Do You Have the Right View of Conflict?
by Lou Priolo
What comes to mind when you hear the word conflict? Do you see conflict as something that is always wrong or ought to be avoided at all costs? Or do you see conflict as something that can be good—even necessary—something that God Himself requires you to participate in and even to initiate at times? Do you see conflict as something that, if avoided, may actually displease God?
Does the Bible ever say that conflicts, arguments, debates, disputes, and disagreements are necessarily wrong and always to be avoided? Generally speaking, Christians are exhorted to be cool-spirited, calm, cheek-turning, quarrel-abandoning peacemakers who make every effort to make and keep peace (see Ephesians 4:3). And, of course, we are also exhorted to avoid being contentious, to keep away from strife, to not quarrel or fight or battle, and to avoid a dozen other things that are usually thought of as conflict.
Yet conflict is a general term under which many biblical forms of good and proper communication may rightly be placed. For example, the process Jesus commands to restore a sinning brother (Matt. 18:15–18) initiates a course of action that may result in conflict.
Other Scriptures also speak of conflicts (or con-frontations) that Christians sometimes must initiate. Christians must at times “convict” (Jude 1:15), “rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2), “admonish” (Rom. 15:14), “oppose” (Gal. 2:11), and “solemnly charge” (2 Tim. 2:14) people. There are even times when they may have to “contend earnestly” with people for the sake of the faith (Jude 1:3).
These words all imply some form of confrontation, if not conflict. So to throw out all conflict as wrong is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Indeed, in order to obey God, followers of Jesus Christ are called on to disturb the peace sometimes. Disrupting the status quo is something that Jesus and His followers were accustomed to doing. Those who publicly and privately proclaim the gospel (who put on the shoes of “the preparation of the gospel of peace,” Eph. 6:15) ought to expect the peace often to be disturbed, despite every attempt to make and keep it—sometimes even to their own physical detriment. The truth is divisive!
Sometimes conflicts are biblically necessary and therefore good. There is a difference between having a conflict and having a fight, between arguing and quarrelling, between being in contention and being contentious. One is not necessarily sinful; the other is. If you see conflict as something that is wrong or unhealthy, perhaps you should reconsider1 your view in light of the Scriptures.
1Reconsidering is biblical. In fact, the Greek word for repent, metanoia, may be etymologically rendered “rethink” (meta = “again” / nois = “mind” or “thinking”).
This article has been adapted from Resolving Conflict: How to Make, Disturb, and Keep Peace by Lou Priolo (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2016), 13–14. Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.
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