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…)
The news in the daily news media is usually bad news. It’s often about disasters and tragedies like accidents, fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. Fortunately in a world where bad news dominates, God has given us good news.
When Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, he addressed those who denied the possibility of the resurrection of the body after death. He corrected them by saying that Jesus died and was resurrected: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). (more…)
Elevated status for Christian slaves
Some people use the mention of slavery in the Bible to criticise God and the Bible. Let’s look at what the New Testament (NT) says about slavery. The Greek word “doulos” (Strongs #1401) is usually translated as “slave” or “servant”. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire, but it was not racist, as many races were involved. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or poor people. Slavery rescued captives from death and the poor from starvation at a time when there was no government welfare or charities. In the NT, slaves are told to obey their masters and a runaway slave is told to return to their master; so it appears to condone slavery.
You may think: what’s this topic got to do with us? Slavery is not prevalent today. We will see that the slavery described in the NT was like employment. As we look at what the NT says about slaves and their masters, we can apply these principles to us as an employee working for a client, team leader, supervisor or employer, or if we lead other workers.
Philemon and Onesimus
Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae which is now in Turkey (Philemon 8-21). As the church met in his home, he may have been an elder in the local church. One of his slaves, Onesimus had apparently stolen from him and run away. But Onesimus had met Paul in Rome and become a Christian and was now willing to return to his master and be reconciled. He was willing to resume his obligation to his master. Paul wrote this letter to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, no longer as a slave but as a fellow Christian (v.16). What can we learn from this short letter?
First, Paul does not issue an order to Philemon, although he was confident of his obedience (v.21). Instead he presents reasons for forgiving and accepting his runaway slave and then makes an appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus had become a believer in Rome – like Philemon he was now Paul’s spiritual son and that changed everything. He had a change of character, from an escaped thief to a Christian who helped Paul. From being “useless” to being “useful” (v.11). This is a word-play because the name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul even suggests that the reason Onesimus ran away was so that he could be converted and then return as a fellow Christian. Then Paul makes his appeal, “welcome him as you would welcome me” (v.17). He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household so that they could be reconciled. Although Paul did not order Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery he seems to infer it by saying he knows Philemon “will do even more than I ask” (v.21). This was the legal way to liberation from slavery; whereas escaping was illegal.
Equal before God
According to the Bible, whether someone was a slave or a master it made no difference in their standing before God. Both were sinners bound for hell and both could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23). All sinners are guilty before God and so are condemned to judgement. The Bible says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13NIV). Everyone includes both slaves and masters and whatever category you can think of. So salvation is equally available to all. It’s not like one’s social standing on earth; no one has any special privileges in this respect.
What about after they become a Christian by trusting in Christ for paying the penalty for their sin? The Bible says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). A Christian slave has the same position before God and the same inheritance as a Christian master. Social standing makes no difference in terms of salvation and its blessings. In this way, social distinctions disappear in God’s spiritual family; they are irrelevant. Such differences are replaced by equality and unity. All Christians have equal standing before God (1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11). Our unity in the family of believers transcends all other distinctions, including the social distinction, between slaves and masters. So slaves and masters and workers and team leaders have equal standing before God.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon he said that a Christian slave such as Onesimus was a “dear brother” who should be accepted as though he was the apostle Paul (Phile. 16-17)! What a change of status for a runaway slave! He now shared a common faith with his master. The principle here is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). Because God had accepted Onesimus into His spiritual kingdom and Onesimus was serving God, then Philemon should accept him as a fellow believer. So Christianity elevated slaves to be equal with others in the family of God. By the way, this verse comes after Paul deals with matters of secondary importance in Romans 14 and Paul taught that whether a person was a master or a slave was less important than whether they were a Christian or not.
So our relationships with other believers should cut across the social barriers in our society. If God has accepted someone into His kingdom, we should accept them as fellow believers regardless of their social status. As a church we should accept any believer that seeks to follow God, regardless of their place in society. So a local church can be comprised of people with not only a diversity of nationality and culture, but also a diversity of position in society.
Also Christian slaves and their masters will be rewarded equally by God. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:7-8). So when they are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the good things done for the Lord when they served others, there is no discrimination between slave and master, they are treated the same. There is no favoritism with God.
