Cleaning Up the Clutter of Conflict


Fair warning. Here is “cynical me” speaking. Two things are sure at our private Christian school: tuition payments and squabbles. (Maybe I’m just speaking from my inner Ben Franklin – you know, death and taxes). Well, there is not much I can do about the tuition payments. We have to pay our teachers and keep the lights on. However, there is something we can do about the squabbles. Conflicts are inevitable among any group of people, but God, by His abundant grace in Christ, enables us to live in peace as a community of peacemakers.

If you drop 50 things on the living room floor but do nothing to pick them up, by the end of the day the room will be a complete mess. But if you drop 50 things on the floor and pick each up immediately after it hits the floor, the room will be clean at the end of the day. Likewise, we may have any number of conflicts along the way, but if we’re careful to clean up each one, at the end of the day we will have a healthy relationship. But if we let the conflicts hit and leave them there, we end up with messy relationships cluttered with anger and resentment and bitterness.

One of the best resources out there for learning how to live together in peace is the work of Ken Sande and Peacemakers. His little book Resolving Everyday Conflict is a treasure of biblical wisdom and insight. Below are a number of selections from the first chapter, “The Nature of Conflict: What It Is and Where It Comes From.” Let’s learn together the grace and skill of peacemaking so that we can glorify God together in our school community.

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In the Bible, God gives us a powerful way to respond to conflict. Our natural approach to conflict is to focus on what an opponent did to us. Yet if we try to resolve conflict by focusing only on what someone else did wrong, we never reach a real solution. God’s approach begins with us understanding the gospel?everything Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Through the gospel, God treats us with extraordinary, unearned kindness. And his gracious response to us gives us power to respond to others in an entirely new way. Once we understand how the good news of Jesus empowers real reconciliation, we can begin to learn and apply God’s practical steps to peacemaking.

Peacemaking comes naturally to no one. It always goes against our normal human impulses. But the more we draw on God’s power, and the more we wrestle with and obey what God teaches, the more effectively we can work out disagreements with others.

As Christians we can’t escape conflict. Maybe you have picked up the idea that being a good person will help you steer clear of major clashes. If you try hard to do right, then people won’t disrespect or mistreat you. Or perhaps you have been taught that if you do clash with others, turning to God for help will effortlessly make everything better. Life as a Christian doesn’t work that way.

While many conflicts bring disastrous results, conflict isn’t always bad. Even the most mature of Christians experience conflict and can come out better for it.

The Bible teaches that some conflicts come from God-given diversity. Many of our differences aren’t about right or wrong; they are simply the result of these God-designed personal preferences. What God desires is unity, not uniformity.

Other conflicts result from simple misunderstandings. There isn’t a person on earth who communicates perfectly, whether speaking or listening.

Although much conflict is the natural result of God-given diversity and simple misunderstandings, many conflicts are the result of sinful attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions.

The sinful root of conflict is really idolatry. As Christians, we know we should want what God wants, but when we allow an idol to control our hearts, we only want what we want. The one cure for idolatry is to look to God himself, returning him to his rightful first place in our lives and deciding we want his will for us above any other desire.

The good news is that conflict doesn’t need to ruin our lives. The grand theme of the Bible is reconciliation. We only have to read about four pages into the Bible?approximately five hundred words?before we see mankind leap into sin and experience separation from God and each other. Yet the whole of the rest of Scripture discloses God’s incredible plan to bring back to himself a human race that willfully walked away from him.

Unresolved conflict brings tragic results. When people lock horns at home or work, with friends, or in a courtroom, relationships are often severely damaged. Conflict robs us of time, energy, money, and opportunities. When we pause and realize the destructive nature of conflict, we discover how desirable peace really is.

Peace is worth our greatest effort. The Bible tells us that we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Greek word in this verse that is translated “make every effort” means to strive eagerly . . . earnestly . . . diligently. It’s a word that a trainer of gladiators might have used when he sent men to fight to the death in the Coliseum: “Make every effort to stay alive today!” Peace is worth that life-and-death effort. If we want to enter into all the peace God has for us, we have to give it our all.

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