I can pretty confidently say that I don’t like conflict. Actually, I don’t think most people like conflict. It’s one of those things that I absolutely despise dealing with. Nobody wants to admit that things are in trouble in a particular situation. Likewise, no one wants to confront a brother or sister about a sin that’s destroying their life.
In The Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us the formula for conflict resolution:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17, ESV).
Most people will agree that when we have a problem, this is the formula we should follow to address conflicts and confrontations. But what if we don’t want to follow it? What if we don’t want to deal with a problem, or even admit one exists? What are the consequences of that?
Now, I haven’t been a Christian very long, and I don’t know much—let me just throw that one out there. However, one thing I have learned is that conflict and confrontation are unavoidable in some cases. I have also learned the more we skirt around the issue, the more we sweep it under the rug, the harder the fall and the greater the pain when we finally are forced to deal with the problem.
Too many times in my life I have avoided dealing with things. The end-result was never good. When conflict arises in the congregation, the results can be catastrophic, even lethal, if left unattended and un addressed. Congregations split, people lose faith in God, and people are hurt. It takes years—maybe even decades for a church to recover from these events. Sometimes, however, the congregation never recovers.
The Apostle Paul gives a clue into our responsibility to address conflict and lovingly confront when troubles arise. He writes,
“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Eph. 5:11, NLT).
I can remember my parents telling me that even if I wasn’t involved in something, but I knew it was going on, I was just as guilty as those who got caught. Guilty by association. So conflict has to be dealt with. Confrontations will have to be made. It’s as unavoidable as death and taxes.
How you handle it is what count though. It’s not about jumping out and accusing. Remember, Jesus says,
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).
We have to make sure we’ve dealt with our own inner conflicts, sins, and problems before we can even think about dealing with somebody else’s. You’ve got to also check your motives. Are you confronting out of love or are you confronting to hurt? Are you working towards a solution or are you creating a bigger problem? These are worthwhile questions to ask.
So how can you apply this? Well the way to not apply it is to use it to cause problems where there really isn’t a problem. You are not the Church’s security alarm, nor are you the morality bureau. That’s what the elder’s are supposed to be doing. They guard the flock. The best way to apply this is to just talk on-on—one with the person you have a concern with. Don’t talk to everybody else about them, but to that person. I’ve learned that this almost always stops a problem and reconciles a relationship rather than destroying. That’s why Jesus gave us the formula….because it works! So if you have a problem that’s bothering you, go to that person. If you have a concern with the church, go to the elders after you’ve prayed about it. If you don’t speak up, than you can’t get upset when things aren’t corrected. It’s your responsibility not to ignore conflict and confrontation. Just something to think about.