Responding to Conflict Biblically

These are my notes from a seminar on resolving conflict, based on a book by Ken Sande, available at Amazon.

The Peacemaker’s Pledge:

  1. Glorify God – instead of focusing on our own wants and desires, let’s focus on seeking to please God and honoring and obeying him.
  2. Get the log out of your own eye – instead of focusing solely on the faults of the other person, focus on my part in all of this and how I might grow and change my attitudes and behavior.
  3. Go and show your brother his fault – instead of pretending the other person does not exist or overlook his offenses, focus on talking directly to the other person in a biblical manner.
  4. Go and be reconciled – instead of accepting premature compromise or allow the relationship to wither, focus on pursuing peace and reconciliation, forgiving as Jesus would.

Understanding Conflict and Our Responses to it:

  1. What is conflict?
    1. A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.
    2. In a fallen world, conflict is inevitable and should be expected (Romans 3:10-18, James 4:1-3, Acts 15:1-2, 36-39).
  2. What causes conflict?
    1. Misunderstandings (Acts 15:22-29)
    2. Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
    3. Competition over limited resources (Genesis 13:1-12).
    4. Sinful or selfish attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions (James 4:1-3).
  3. God provides a way to deal with conflict.
    1. Many believers have only a devotional theology for conflict resolution.
    2. To be a peacemaker, we need a systematic theology that resolves conflict in a biblical manner.
    3. We are guided by the Peacemaker’s Pledge, the four G’s.
    4. We are inspired and empowered by what God has already done and continues to do for us.
      1. We are powerless in our own strength (Romans 7:15).
      2. The foundation for peacemaking and reconciliation is our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3:24, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 1:20, 3:12-15).
      3. Jesus is our perfect model of a peacemaker: he died for us while we were yet sinner (Romans 5:8, Philippians 2:5-11), he suffered wrongs without retaliation (1 Peter 2:23), he confronted others for their good (John 4:1-26), he loved and forgave even his enemies (Luke 23:34). He promises to work in us so that we may do the same things (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 3:15).
  4. How do we respond to conflict?
    1. Escape response – on one end of the spectrum (designed to get away from the pressure).
      1. Denial – pretend the conflict does not exist or refuse to deal with it properly.
      2. Flight – run away from the person with whom you have conflict (which is appropriate if someone is in danger).
      3. Suicide – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    2. Attack responses – on the other end of the spectrum (designed to bring pressure on your opponent to defeat them).
      1. Litigation – a matter is taken to civil authorities for a decision.
      2. Assault – use force or intimidation to force submission.
      3. Murder – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    3. Conciliation responses – on the middle area of the spectrum (designed to find just and mutually agreeable solutions to conflict). The first three are personal, the latter three are communal.
      1. Overlook an offense – walk away and forgive (Proverbs 19:11, 12:16, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
      2. Discussion – personal offenses are resolved through confession or confrontation, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15, 5:23-24, Galatians 6:1-3, Proverbs 28:13).
      3. Negotiation – substantive offenses are resolved through a bargaining process to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement, involving compromise and collaboration (Philippians 3:3-4).
      4. Mediation – one or two others will meet with the parties to improve communication and facilitate a resolution (Matthew 18:16). Solutions can only be suggested.
      5. Arbitration – When the parties cannot come to a voluntary solution, the arbiter has the power to render a binding solution.
      6. Church discipline – When a Christian party refuses to do what is right and just, the church family intervenes to promote repentance and reconciliation (Matthew 18:17-20). Note that relationship is more important than worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Conflict Provides Opportunities:

