Conflict Resolution

Introduction

Matthew 18:15 (NKJV) -- {15} “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.

I recommend that you read Matthew 18:15-35 for the complete context of this discussion.

What do you do when you are in conflict with someone?  I am referring to the type of conflict where someone offends you or you offend the other person or even if there is some type of animosity or ill feelings between you and someone else.  I am not referring to conflicts such as assault or physical in general.  That is another discussion altogether.

We humans have an interesting way of dealing with conflict.  We tend to pull away from the conflict and fueling that conflict in the process.   We tend not to pursue resolution from the outset of a conflict.  For example, someone stops talking to another person because he or she is upset with that person.  Let’s say that John slams the door, mumbles and gossips about Susan, or becomes rude and belligerent against Susan because he was offended or didn’t like something that Susan did.  John then begins to fuel a grudge, which could result in any number of unpleasant activities. 

Matthew 5:23-26 (NKJV) -- {23} Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. {26} Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

This is the typical scenario for conflict.  We don’t resolve, but instead we fuel it.  Some would even say that we like to be angry and have a grudge.

Is this the Christian way?  Should those who claim to follow Christ practice a lifestyle of malice and grudges and unforgiveness?  We are going to discuss the Christian lifestyle in regards to conflict resolution.

Dealing With Conflict

Matthew 18:15 (NKJV) -- {15} “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.

We could continue this discussion with the single verse of Scripture because it summarizes all that is of the Christian lifestyle in regards to conflicts of this sort.  Let me lists the vital components of conflict resolution from the Christian perspective.

  1. Seek to resolve the conflict – Go to him or her
  2. Communicate – Tell him or her the fault alone
  3. The objective is to restore the relationship

Appearances

Many times we fail at the first step.  We do not seek to resolve the conflict.  Instead we seek to defend our honor or to save face so to speak.  We are more concerned about how we “look” then the main issue at hand, which is to restore the relationship.  Now of course if there is no relationship then I would say that it is quite silly to become upset in the first place.  For example let’s say that a stranger called you dumb.  The stranger doesn’t know you so how could their statement affect you in any way unless you are merely concerned with appearances, namely how you are perceived by others who are near when the statement was made.

Now unfortunately the above scenario is common.  We are concerned with appearances.  We are concerned with what others think about us even strangers and even if their thoughts have no bearing whatsoever on our lives.  Why?  Call it human nature I suppose.  However, we do not have to operate that way.  We do not have to live a superficial lifestyle.  So I suppose the first step would be to get ourselves away from living the illusions that we are accustomed to.  What I mean by that is that we should transform ourselves to living the truth and with meaning instead of with mere appearances.  If we don’t do that then the underlying principle of conflict resolution would be difficult if not impossible to embrace and therefore the conflict would remain.

Let’s not embrace the illusion, namely the appearances of things.  Let’s instead seek the truth so that we could resolve the conflict in a mature and Christian way.  Even children don’t hold grudges.  We learn to be superficial as we get older.  We can’t even say that holding a grudge or not speaking to someone is childish, because children don’t do that.  So again, the key here is to seek the truth and not be governed by appearances.

Seek Resolution

Matthew 18:15–17 (NKJV) — 15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Jesus said, “Go.”  Take the first step to resolve the conflict.  Seek to resolve the conflict because more than likely it will not resolve itself.  As a matter of fact if we do nothing to resolve the conflict then it will probably escalate into much more than a simple conflict.  These things sometimes grow until someone is murdered our hurt in some manner.  Sometimes we could avoid court proceedings if we were to resolve things ourselves.  Consider again what Jesus Christ said.

Matthew 5:23-25 (NKJV) -- {23} Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

Sometimes a conflict that is left alone escalates to various activities by one or both parties.  It could result in someone being sued, murder, theft, malicious acts, assault, or other forms of retaliation.  All of these happen sometimes because conflict resolution was not pursued.  So the first thing we need to do after we have given up the idea of saving face at all cost is to first seek to resolve the conflict.

Communicate

Jesus said, “go.”  Go to the other person to resolve the conflict.  Go to the other person to tell him the fault.  Don’t let things get out of control for lack of communication.  At the very least let the other person know that there is something wrong.  However, we tend to keep things to ourselves and pull away from resolution instead of going towards it as we discussed previously.  That very act negates communications and stunts the process of conflict resolution.

