Responding to Conflict with One Eye on Jesus

If you’ve never been in conflict with someone, I would venture to say you either A) live alone in a cave, or B) are seriously self-deceived. Whenever two sinful people interact with each other, it’s inevitable that at some point there’s going to be conflict.

For that reason, relationships can be hard.

Well done, good and faithful servant.Even as Christians, we can really struggle to get along with others. Whether that’s our spouse, an extended family member, a neighbor or someone who has been a friend for decades, it can seem like we’re always butting heads with someone.

I’ve been through many relational conflicts over the years. For much of my life, I’ve responded very poorly in those moments.

Defensiveness, self-protection, anger, and unforgiveness were the prevailing responses to conflict, particularly during my years as an unbeliever, before I came to Christ. Yet even today, I have to work to be more intentional about how I choose to respond when I find myself at odds with another person.

I really do want to live out my faith in those moments but, far too often, my gut reaction is to revert to old patterns of defensiveness, self-protection and anger. However, over time I have found that reminding myself of a few key truths really helps me “right” my responses:

  • Whenever I find that my desire to “argue my innocence” supersedes any genuine desire to find the source of the conflict and (key point) own whatever part might be mine, I am acting out of my old sinful patterns and adding to the problem, rather than solving it.
  • Whenever I find myself unwilling to do the right thing because of another person’s anticipated response, I’ve become part of the problem: “I’m not going to confront Aunt Sue on her gossiping, because she always denies that she’s doing that” is, seen rightly, an example of my own pride and arrogance. Who do I imagine I am, thinking I know more about how the situation is going to go than anyone else?
  • Whenever I find myself talking to others about the problem, but not addressing it with the person I’m in conflict with, I am again adding my own sin to the problem by avoiding speaking truth and (usually) gossiping.
  • When I find myself holding on to bitterness and resentment, I am not forgiving the other person for whatever it is they’ve done or said. And again, lurking behind this is more prideful thinking that sounds something like “I deserve better” or “I would never have said/done that.”

Most of the time, I find it’s pride that keeps us from living out Christ’s call on our lives.

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when we are wronged (Matthew 5:39), and to bless those who wrong us, even praying for them (Luke 6:28). The Apostle Paul tells us not to return evil for evil, but to continue to treat others better than ourselves (Romans 12:17-21). The wisdom of Solomon, found in Proverbs, tells us that it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11). Jesus also promises us that if we live for Him, we will be dishonored, persecuted, treated poorly sometimes (John 16:33).

It’s in those moments of relational conflict that we are called not to react out of our own flesh but to respond toward others out of love and to trust that He is at work…in us, in that other person, in the situation in general.

Not returning evil for evil doesn’t mean we can’t speak up if someone is treating us very poorly. Turning the other cheek doesn’t mean we can’t put boundaries in place with people who are destructive. But any and all protective measures must be done in humility, with love, and with an eye toward building God’s Kingdom, not so much protecting our own.

In a moment (or season) of conflict, I tend to forget that when I stand before God, I won’t have the difficult people in my life helpfully standing there on the sidelines so I can point to their egregious behavior. (As if Jesus is going to nod his head in agreement, saying “Oh, yes, I agree…my commandments never took that particular individual into account.”) No, one day I’m going to stand in front of Jesus, by myself, and when He asks me how I did believing His promises – especially as my belief manifested itself with regard to how I conducted myself in my relationships with the other human beings, people that He very intentionally placed in my life – all I want is to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)

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