  1. To glorify God – show him honor and respect, bring him praise, to be a witness for what he has done in your life.
    1. Trust him (Psalm 37:5-6).
    2. Obey him (John 14:15).
    3. Imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  2. To serve other people.
    1. Help carry their burdens (Galatians 6:2, 10).
    2. Help them change through constructive confrontation (Galatians 6:1).
    3. Teach and encourage others by example (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
  3. To grow into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-4, Hebrews 12:7-13).
    1. Conflict humbles us to remember our need for God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
    2. Conflict confronts us to uncover sinful attitudes and habits (Psalm 119:67, 71).
    3. Conflict provides an opportunity of cast off the old self through repentance and faith, and put on the new self created to be like Jesus (Ephesians 4:22-24).
    4. Conflict helps us practice godly habits (1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14). Remember the ABC’s (Adversity Builds Character).
  4. Opportunity, leads to Responsibility, which leads to Stewarding (a biblical approach to conflict). Stewarding requires an accurate view of God.
    1. If you believe that God is limited in power or his love is inconsistent, you will find it difficult to trust and obey his commands. Now you will take matters into your own hands.
    2. Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and omnipresent, he is unlimited and in charge. (Isaiah 46:10, Daniel 2:20-22, 4:34-37).
    3. God is also all-loving, holy, just, gracious, good, merciful, and faithful. He is for us (Psalm 62:11-12, Isaiah 43:2-3, Matthew 10:30-31).
    4. Therefore, all that happens does not take God by surprise (Matthew 10:29-30, Exodus 4:10-12, Proverbs 16:4-5, Acts 2:23, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Genesis 45:5, 50:20, Daniel 3:16-18).
    5. Stewarding means trusting that God is always up to something good, even when his purposes are not clear (Deuteronomy 29:29).
    6. Stewarding views conflict as an assignment, not an unfortunate accident.
    7. Stewarding focuses on faithfulness more than results (Matthew 25:21, Luke 12:42-47, John 12:24-26).

Peacemaking is Not Optional: (Romans 12:18)

  1. Three dimensions of peace.
    1. Peace with God (Colossians 1:19-20, Romans 5:1-2).
    2. Peace with other people (Romans 12:18).
    3. Peace within ourselves (Isaiah 32:17, 48:18, 26:3, Romans 3:20-22, Matthew 22:39).
  2. Jesus’ reputation depends on peace and unity.
    1. The priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-23).
    2. The command of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
    3. The worship of Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24).
  3. Make every effort – Ephesians 4:1-3, Romans 15:5-7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 5:19-22, Colossians 3:13, 15, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15).
  4. Conflict resolution inside the church, not the courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
    1. It’s a bad witness.
    2. It ignores the root problem.
    3. It does not bring peace or reconciliation.
  5. Peacemaking is not optional (Matthew 5:9).

Is This Really Worth Fighting Over? (Proverbs 19:11)

  1. Two kinds of “logs” to remove.
    1. A critical negative attitude that leads to unnecessary conflict.
    2. An actual sinful words and actions.
  2. Overlooking minor offenses (Proverbs 12:16, 19:11, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
    1. Why? To imitate the Lord (Psalm 103:8-10)
    2. When? If the offense is not dishonoring to God, if your relationship has not been permanently damaged, if others are not being hurt.
  3. Change your attitude (Philippians 4:2-9).
    1. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).
    2. Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).
    3. Replace (cover or control) anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
    4. See things as they truly are (Philippians 4:8).
    5. Practice what you have learned (Philippians 4:9).
  4. Count the cost (Matthew 5:25-26).
  5. Remember the rights and privileges given by God (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Matthew 25:24-27). This R does not stand for rights, but responsibility (to glorify God, serve others, to grow into the likeness of Christ).

Examine Yourself: (Proverbs 28:13)

  1. Take an honest look at yourself (Psalm 139:23-24)
  2. Repentance is more than a feeling.
    1. Mere remorse leads to further grief (2 Corinthians 7:10).
    2. Godly sorrow comes when we see sin for what it is, a personal offense against God (Luke 15:18, Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:3-4).
    3. Genuine repentance involves a change of heart and a new way of thinking (Luke 15:17, Isaiah 55:7-8).
    4. Genuine repentance leads to changed behavior (Acts 26:20, Matthew 3:8) resulting in confession, repair, and change.
    5. The benefits of confession and genuine repentance.
      1. Clear conscience before God.
      2. The first step toward constructive change.
      3. Sets an example for others to follow.
  3. The seven A’s of confessions – never make a confession just to get a burden off your shoulders.
    1. Address everyone involved (Psalm 41:4, Luke 19:8).
    2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Psalm 51).
    3. Admit specifically what you did.
      1. Sinful attitudes (Matthew 15:19, James 3:13-4:12, 1 John 2:15-17).
      2. Sinful words – reckless words (Proverbs 12:18, 15:1), complaining or grumbling (Philippians 2:14, James 5:9), Deception or twisting (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 24:28), gossip (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, 26:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), slander (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3), worthless talk (Ephesians 4:29).
      3. Sinful actions – not keeping your word (Matthew 5:37, Psalm 15:1, 4), not respecting authority (Mark 10:42-45, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:18-25), not treating others like you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
    4. Apologize expressing sincere sorrow for how you affected the other person.
    5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19, Numbers 5:5-7, Luke 19:8).
    6. Alter your behavior (Ephesians 4:22-32).
    7. Ask for forgiveness (Genesis 50:17).
    8. Allow time – OK, there’s an eighth A.

