Everyone experiences conflict. No matter who we are or where we’re from, we all know the reality of conflict. Now, I imagine you’re sitting there thinking about the big screaming match or punch up on the church steps. While this certainly is a type of conflict, not all conflict is like this. It doesn’t always involve throwing punches or shouting at someone. In fact, much of the conflict that exists between us is more subtle and less obvious, at least at first glance.
We just have to think that through for a moment as we reflect on the Facebook post that went wrong, the text that was misinterpreted—or worse, the harsh text you sent without thinking it through—the back-handed comment, the banter that went badly wrong or has gone too far, the sarcastic remark that’s meant to get our point across, or that pointed joke laced with a little too much truth.
The list is endless, but you know what I’m talking about. The sad thing is that when it comes to conflict, it’s not confined to the pagans of the world. Christians are bang at it too. Many of us will have heard of churches and denominations that have spilt, resulting in fractures that never heal. In-fighting and back-biting within churches can be all too common. In his commentary on the book of James, Kent Hughes relays a story that, sadly, sums this up all too well:
Feuding church is found everywhere, as a young father learned from his children. Hearing a commotion in his backyard, he looked outside and saw his daughters and several playmates in a heated quarrel. When he intervened, his daughter called back, “Dad, we’re just playing church!”
Conflict is found everywhere, and not one of us is immune from it. It’s a glaring reality of life, and it has a detrimental impact on all aspects of what we do—whether it be at church, home, or work.
The evidence of this impact isn’t hard to find. Over the last few years in Edinburgh alone, we’ve seen several major churches split from the Church of Scotland. There are reams of statistical evidence showing conflict in the home. For example, in 2015–2016 alone, there were 58,104 incidents of domestic abuse reported in Scotland, and the ‘Workplace Conflict’, which is a UK Survey, suggests that workplace conflict costs UK businesses £24 billion every year (that’s over £65 million per day). Another article suggests that the average employee spends 2.1 days per week engaged in conflict. In other words, conflict is ‘big business’.
Conflict is all around us. No matter how much you want to stick your head in the sand and say “it’s not going to happen to me”, well . . . I hate to break it to you, but it will. Sadly, conflict is inevitable. Therefore, it’s crucial that we think it through. We need a biblical understanding of conflict. Only then can we deal with it well and handle it in a godly way.
When it comes to conflict in the world, there’s a whole industry created to find, fix, avoid, and negotiate resolution in situations of conflict. There are training agencies, counsellors, HR specialists, and even ‘conflict theory’ studied by sociologists.
So I’d humbly suggest that the world doesn’t have an issue recognising or disputing the existence conflict, they just want to resolve it quickly. According to the world, conflict and problems arise when “my desires and expectations are different from someone else’s”. They would recognise both desires as legitimate and having weight. The Bible wouldn’t altogether disagree, but we’ll come back to that later.
In the secular world, when it comes to conflict, people want a resolution. They want to come up with a solution that finds a way in which the opposing desires can live in harmony with each other, thus resolving the conflict. But, is that actually possible? Can two people with legitimate desires both get what they want? I doubt it. But to get past the clash, someone—or, more realistically, both parties—will have to compromise in some way, shape, or form. It’s a matter of give and take as they negotiate a satisfactory peace.
But that peace may be tentative. Even if a compromise has been reached, all it takes is one little shift in desire, a hint that the other person is ‘toeing the line’ or stepping over the mark, and the conflict fires back up again. You see, a truce is not a permanent solution but a precarious plastering over of the situation. It doesn’t deal with the real problems.
We can easily see how this becomes big business, because further conflict resolution meetings are required and further compromises must be made. No wonder UK business are spending over £24 billion a year! Conflict resolution is a self-perpetuating business: one that never gets to the root of the problem. They’re diagnosing the problem incorrectly. Or, at the very least, they’re not dealing with the issue in its fullness, which means they’ll never ultimately resolve conflict. It’s a skin-deep solution for a heart-level problem. The wrong diagnosis leads to a faulty solution.
Clearly, the world’s diagnosis that “conflict arises when my desires and expectations are different from someone else’s” might have some merit, but it doesn’t carry that through to end up at the right conclusion. As Christians, we must go past the surface and address the heart of the matter. Only God’s Word enables us to do this.
This is an excerpt from our new course: Titus 2 Women’s Ministry. If you’d like to sign up for the course, click the image below.