Conflict is a fact of life. You don’t even have to leave your house to find it. You can find conflict in the convenience of your own home! You can even take it on the go. Conflict is anywhere you can find sinners – and they’re everywhere. Thankfully, the solution to conflict is as easy to find as conflict itself. Scripture is full of counsel and examples on how to deal with it. Not surprisingly, biblical conflict resolution is a lot like God Himself: It’s about winning hearts, not winning arguments.
Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. (Proverbs 25:8)
When there is conflict, we feel threatened: We might lose something. We might get hurt. We might have to suffer consequences for some action we took. We might have to mete out circumstances for something someone else did. We might want vengeance. When Adam and Eve sinned, instead of staying objective by being honest with themselves, honest with each other, honest with their circumstances and honest with God, they made aprons of fig leaves and ran and hid when they heard the voice of God in the Garden (Genesis 3:7-8).
Get the Facts.
When God confronted Adam and Eve, He did not come thundering out of heaven making accusations (although He could have). What we see instead is a calm and gracious gathering of the facts. God did not accuse. He asked questions. The Bible says He came to the First Couple in the “cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8) as was apparently His habit when fellowshipping with these two. He knew the two were “on the lam” and He certainly knew where they were hiding. As a parent, you know all the tricks that the kids use to hide their wrongdoing. You also know all the hiding places. When God came to confront these two for their evil, He did not say: “Come on out! You can’t hide from me!” Instead, He said: “Where art thou?” Why? God wanted Adam to take a good hard look at himself to see where he was in relation to God and where he’d led his wife. After Adam came out of hiding, God continued with questions, not accusations, and He dealt with facts, not emotions.
Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: (Proverbs 25:9)
Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. (Proverbs 25:10)
The scope of people “in the know” with regard to a conflict should be limited to the parties involved. Involvement of people outside that circle should be limited to those with the power and authority to actually do something about it. Our tendency in a conflict, because we feel threatened, is to gather supporters and involve people who really have nothing to do with the problem or its solution. That is not God’s way.
When running and hiding did not work out for Adam and Eve, they resorted to “scope creep:” They tried to find somebody else to blame for their actions. Adam’s primary conflict was with God but rather than own up to that, he blamed God and the woman: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12). Eve’s primary conflict was also with God and she blamed the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” Genesis 3:13). When God turned His attention to the serpent, He did not allow that snake to say anything because he wasn’t going to have leg to stand on anyway!
We know from the consequences that God meted out on all the guilty parties (Genesis 3:14-19) that He did not allow the blame shifting to stand and that He held each individual responsible for their own actions: Adam would till the earth by the sweat of his brow, the woman would suffer pain in child birth and relations between husband and wife would become strained because now, instead of two sinless people living in harmony, you now have two sinners trying to live under one roof. For his role in the fall of mankind and for being a willing accomplice to the devil himself, the serpent would lose his legs and be forced to crawl on his belly. One day the serpent (a.k.a. the devil) would be crushed entirely by the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. (See Genesis 3:15.)
As painful as the consequences were, they were right, and they were fair, and for Adam and Eve they were designed with an aim toward reconciliation, not an end in themselves. The dire consequences of their actions would be a constant reminder of what they had done wrong and what they had lost, but those consequences would also serve to turn them back to their God. Adam probably grieved in his heart every time he saw a creature die, and every time he saw conflict in his own home, but when he considered the mercy God had shown him in spite of his sin, it probably also made him a passionate and powerful evangelist.
Say What Needs to be Said and No More.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
When we get into the heat of an argument it is easy for our words to become judgmental and “preachy.” We want to give that other person “a piece of our mind.” Let’s be honest, most of us cannot spare the parts. Sometimes finding the “word fitly spoken” means being quiet and patiently waiting for God to lead us into what needs to be said. When Job had his troubles, four friends came to visit him. The best advice the three eldest gave him was when they didn’t say anything. It was when they opened their mouths that they got into trouble. All their words were preachy and judgmental. The best advice came from the youngest of the group, Elihu, and he spoke only after a long, forbearing patience. (See Job 32.) When he did speak, his words agreed with God. How do I know this? Because it was only after Elihu spoke that God spoke and everything that Elihu had said was exactly in line with what God said.
Let God be the Agent of Change, Not You
As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. (Proverbs 25:12)
If the words you say are the right words delivered in the right way, how they are received is the responsibility of the hearer. A person whose heart is right will accept words of reproof. Those whose hearts are hardened will not. In either case, we are not the Holy Spirit. Of course, we can use our words and the power of our own personalities to gain compliance, but we will never bring conviction. That is the job of God’s Holy Spirit. Our job is to just say what needs to be said, say it fearlessly, say it graciously, then step back and let God do His work. If our own heart is right in this process of conflict resolution, we’ll be OK with that because we’ll understand that in the end it’s not about winning arguments, it’s about winning hearts.