Christian slaves and workers
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slaves such as Onesimus and apply this to our working life. When a slave became a Christian they were to be content with their situation and not rebel and demand their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21-24). Instead they were to live the Christian life in their situation. But if they had an opportunity to be freed, they should take advantage of it.
“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves” (1 Ti. 6:1-2). Slaves must respect their masters because otherwise they may dishonor Christ’s name and Christianity.
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Ti. 2:9-10). Christian slaves were to be loyal and trustworthy because their behavior could either help or hinder the gospel message.
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pt. 2:18). Christian slaves are told to respect and obey even hash masters. By enduring suffering, they were following Christ’s example. He suffered unjustly for the wrongs of others. As a worker are we willing to submit to a harsh client or boss? This is difficult in our day when we readily claim our rights, but forbearance is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:5-8). Slaves were to obey and serve their masters as if they were Christ. Do we give our client or boss good value? Do we work cheerfully and willingly? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we do, then we will be rewarded for this when we get to heaven. Once again how we work affects our testimony for Christ.
There are similar instructions in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). As Christians, all our work should be for the Lord. Even the most menial tasks are included in “whatever you do”. Do we serve and work as though we have two bosses: one on earth and one in heaven?
So slaves were to be content with their situation and respect their master submitting to their leadership and obeying them. What about us? Are we content with our work situation? Do we respect our team leader, submitting to their leadership and obeying them? Are we loyal and trustworthy?
Christian masters and team leaders
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slave owners such as Philemon and apply this to team leaders.
“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). They were to pay a proper wage and not exploit their workers because God was watching. Christian masters and team leaders should treat their workers with justice and fairness. The worker deserves their wages and it is the team leader’s responsibility to ensure they receive what is due to them. The worker may also deserve recognition and acknowledgement for a job done well.
“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Eph 6:9). They are not to be a bully who uses abusive or threatening language because they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. Just because you may have more status on earth doesn’t mean you get preference in heaven.
As masters had positional power over slaves, so team leaders have positional power over their team. In the previous passages we saw that such power should not be abused. To put it in perspective, team leaders must report to higher powers. If not on earth, then certainly in heaven. Christian masters and team leaders are reminded of their Master in heaven.
If you are a team leader, are you devoted to the welfare of your workers (1 Ti. 6:2)? Do you treat them fairly or do you exploit them? Are you a bully? How we lead and manage others affects our testimony for Christ.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (v.18). Paul was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon. He said “I will pay it back” (v.19). It seems as though Onesimus had stolen things from Philemon before he escaped and went to Rome. Now he was ready to make restitution so they could be reconciled, but Paul was going to make the repayment. Even though Onesimus was guilty of theft and was obliged to make the repayment, Paul said no, I’ll do it. Paul substituted for Onesimus. Because Paul stepped in, Onesimus could be reconciled with Philemon.
In this case, Paul is like Jesus Christ and we are like Onesimus because Jesus substituted for us. We are all guilty of going our own way and rebelling against God, which is called sin. The Bible says that because we have sinned we are eternally separated from God. But Jesus took the initiative and paid the death penalty for us so we can be reconciled with God. Because Jesus stepped into our world, we can be reconciled with God. Have you taken up His offer like Onesimus did with Paul?
So does the NT condone slavery? No, it mentions slavery because slavery was prevalent when it was written. The Bible records practices in society at the time, such as slavery, which it does not necessarily approve. For example, slaves were mentioned in some of Christ’s parables because they were common at that time. However, the NT does say that kidnapping slaves is as sinful as murder because it is stealing (1 Ti. 1:9-10).
The NT regulates slavery so that the slave of a Christian master was treated as well as an employee. There was to be no abuse or exploitation but justice and fairness. When the teachings of the New Testament are followed, the evils of slavery are removed. That’s why some translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.