There are so many times that people are at odds with each other because they did not communicate.  Many times the conflict is a result of a misunderstanding, but this could never be discovered if the two parties do not communicate with each other.

A great example of this is marriage.  As a matter of fact I would say that marriage is a good example for relationship principles.  One thing that will significantly help a marriage progress favorably is communications.  The husband communicates with the wife and the wife communicates with the husband.  This means that the two must talk to each other objectively.  Too often we allow emotions to get in the way of effective communications.  Either we speak from an emotional disposition or we respond emotionally.  Neither one is not conducive to conflict resolution; though understanding the affect something has emotionally on someone will help to understand the conflict sometimes.

We should learn to discuss the things that are meaningful to us and those things that affect us when we are offended or when conflict arises.  We should be willing and ready to communicate with others in an objective manner with the goal of resolving the conflict.  So go to the other person and communicate the issue with him or her.  Remember that the goal is to resolve the conflict even if the conflict is only on your side.

Steps To Resolution

Jesus gives us a process that we could follow when resolving conflicts. 

  1. Go to the person privately
  2. Go the person with witnesses to establish what is said
  3. Go to the church
  4. Remain separated

Private Meeting:  At the very least you should tell the person that offended you that he or she offended you.  It is possible that the offender may not know that you were offended due to a different cultural background or the like.  Don’t get angry at the person and stop speaking to him.  That is the worse thing that we could do for conflict resolution, but unfortunately it is commonly the course of action that is taken.  We should go to the person and inform him or her that we were offended by something that he or she did.  Remember that the objective is to restore the relationship.

Witnesses:  The offended should take at least one or two witnesses to establish his testimony if the offender refuses to listen after a private meeting.  The Old Testament similarly required two witnesses to establish a testimony (See Deuteronomy 19:15).  Note that this is only to establish the testimony and not to “gang up” on the offender.  You are not bringing these witnesses to make your point clear or to prove that you are right.  They are only there as witnesses to the attempt to resolve the conflict and to confirm the statements of the offended

Take it to the Church:  If the offender still would not listen even with witnesses then the matter was to be taken to the church.  The word church at this time should be understood to be the Jewish “assembly” since the New Testament church did not exist at this time.  Later this would have had a special meaning to the disciples as the church was established.

Reckon Separated:  If the offender would not listen to the church (assembly) then he should be treated as a heathen or tax collector, i.e., an outsider.  The offending brother in this case has effectively chosen to be an outsider because he refuses to hear the testimony of the offended.  He refuses to consider his own sin against the offended.  Therefore, he has chosen to be an outsider because he obviously is not interested in maintaining the fellowship.

I should point out here how Jesus treated heathens and tax collectors.  For one thing, Matthew was a tax collector and Jesus called him to be His disciple.  Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus embraced them and ministered to them.  I really do not believe that Jesus was suggesting that we should abandon those that we cannot resolve conflicts with.  They chose to remain in conflict so we have to consider them an outsider.

Another thing that you must remember is that Jesus was talking about family matters so to speak.  We could now understand this to be Christians.  Therefore, Jesus gives us instruction that we could apply to conflicts between Christians though at the time Jesus taught this it could be between brethren (Jews or perhaps between disciples).

Excommunication:  This is not to be considered as a means to condone excommunication as some pastors believe.  It is true that someone may cause so much trouble that he or she may be asked to leave the fellowship.  However, Jesus is not referring to excommunication at all in this case.  Jesus’ discussion here is about personal offenses not issues involving a church congregation.  It is unfortunate that pastors think that they have some exclusive power to excommunicate people from the congregation.  I’ve also seen this “power” abused to eliminate someone that appears to be a threat to the pastor or who is not a “yes” man to the pastor.

We see here a process that we could follow to resolve conflicts between Christians.  In this case we are referring to personal offenses.  Go to the person and communicate to them that you were offended.  If he doesn’t want to hear it then you may want to take one or two witnesses to establish your claims and to be a witness to your attempt to resolve the issue.  If he still doesn’t want to hear you then take it to the “church.”  Treat him as a heathen or tax collector (outsider) if he still doesn’t want to hear the church.

