Throughout our lives, we are often caught up in a number of conflicts. Stress, deadlines, differing expectations, financial difficulties, relationships, the pressure to succeed – all of these things can lead to a conflict. We end up in conflicts with our spouses, children, family members, friends, co-workers.
Not many people enjoy conflict, as it unleashes raw emotions and can very quickly escalate to hurt feelings, thoughtless words, fighting, yelling, and damaged egos and relationships.
Conflicts often seem to arise because people have different feelings or viewpoints over a particular issue. Ignoring or dismissing another person’s feelings can create a conflict and diminish the other person. People often let their emotions control how they handle conflicts, and want to use their power to help them obtain an advantage, even at the cost of another person’s feelings.
But what is the real source of conflict? The Bible sheds some light on this matter. The apostle James described the source of conflict very well:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-3).
The apostle Paul also addressed this issue. It is our sinful nature that drives us into conflict, even when we desire to do what is right.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)
It is our own sinful and selfish desires that cause us to create conflict with others, and others with us. Whenever we are looking to gain what we want or to protect our ideas or feelings, we are bound to end up in conflict. Thankfully, during his ministry, Jesus provided several instructions on how to interact with others to help prevent conflicts.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:22-24)
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:27-30)
We notice from Jesus’ teaching that following his commands to deal with conflict in a godly way means denying our rights and valuing the other person above ourselves. Our anger and selfish desires, our will to be right or victorious in our conflicts is sin; and we will be subject to judgment because of it.
Instead, Jesus says we are to let go of our rights, humble ourselves, and love the other person selflessly. This can be difficult to achieve on our own, and will often feel contrary to what we want to do, or what we have learned about resolving conflict.
But the Biblical model is not about finding the best alternative to meet the needs of both parties; it’s not about fairness or a trade-off. Jesus is clear that the correct way to handle conflict is to place the other person above yourself, even when that means letting go of what you want.
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)