This morning we’re going to look at resolving and reducing conflict. When you look around at God’s creation, it’s obvious that God loves diversity. He made all of us different. We all have unique interests, tastes, and desires. There aren’t too of us who are alike. The interesting thing is how God puts very different people together. Morning people marry night people. Neat parents have messy children. God loves diversity, and diverse people often end up together.
A rule of thumb is opposites attract. But have you ever noticed that after a while, opposites attack? If you’re around human beings for any length of time, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with conflict. This is true in your marriage. It’s true with your children. It’s true in the church. This morning we’re going to discover what the Bible says about managing that conflict.
We need to learn this because churches haven’t always demonstrated appropriate behavior when disagreements take place. If you’ve been in a church any length of time, you’ve been in a conflict. It’s guaranteed. In some churches, the fight is over theology. It’s sometimes over personality. It’s sometimes over music styles. It’s sometimes over who used the forks in the kitchen on Thursday night. If you ask the average person on the street why he doesn’t go to church, you’re likely to hear two things. “Christians are hypocrites.” And, eventually, you’ll hear, “Christians are always fighting one another.”
I read this letter in a magazine recently:
What if church was a place where we didn’t have to pretend to have all the answers or try real hard to look good? What if it truly was a place for sinners to come to the Cross of Christ and be reminded of the hope we have in him…if the lost didn’t have to try to see past all the…splits and divisions…would more lost people want to be found?
Psalm 133 says, “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!” That’s the goal. 1 Peter 3:8 tells us, “Live in harmony with one another.” Ephesians 4:3 says, “Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.” God’s intention is that when conflicts do occur, we would follow his instructions to stay in harmony and unity. It’s a beautiful thing when brothers and sisters get along.
If you don’t need this right now, you still need to take notes because someday you’re going to be in a major conflict in a relationship and you can say, “What was it Darryl was saying about that?” and you can go back and find these notes and it will help you out. The reality is that we’re all going to experience conflict in our relationships. You are going to need these attitudes in your life.
The Bible gives us SIX SECRETS OF REDUCING CONFLICT IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS. There are six ingredients, six attitudes, that if you’ll work on these, if you’ll build these six things we’re going to look at into your life, your satisfaction and fulfillment in your relationships will dramatically increase and the conflict in your relationships will dramatically decrease. They’re found in Colossians 3:12-14. Let’s read it together:
Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.
What’s interesting is that these qualities are pictured as articles of clothing. Have you ever watched a hockey game in which a fight breaks out? The gloves come off. Many times the shirts come off. By the time the referees break the fight up and get them into the penalty box, the ice is littered with sticks, gloves, and clothing. It’s like that in conflict. The gloves come off. Then certain attitudes that should be there disappear. That’s why Paul says, “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” There are six pieces of clothing – six attitudes – that you need to put on in conflict:
1. BE COMPASSIONATE IN YOUR ATTITUDE
I remember a day that I was dating my wife. I traveled up to Newmarket, where she worked and lived at the time, and waited for her to get out of work. When she did, I snuck up behind her and poked her from behind. I’ll tell you, she nearly jumped out of her skin. But then she turned around and saw who it was and smiled. Why? It was her attitude towards me at that time. If I had been a stranger in the street, she would have belted me. Because it was me, she reacted with delight.
Before we even begin to deal with others, especially in conflict, we bring an attitude to the relationship. It’s either going to be a tender attitude – one of compassion and respect – or it’s going to be a cold attitude. Many times in a conflict we come with an attitude. Our looks say all that needs to be said. And we’ve doomed the discussion already, because we have the wrong attitude.
In Colossians 3:12 we read, “Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy.” The word literally means compassion and tenderness. It’s being predisposed to the needs of the other person. It’s coming with a tender heart towards them regardless of how they are coming to us. 1 Peter 3:8 puts it this way: “Love one another with tender hearts.”
This is hard to do at the best of times. How can we be compassionate in the middle of a disagreement? What makes it so difficult to be tender in our approach?
Many times WE’RE PREOCCUPIED WITH OURSELVES. We are so convinced that we’re right that we don’t take time to listen. Or we’re so caught up with our own lives that we don’t have time to even think of other people. It could be that you’re so busy with your own life and your own need that you’re skimming over your relationships. You don’t have a tender heart toward other people. You need to write this down: hurry is the enemy of tenderness. They don’t go together. You can’t have a tender heart when you’re running around preoccupied with your own needs.
Another reason it’s hard to be tender is that WE PREJUDGE PEOPLE. A friend of mine had her head shaved one summer. She found that when she met people, they treated her very differently than when she had hair. Why? They prejudged her based on her appearance. We do this all the time. When we meet people, we judge their character by their appearance – their hairstyle, their dress, the way they carry themselves. This sometimes prevents us from being tender toward them. We’ve prejudged them before we even talk to them.
