Taming the Tension
by Eddie Moody
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men “ (Romans 12:18).
Conflict is everywhere. We observe it in government, at work or school, and even in our churches and homes. Some might hopefully think if they are spiritual enough, they will not have to deal with conflict. Sadly, that is not the case.
Paul implored believers to help his fellow laborers at Philippi who were embroiled in conflict (Philippians 4:3). Paul “withstood Peter to the face” (Galatians 2:11). Disagreement between Paul and Barnabas grew so sharp that they “departed asunder” (Acts 15:39). If these individuals faced conflict, then so will we.
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). As we encounter conflict, we are called to handle it wisely. That wisdom includes some dos and don’ts.
Feed it. Don’t feed conflict. Too often, we feed conflict by repeatedly thinking about what someone has said or done to us. Inevitably, this replaying of the event leads us to contemplate retribution. Instead, God calls us to “cease from anger” and “fret not...to do evil” (Psalm 37:8), refusing to ruminate about the event (2 Corinthians 10:5b).
We can also feed conflict by associating with others who are angry and are likely to see things our way. These people are unlikely to challenge us about our own role in the conflict. Wisdom advises us to “make no friendship with an angry man” lest we learn his ways (Proverbs 22:24-25).
Spread it. Don’t spread conflict. Talking about others only magnifies the damage. The wise and loving approach is to keep the matter in confidence (Proverbs 17:9), lest the conflict spread like wildfire (Proverbs 26:20-21). Ask yourself the following questions:
Is this really worth the anger I feel?
Looking back (perhaps five to ten years from now) will I be glad I pursued this?
Pause and ask, “Does this really matter?” As Paul asked when discussing Christians going to court, ask yourself, “Why do you not rather take wrong?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).
Avoiding conflict sounds positive, yet it can prove dangerous. This was certainly true in the life of King David. David’s failure to address conflict with his son Absalom led to disastrous consequences (2 Samuel 14:28). David’s failure to address the sin of Amnon fueled the conflict with Absalom. David was angry over how Amnon treated Tamar but did not hold Amnon accountable (2 Samuel 3:12). Ask yourself:
What is the likely impact if I avoid dealing with
What advice does Scripture offer for this situation?
Ask God to give you wisdom as you deal with the situation. Pray for the person who has hurt you (Matthew 5:44).
Examine the situation. Examine the conflict from the perspective of the other person. When we only look at one side of an issue we can feel justified in our anger (Proverbs 18:17). Ask yourself:
What is my role in this conflict? (Am I partially responsible? To what extent?)
What advice does Scripture offer for this situation?
If you have been hurt by others’ words, remember people often say things they don’t mean. The writer of Ecclesiastes notes, “Take not heed” about everything that is said about you (Ecclesiastes 7:21). Perhaps the perceived harm should just be ignored. Ask yourself:
Did the person really mean harm by these words?
Am I too sensitive?
Stay calm. Too often we jump to conclusions about what we see and hear. Be slow to attribute harmful motivation to others (Matthew 7:1). Do not give in to sin even when anger is justified (Ephesians 4:26a).
Act sooner rather than later. Do not allow anger the opportunity to grow. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26b) clearly indicates we should address conflict quickly.
Go in person.
If at all possible, address the issue in person. If we suspect someone is angry with us, we might begin, “You don’t seem like yourself….” Or we could ask, “How are things between us?” If we’ve been hurt by someone, we might say, “When you said _________, I felt _________.”
We may learn what was said or done was not meant as it was received. Jesus instructed us to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). The goal is to gain our brother rather than prove our point or win an argument. “If he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Speak lovingly. Pray for a loving disposition when confronting someone over a sin they have committed. We remember our own sins so we might have a spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1b).
Involve others if necessary. Involve others only as a last resort (Matthew 18:16). In other words, enlist the ears and assistance of others when the damage of the wrong goes beyond the impact of one individual. We should involve others when we are incapable of handling the situation ourselves or when failure to address the issue will impact others (an individual, families, the church).
Move on. Address the conflict and move on. We can learn much from the Early Church. Peter did not hold a grudge toward Paul after their conflict. He commended Paul’s letters to others (2 Peter 3:16), and the gospel went forward to the Gentiles. After conflict with Paul, Barnabas took John Mark with him and continued to minister. Years later, Paul neared death and acknowledged John Mark’s usefulness calling him “profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). What is the key here?
The ministry of the gospel must go forward; nothing is more important. We should be willing to put aside differences to focus on reaching our world for Christ. Keeping this goal forefront will help us gain proper perspective for the various conflicts we experience in this world.
About the Writer: Dr. Edward Moody is a North Carolina pastor, author, licensed counselor, and supporter of Women Nationally Active for Christ. WNAC’s June 2012 focus concerns conflict resolution within the church. Realizing the enormity and importance of this issue, WNAC offers a free downloadable Bible study, “Treating Muscle Tension: Resolving Conflict within the Body of Christ,” by Jackie Rasar, available at www.wnac.org.