Conflict is, unfortunately, a common happening in our fallen world. Even fellow Christians can get into conflicts that are sharp and painful. In the New Testament, we see many examples of believers in churches having disputes and struggling to resolve them. Even church planters Paul and Barnabas had a dispute so strong that they parted ways. (Acts 15:36-41)
So how do we resolve conflict according to the Bible? Below are four questions to ask on the road of conflict resolution and extra resources at the end that will help you navigate an apology and learn what forgiveness is not.
Ask Yourself: Am I in Conflict?
If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
How to determine if you’re in a conflict:
- Has someone sinned against me? Have I sinned against someone? So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
- Has someone broken my trust in them?
- Have I spoken poorly about someone? Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down. (Proverbs 26:20)
- Am I imagining payback, revenge, or justice? Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. (Romans 12:19-20)
- Am I actively avoiding someone?
Ask Yourself: Can I Overlook the Offense?
A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)
Can you try to privately overlook the offense, make allowance for faults, forgive, and move on?
- Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
- Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)
Here’s when not to overlook an offense:
- If the offense dishonors God. You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written: The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. (Romans 2:23-24)
- If the offense broke a relationship. An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress. (Proverbs 18:19)
- If the offense is hurting others. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
- If the offense is hurting the offender. My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Ask Yourself: Is There Anything I Should Own?
Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the splinter out of your eye,” and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
Recognize that blame rarely lies 100% with any single party.
- For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. (Galatians 6:3-4)
- What of your actions—however big or small—have contributed to this conflict?
- When apologizing, do so thoroughly.
Ask Yourself: Am I in Charge of My Emotions?
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but one slow to anger calms strife. (Proverbs 15:18)
If you’re too emotional to be calm and gentle, wait. Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Ask Yourself: How Can I Seek Reconciliation?
If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. (Matthew 18:15-17)
Gently point out another’s part in the conflict and try to make amends.
- First, talk in private, one-on-one.
- If they don’t listen and repent, try again with one or two others.
- If they don’t listen and repent, try again with a group from the church.
- If they don’t listen and repent, remove them from the fellowship of the church.
- If at any point they listen and repent, forgive. Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)
Navigating an Apology
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)
- Admit what you did wrong. Acknowledge the harm you caused without justifying or downplaying your actions. Express empathy for how your actions might have made them feel.
- Apologize. Tell them you are sorry for what you did. Be specific.
- Ask for forgiveness. Say the words, “Will you forgive me?”
- Accept the consequences. Do what you can to make it right and alter your behavior. You are not truly sorry if you continue causing harm.
Forgiveness Is Not…
- Excusing. There is no excuse for sin. God will make sure all sin is paid for.
- Denial. Do not pretend you are not hurt. Honestly bring your pain to God.
- Feeling. Forgiveness is a decision you can make no matter how you feel.
- Forgetting. To forgive you must remember the offense, God’s justice, the cross, and God forgiving you.
- Trust. Forgiveness is a gift, but trust must be earned.
- Optional. God commands us to forgive. Refusing to forgive is rebelling against God.
- Reconciliation. Reconciliation takes action from both sides; forgiveness is between you and God.
We hope this resource has been helpful to you. Remember, …as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
We’d like to thank Watermark Church in Dallas, Texas for the use of this resource.
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