When Should You Go and Confront Someone?

  1. When someone has something against you (Matthew 5:21-24)
    1. You may be able to clarify a misunderstanding.
    2. You may learn that you were actually wrong.
    3. You may help to deliver the other person from the bitterness of unforgiveness.
  2. When someone’s sins are too serious to overlook (Matthew 18:15)
    1. Is it dishonoring to God? (Romans 2:21-24).
    2. Is it damaging to your relationship?
    3. Is it hurting other people (including you – Luke 17:2-3, 1 Corinthians 5:6)?
    4. Is it hurting the offender?
  3. Issues of confrontation.
    1. You are not to be a busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Timothy 2:23)
    2. You should not listen to excuses for not confronting someone.
      1. The Bible says not to judge (Matthew 7:1-5)
      2. Isn’t God the one who will show someone they are wrong? (2 Samuel 12:1).
      3. Confrontation is needed when someone is caught in a sin (Galatians 6:1).
      4. The purpose of confrontation is to restore the offender to usefulness to God (Galatians 6:1).
    3. The same principles apply to non-believers (Galatians 6:10).
    4. The same principles apply to persons in authority (2 Samuel 12:1).
  4. Communication skills.
    1. Speak only to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).
    2. Listen carefully – waiting (Proverbs 18:13), concentrating (Matthew 7:12), clarifying (Are you saying? Would you give me an example?), reflecting (From your perspective, I was wrong. You really care about this issue), agreeing (You’re right, I should have… A lot of what you say is true. I understand how you feel).
  5. Elements of effective confrontation (Proverbs 12:18).
    1. Prayer.
    2. Choose the right time and place.
    3. Believe the best about the other person until you have the facts that prove otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:7).
    4. Talk in person whenever possible (Matthew 18:15).
    5. Plan your words.
    6. Use a gracious tone of voice and friendly body language.
    7. Be objective (facts vs. personal opinions or conclusions).
    8. Use the Bible carefully (don’t preach).
    9. Ask for feedback.
  6. Recognize your limitations (Romans 12:18, 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
    1. Your job – speak the truth in love as clearly and persuasively as possible.
    2. God’s job – to change the hearts and minds of other people.

When Should I Involve Other People? (Matthew 18:16)

  1. After you have attempted step one – to overlook minor offenses.
  2. After you have exhausted step two – to talk in private.
  3. Step three: take one or two others with you. The key is “refuses to listen.”
    1. Mutual agreement.
    2. Unilateral request.
    3. What do conciliators do?
      1. They encourage self-control and courtesy.
      2. They ask questions and clarify facts.
      3. They counsel and admonish by God’s Word.
      4. The expand resources.
      5. They observe and report to churches.
    4. What is the opponent is not a believer? (Galatians 6:10).
  4. Step four: tell it to the church (Matthew 18:17).
  5. Step five: treat the other person as a non-believer (Matthew 18:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Titus 3:10-11).
    1. “As” means a functional decision, not a heart decision.
    2. Treat sinners like Jesus treated sinners – love them enough to tell them the truth.
    3. The purposes of church discipline:
      1. To prevent dishonor to God (Romans 2:23-24).
      2. To protect the purity of the church, preventing the offender from leading others into sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Matthew 18:16).
      3. To restore the offender, leading them toward repentance (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 12:20, Acts 3:19).
    4. When to go to court?
      1. If you have exhausted church remedies (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
      2. If you are asserting biblically legitimate rights (not all rights are right).
      3. If you have a righteous purpose (so count the cost). Will it glorify God, benefit others, and is it necessary?

