (NCV) “Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you.”
We have these competing selfish desires that are at war within each one of us. And then you go and put any 2 people together in a relationship – whether it be a marriage, some other kind of friendship, or working relationship…
Once you understand that we have these competing selfish desires, we are ready to take a look at how to respond to the inevitable conflict that happens in our relationships. There are, at least, 5 different responses to conflict…
B. HOW WE RESPOND (NOT REACT) TO CONFLICT
As we consider at these responses let me do so from the reference point of Psalm 139:23 (TLB), there on your outline – David wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, and test my thoughts.”
David is asking God to help him deal with his own motives and heart attitudes.
God doesn’t care as much about WHAT we do as He does about WHY we do what we do.
With God’s help let’s look at some of the reasons for conflict in our lives…
1. My way. That’s when we say, “It’s my way or the highway!” “I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure I get what I want.” For some of us, that’s how we respond to conflict.
2. No way. When conflict comes into our lives, we just back off. “I don’t want to face this conflict.” We’ll do anything and everything we can to make sure that the conflict doesn’t happen (peacekeeper).
Some of you think you don’t have any conflict because this is the way you handle it.
You still have conflict. You’re just ignoring the problem. You’re withdrawing and backing away. Your goal is to avoid conflict at all costs. But you still have it.
The result of this is that nothing really important is ever resolved and eventually it will erupt and catch up with you.
3. Your way. Whenever we face a conflict we just say, “Have it your way” (I call this the Burger King conflict resolution method). We roll over and play dead. Whatever the other person wants, they get. (This is another aspect of a peacekeeper mentality).
If you use this method in dealing with conflict, what’s happening is within you there is a root of bitterness growing day by day.
It can grow for days and months and years. But eventually it’s going to spring up and potentially defile many (Heb 12:15).
4. Half way. At first glance this doesn’t seem to be too dysfunctional…
It’s the idea of compromise. “You win some of the time, I win some of the time. We’ll try to meet half way.”
This is better than the first three but it’s still not the healthiest way to deal with conflict.
5. Our way. We recognize that both people in a relationship have needs and there is a way for us to talk together so that our needs can be met in ways they never could have been met before.
Instead of just taking half and half, we try to put our whole selves together and find something better than we could have ever found before.
We could also call this God’s Way. God taught us through Jesus Christ how to care about another person’s needs and how to care about a relationship enough that I’m just not trying to get my way or even to meet half way, but we work on it together.
In modern vernacular, we’d call this a “win/win” situation.
We’re going to see today how we can move towards this last way of dealing with the inevitable conflict in our relationships.
C. HOW PEACEMAKERS RESOLVE CONFLICT
1. Become a believer.
Commit your life to Jesus Christ. Begin by resolving your conflict with God. The Bible says that before we come to Jesus Christ we’re in conflict with God. You may feel it or not feel it but it says we’re in conflict with God.
Ephesians 2:16 – “As parts of the same body, our anger against each other has disappeared. For both of us have been reconciled to God and so the feud ended at the cross.”
Jesus Christ came to this world to make peace between humankind and God – to solve the mother of all conflicts. This is the key place to begin in resolving conflict in all of our relationships.
Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote to a young couple who had been married a brief time some advice for their marriage, “Live together in forgiveness for without it no human relationship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Accept each other as you are and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
That’s good advice, advice made more powerful by the fact that he wrote it from a German prisoner of war camp, where just a few years later he died.
He talked about forgiveness and the power of forgiveness in relationships to make a difference.
2. Talk to God about the conflict.
Pray. Before you talk to the other person about it, talk to God about it. In fact, that may resolve it right there! You may find it’s mostly your problem anyway.
“If you want to know what God wants you to do ask Him and He will gladly tell you.” James 1:5 (TLB)
We all need to learn to ventilate vertically. For most of us, we’re better at ventilating horizontally at all the people around us. But before you do that, ventilate vertically.
Many of the times we’re facing a conflict with somebody we’re in relationship with, the reason that conflict is there is we’re expecting of them something they just can’t give.
