I hate conflict. I hate strife of any kind. I hate arguments. I wasn’t in the debate club in high school.
When I was in college I didn’t join the protests that followed the Kent State shootings in 1970 (I just gave away hold old I am). But being a pastor for decades brought me into all kinds of conflict. Marriage and family conflicts, conflicts between church members, and even conflicts with other pastors (really? pastors have conflicts?) I have been criticized many times over the years. One couple I had spent hours and hours trying to help wound up leaving our church and telling other pastors in town I was a Satanic high priest. Another man who I’d spent lots of time trying to help contacted the association we were a part of and asked them to remove me from my position.
Anyway, I don’t like conflict. Don’t enjoy it. Some people seem to thrive in it. But I don’t.
All of us will be involved in conflicts and disagreements. Heck, Paul and Peter had a conflict about whether Jews should eat with Gentiles. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit told the church in Antioch that he had set apart Paul and Barnabas for work to which he had called them, yet in Acts 15, these two had a “sharp disagreement” and went their separate ways.
As much as I dislike conflict, over the years God has taught me that conflict, as uncomfortable as it can be, provides many opportunities for us to grow. Here are 10:
1. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to be quick to listen, and to restrain our impulse to react quickly or in anger
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
So often, when someone disagrees with us, criticizes us or corrects us about something our first reaction can be to interrupt them, or come back with a retort. Our first impulse can be get angry at them. But James says we should be quick to hear – to listen. Really listen. Oh we can “listen” and not hear someone at all. We can “listen” the whole while writing them off. But James says we should be quick to REALLY listen. To try to understand what they are saying. They might actually be right.
We need to remember we all have blind spots, things about ourselves we can’t see. So when someone criticizes us, we should think, “I really need to listen to this. They might really have something to tell me I need to see, even though I don’t see it now.”
Conflict gives us the opportunity to not respond in anger. Man, do we need God’s grace not to get angry when we feel unjustly criticized. And anger won’t change someone’s mind anyway.
2. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to humble ourselves
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
When we humble ourselves and listen to others, God gives us grace and wisdom. God doesn’t give grace to the proud and defensive, but to the humble who listen. I have often found that when I have listened to others’ corrections for me they have really helped me. God has used others many times to give me his grace.
3. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to forgive others
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
When someone slanders us or pours out their bitterness upon us, we don’t feel like forgiving them. We FEEL like putting them down, or hurting them somehow. But God tells us when others are unkind to us we should be kind to them and even tenderhearted toward them. We can only do this by God’s grace. Remember Jesus’ example to us, who from the cross cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
4. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to receive correction from others
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds. Psalm 141:5
Someone who is a true friend will speak the truth to us. Will strike us in love, will wound us because he really cares about us. Being struck or wounded doesn’t feel good. I hate it. But I have to remind myself they are doing it because they love me and in the end it will really help me. I have to remind myself that I need to be corrected by others because I can’t see myself perfectly.
5. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to bear with and be patient with others
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, Ephesians 4:2
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
I have a friend who says that church would be perfect if not for the people. Churches are messy and God puts all of us flawed people together. Conflict is inevitable in church. So God tells us we need to bear with one another in love. Conflict gives us the opportunity to bear with others, and gives them the opportunity to bear with us.
6. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to trust God to speak to others, and change their hearts
the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…2 Timothy 2:24-25
You and I cannot open anyone’s eyes. Only God can. We think we can if we just keep arguing and presenting our side. After all, we can see it so clearly. We need to trust God to help people see things. We can share things with people, but we need not try to persuade them with anger. We can simply lay out our case and appeal to them, but then we have to trust God to help them see in his timing, if he really wants them to see. Of course we should pray and ask God to open their eyes and change their hearts.
7. Conflict provides us the opportunity to pursue reconciliation
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14.19
So often when we have had disagreements with others, we just want to walk away and have nothing to do with them. We can think, “Well that’s their problem.” Not an option. For many years I failed to go to people who had “something against me,” but in the last few years I have gone to a number of people to seek reconciliation and they have graciously forgiven me.
8. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to examine our own hearts
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2
What causes conflicts among us? Much of the time it is because we “desire and do not have”, we “covet and cannot obtain” so we “fight and quarrel.” In other words, we want something and can’t get it, so we get angry, fight and have conflicts. So the next time you are feeling angry at someone, examine your heart and ask yourself, “What is it that I am not getting here?” Remember, no one else can make you angry. It comes out of your own heart when you don’t get what you want. Conflict gives us the opportunity to see what it is we want and aren’t getting.
9. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to be like Christ
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2.21-23
If Jesus, the King of the universe was reviled and did not revile back, then by his grace we can imitate him. When we are criticized or “reviled” in any way, we can seek God’s grace to act like Jesus and keep entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly.
10. Conflict provides us with the opportunity to lovingly and graciously disagree at times
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:24-25
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2
The Bible doesn’t tell us that we need to be silent at all times, to never respond to criticism or not speak up for the truth. But God tells us that after we have been slow to speak we can respond and even correct our opponents with gentleness and perfect courtesy. This especially applies to how respond to unbelievers.
So as much as we would want to avoid conflict, it is inevitable that we will experience it. Next time you do, take advantage of the opportunities it provides.