Everywhere we look we see conflict. Around the world wars rage. Countless countries and organizations strive to intervene at the cost of billions. Even as one war begins to wane, another arises, often in the same location. Conflict seems incurably entrenched everywhere: between countries, between leaders and their citizens, between political parties, between levels of wealth, between racial groups, between generations, between sexes, between ideologies, between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between churches, between schools, and the list goes on and on.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers
for they will be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 (CSB)
As believers, how are we to think about conflict, and what are we to do?
What does it mean if we have conflict? Should we avoid conflict? Is conflict unacceptable for believers?
I have given this some thought over the years as I have watched conflict play out. My conclusion? Conflict is inevitable. As Christians, whether or not we agree is not the point. We are going to disagree. What matters is how we behave toward others. We should behave differently. We should behave in love. How does love look? Most people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 – the “love chapter”. While it is almost always used to talk to couples, it is written by Paul in the context of issues surrounding the church.
1 Corinthians 13(CSB)
1 If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.
Practicing Christian character during conflict requires us to be nice, to not be self-seeking, to not insist on one’s own way. As Christians, we need to seek truth and build bridges so we can find a way forward. We should first seek Jesus, then begin to work on peacemaking. We should strive to prevent disagreements from becoming a war. We need to remember that we cannot transfer our differences in ideas and issues to the way we think about and treat people. We do not oppose the person the way we oppose the position taken. We need to be peacemakers and bridge builders. We must choose carefully any issue over which we are willing to endanger relationships. If you find yourself in conflict, remember what you can or cannot control. You cannot control others. You can only control the way you respond. Our responses and emotions can either escalate the conflict or usher in peace. You can choose peace. You can come alongside others who are in conflict and help them reconcile. You can react in anger or you can react with love and patience. Behaving correctly during conflict is a place Godly character must be lived out.
Are you committed to a life of peacemaking or to stirring up conflict? What action do you need to begin today? Do you need to turn from conflict to peacemaking, or do you need to engage in a peacemaking project?
I confess that I am not always an agent of peace. I have stirred up controversy and conflict when it was unnecessary. I have handled conflict in an unChristian manner. Forgive me and enable me to submit to the working of the Holy Spirit. Make me like You.