Most of what we experience as conflict in day-to-day life is the result of someone pricking our pride. We loathe feeling less-than or wrong. Our instinct is often to react in defensiveness rather than to accept that someone else could be right or have a better idea. But God’s Word says that kind of behavior will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5).
Conflict is one of the more unpleasant symptoms of sinful people living in a sinful world. Its effects range from uncomfortable but momentary interactions to total relational devastation. And if you’ve been part of a local church for any length of time, you know that the bride of Christ isn’t immune to it. In fact, some of the most unsavory instances of conflict I’ve witnessed have occurred within the church, and that’s no accident. Our enemy is the great Accuser. If he can plant seeds of accusation and malice within the church body, there is huge potential for destruction.
Three Questions to Ask in Conflict
So how do we combat this? What wisdom can we employ to address conflict in a God-honoring way and lessen its effects? In answer, I offer three questions.
1. Is this truly conflict or an issue of conscience?
Among Christians, what we call issues of conscience are often the cause of conflict when they need not be. These are things like alcohol consumption, dietary restrictions, dress, etc. that God’s Word neither requires nor prohibits for Christians. We form opinions about these things based on the strength or weakness of our consciences. For some of us, our consciences allow much freedom. For others, their consciences require a stricter interpretation.
While Scripture doesn’t mandate any one interpretation of these matters, it does speak strongly against their use as battering rams with one another. In Romans 14-15, Paul spends 30 verses urging the church to not “destroy the work of God” for the sake of issues of conscience (14:20). He says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.…So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:17,19).
When butting heads with someone, try to quickly decipher the source of the problem. If it’s an issue of conscience, there is a painless solution: lovingly agree to disagree. In the words of commentator, Douglas Moo, “As long as they [issues of conscience] are not contrary to the gospel and hindering the work of the church, we should learn to tolerate these differences.”
2. Could this be resolved if my pride was not involved?
The second thing to determine when experiencing conflict is whether or not it’s a pride problem. We are quick to quote Proverbs 16:18, but slow in applying it to our own behavior. We, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, must do the hard work of searching our hearts and laying aside any pride we find there.
Scripture is clear as a bell about the destructive nature of pride. Pride leads to disgrace (Proverbs 11:2). God opposes the proud (James 4:6). There is more hope for a fool than for a person who thinks highly of herself (Proverbs 26:12). Pride ultimately makes us like the one Paul warns of in 1 Timothy 6:4-5 – conceited, quarrelsome, depraved in mind, and deprived of truth.
Most of what we experience as conflict in day-to-day life is the result of someone pricking our pride. We loathe feeling less-than or wrong. Our instinct is often to react in defensiveness rather than to accept that someone else could be right or have a better idea. But God’s Word says that kind of behavior will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5). We are commanded to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3).
Answering this question can be a hard pill to swallow, but it bears good fruit. God promises grace to the humble.