Forgive As God Forgave You (Ephesians 4:32)

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling, nor forgetting, nor excusing (at first).
  2. Forgiveness is a decision.
    1. The major penalty of sin: personal separation (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23).
    2. Forgiveness releases us from this penalty (Ephesians 2:13, Jeremiah 31:34, Psalm 103:12).
    3. Four promises modeled after God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:12, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 130:3-4).
      1. I promise I will not think about this incident.
      2. I promise I will not bring up this incident and use it against you.
      3. I promise I will not talk to others about this incident.
      4. I promise I will not allow this incident to stand between us hinder our personal relationship.
    4. When you forgive, you tell them the real source of their forgiveness is Jesus Christ, and promised to forgive when we confess (1 John 1:9).
  3. When should you forgive? (Luke 17:3, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37).
    1. The ideal biblical response to sin: repentance, confession, restitution, and change.
    2. Promise #1 – forgiveness
      1. Conditional – a commitment made to the offender.
      2. Ideally, after repentance and confession.
      3. Minor offenses may be forgiven even if there is no confession or repentance.
      4. Major offenses – these promises may be delayed until the problem is resolved following Matthew 18.
  4. What are the consequences?
    1. There is a time for mercy (Matthew 18:21-25, Luke 15:21-32).
    2. There is a time for consequences (Psalm 99:8, Proverbs 19:19, Numbers 14:20-23) Forgiveness of personal offenses does not necessarily release a person from the material consequences of their actions.
  5. Overcoming unforgiveness.
    1. Unforgiveness will separate you from God (Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25).
    2. Renounce sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13).
      1. Expecting the offender to earn or deserve forgiveness.
      2. Desiring to punish the offender.
      3. Demanding a guarantee.
    3. Remember that our baptism into Christ and experience God’s daily forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
    4. Draw on God’s strength (Philippians 2:13).
  6. Reconciliation and the replacement principle.
    1. Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored at least to the condition it was before the conflict arose (Matthew 5:23-24, 6:12, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 5:18-21).
    2. Reconciliation usually take deliberate work.
    3. The replacement principle (Luke 6:27-28, Leviticus 19:18, Ephesians 4:22-24).
      1. In thought (Philippians 4:8).
      2. In word (Romans 12:14).
      3. In deed (Romans 12:20).
    4. It’s not forgive and forget, but forgive TO forget.

A Biblical Approach to Negotiating (Philippians 2:1-4)

  1. Cooperative vs. competitive negotiation.
    1. Competing is appropriate in some cases, but neglects the problems and needs, results in inadequate solutions, is inefficient, and damages relationship.
    2. Cooperating is preferred (Matthew 7:12, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 13:4-5, Matthew 22:39).
  2. When you negotiate – PAUSE.
    1. Prepare.
    2. Affirm relationships.
    3. Understand interests.
    4. Search for creative solutions.
    5. Evaluate options objectively and reasonably.
  3. Prepare (Proverbs 14:8, 22) – Pray, get the facts, identify issues and interests, study the Bible, seek godly counsel, anticipate reactions, pick a good time and place, and plan your opening remarks.
  4. Affirm relationship (show respect and concern) – communicate in a courteous manner, spend time on personal issues, exercise authority with restrain, submit to authority in a godly manner, seek to understand the other’s point of view, look out for the interests of others, confront in a gracious manner, allow face saving, and give sincere praise and encouragement.
  5. Understand interests (1 Samuel 25:24-31, 32-35) Issue (an identifiable and concrete question), position (a desired outcome or definable perspective on an issue), and interest (what motivates people and gives rise to positions; a concern, desire, need. limitation, and something the person values).
  6. Search for creative solutions (Proverbs 14:8, Daniel 1:11-13)). When brainstorming, separate inventing from deciding, no idea is out of bounds.
  7. Evaluate options, don’t argue – look for God’s truth (Psalm 19:7, 111:10), get objective facts (Daniel 1:11-16), seek objective opinions from trusted advisors (Proverbs 12:15, Matthew 18:16), look behind the opinions of others and deal wisely with their opinions and objections, and the last resort (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Romans 12:17-13:7).

Dealing with Unreasonable People (Romans 12:21)

  1. We have supernatural weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Luke 6:27-28, Ephesians 6:10-18).
  2. Control your tongue (Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 2:15).
  3. Seek godly advisors (identify with others, avoid being isolated – Romans 12:15-16).
  4. Keep doing what is right (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:15-16, 1 Samuel 24).
  5. Recognize your limits (Romans 12:18-19).
  6. The ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (Romans 12:20-21, Luke 6:27-36).
    1. Demonstrate love (Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).
    2. Doing good can protect you from your own bitterness and resentment.
    3. Doing good can help to bring another person to repentance.
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