It’s all a matter of priority. According to the NT, the top priority is to live for Christ, which is more important than improving one’s social status. The main purpose of the Bible is to show the way of salvation, not to reform society. Jesus didn’t come to reform society. He came to reform people. When people repent they have a change in attitudes and behaviour. Changes that come from the inside are more effective than those that are imposed externally such as political and social reforms. Likewise the primary task for Christians today is not to change political and social structures, but to further the gospel by offering forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Anyway, we won’t have a perfect society until Jesus comes again to rule in His millennial kingdom.
Lessons for us
How we work affects our testimony for Christ. In our work life is there: respect, submission, obedience, contentment, loyalty, honesty and wholeheartedness? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we lead others at work is there justice and fairness or are we a bully? Do we realize we are accountable to God? Let’s honor God at work.
Finally, do social distinctions hinder our relationships with other Christians or affect the unity of the church? Do we have favorites? Do we ignore others? Let’s honor God at church.
Written, April 2013
Peace in a world of trouble
In the beginning of time, the Garden of Eden was a paradise and there was peace on earth. People had peace with God and peace with one another. But soon after this Adam and Eve disobeyed God and there was a radical change in the world. They attempted to hide from God; there was fear instead of peace. People had enemies; there were conflicts, disagreements and war rather than peace. They were banished from the garden and God’s presence; there were physical and spiritual barriers between them and God (Gen. 3:8-24).
We can identify with this because problems, conflict and differences of opinion are facts of life. There are two obvious reasons for this situation. Firstly, we are not clones, but are all different, having individual personalities and opinions. This is God’s design and it is good (Gen. 1:31). Secondly, we are all sinners who are selfish, and many disagreements are the direct result of sinful motives and behavior.
Jesus Christ told his followers, “In Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NIV). So, peace is possible; trouble is inevitable.
There is trouble and conflict across the world, between nations and within nations. Religious and ethnic tensions abound. Disagreements form barriers to peace in our families, our businesses and our churches. Fortunately God has provided a solution to our troubles in the peace process. It is possible to have peace with God and with others, and peace within ourselves, by following our Maker’s instructions in the Bible.
Peace is harmony and unity, understanding and goodwill. It is not just the absence of difficulties or conflict. For instance, Paul had peace in prison: he sang praises to God, while his feet were locked in stocks!
God is deeply interested in peace. He is often described as “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33). Christ was the “Prince of peace” and “He Himself is our peace” (Isa. 9:6; Eph. 2:14). The word “peace” occurs in all the books of the New Testament except 1 John.
Jesus said: “Blessed (or happy) are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Peacemakers reconcile or restore relationships. Reconciliation is the means of restoring and maintaining peace and unity. The Greek word for reconciliation means to “change” or “exchange,” especially money. When applied to people it means to change a relationship from hostility to friendship.
The attempt to build the Tower of Babel was a vivid illustration of the power of unity (Gen. 11:1-9). The people desired to build a tall tower as a monument to their greatness. They were unanimous in their opposition to God’s will. God stopped them by giving them different languages, so they couldn’t understand each other. Once they were unable to communicate, they were unable to build. The barriers between them were their different languages. Likewise, if we cannot communicate we cannot build anything together. We cannot build a marriage, a family, a business, a community, or a church if we cannot communicate.
To ensure harmony we must keep the doors of communication open. Each of us must make it a priority to stay in harmony with God and with each other. But, how can we maintain these relationships?
The Bible teaches that there is a process for dealing with the barriers that hinder our peace. This requires effort, and there is a cost involved; but we are encouraged to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). The process involves recognizing barriers to peace, destroying them and being reconciled via confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Confession is acknowledging our role in allowing the barrier to develop and being genuinely sorry for this. It reveals a change of heart and a willingness to destroy the barrier. Repentance is changed behavior; living as though the barrier has been destroyed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier down. Although barriers may be caused by either or both of the parties involved, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. As it takes two to form a relationship, two are required to heal and restore a broken one.
We all want an inner peace. The Bible teaches that this is not possible until we have peace with God and with others.
Peace With God
One reason why there is so much difficulty in achieving peace on earth is that we are not at peace with our Maker. Our sinful thoughts and behavior have separated us from God. Sin is the barrier that keeps us from having any lasting peace. We cannot have peace until we are right with God.
God says, “There is no peace … for the wicked,” and by His standards we are all wicked (Isa. 57:21). When Christ was born the angels said “peace on earth,” so God has provided a way to peace (Lk. 2:14). Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by suffering the punishment for our sin. So, we can have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” because Christ made peace through His sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:19-22). This is possible by confession, admitting our sins to Him, and believing that He will forgive us and give us peace through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). Our change of heart is evident by repentance – a change in our attitude and behavior (Acts 2:36-38).
For example, after his conversion, the Philippian jailer washed his prisoners’ wounds and invited them into his house for a meal (Acts 16:33-34). In this case the barrier was caused by humans, who were God’s enemies due to their evil behavior (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21). Only one party, God, was able to destroy the barrier and offer reconciliation to humanity (2 Cor. 5:18-19). As it takes the agreement of both parties to have peace, reconciliation only occurs when people recognize the barrier and accept God’s generous offer (2 Cor. 5:20).
“Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, 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. The barrier has been destroyed!
He wants to make peace with us. He wants us to be reconciled to Him. Jesus sacrificed His life and paid the full penalty for our sins, so we could experience peace both now and forever. God is the greatest peacemaker of all, as He plans to make peace with everything in the visible and the invisible world (Col. 1:20). The price was the horrible execution of His Son in the greatest injustice ever committed.
Peace With Others
Peace with other people is often referred to as “unity” – and it is wonderful and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). We are commanded to live at peace and in harmony with each other (Mk. 9:50; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 7:15).
We are to try to live at peace with everyone: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). There are no qualifications to this statement, which is consistent with the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
The illustration of the barrier to peace comes from Paul’s description of the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). They were enemies who lived in separate worlds, just as Adam and Eve were separated from the presence of God. We still see this today, as national and cultural animosity occurs across the world.
Paul claimed that Christ destroyed the barrier and enabled unity between the Jews and the Gentiles. As believers they could be “fellow citizens” and “members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:14-19). This demonstrates how peace with God should lead to peace with each other.
So, the Jewish and Gentile believers were reconciled completely, with all hostility removed and no impediment to unity and peace. Likewise, Paul urged the Corinthians to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). He states clearly that there should be unity, not divisions, in the Church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-23).
It is particularly important to make every effort to maintain peace and unity among Christians (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3). After all, He died to bring together all of God’s scattered people and make them one (Jn. 11:51-52). Unity among believers was so important to Jesus that it was the subject of His prayer for them during the final hours of His life on earth: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:20-23).
The Greek word for “one” appears four times in these verses, the last occasion being translated as “complete unity.” Here “one” is a metaphor for union, concord, and unity and the example to follow is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son. The same word was used when Christ said “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).
The reason for this unity is repeated in the above verses: so the people of this world will know that Christ was sent by God. Another reason is so they may know something of God’s great love for humanity. This means that Christ tied His reputation and the credibility of His message to how well His followers display unity and oneness.
Peace and unity among believers are so important that Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation with a believer even ahead of worship: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). This means that the peace process – of destroying barriers and seeking reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness – should be applied regularly to maintain our relationships with others.
Peace With Self
Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, order, rest and security. Although nearly everyone longs for this kind of peace, it eludes many. If you want to experience internal peace, you must seek harmonious relationships with God and with those around you.
Christians can experience peace within: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Although sin hinders our peace, God has provided a way to destroy this barrier: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). After confession and repentance we experience God’s forgiveness that removes guilt and restores peace. In this way, we should regularly apply the peace process to ourselves in order to ensure peace and communication with God on a daily basis.
Inner peace and security is a gift of God to those who believe in His Son and obey His commands, including loving one another (1 Jn. 3:21-24). It is a result of right living: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:6).
Those who have not come to trust in Christ do not know what true peace is (Rom. 3:17). They oppose Christianity; there is division instead of unity, war instead of peace, and hate instead of love (Mt. 10:34-36; Lk. 12:51-53; 1 Jn. 3:12-13). In this sense the gospel divides people according to whether they accept it or not (Acts 14:4). God wants peace, reconciliation and unity in our world; not conflict, separation and division. Peace is the result of reconciliation and unity. Do you have peace with those around you? Do you have peace with God?
Published, November 1999
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