In life, there will always be conflict. No matter how much we try to avoid it, there will always be people who share different opinions than we do. If both parties are passionate about their opinions, believing each is correct, this results in conflict. Christians often avoid conflict because they think it's not Christlike. They believe it's not being gracious by asserting themselves or their opinions on others. Christians also fear not being liked. Jesus embodied grace, but he also set firm boundaries with others, especially those who did not want to put God and his will first in their lives.
Handle Conflict in a Christlike Manner Consider the rich young ruler. Mark 10:21-22 says, “Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But he was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.”
Jesus did not run after the man; he allowed him to make his own choices. Jesus rooted his identity in his father and being right was not on his agenda. He came to do the work of his father on earth, and he often paid the price of rejection and persecution (and ultimately death) because of it. In the same way, being Christlike does not mean being liked or not being assertive. Certain situations require us to set firm boundaries against people who may hinder our spiritual growth. This often results in conflict. Although all conflicts in our lives may never be fully resolved, we are called to deal with them as Christlike as possible.
Here are five Christlike ways to handle disagreements:
1. Pray About It When we disagree with someone, the first thing we can do is pray. Give God the situation. Pray for the person with whom you are in conflict. Ask the Lord to speak and reveal to you anything you need to know about the situation that you may not know already. Ask the Lord to show you anything about the person you may need to know. Reflect on their story—their background, childhood, and current standing with your local church body. Ask the Lord to soften your heart towards that person. During the disagreement, you may have said things that attacked their character, and they may have done the same. Redeem this behavior by confessing your sin to God. Offer an apology to the other party. They may or may not accept it, but you have taken the first step toward resolving the conflict in a Christlike manner.
2. Bite Your Tongue In the heat of the moment, it is easy to use hurtful words and harsh comments to win the argument or to protect yourself from further rejection. Yet, when Jesus was on trial and falsely accused, he did not snap back with a quick comment or a word of knowledge about their lives. He instead remained silent, knowing that the ultimate judge had already found him not guilty.
When our identities are rooted in Christ, the rejection of others is secondary to our standing with God. If we can remain blameless in a situation before God, we have already won the argument, regardless of whether we have come to a timely resolution. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Seek always to build others up rather than tear them down. We will not be perfect at this yet striving to put others first even in the heat of conflict reflects Christlike character.
God's will is for all people to be at peace. Paul writes about this in several of his letters to his churches. Since the church is the Bride of Christ, its members are our brothers and sisters. With so many opinions, we are bound to conflict with one another at some point. But it is how we resolve the conflict that counts. Be the first to offer a sincere apology to the other party. Practice active listening by listening to their point of view without asserting yours. When the other party is finished speaking, state your position again. Ask if they can see it from your perspective. Sometimes a shift in perspective can help us truly understand the situation from another point of view.
3. Forgive Always Forgiveness is perhaps the hardest part of conflict because the other party might offer an apology, but trust has not been achieved. Therefore, you may be suspicious if they might repeat the action again. Scripture is clear that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us of our sins. We must understand that forgiveness is a process. It is a result of processing through tough emotions and resolving them in a way that cultivates Christlike character. When we seek to forgive others even when we feel they don't deserve it, we are becoming more like Christ because Jesus died on the cross, taking on the world’s sins but having committed no sin himself. The other party may not forgive you, but that is no excuse for you not to seek forgiveness. We are obligated as Christians to forgive one another, regardless of the other party’s response.
4. Pinpoint the Underlying Needs In the heat of the moment, it is easy to argue about the conflict at hand. This may result from a current situation where the two of you are entangled. Yet, the emotional response to the conflict may have nothing to do with you. If this is someone you know personally, recall what you have observed in their lives. Is there any unresolved trauma or other wounds from the past that may be interfering with your current conflict? Sometimes people seek justice in this current situation because they did not receive justice for a past injury or victimization. If this is the case, kindly state what you believe to be true and see if there's a grain of truth to it. If there is, help them seek to resolve the previous pain so that pain does not interfere with your relationship today. By doing so, you will not only seek to resolve the conflict peacefully, but you may gain a true friend in the process.
5. Wish Them Well Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement that they had to part ways: “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:37-40). Scripture never says whether that conflict was resolved. While we may wish every conflict in which we are embroiled comes to a peaceful agreement, that's not always the case.
Seek reconciliation and peace as much as possible. We can live at peace with someone and not be in conflict with them. Yet that conflict was not completely resolved. Romans 12:18 says, “as it stands with you, live at peace with all men.” Despite our passionate position and extension of grace, we may never resolve every conflict in our lives. Process any unresolved emotions or pain from the incident. Live at peace with yourself and accept that you may never be in a relationship with that person again. If reconciliation cannot be achieved, wish them well and pray for God's blessing over their lives.
Conflict is always difficult. No one likes to be involved in conflict with others. But it is a necessary element of living with other people. Do your best to seek resolution and reconciliation with others. It may not always be possible, but peace and the Christlike character that results is always a guaranteed outcome.