Anger is the warning light that we may have unrealistic expectations of other people. Ask yourself, “Am I asking a human being to be God?”
3. Change your focus.
Change your focus from you own needs to the other persons needs.
Philippians 2 “Don’t be selfish. Don’t just think about your own affairs but be interested in others’ too, in what they are doing. Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ.”
The Greek word for “interested” is “scopos”. It’s talking about caring for other people’s needs. It’s the same word we get the words microscope or telescope from — focus in on the needs that they have in their lives.
Jesus spoke about the importance of this once in Matthew 7:3. He gave us a picture of how important this is.
“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye. First, take the wood out of your own eye and then you will clearly see to take the dust out of your friend’s eye.”
Jesus is saying before you even begin, first ask yourself, “What’s my contribution here?” Even if it’s a little speck in your eye it’s going to create a blind spot.
Change your focus from what’s my need to: what’s their need.
4. Establish guidelines.
Ephesians 4:31 “Stop being mean, bad tempered and angry. Quarreling, harsh words and the dislike of others should have no place in our lives.”
If we look closely at this verse it helps us to recognize that these guidelines are based on the characteristics God wants us to have in our lives…
- Instead of being mean, be kind.
- Instead of being bad tempered, be patient.
- Instead of anger, try honesty and love.
- Instead of harsh words, use gentle words.
Another excellent guideline is: Never say “never” or “always” in the middle of a conflict.
One more idea. Kindness. Attack the problem and not the person.
5. Go and make peace.
Matthew 5:23-24 (NCV) — “So when you offer your gift to God at the altar and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go and make peace with that person and then come and offer your gift.”
Conflict is not resolved accidentally. It has to be deliberately dealt with.
Jesus shows us that the only way to resolve a conflict is to face a conflict.
Choose the right time. Choose the right place. And go and make peace.
6. Ask for help.
Proverbs 13:10, “Pride leads to arguments. Be humble take advice and become wise.”
Healthy advice is the path to wisdom.
In every other area in our lives when we face big problems we’re not usually afraid to get professional help.
- If we’re sick physically we’re going to go to a doctor.
- If I’ve got a financial problem I can’t figure out, I’m going to go to an accountant.
- If I’ve got some legal problems and I don’t know what to do, I’m going to go see a lawyer.
- If you’ve got some relationship problems in your marriage, there is nothing wrong with going and seeing a professional marriage counselor — a Christian marriage counselor, somebody who has the tools to help you see how to be Christlike in your marriage and how to handle conflict. They talk through this with hundreds of people. They know what you’re facing. Be humble. Take advice. Become wise.
These that we looked at today are 6 proven principles on resolving conflict in relationships. From the simplest little conflict to a conflict you may have been facing for years. Use them in your life.
I’d like to put alongside of them 3 resolutions for solving conflict. 3 commitments you can make in your life.
1. Resolve to commit your life to Jesus Christ. You may have never done that. That is the first point we talked about. That’s where you start. As we prepare ourselves for communion tell Jesus that you need Him.
I need Jesus Christ in my relationships. I’m not afraid to admit that. That’s why He came for us, that’s why He loves us.
Ask for His help. Ask Him to forgive you for the wrongs you’ve done and give you direction for everyday life.
He’s promised He will.
2. Resolve to commit your attitudes to Jesus Christ. You may have given your life to Christ but your attitudes have been crummy lately.
Perhaps there has been a lot of “my way” stuff. He can help you.
If you commit your attitudes to Him, He’s an expert at the needs of others.
He can teach you how. Day by day. Moment by moment.
3. Resolve to commit your words to Jesus Christ, the way you talk to others. Let Him help you begin to talk in a more gentle way, in a more clear way and a more loving way or maybe just to begin to talk at all. Ask for Christ’s help in that.
I don’t know which one of these resolutions hits home with you but whichever one — don’t try to do all of them, just pick the one that fits with you and begin to live that out this week.*Adapted from a sermon outline by Rick Warren.