I should point out that the objective here is to gain your brother (see verse 15).  Your objective is not necessarily to prove your point.  Your goal is to restore the relationship, i.e., bring peace where there is conflict.

Forgiveness

Another very important aspect of conflict resolution is forgiveness.  As a matter of fact, I would say that forgiveness is the ultimate conflict resolution.  Forgiveness diffuses the conflict from one side.  Many conflicts could be eradicated if we practiced more forgiveness.  Consider the following scripture.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) -- {21} Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus basically said that there is no limit to forgiveness.  We are always to forgive.  Forgiveness is beneficial to us as well as the other person.  Forgiveness should be the lifestyle of Christians.  Think about it for a moment.  Without forgiveness you could not be a Christian because one of the defining elements of a Christian is that he or she has been forgiven of their sins.  Without this forgiveness we could not be reconciled to God and we would have to die for our own sins.  However, because of the forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God and we have eternal life.  Therefore, we should life that same principle of forgiveness to others.  It’s only the right thing to do.

Jesus goes on to give a parable about forgiveness.  Read Matthew 18:23-35.  We should always forgive.  God will hold us accountable if we do not forgive.  Consider the fact that He forgave all of your sins so you should live the same lifestyle of forgiveness.

Advanced Conflict Resolution

There was a movie that I watched several years ago called the Karate Kid.  One of the things that the teacher said to the karate student in regards to the best defense against an attack was something like, “Best defense… no be there.”  That is to say that the best defense of an attack is simply not to be there.  What if offense was not there?  What I mean by that is what if you were not offended in the first place?

That is a very interesting question isn’t it?  What if you simply are not offended when someone does something that would normally offend you?  Remember that forgiveness means to release the resentment caused by an offense.  So what if you never resented the person for a particular act in the first place?  Wouldn’t that be power beyond measure?

Many times we do silly things because we want to retaliate so badly.  We have to get even so we do something to manifest that evenness.  However, what if we could have a disposition where it is almost impossible to offend us?  Imagine the power that you would have?

Why remain offended?  Why allow something that someone else did to you bother you so much regardless if the other person meant it or not?  Why not let the matter go?  Why not release the resentment that is associated with the offense.  Better yet, why not allow yourself to not be offended in the first place?  Forgive immediately.  Don’t resent.  Don’t hold a grudge.  Don’t seek to be even.  It’s hard isn’t it?  Imagine driving down the highway and someone cuts you off in a “close call” maneuver.  You want to catch up to him and give him a piece of your mind.  Better yet, you would like to catch up with him and cut him off to show him something.  Why not let him go and pray that God would protect him and those around him on the highway?  Wouldn’t that be grand?  See if you could start living like that?

So in short, advanced conflict resolution is to keep the conflict from occurring.  Don’t allow the conflict to materialize in the first place and then there would be no conflict to resolve.

One last point I’d like to make at this point.  Why do we have to retaliate when we are wronged?  Why do we always have to recover what was lost?  What if we just let it go sometimes and count it as gone?  Consider what Paul said about this.

1 Corinthians 6:7-8 (NKJV) -- {7} Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? {8} No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

The fact that we can seek justice does not mean that we always should.  Sometimes peace may be worth it.

Conclusion

Conflict resolution is very important to us in that we can restore relationships or thart the opportunity of making an enemy.  Go to the person that offended you with the intentions of resolving the offence.  Go beyond that if you are not successful.  Many people will instead hold grudges for years instead of resolving the issue.  What if God did not resolve the issue of offense between us and him, namely sin.  What if God dealt with us according to our sin?  Instead God offers reconciliation and therefore forgiveness.

I hope that you have gained something from this lesson.  Go out and begin to practice conflict resolution and forgiveness.  Resolve those conflicts that you have had for many years now.  Forgive that person that you are holding a grudge against even if it was their fault.  Forgive.  Practice what Jesus taught us and live holy and wholly.  God bless you all.

Remember to eat, drink and digest the word of God.  Know God for yourself.  Amen.

 


Conflict Resolution
By William R. Cunningham
Sunday May 28, 2006