Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 | CSB
Conflict in the body of Christ, like any organization with people, is inevitable. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit, and we have God's Word to guide us.
We present this material in Exploring Emmanuel, our New Members' Class, to train and prepare our members to shepherd one another through conflict in a way that honors Jesus Christ. Sadly, we don't always remember, and need to be reminded. That is human nature. We all need a reminder that there is help, and there is a process, and we all need people to guide us in the way. This information is made available to help us to be reminded.
All materials below are adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. By Ken Sande
Much of the conflict that churches experience today arises because they have not clearly established and communicated how they will govern their affairs and relate to one another. As a result, there can be significant confusion and disagreement among both leaders and members over how a church will function and act. When members' expectations are not met and they are treated differently than they wish or expect, they can become deeply offended. When people disagree or are sinned against by a fellow church member, they often simply tell other people how they were wronged, but do not attempt to restore their relationship with their brother or sister in Christ. The principles below are intended to help avoid such situations.
"As people reconciled to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that we are called to respond to conflict in a way that is remarkably different from the way the world deals with conflict.1 We also believe that conflict provides opportunities to glorify God, serve other people, and grow to be like Christ.2 Therefore, in response to God's love and in reliance on his grace, we commit ourselves to respond to conflict according to the following principles:”
Glorify God — Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise by depending on his forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love, as we seek to faithfully obey his commands and maintain a loving, merciful, and attitude.
Get the Log out of Your Eye — Instead of blaming others for a conflict or resisting correction, we will trust in God's mercy and take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts— confessing our sins to those we have wronged, asking God to help us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict, and seeking to repair any harm we have caused.
Gently Restore — Instead of pretending that conflict doesn't exist or talking about others behind their backs, we will overlook minor offenses or we will talk personally and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook, seeking to restore them rather than condemn them. When a conflict with a Christian brother or sister cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to help us settle the matter in a biblical manner.
Go and be reconciled — Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation—forgiving others as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences.
By God's grace, we will apply these principles as a matter of stewardship, realizing that conflict is an assignment, not an accident. We will remember that success in God's eyes is not a matter of specific results, but of faithful, dependent obedience. And we will pray that our service as peacemakers will bring praise to our Lord and lead others to know His infinite love.
1 Matt. 5:9; Luke 6:27-36; Gal. 5:19-26. 2 Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1; James 1:2-4. 3 Ps. 37:1-6; Mark 11:25; John 14:15; Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Cor. 10:31; Phil. 4:2-9; Col. 3:1-4; James 3:17-18; 4:1-3; 1 Peter 2:12. 4 Prov. 28:13; Matt. 7:3-5; Luke 19:8; Col. 3:5-14; 1 John 1:8-9. 5 Prov. 19:11; Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:29; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; James 5:9. 6 Matt. 5:23-24; 6:12; 7:12; Eph. 4:1-3, 32; Phil. 2:3-4. 7 Matt. 25:14-21; John 13:34-35; Rom. 12:18; 1 Peter 2:19; 4:19.
Get the log out of your own eye
As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: "I'm sorry if I hurt you." "Let's just forget the past." "I suppose I could have done a better job." "I guess it's not all your fault." These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A's:
1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
7. Ask for forgiveness (See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.)
Go and show your brother his fault
Overlook minor offenses
Before rushing off to confront someone, remember that it is appropriate to overlook some offenses. An offense can be overlooked if you can answer all of the following questions with “no.”
- Is the offense seriously dishonoring God?
- Has it permanently damaged a relationship?
- Is it seriously hurting other people?
- Is it seriously hurting the offender himself?
He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.
A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
Talk in private
If the offense cannot be overlooked you must go and talk to the offender privately (Matt.18:15).
Make sure you remember the following:
- Pray for humility and wisdom (1 Pet. 5:5)
- Plan your words carefully (Prov. 15:1-2)
- Anticipate likely reactions (Prov. 20:18)
- Choose the right time and place (avoid phone calls and never use text messages)
- Assume the best about the other person (Prov.18:17)
- Listen carefully (Prov. 18:13)
He who gives and answer before he hears, it is a folly and shame to him.
- Proverbs 18:13
Take others along
If an initial conversation does not resolve a conflict, do not give up. Review what was said and done, and look for ways to approach the other person more effectively. Try again with even stronger prayer support. If you have done all you can and the matter is still unchanged, you should ask one or two other people to meet with you and the person you have approached to help you resolve your differences (Matt.18:16-20).
Take it to the church
If the matter still cannot be settled, the only solution left is to expand the circle of accountability to include an even wider community within the Body of Christ. It is important to see the matter through without short-circuiting the biblical process. Where conflict persists, it is the task of the wider community of faith to speak boldly into the matter and where necessary separate itself from the hard hearts that refuse to deal with matters “too serious to overlook,” (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-2).
Forgive and Restore the Repentant
Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him. This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us: We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about the wrongs, and not punish others for them. Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises (2 Cor. 2:5-11; Matt. 6:14-15):
"I will not dwell on this incident."
