Working Through Conflict, Part 2
In part one of the series Working Through Conflict, we examined what it means to work toward biblical peace in relationships. In part two, we're going deeper into the biblical call for integrating healthy conflict as a normal way of life. In his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp puts it this way:
“Confrontation is meant to be more of a lifestyle than an unusual event. Confrontation is difficult when it is not a normal part of our experience. Sometimes it is so rare that we lack the necessary understanding, expectations and skills…But from the Bible’s perspective, a good relationship always grows in its ability to recognize, confront and deal with the truth. Each time we speak the truth, we grow in our understanding of our calling and our skill in carrying it out” (Instruments, 204).
Here are some things to remember about living out this kind of peace and truth:
- If I say that Jesus is my savior and king, I’m saying yes to speaking truth in love.
- The world’s perception of God’s Word and His son are tied to the observed level of unity among believers (Titus 2, John 17).
- It’s loving to encourage and correct (Psalm 23, Hebrews 12).
“The truth is that we fail to confront, not because we love others too much, but because we love ourselves too much. We fear others misunderstanding us or being angry with us. We are afraid of what others will think. We don’t want to endure the hardships of honesty because we love ourselves more than we love our neighbors” (Instruments, 202).
- Identity in Christ. As a disciple of Jesus, you are chosen, accepted and loved. Your value isn’t based on how someone reacts when you are willing to bring up hard things. Their reaction doesn’t define you or your worth. Jesus does.
- Jesus is enough. You can trust Him with each situation and person. He goes with you and helps. You are not alone.
Unsure whether or not conflict resolution is needed? Consider the factors in the large green box:
- Is this a one-time thing? Healthy relationships require even small things to be forgiven—not minimized or justified. Small things are great opportunities to grow in working through conflict.
- Is it a repeated concern? If this is how they treat you, it's likely they treat others in the same way.
- Are they a Christian? Non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit to help them fight sin. It’s more important to point them to Jesus than to try to modify their behavior.
- Would healthy conflict help this Christian look more like Jesus? Hebrews 12 says these hard conversations can help lead to holiness. Follow Matthew 18 by initially going directly to the person, not triangulating by involving someone else you perceive to be braver or stronger.
- Am I making assumptions about character and motives? Deal with facts, not interpretations. Our emotions tend to blur the facts as we re-live the story in our minds. It might feel like the person doesn’t love you, doesn’t care or was intentionally hurtful, but it doesn’t always mean that is actually what happened. Instead of filling in the gaps, ask simple, clarifying questions.
- Do they have ears to hear? Ask the Lord, “Is now the time to have the conversation?” If the person is a friend or in your family, small group or church community, the likelihood of the answer being yes increases.
“The most important encounter in confrontation is not the person’s encounter with you, but with Christ. Rebuke does not force a person to face your judgment; it gives [them] an opportunity to do business with God. It is motivated by a desire for the person to receive the grace of conviction, confession, forgiveness and repentance—to experience the grace we also have received. ... It is not motivated by punishment but by the hope that the Lord would free this person from the prison of [their] own sin to know the freedom of walking in fellowship with him“ (Instruments, 208-209).
It's worth asking if your motivation is to put someone in their place or to vent, blame or defend yourself. If so, go back to the first column. The “plank” must first come out of your eye so that how and why you move forward opens the way for growth and peace (see Matthew 7). Make your desire to be for you and others to move toward God, not for you to get your way or win an argument.
The Bible is full of commands that call followers of Jesus to speak the truth in love (Colossians 1:28–29, Colossians 3:15–16, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25, Hebrews 3:12–13). Sin is deceptive. We don’t always see our selfishness even when it’s obvious to others. Encouraging each other with truth holds up the mirror of God’s Word so that fellow believers may experience fresh application of God’s grace.
Though it’s clear in God's word, very few people live out these principles of healthy communication. It’s more common to stew privately or talk about it with someone else. There are appropriate times to discuss relational challenges with a third party, but not as an initial step. Always talk to God about it first, then go directly to the person as He leads.
What if you've communicated a preference with someone and they don't change their behavior? Keep in mind that, even if they listened and love you, they don't have to do what you say. However, if their refusal is a sin or character issue, that is different. Give the person a little time to think about your conversation and then follow up. If they don't repent, follow the principles in Matthew 18. Notice that this passage doesn’t say to send someone else to have the conversation for you. Instead, invite someone to go with you. Then, and only then, if the other person refuses to repent of sin, you move toward a conversation with leadership and church discipline.
“Confronting people should not only confront them with failure and sin, it should also confront them with the gospel. We cannot forget this! We need to remind people of their identity in Christ "(Instruments, 213). (See 2 Peter 1:3–9, 1 John 3:1–3.)
So how do we move toward reconciliation (the third column)? Start by remembering that you forgive those who sin against you because God forgives you. Then, keep in mind that you can speak truth, but you can’t change someone’s heart or cause them to repent. Repentance is needed for reconciliation. Reconciliation takes both parties.
It’s ideal when someone hears you, sees their sin and repents. In that case, thank Jesus and move forward together (yellow boxes). However, it’s possible the person won’t believe they are wrong (green boxes). That’s when you clarify what they heard you say. Did they say or do something that God commands us not to? Did they demonstrate a characteristic not consistent with Him? That’s when you gently hold up God’s Word and ask if they see themselves in the text. Pray that the Spirit helps them see and don't assume they know what God’s Word says.
The orange boxes in the chart are for when the person says they are sorry but continues a pattern of sin. Matthew 18:21–22 reminds us to forgive again and again and again. Forgive and clarify by asking, “What are you sorry for?”
A friend of mine continually broke his word for more than two years. I responded by forgiving, speaking the truth in love and re-entering the friendship repeatedly once he said he was sorry. Eventually, I asked what he was sorry for and he replied, “that I hurt you.” He didn't acknowledge he did anything wrong nor did he change. Much later, I recognized my lack of wisdom had enabled his continual deception by staying in the friendship.
Since then, I’ve learned the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It's possible to genuinely forgive someone, but justly choose to not continue the friendship after prayer and wise counsel when, despite addressing it biblically, a person won’t repent of sin. While this becomes more complicated in marriage and family relationships, biblical passages like Proverbs 26:4–5 help us grow as we realize there is no cookie-cutter template for reconciliation. There are, however, some unchanging truths (Romans 12:18, Matthew 19:3-9).
Remember that we ultimately want the person to move toward Jesus. That may require a shift in your relationship if they refuse to change. This is certainly true where abuse or trauma impacts your emotional or physical safety. Every situation is unique and requires prayer and yielding to the wisdom of God’s Word.
I hope this provides a good start as you eagerly work to maintain unity within the bond of peace. In any given situation, you may have to start the flow chart process over and over again—that’s ok. We are all people in need of change and are called to point one another to Jesus in the process of forgiving, speaking the truth in love and reconciliation.
You're welcome to reach out to me to talk through your questions or consider how Care Ministries or outside assistance could be helpful.
- Download the Conflict Flow Chart.
- Read Working Through Conflict, Part 1.
- Download Practical Tips on Speaking the Truth in Love.
- Listen to part 2 of Andrea's message on conflict.
Andrea Tyson is Women's Ministries Director at New Hope Church. She loves to invest in women who are investing in others as we continue to develop a culture of walking toward Jesus and taking others with us.