3 Healthy Ways to Handle Conflict
A few Sundays ago, an acquaintance of mine from church pulled me aside before the morning service to talk to me about a weakness in my character. She thought that l was too occupied with accommodating other’s needs in church, that I neglected my own needs. In her opinion, l could do with standing up for myself more.
l smiled and muttered some vague thanks for her concern.
But in the back of my mind, l was fuming—absolutely fuming. I found her words condescending and her intervention inappropriate. I was not a frightened, insecure person. While I am fallen and flawed like everyone else, l believe that God has gifted me with a kind and generous heart that is always seeking to help others—I’ve always looked at that as an asset.
To this day, my acquaintance doesn’t know how l feel. I opted out of negatively responding to avoid an unnecessary storm.
And yet I wonder. . .was avoiding conflict by ignoring her confrontation the correct thing to do?
As the body of Christ, we need to be able to respond to conflict within the church and in our lives in a healthy way that does the following:
- Gives us peace as individuals
- Promotes love
- Lifts us up as a body of believers that can serve God both in the church and out in the world
So, how do we do that?
The apostle Paul approaches this dilemma in his epistle to the Christians in Colossae. Because of false teachings, the church was suffering from severe division. In Colossians 3:13-15, Paul shows us three principles that we can use today to help us respond to conflict.
1. Forgive Others As God Forgives Us
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
The act of forgiveness is of such great importance to Paul, that the word is used three times in this Bible passage. Not only are we called to forgive others, we need to strive to forgive them in the same way God has forgiven us.
This means that whatever harm the other person might have caused us, we do not hold it against them. This also means blotting out any bitterness or anger we may feel towards them. Forgiving as the Lord forgives not only frees the person who wronged us—it liberates us as well.
My acquaintance has an impression of me that may be untrue. But that’s ok. I know who l am, and God knows who l am. Irrespective of what prompted her to push her opinion on me, l am practicing every day to forgive in a way that frees us both.
2. Put on Love
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)
Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13:34-35). However, how do we love someone we have a conflict with? In that case, we need to make a conscious decision to love them—to accept them for who they are, warts and all, and recognize that they are a work in progress, just like we are. We need to put on love.
Loving someone with whom we are in conflict is easier when we understand the motives for their actions. My acquaintance had good intentions in mind, so showing her anything but love would only promote confusion and hurt in her heart.
That doesn’t mean that l shouldn’t talk to her openly about her actions and their effect on me—l can, and l might at some point in the future. However, if l confront her, l need to do it from a place of love, not from hurt or accusation.
God is love. When we were still His enemy, He loved us (Ephesians 2:4-5). If His love can unify us with Him, shouldn’t we be sharing this love with others?
3. Let Peace into Our Hearts
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15)
Being in conflict is stressful and takes up a lot of our mental energy. Why would anyone choose to live that way, when we have the option to receive the peace Christ offers (John 14:27)?
Choosing to accept Jesus’ peace has been a great blessing for me in my situation. It isn’t always easy to apply, but it helps to think of how much inner turmoil and stress l am avoiding in my life by simply trusting Jesus to work things out in His perfect timing. With that in mind, choosing peace is a better option!
The church is of great importance to Jesus. For it to function well, He requires us to be at peace. So, if you are holding tightly to an issue or a conflict today, could you let it go for Jesus’ sake?
It would be nice to say that conflict is something that can be avoided. Unfortunately, we are imperfect people living in a broken world—a prime breeding ground for discord and strife.
How comforting it is, then, to know that we have a perfect God who loves us in our brokenness, and guides us to respond or deal with these conflicts in a Christlike manner, through His love and teachings!
I am in this situation were the leaders of my youth group have been violently builled me because I didn’t have the same vision of God has them plus I didn’t attend all of they meet up(due of family problems). So they have constantly rejected me for each group church activities. Ever since I can’t have any relationship in church. So can I apply those principals?
Hi! i am sorry to hear that you have had a negative experience in your youth group, and l pray that your experience of church improves and that you can build positive relationships.
I have also had similar experiences and have found that applying the principles l wrote in the article helped me to move on. It gave me inner peace and helped me to see that no one is perfect. Church consists of a collection of flawed individuals who all need and crave the love of Jesus Christ.
I can only advise you to see those who hurt you as individuals who are also hurting and need the love of our Savior. Keep your eyes on Jesus, pray for positive relationships and wisdom in choosing which areas of church life are best suited to you. God makes a way where there is no way and He will bring people and opportunites into your life that will provide you with fellowship, comfort and growth.
God bless you and l will keep you in my prayers.
It’s about time the body of Christ discusses this issue. I have observed my friends in Christ act as docile doormats with no ability to stand for themselves in a Godly way. Their idea of conflict resolution is to be sheep-like and to allow an insane level of abuse hurled at them, pray something (or say something under their breath) and then wait for it to go away.
I consistently see anger and grudges fester over the years as they have never resolved that conflict or set of conflicts at the root issue. It really is sad that people who are broken can never find any true victory and stand on top of un-forgiveness and anger, as the idea in the Church is to adopt society and media’s method of conflict resolution, which leads to greater disasters later in life.
Unfortunately, I have never seen a true confession of direct grievances, grudges, or anger between hurt or broken people, and then handing that unforgiveness over to God.
I know this since I have a had a very similar experience to you Madeline. Like you, I bottled my resentment and frustration inside, until I gave my anger and grudge over to Jesus Christ.
The worldly metaphor of acid in a barrel is ridiculous since in my observation and experience, people will exploit, abuse, and take advantage over your tameness. In the end, it has consistently allowed to evil get away with what they want and the victim to do nothing against their evildoer. I have never seen a resolution happen by allowing your offender to get away, be ignorant of the pay he or she caused you, and most importantly, offer healing and growth in Christlikeness.
I’ve had to physically restrain myself and step outside of the Church to stop myself from feeding some people in my Church their teeth or giving them a broken nose; only by denying myself by bearing my cross could I have handled it over Christ where he healed me.
Allowing yourself to be a doormat is un-biblical, un-Godly, and stupid. Becoming a serpent and wolf and caving their face in isn’t better either. Only by biblical and Godly resolution have I seen healing not only in my life but in others.
Proverbs 18:19, Colossians 3:15, and Matthew 10:16 are always on my mind because discernment, maturity, wisdom, and treating others how Christ had treated me has only been the success in my life in taking care of myself.
Thank you so much for this advice God bless you I just in the same position but I think this is for me I will take it
John, l really appreciate your comment, and l thank you for your openness and honesty. In fact, my impetus for writing this article was based on the experience a friend of mine had in church, which caused him to walk away, despite his longing to have an active church life. After experiencing my own confrontation, as you read, l realized l wanted to address this issue.
I once heard a pastor say, “When you stand up, God will sit down.” Every time l wanted to react to confrontation, unfair comments made in my direction (and they still happen) l think of those words. I try and apply the three principles l wrote about in this article, l take a breath and let God work in the situation.
And to give an update – These principles have been working! I have such peace about my former grievance, l can love this person who l wrote about (and others) because l chose to forgive them and see them as Jesus sees them. And the situation, which could have exploded, has calmed down to such stillness. I have such peace attending church, l can engage with these people, filled with the joy of the Lord, His love, grace, and forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, l am still a work in progress, but l don’t have to avoid these people, like l would have done – even just a few months ago. It has freed me, given me back energy and allowed me to concentrate on other things, instead of letting negative thoughts fester.
Thank you for the Bible verses you mentioned, l will certainly keep them in mind! Thank you again for your feedback, l certainly learned a lot from your words, and l am grateful for your insight and how following biblical principles has given you freedom in dealing with such situations.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Hi, this was very informative and I truly hope people use the Biblical advice in the article. It makes life so much easier when we can do this. The time wasted on issues is so harmful. I know I have been there, sleepless nights, opportunities lost because of being preoccupied on what was said or done to me. One verse in the Bible also spoke to me, asking God to take the plank out of my eye so I can take the sliver out of the other person. When things are said, I usually ask myself if I am being sensitive or is something else going on in me that would let that remark affect me in that way. God takes care of it when I leave it with Him.
Brenda, l really appreciate your response to the article, and l thank you for sharing your own experiences, which were so insightful. I love your last piece of advice to just leave a situation of conflict or hurt with God and He will take care of it! 🙂
Excellent article, Madeline.
I appreciate your thoughtful comments to those responding.
Also, there is a directive in Scripture to handle disputes in Matt. 18:25-17. I realize your situation didn’t rise to an argument, but I think it could be applied in this circumstance as well.
Hi Sarah, thank you for your kind words, l really appreciate them! Also, thank you for the scripture, l find it very helpful and will keep it in mind for the future!
Many blessings, to you too!
Thanks for the heartfelt response.
I’ve dealt with pain, despair, loneliness, and suicidal depression from withholding forgiveness over those who have victimized me.
As I’ve previously stated, the ideas and system we are taught in our media and education was never intended to support us. I do earnestly trust that God and Jesus Christ has absolute dominion over Earth, and favor may befall us at times. Yet when I followed what I was told to the last letter on how to deal with assault and battery, slander, and gossip, my rage only exploded else where, sometimes horrifically on innocent parties whom never should have been on the receiving end of it.
The odd thing that I have noticed among my peers is that they are serpents–they really know how to get under people’s skin and how to manipulate, lie, and slander. Their way with words and how to use the political or commercial system for their own convenience or as a proxy to retaliate against someone else is pretty impressive. Social media has truly molded a noxious attitude in everyone I have met. When I speak with my elders, it really is amazing how basic courtesy and simple patience is unavailable everywhere with nearly everyone.
I was praying on forgiveness and literally shouted out the names of those whom hurt me and surrendered my wrath to the Lord. In doing so, I felt closure and healing for the first time.
It then occurred to me that the only way to deal with bitterness, rage, grudges, murderous intent, is to forgive the debtor whom trespassed against you, as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18:21-35.
King James Version (KJV)
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
I am glad of your achievement and your growth, and closeness to our Father in heaven Madeline.
Your statement, “When you stand up, God will sit down.”, reminds me of when someone told me the Holy Spirit is like a dove: it cannot act when I am in anger, in pride, or in hate. I square up to prepare for a right cross or double leg and the dove will flee.
Likewise, I hold myself to our Lord in heaven, who is far more powerful, who is more just, and can and will judge rightfully, when I don’t have the ability to do so myself. In addition, he actually healed me and restored my peace to me. The system–whether its our courts, social media, or corporations–will never do that, because without Jesus Christ, they are nothing, but of their father the Devil.
Madeline this is so on point. In fact I just read a whatsapp message from a church member just now that ticked me off a bit, but I had to calm down and think through the situation logically. Sometimes those few minutes of prayerfully thinking through the situation helps us see things in a clearer perspective. That said, as much as I dread confrontation, it is sometimes very necessary. One thing I have observed though, it’s best to do it face to face and not via something like whatsapp!!! It is so easy to be misunderstood on whatsapp. That’s something I learnt the hard way!