"I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you."
"I will not talk to others about this incident."
"I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship."
By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly God does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others.
Even when you manage to resolve personal offenses through confession and forgiveness, you may still need to deal with substantive issues which may involve money, property, or the exercise of certain rights. These issues should not be swept under the carpet or automatically passed to a higher authority. Instead, they should be negotiated in a biblically faithful manner.
As a general rule, you should try to negotiate substantive issues in a cooperative manner rather than a competitive manner. In other words, instead of aggressively pursuing your own interests and letting others look out for themselves, you should deliberately look for solutions that are beneficial to everyone involved.
As the Apostle Paul put it, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4; see Matt. 22:39; 1 Cor. 13:5; Matt. 7:12).
A biblical approach to negotiation may be summarized in five basic steps, which we refer to as the PAUSE Principle:
- Prepare (pray, get the facts, seek godly counsel, develop options)
- Affirm relationships (show genuine concern and respect for others)
- Understand interests (identify others' concerns, desires, needs, limitations, or fears)
- Search for creative solutions (prayerful brainstorming)
- Evaluate options objectively and reasonably (evaluate, don't argue)
Be Prepared for Unreasonable People
Whenever you are responding to conflict, you need to realize that other people may harden their hearts and refuse to be reconciled to you.
There are two ways you can prepare for this possibility:
First, remember that God does not measure success in terms of results but in terms of faithful obedience. He knows that you cannot force other people to act in a certain way. Therefore he will not hold you responsible for their actions or for the ultimate outcome of a conflict. All God expects of you is to obey his revealed will as faithfully as possible (see Rom. 12:18). If you do that, no matter how the conflict turns out, you can walk away with a clear conscience before God, knowing that his appraisal is, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Second, resolve that you will not give up on finding a biblical solution. If a dispute is not easily resolved, you may be tempted to say, "Well, I tried all the biblical principles I know, and they just didn't work. It looks like I'll have to handle this another way (meaning, 'the world's way')." A Christian should never close the Bible. When you try to resolve a conflict but do not see the results you desire, you should seek God even more earnestly through prayer, the study of his Word, and the counsel of his church. As you do so, it is essential to keep your focus on Christ and all that he has already done for you (see Col. 3:1-4). It is also helpful to follow five principles for overcoming evil, which are described in Romans 12:14-21:
- Control your tongue ("Bless those who curse you;" see also Eph. 4:29)
- Seek godly advisors (identify with others and do not become isolated; Proverbs 11:14)
- Keep doing what is right (see 1 Pet. 2;12, 15; 3:15b-16)
- Recognize your limits (instead of retaliating, stay within proper biblical channels)
- Use the ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (see also John 3:16; Luke 6:27-31)
*At the very least, these steps will protect you from being consumed by the acid of your own bitterness and resentment if others continue to oppose you. And in some cases, God may eventually use such actions to bring another person to repentance (see 1 Sam. 24:1-22).*
Get Help from Above
None of us can make complete and lasting peace with others in our own strength. We must have help from God. But before we can receive that help, we need to be at peace with God himself. Peace with God does not come automatically, because all of us have sinned and alienated ourselves from him (see Isa. 59:1–2). Instead of living the perfect lives needed to enjoy fellowship with him, each of us has a record stained with sin (see Matt. 5:48; Rom. 3:23).
As a result, we deserve to be eternally separated from God (Rom. 6:23a). That is the bad news. The good news is that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Believing in Jesus means more than being baptized, going to church, or trying to be a good person. None of these activities can erase the sins you have already committed and will continue to commit throughout your life. Believing in Jesus means, first of all, admitting that you are a sinner and acknowledging that there is no way you can earn God's approval by your own works (Rom. 3:20; Eph. 2:8–9). Second, it means believing that Jesus paid the full penalty for your sins when he died on the cross (Isa. 53:1–12; 1 Peter 2:24–25). In other words, believing in Jesus means trusting that he exchanged records with you at Calvary—that is, he took your sinful record on himself and paid for it in full, giving you his perfect record.
When you believe in Jesus and receive his perfect record of righteousness, you can really have true peace with God. As you receive this peace, God will give you an increasing ability to make peace with others by following the peacemaking principles he gives us in Scripture, many of which are described above (see Phil. 4:7; Matt. 5:9)
Get Help from the Church
As God helps you to practice his peacemaking principles, you will be able to resolve most of the normal conflicts of daily life on your own. Sometimes, however, you will encounter situations that you do not know how to handle. In such situations, it is appropriate to turn to a spiritually mature person within the church who can give you advice on how you
might be able to apply these principles more effectively.
In most cases, such "coaching" will enable you to go back to the other person in the conflict and work out your differences in private. When individual advice does not enable you to resolve a dispute, you should ask one or two mutually respected friends to meet with you and your opponent to help you settle your difference through mediation or arbitration (see Matt. 18:16-17; 1 Cor. 6:1-8).
- The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande
- The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict by Alfred Poirier
- Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp