How to resolve conflicts

Why conflicts arise
Individual differences

The church is a collection of all sorts of people from varying backgrounds and with different personalities. It is inevitable that such an aggregate of folks will experience conflicts. But the Scriptures can help us deal with these difficult situations.

We must “speak the same thing” in matters of doctrine (1 Cor. 1:10; cf. 2 Jn. 9-10), but there must be latitude in other areas. Different stages of spiritual development, personality differences, and misunderstandings – all of these things can contribute to tension.

Comedian Emo Philips used to tell this story: In conversation with a person I had recently met, I asked, "Are you Protestant or Catholic?"

My new acquaintance replied, "Protestant."

I said, "Me too! What franchise?"

He answered, "Baptist."

"Me too!" I said. "Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"

"Northern Baptist," he replied.

"Me too!" I shouted.

We continued to go back and forth.

Finally I asked, "Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879 or Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?"

He replied, "Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic!"  

Conflicts arise when we are intolerant of differences in other people.

Wanting things our way

Conflict in the church is not new. The first century church had its share as expressed by James, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something, but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight" (James 4:1-2).

When we want someone to do something, which he fails to do, conflict arises. Similarly, when we want someone to be something he is not, conflict also arises.

Importance of resolving conflicts
It hinders our worship

(Mat 5:23-24 NIV)  "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

The anger gives the devil a foothold

(Eph 4:26-27 NIV)  "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, {27} and do not give the devil a foothold.

The Bible commands us to resolve conflicts

While we recognize that personal friction is inevitable, the New Testament commands us to work towards the resolution of all conflicts.

In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul exhorted the church at Philippi. He wrote:

“I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech thee also, my true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

The cause of the problem between these women is unknown; however, Paul admonished them to work towards unity.

Method of resolving conflicts
Who should resolve the conflict?

(Mat 18:15-17 NIV)  "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. {16} 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.' {17} 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.

The person who has been wronged is to take the initiative and go to the offender. In other words, if someone has offended you, you don’t wait until that person figures out they’ve hurt you (because you refuse to talk to them, or you act cold to them, or meet out a little vengeance, too).

(Mat 5:23-24 NIV)  "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Whether you have been offended, or if you have offended another, the Lord always puts the responsibility for reconciliation on you. There is no room for the attitude that says: "that's their problem," or "let them come to me."

(Phil 4:2 NIV)  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.

Paul exhorts both individuals. “I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind” (v. 2). Problems can be resolved when both sides are willing to sit down and work towards reconciliation. Most significantly, this calls for both sides to desire resolution.

In many cases, it is not necessary to involve conciliators in a dispute. Simply obtaining assistance on how to talk more effectively with the other party in the dispute and resolving your differences personally and privately is all that is necessary.

Prayer is the first step

WE MUST CALL ON HIM FOR HELP: reference- James 4:2, “You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”

James is stating that if all conflicts were taken to God first, they would never come up. Conflicts may never come up.

The use of mediation

If conflicts cannot be resolved through informal efforts, Christian conciliation may be necessary.

(Phil 4:2-3 NIV)  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. {3} Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Paul looks for intervention. “Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women” (v. 3). Paul encouraged this faithful member of the church in Philippi to give assistance.

Noteworthy is the fact that Paul addressed this mediator as a “true yokefellow” (i.e., an authentic co-worker in the Lord). A qualified person can assist in problem-solving by focusing on resolution. He will not become part of the problem. As the apostle Paul indicated, a capable intermediary may be able to make a positive contribution in settling a conflict.

(Mat 5:9 NIV)  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

(James 3:18 NIV)  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Steps in mediation

(Mat 18:16 NIV)  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 the person refuses to acknowledge his wrong, you are to pull in two or three other people. The purpose of this is to have witnesses present for this next level of confrontation. Having more people present also brings pressure to bear on the seriousness of the matter. Maybe the offending person will now admit his wrong.

(Mat 18:17 NIV)  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.

If the person remains resolute, unwilling to confess wrongdoing, change their ways, then the matter is to be brought before the whole church. This happens only rarely, but in some case unresolved situations may need this level of attention. At this point, the church weighs out the situation. If the offender is clearly in the wrong, is sinning blatantly, then they are to be expelled from the body. At this point, if all has been done rightly, God ratifies the action of the church. 

Attitude to adopt in conflict resolution
Don’t assume the worst of the other party

A Rabbi tells the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a long-standing feud. The rabbi got them to reconcile their differences and shake hands. As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor of the approaching Jewish New Year. The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me." At that, the second threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he's starting it again!"

If each of us would give the other the benefit of the doubt, some potential conflicts could die without a confrontation.

Confess your part of the conflict

WE MUST CONFESS OUR PART OF THE CONFLICT: reference Matthew 7:3-5 “3.And why do look to take out the speck in your brother’s eye, without first thinking about the plank that is in your own eye? 4.And how will you say to your brother, ‘Let me pull that speck out of your eye,’ when, behold, a plank is in your own eye? 5.You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye; then, you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

This verse states the basic principle of solving your own problems before you try to solve another’s problems.

Cut out abusive language

WE MUST CUT OUT ABUSIVE LANGUAGE: reference a.- Ephesians 4:29- “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs...”

Colossians 3:8- “You must put away all these things... furious rage, malice, insults, and shouted abuse (cursing and foul language). And don’t deceive each other with lies anymore.”

Consider the other person’s perspective

WE MUST CONSIDER EACH OTHER’S PERSPECTIVES AND LOOK UPON EACH OTHERS’ NEEDS: reference- Philippians 2:4- “Look not every man upon his own needs, but every man also upon the needs of others.”

Look not unto your own interests, but the interests of others, as well. It is impossible to be self-centered and solve conflicts.

Do we need to resolve all conflicts?
Only major conflicts should be addressed

The question might be asked whether all matters should be issues of confrontation. This is not the case. There is such a thing as covering in love:

"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (i.e. offenses)." (I Peter 4:8)

If every offense became a matter for confrontation, we would be involved in endless conflict. Deep and mature love is able to let some offenses be covered. We must learn to overlook and forget many minor annoyances as we relate to one another. This principle fits with Eph. 4:2 which admonishes us to "show forbearance to one another in love." 1 Cor. 13:5 indicates that "Love does not take into account a wrong suffered."

Christ is not speaking of these in Mt. 5 & 18. Rather, he speaks of those offenses that brethren find it difficult to 'cover.'

If we are involved in constant confrontation it may be time to evaluate our own level of love. When love is weak or lacking, suspicion, misunderstanding, and conflict increase. Where love is strong, many minor offenses are passed over and forgiven (1 Pet  1:22).

Major conflicts cannot be covered

"People often ask: 'Wouldn't it be better just to let a matter die and not raise the question afresh, thereby starting more trouble?' The issue resolves itself to this: whether or not the offended person really finds it possible to let the problem die.

If a matter is likely to rattle around inside or carry over till the next day, it should be handled. To put it another way, if an offense drives a wedge between Christian brothers, the wedge must be removed by reconciliation.

If you decide to overlook an offense, you should not simply file it away in your memory for later use against the other person. Instead, you need to forgive the offense in a biblical way: making a commitment not to dwell on it or to use it against the other person in the future. If you cannot overlook the offense this way, or if overlooking it would not be biblically appropriate, talk to the other person about it in a loving and constructive manner."