It’s like the Peanuts comic strip where Linus had drawn a comic strip. He went to Lucy and said, “Lucy, would you read this and tell me if you think it is funny?” In the next frame, you see Lucy patting her foot, and a little bit of a grin comes across her face. She looks at Linus and says, “Well, Linus, who wrote this?” Linus with his chest heaved out and a great big grin says, “Lucy, I wrote that.” In the next frame, you see Lucy wadding it up, throwing it to the side, and saying, “Well, then, I don’t think it’s very funny.” Sometimes we don’t give people a chance just because of who they are. We don’t hear the good that they have to say because we’ve written them off as people.
Sometimes we don’t just prejudge people, WE PREJUDGE SITUATIONS. Do you ever dread meeting with someone and later ask yourself, “What was I worried about?” The other week I dropped Charlene off to get a haircut. When I returned to pick her up, she had the biggest shopping bag that you’ve ever seen. Being a tender and compassionate husband, I had three questions for her: What did you buy? How much did it cost? Is it refundable? I had completely prejudged her and the situation. We do this all the time.
What attitude are you bringing to other people? I want you to rate yourself here. If you come into a conflict with a closed mind, rate yo urself a one. If you come into a conflict with a genuine interest in hearing the other person, rate yourself a nine.
That’s the first secret to reducing conflict in your relationships. Be compassionate in your attitude. The second secret is this:
2. BE KIND IN YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS
Colossians 3:12 says, “Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, [and] kindness.” If compassion is the attitude we bring to the relationship, then kindness is compassion in action. It translates that attitude into action primarily two different ways: by what we say to others and the way we act toward others. Kindness can go along way in the middle of a conflict. Albert Schweitzer said, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to disappear.”
Listen to Ephesians 4:29: “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Kindness means that you will speak the truth, but that you will do so in a kind way. You can say the same things, but you can say them in a way that shows respect for them as people. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “The tongue can kill or nourish life.” The words that you choose – what to say and when you say it – are going to make all the difference in conflict.
But kindness isn’t just shown by our words. Kindness is also shown by the way we act toward people, the actions that we take. 1 John 3:18 reads, “Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.” When you’re kind, you set off a ripple effect of kindness. When you’re kind, the recipient of your kindness is going to be kind themselves. Pretty soon you’re going to be spreading a climate of kindness in your circle of influence.
The owner of a drive-through coffee business in southwest Portland, Oregon, was surprised one morning to have one of her customers not only pay for her own mocha but also for the mocha of the person in the car behind her. It put a smile on the owner’s face to tell the next customer her drink had already been paid for. The second customer was so pleased that someone else had purchased her coffee that she bought coffee for the next customer. This string of kindnesses – one stranger paying for the mocha of the next customer – continued for two hours and 27 customers. Now, imagine what would happen if you consistently showed kindness, even in the middle of conflict. You will never know the effects of that kindness, but it’s guaranteed to affect those around you. It will change the climate in your family. It will change the climate in your church.
When in conflict, the gloves usually come off. Kindness goes out the window. Rate yourself from one to nine. If you tend to lose your cool in conflict, rate yourself a one. If you are able to maintain your kindness even in a disagreement, give yourself a nine. It’s the second secret to defusing conflict in your relationships.
3. BE HUMBLE IN YOUR THINKING
Colossians says, “Clothe yourselves with…humility.” 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is not proud.” It’s amazing, but pride always rears its ugly head whenever we get into conflict. And then along with pride also comes stubbornness. When you and I are sitting across the room from each other, eyeball to eyeball, and we’re both kind of self willed, stubborn people with strong opinions, if we get ourselves locked into conflict, our attitude becomes “No, way! I’m not backing down this time!” Nothing happens other than more anger, more conflict, and more bitterness.
Proverbs 13:10 says, “Pride leads to arguments.” It always does. The opposite is true. Humility defuses arguments. Humility is the courage to say that you could be wrong. It acknowledges that you might not have all the answers.
? Humility is being honest about my weaknesses. I’ve got some flaws. I’ve got some problems. I don’t have it all together. One of the best ways to defuse conflict is just to say, “I need help. I’m struggling.” Don’t worry about your reputation – people already know you’re not perfect. It helps to admit it.
? Humility is not assuming that I know it all or understand completely everything you’re trying to say to me before you even say it. James 1:19 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Sometimes all you have to do is listen, and the conflict goes away.
? Humility is being willing to admit a mistake. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, “You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.”
