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Family disputes are common. In fact, I see them happening in my own family all too often, whether it is over minute or important matters. But over the past few weeks, one particular family feud in Singapore has captured the attention of many in my country—and perhaps around the world too.
The conflict, which erupted over social media on June 14, concerns allegations of abuse of power by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, made by his two younger siblings over the fate of their late father’s house at 38 Oxley Road.
Yesterday afternoon (July 3), PM Lee formally addressed this issue in Parliament, where he defended the actions he took following the death of his father, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in March 2015, and allowed Members of Parliament to question him.
Like many Singaporeans, I have been following this saga closely. And I’ve been both shocked and sad to see this happening in a family that I deeply respect and hold in high regard.
Without getting into a debate over who is right or wrong, I can see some personal lessons to be learned from this issue. What this dispute has shown me is that all humans are prone to conflict—regardless of how clever, powerful, or well-regarded we are.
This applies just as much to Christians. Though we all belong to the family of God, we have our fair share of conflict too. When challenged, our natural instinct is to fight back and vindicate ourselves. But most of the time, such encounters don’t end well. In my church, I have seen members leaving as a result; disputes can also lead to a split in the church.
So how should Christians respond when we don’t see eye-to-eye with each other? Here are five ways in which I believe we can respond to conflict within the family of God.
1. Recognize the need for resolution
God dislikes conflict. When we were at odds with God because of our sin, He made the first move for us to be reconciled—and He paid a hefty price for it, by sending His own Son Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us.
In the same way, God doesn’t want us to be at odds with anyone in the church. He wants us to be reconciled with others. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
Will we make an effort to resolve our differences because it pleases God—even if we don’t feel like it?
2. Exhibit self-control
When we feel hurt by others, it is natural to lash back. But we have to be careful not to allow our emotions to get the better of ourselves so that we act on impulse. God calls us to exercise self-control, which is one attribute of the fruit of the Spirit. Practising self-control means taking charge of our thoughts and attitudes so that they do not dictate our actions and lead us to behave in a way that displeases God.
The next time we get into a conflict, will we react calmly (Proverbs 29:11)?
3. Have an attitude of humility
Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to “value others above yourselves”. It is a challenging instruction because it means we have to put our pride and our interests aside. But Jesus has shown us examples of humility which we are called to imitate. While He was equal with God, He chose to forsake that privilege by becoming a human, being wronged, and finally dying for us in a humiliating manner. If Jesus cared merely about himself, none of us would ever be reconciled with God.
When we humble ourselves before others, we can take heart that God is pleased, for “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6).
Even though we may look foolish to the world, are we willing to be wronged for the sake of reconciliation?
4. Take time to listen and empathize
Taking time to listen and empathize can seem extremely difficult to do in the heat of the moment. But what this simply means is to be willing to understand how the other party has been hurt.
Fools are described as those who “find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Instead, we are called to listen before answering (Proverbs 18:13).
Will we put aside our prejudices and hurt to truly listen and understand the other party?
5. Show love
Above all, as a family of God, we are commanded by the Lord to love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). It is one of His two greatest commandments.
When we show love to others in times of conflict, we are able to stand united as a family of Christ and show the world that Jesus is a God of love. And we can take heart that God is with us when we gather to resolve the conflict, peaceably in love (Matthew 18:20).
Are others able to see Jesus through the way we respond to conflict?
The way to resolve a conflict is not by trying to win the fight or prove that we are right. It’s by responding in love and showing Christ in our response.
One statement that PM Lee made yesterday stood out: “At the end of the day, we are brother and sister, and we are all our parents’ children.”
I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, we are all God’s children, seeking to please the same Father.