What does the Bible say about conflict management?
We live in a world where differences of opinion are common. But these disagreements can lead to conflict, strife and violence. This happens in marriages, in families, in neighborhoods, at work and in churches. It happens in all kinds of relationships between people.
Conflict between nations can lead to war. In January 2020 Donald Trump announced a Middle East peace plan to solve the Israel–Palestinian conflict. And after more than 18 years of war in Afghanistan, the US has signed a peace treaty with the Taliban.
Peace has been elusive. These wars go on and on. There are so many barriers to peace. (more…)
How can we live in harmony with each other?
Although we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, peace is possible through Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ’s followers are to be like Him and work at maintaining harmonious relationships with fellow human beings.
The peace process destroys barriers and seeks reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Here we consider some practical ways to destroy barriers to peace between people and bring reconciliation.
A mediator takes into consideration the interest of both parties that are separated (Gal. 3:20). They approach each party in order to communicate and build a relationship (Rev. 3:20). If successful, the barrier is destroyed and the parties are brought together (1 Pet. 3:18). For mediation to be successful, both parties must be willing to be reconciled to one another. For example, because the Jewish leaders refused Christ’s help, they were never reconciled (Mt. 23:37; Jn. 5:40).
Deal with your own faults
A peacemaker begins by dealing with their own faults. This is difficult because we readily see faults and problems elsewhere, but fail to see them in ourselves (Mt. 7:3-5). If this is not addressed, we are hypocrites and will not have the respect of others. We must realize that being a Christian does not guarantee Christ-like behavior.
This means facing up to your faults first. Identify the idols in your life; the things that are taking God’s place; the attitudes and motives that lead to sinful behavior. Is there pride and arrogance; hedonism, living for physical pleasure; love of money or possessions; fear of people; obsessive desires? Have you failed to meet your responsibilities (Jas. 4:17)? Have you spoken harshly, distorted the truth or spread gossip? Are you treating others as you want them to treat you (Mt. 7:12)? Do you thrive on conflict? Have you heightened the barriers to peace with others?
Seek God’s help through the Scriptures, prayer and the assistance of a close friend or relative who can be more objective than you.
We should take responsibility for our wrongs and apply the peace process to destroy the barrier and restore peace by confessing our failures to all directly affected, and repenting by changing the way we think and behave.Once you have dealt with your contribution to a conflict, you may approach others about theirs (Mt. 7:5).
Can the barriers be overlooked?
If barriers to peace still exit, the next step is to consider whether they can be overlooked. Some conflicts are not worth fighting over and should be settled quickly.
We should not make judgements on debatable matters (Rom. 14:1). For instance, don’t criticize believers with different opinions to yours on non-essential matters. In this case it was whether to eat food offered to idols, or whether one day was more sacred than another. Our response to viewpoints that differ from ours must honor God, advance His kingdom and benefit others (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1).
Also, you may be overly sensitive to the wrongs of others. Be careful not to exaggerate the height of the barrier!
By overlooking minor offences we can imitate God’s great forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13): “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8-10).
Some tests for assessing when a problem or a sin is too serious to overlook are (Ken Sande 1991, “The Peacemaker”, Baker Books):
- Is it damaging your relationship? Has it created a barrier between you and the other person? Has it caused you to think differently toward them for more than a short period of time?
- Is it dishonoring to God? Is it doing serious harm to God’s reputation? Will others think less of God, His church or of His Word?
- Is it hurting others? Is it threatening the peace and unity of the church?
- Is it hurting the offender? Has the sin significantly hurt their spiritual health and reduced their usefulness for God?
Respond to the barriers by investigating the matter
Anything that has disrupted the peace and unity between Christians must be identified, talked over and made right.
The most appropriate response to significant barriers is to recognize and acknowledge them and seek a peaceful settlement through conciliation. It is the collaborative approach of a peacemaker that uses discussion, negotiation and mediation in an attempt to destroy the barriers and bring reconciliation. The objective is to rebuild and restore relationships with others.
After an allegation was made the Israelites were advised; “you must investigate it thoroughly” (Dt. 13:14). As there are usually at least two sides to every story, it is important to talk to all the parties involved (Josh. 22:13-14; 31-34; Mt. 18:15-17). Of course, a charge against another person must be supported by at least two or three witnesses. This is particularly true in the case of elders (1 Tim. 5:19).
