Conflict seems to be inevitable, even in the church. In the book of Acts, we see the number of disciples in the early church growing rapidly. The apostles were delivering the Word with great power, miracles were taking place, and needs were being fulfilled throughout the community of faith. However, in the midst of all this kingdom activity a complaint arose (Acts 6:1). The word complaint (goggusmos) means to grumble or murmur with despair or to privately debate against another person and in previous blogs, we’ve explored the admonitions in the Bible concerning grumbling (1 Peter 4:9; Philippians 2:14). Thankfully, the complaint with these early believers in Acts 6 was resolved and the Word of God kept increasing.
Resolution, however, is not always the case. For many, conflict can perpetuate into the exchange of hurtful words and eventually, end with dissension. Author John Bevere, stated that the number one reason people leave a church is because of an offense. Unfortunately, when someone leaves a church over an offense, it will only be a matter of time before they leave the next church because of another offense. There must be a better way to handle conflict than resorting to angry verbal exchanges, disputes, and division.
In the apostle Paul’s letters, he discussed relational problems such as anger, abusive speech, slander, and bitterness. He gave this directive: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13). Whoever has a complaint against someone, Paul wrote, they are to forgive just as the Lord forgave us.
Think about this: You will never be wronged the way you have wronged God; yet, He forgave you with no conditions. We are commanded to always forgive others and let me remind you, that love doesn’t keep a “record book” of someone’s offense (1 Corinthians 13:5). Forgiveness does not erase the offender’s need for correction. Forgiveness though, by the one who has been offended, is always rooted in humility which is the willingness to go low. Humility comes from a Latin derivative that means ground, humus, or dirt. Nothing is lower than dirt. Yet, good soil (humble dirt), Jesus said, has the capacity to “bear fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20). For the person who is willing to be humble by repenting and forgiving someone in the midst of a conflict, they will eventually bear incredible fruit in their life.
Conflicts are not the time to be evasive or deceptive, either. Paul advised us to speak the truth in love and to put aside all falsehood with those that we are in community with (Ephesians 4:15; 25). This means that all masks are to be removed if we ever hope to grow as a community of faith. Relational intimacy will never be possible within organizations that avoid truth-telling. I’m always amazed by those who want to be held accountable in the church until you actually hold them accountable. If churches merely tiptoe around each other without honest dialogue, then we’ll settle for a pseudo community filled with hollow, superficial relationships.
After thirty years in the ministry, I can tell you that most issues that result in a conflict should not have been a conflict. Something small became something big because one or more persons were not willing to walk in humility. What often rankles people in relational disputes is that their selfish desires are not being catered to. Whenever self-centeredness is prevalent in people conflict will always end wrongly. Richard S. Taylor once wrote that selfishness reacts with “a hypersensitiveness to injuries, a tendency to magnify the faults of others, and a tenacious love of one’s own will that causes them to be sullenly stubborn when they are repudiated.”
Conflicts always reveal the nature of our heart. The person who is quick to listen and slow to speak is wise (James 1:19). The person who walks in love and forgives as Christ does, imitates God (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1-2). Billy Humphrey wrote, “The Lord has orchestrated the perfect circumstance to expose my lack of meekness. Unbeknownst to me, pride has been hidden deep inside my heart, underneath layers of religious whitewash. Relational conflicts are for my benefit and are designed to give me the opportunity to choose meekness and repent of my arrogance. God uses the most effective means to work meekness in our hearts. Every time we have an interpersonal conflict with someone, we have the opportunity to expose pride and prefer the other person above ourselves. In a conflict, whoever repents first wins.”
In the final analysis, all “yea buts” must go if we hope to restore true biblical community. We have to be willing to die to our rights, the last word, and our opinion. Someone has to function out of humility and make the first move in a relational rift. Someone has to step forward and lay their life down. Someone has to be willing to forgive as Christ forgives us. The question is: Who is willing to repent first?
The answer reveals the character of the persons involved in the conflict.
Jesus, forgive me for any self-centered tendencies that keep me at odds with others. Enable me to be the first to repent should a conflict arise, amen.