Religious or secular, we are all bound to experience conflict. Conflicts, in other words, disagreements, occur between individuals due to differences in opinion, background, experience, goals, wants, needs and outcomes of issues. In his letter, James observes that selfishness is one of the causes of conflict (James 4:1-2). As we see with Jacob, conflict can be intrapersonal or interpersonal (Genesis 32:1-8). Due to a conflict with his brother, he divided his people into two groups to save one in case his brother decided to kill him instead of forgiving him. Esau was ready to risk it all instead of communicating productively with his brother. Conflicts have the potential to have either good or bad outcomes depending on how the participants handle themselves through them.
The Nature of Conflict
Natural: Conflict exists naturally in our midst because of our sinfulness. Many would prefer to live without disagreements, but this is only possible if one decides to live in a cave.
Neutral: Conflicts are neutral; they are neither constructive nor destructive. Our response to conflict determines whether it shall be destructive or constructive. During conflict, some people detach entirely, while others get closer. Some take time to heal and think through issues to see how they contributed to the conflict, while others move on quickly.
Normal: Since it’s normal to disagree with people, we need to anticipate conflict when it is brewing. Living with such an expectation reduces the shock that comes with conflict. The sooner we understand the patterns of conflict, we can train ourselves to see our weaknesses and have quality conversations with the people we disagree with.
Conflict in the Bible
The Bible anticipates conflicts and offers counsel for handling issues when they come.
Paul and Barnabas: These two gentlemen disagreed over the issue of John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). He had deserted them in Pamphylia. Thus, Paul sharply disagreed with Barnabas to the point of parting ways. As a result, Barnabas went with John Mark, while Paul went with Silas. However, the conflict lasted only briefly as they later resumed serving God together, as seen in 2 Timothy 4:11 when Paul speaks of John Mark’s usefulness to his ministry.
Esau and Jacob: Jacob had taken Esau’s inheritance through trickery and lies (Genesis 27:20-25). This brought about sibling rivalry, and Jacob ran to Laban, his uncle. When the time came for Jacob to meet with his brother, he was so worried that he might be killed and pleaded for Divine intervention and sent people ahead of him to meet Esau (Genesis 32:6-12). This was right after Jacob had wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32). When they met, they discussed, gave each other gifts, and all said they had enough as God had blessed them (Genesis 33:4-12).
Isaac and the Herdsmen of Gerar: Another conflict was between Isaac and the herdsmen of Gerar. Isaac was digging wells while being frustrated by these men (Genesis 26:19-22). He avoided confrontations with them by moving and digging more wells elsewhere.
Joseph and his brothers: Joseph’s brothers became jealous of him because of his dreams (Genesis 37:5-8). As a result, they decided to sell him after deliberations about killing him (Genesis 37:23-28). Afterwards, in Egypt, many years later, Joseph took his time to prove that his brothers had changed and had mercy on them. He eventually forgave them and saw God as the one behind all their dealings so that he could save the world (Genesis 50:15-21).
Saul and David: David, the man after God’s heart, conflicted with not only the king but his father-in-law. Saul was jealous of David, and knowing that David would inherit the kingdom, he was disturbed and resorted to killing David. However, David, on the other hand, kept forgiving him and never attempted to kill him. Instead, he warned Abishai not to touch the anointed one of God (1 Samuel 26:9).
Solutions to Conflict
Heart posture: Successful conflict resolution begins with the right attitude toward other people and a clear perspective of ourselves. If we cannot see our selfishness, we might not be humble enough to accept other people’s perspectives on issues. The Bible emphasizes that we have the right attitude and attributes critical in handling issues. We are also commanded to put away anger, bitterness, clammer and malice and to be kind and tender-hearted toward each other (Ephesians 4:31-32). In the moment of conflict, we should remember that a soft answer turns away wrath, while harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). Therefore, we need to learn how to confront issues lovingly and to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Forgiveness: The Bible says we should bear with each other forgiving one another as God forgave us in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). The Bible does not want us to be silent when others sin but demands of us to speak out and forgive each other when (Matthew 18:15). It goes further to instruct us on how to handle a brother who doesn’t accept their mistake (Matthew 18:15-17). Failure to accept sin leads to the third mode of mediation.
Find a mediator: A mediator is essential in conflict resolution, especially if two people can’t handle it. For example, Matthew 18:16 alludes to having a third party to help during reconciliation. First, we should introduce one or two witnesses, then come before the church community if the person still hardens their heart and finally consider them non-believers if they insist on defending their sins. Jesus also mediated between God and us (Hebrews 9:15).
Love from a distance: Does failure to agree in conflict mean we can never engage those people again? In this case, we can learn from Paul, who later reunited with John Mark (1Timothy 4:11). No matter how much Saul sought to kill David, David kept his distance to guard his life but also to honour Saul as the anointed one of God (1 Samuel 26:9). To safeguard your emotional, psychological, physical, mental and even spiritual health, there is wisdom in keeping some distance at times for your own good.
From all the above, we can ascertain that disagreements have a beneficial aspect. Even as we respond to conflict, we must seek to honour Christ no matter the circumstance.