Go and be reconciled
Peacemaking is not a passive process. Remember, Christ came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace. Likewise we should actively pursue peace with those who oppose and mistreat us. God is depending on us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
If the offence cannot be overlooked then it must be confronted face-to face. The word for the peacemaker is “go”; “… go and be reconciled to your brother”; “… go and show him his fault” (Mt. 5:24; 18:15). Christians are to be initiators of reconciliation.
The sequence of events is summarized in the diagram as: confront the barrier, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. A biblical example is, “… If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). We should forgive one another, as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Christ expects His followers to practise forgiveness.
The peacemaker must calm the storm before there can be peace. For example, when the disciples were on the lake during a storm, they did not feel safe until Christ calmed the storm (Mt. 8:23-27). This means that the cause of the problem must be dealt with properly through cooperative negotiation and the barriers destroyed before there can be genuine peace.
A good approach is to give people an opportunity to explain their behavior by asking questions and listening to their explanations (Gen. 3:9-13; Acts 5:8). Unfortunately we often pre-judge on the basis of unreliable information. As in law, others should be assumed to be innocent until the evidence is conclusive.
The method of responding to significant barriers to peace is outlined in Mt. 18:15-17. Firstly talk it over in private, by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If this is not successful, involve other conciliators and then church elders. Finally, after all avenues have been exhausted, a stubborn party should be treated as a nonbeliever; as they are behaving like one by disregarding Scripture and the church. Each step of this process should be done as Christ would do it (Mt. 18:20).
The bible includes may examples of barriers developing between people and individuals. As he had obtained the inheritance from Isaac by deception, Jacob was estranged from Esau. Before there could be reconciliation, Jacob sent gifts to Esau and he wrestled with God who caused his hip to be injured and he walked with a limp (Gen. ch. 32-33).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Before there could be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph put them through a series of tests to see if they had changed their hearts and to enable Benjamin to be there (Gen. ch. 42-45).
Moses accepted advice from his father-in-law; criticism is more effective when coupled with a recommendation (Ex. 18:13-26). The daughters of Zelophehad brought their concern to Moses and were willing to compromise; go to those who can change the situation and don’t be deterred by traditions (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). This was a bold step for women in those days.
The western tribes of Israel were satisfied after the eastern tribes explained their motives; always verify the truth of a matter before making accusations (Josh. 22:15-30). Daniel was reconciled with Melzar because he offered a win-win solution (Dan. 1:8-16).
Saul wanted to kill David. Jonathan acted as a mediator between the two, he spoke up for David and Saul promised to change and not kill David. Jonathan then convinced David that he was now safe and they were reconciled (1 Sam. 19:1-7). Unfortunately this peace was only brief.
Paul and Barnabas were reconciled with legalists after face-to-face discussion (Acts 15:1-29). Later Paul questioned Peter publicly after the latter’s hypocrisy and legalism affected the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14).
Although the prodigal was reconciled with his father, his brother was not; don’t be influenced by third parties who have their own agendas (Lk. 15:25-32).
In order to resolve a conflict Euodia and Syntche were encouraged to: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, pray, look for good aspects, and put biblical guidelines into practice (Phil. 4:2-9).
Everyone wants peace and harmony, but they don’t want to change. Why don’t you change first?
The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26). Any barriers hindering relationships should be destroyed as soon as possible because they are often the work of Satan who can use us to accuse one another (Rev. 12:10). The longer an enemy is given territory, the more damage is caused.
All believers should be peacemakers (Jas. 3: 17-18). God wants you to work for peace: in your family, in your business life and in the local church.
How do you respond to barriers to peace? Are you a peacemaker, a peace-faker or a peace breaker? Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
Summary: Dealing with disagreements
The Peacemaker – Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; James 3:17-18
- Overlooks minor offences and debatable matters (Romans 14:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)
- Responds to barriers to peace (Matthew 5:24; 18:15)
- Confronts barriers to peace (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Brings reconciliation wherever possible
Written, April 2003
Since the conflict in Iraq began, we hear about war and peace every day. Of course, conflict has existed on earth since the days of Cain and Abel; Lamech was known for his violence and in the times before the Flood people were “full of violence” (Gen. 4:1-8; 23-24; 6:11,13 niv). In fact, the history of our world is marked by wars. Likewise, today there are many barriers to peace with God, peace with each other, and peace with self.
How can we have peace in a world of strife? The Bible says that strife is due to envy and selfish ambition – seeking pleasures, possessions and prestige (Jas. 3:16; 4:1-3). But it also says that Christians have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This is consistent with the promised Messiah being called the “Prince of Peace” and the angels proclaiming “peace on earth” at Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:6; Lk. 2:14).
Peace Is Possible
Did you know that Christians can have peace in a war zone! Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The disciples were about to face persecution and suffering (Jn. 16:2, 32). The purpose of their conversation with Jesus was to help them experience peace with God internally while they faced “trouble” externally. The source of the peace was “in Me” – that is, Jesus.
Similarly, we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, but peace is possible in Jesus. The purpose of God’s message to us in the Bible is to explain how we can have this peace. Through Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace, we can have victory over the problems we face in the sinful world (1 Jn. 5:4-5). It’s like having peace in a war zone. This peace is only possible through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (Eph. 2:16).
A Lasting Peace
After telling His disciples that He would be betrayed, and that Peter would deny knowing Him, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). They knew the religious leaders planned to kill Jesus, and they feared the future as they had left their jobs to follow Him. How could they face life without Christ to lead them?
How did Jesus reassure them? He promised peace and security through a place and a person. First, He promised them a future place with Him in heaven (Jn. 14:1-4). Second, He promised that they would not be alone, but the Holy Spirit would always be with them (Jn. 14:15-18). Both are consequences of Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace. So rather than despairing of the uncertainty of facing a future that was not according to their expectations, they had peace of mind. This was not a temporary peace based on circumstances, but a lasting peace based on their relationship with Christ. They knew God was with them and they had hope for the future. This is the only real peace that is possible in a war zone.
There can be no lasting peace without the Prince of Peace. God made peace with enemies through Christ’s death on the cross (Col. 1:20-23). As rebels and sinners, we are all separated from God. Peace with God is only possible through Jesus; He has removed the barrier between us and God. We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through confession and repentance. Confession reveals a changed heart, being genuinely sorry for letting the barrier of sin develop between us and God. Repentance is changed behavior; living a life in which the barrier has been destroyed.
Destroying The Barriers
What about the barriers between us and others? Peace can only be restored if these barriers to peace are destroyed. For example, West Berlin was isolated from East Germany, from 1961 to 1989, by a concrete wall, 13 feet high and 103 miles long. There was jubilation when the Berlin Wall was demolished and the people of Germany were reunited.
There was also a “dividing wall of hostility” and animosity between the Jews and Greeks in New Testament times (Eph. 2:14). They despised each other. This barrier was caused by the Old Testament Law that made promises to the Jews based on their nationality (Eph. 2:11-13). The Gentiles were excluded from these promises.
Paul taught that Jesus abolished the Law, and now both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God; there was no barrier between them (Eph. 2:14-19). Jesus had “destroyed the barrier” to peace. These great enemies could be reconciled with each other because they both had equal access to God, and were “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” They were now to express the unity of the body of Christ. The old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was now obsolete and they could both be members of the Church (1 Cor. 10:32).
So Christians are all one family. When Christ removed the barrier between us and Him, He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and others! The Church is to be a place where all people can come and share together (Gal. 3:28-29). It is a place of reconciliation, where barriers are destroyed and real relationships are formed.
Believers are encouraged to “live in harmony with one another” and “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:8,11). This requires recognizing barriers to peace, removing them and being reconciled through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Confession reveals a willingness to remove the barrier. Repentance is living as though the barrier has been removed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier removed. Although barriers may be caused by either party, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. It takes two to form a relationship, and two to restore one.
The Message Of Peace
While conflict is inevitable in our sinful world, peace is possible through Jesus. Christians should be ready to spread the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). “Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent … telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God, because the barrier to lasting peace has been removed! And you can be a peacemaker for Christ in a world at war.
Published, May 2005