Humility sometimes means saying the hardest three words, “I was wrong.” Those words are tough to say, but they will defuse conflict. Or, “Please forgive me.” The more I understand that I’m not perfect and I can’t always give a flawless performance, and I do things that are wrong and say things that are wrong and I do hurt the people I love, the more I will be ready to say these words. I realize that God’s forgiven me then I can turn to them and say, “Forgive me. I was wrong.” That’s what humility is about.
How do you rate on humility? Do you find it difficult to back down? “I’m in that corner and I’m staying in that corner and you can’t make me budge out of that corner.” Is it easy for you to ask forgiveness? Rate yourself. If the words, “I was wrong” haven’t crossed your lips since 1962, give yourself a one. If you find it easy to say, “I need your help, I was wrong, forgive me,” give yourself a nine.
4. BE QUIET IN YOUR STRENGTH
We’ve just talked about how to handle conflict when you’re wrong. But what about when you’re right? That’s almost harder, isn’t it? Don’t you hate it when you’re patently right and the other party is wrong? Colossians 3 tells us how to handle this as well. The word Paul uses is gentleness or meekness. When Paul used this term, just like today, it was not a positive term. Nobody aspired to be this way. But it’s exactly what is needed in conflict.
What does this term mean? I love how the Message translates it: “quiet strength.” It means that you’re ready to take someone else’s feelings into account. You may be correct, but you’re not necessarily asserting how correct you are. You’re willing to make concessions. You’re willing to place the relationship ahead of the issue.
It’s amazing how often the issue isn’t as important as the relationship. There are times that it’s worth fighting about. But most of the time, the issue becomes less important as our egos get more and more important. The issue isn’t one of theology or of national security. It’s only about preferences. It’s about what somebody else likes, or it’s just about different ways of doing things. Sometimes you don’t even remember what the issue is. You just have a grudge. Don’t be arrogant. Even if you feel you’re right, evaluate the issue. Don’t insist on getting your own way.
How do you do this? It comes from seeing the other person as more important than you are. Philippians 2:4 commands us, “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.” We need to be more concerned with others than we are for ourselves. When this happens, conflict amazingly begins to disappear.
Let me tell you what maturity is. The signs of growing old are not the same signs as growing up. The signs of aging are not the signs of maturity. You can grow old without growing up. You could still be immature. What is maturity? Maturity is when your concern for other people is greater than your concern for yourself. That is maturity. And you’re not mature until that is true in your life. Your concern for others is greater than your concern for yourself. The more selfish you are, the more immature you are. The more unselfish you are, the more mature you are. The more concerned you are with other people, the more maturity you display.
How quie t are you in your strength? How mature are you? Are you just concerned that everyone knows that you’re right? If so, give yourself a one. Or do you put other people ahead of yourselves? Do you put the relationship ahead of the issue? If that’s you, give yourself a nine.
5. SHOW RESTRAINT WITH YOUR TEMPER
Colossians 3 continues, “Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
What is patience? Patience is putting up with the wrong that someone is causing without doing wrong ourselves. It means that we suffer wrong without retaliating. It means forgiving, because God has forgiven us. It means dealing with jerks without becoming a jerk yourself. It means holding on before giving into passion. It means putting up with people who are irritants to us. It means that we don’t keep a record of wrongs.
Every relationship needs massive does of mercy. When you get close to someone you have an incredible ability to wound another person very deeply. There are all kinds of energy that is stirred up when you’re angry. You have the choice to either use that emotional energy in conflict to retaliate, to wipe out the other person. Or use it to try and reconcile and resolve.
How do you pay back with a blessing instead of a curse? How do you pay back when someone’s hurling angry words at you? How do you pay back with a blessing instead of more angry words? What I try to do – and I’m not always good at it – is to pray, “God, I know your way is different than the world’s way. Would you please give me calm words rather than more inflammatory words that are going to stir it up?” 1 Peter 3:9 says, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it.”
How do you rate yourself on patience and forgiveness? If you keep one of these score cards on people, give yourself a one. If you’re quick to offer forgiveness and to let go of grudges, give yourself a nine.
6. SHOW LOVE IN EVERYTHING
When you get right down to it, love is what we’re talking about. Not a mushy feeling, but an act of obedience. Listen to Colossians 3:14: “And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Or, as the Message paraphrase puts it, “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” Love is the ultimate sign of a believer. It is the ultimate secret to defusing conflict. Love trumps all else.
The letter of Colossians was written to a unique church. It was written to a church comprised of very diverse people. There were Greeks and Jews, barbarians and Scythians, slaves and free. That doesn’t sound too bad, but it would be like holding a cat convention in the dog pound. The differences were too great. Conflicts were bound to happen.
Look around you this morning. God loves diversity. We’re all different ages, and all different backgrounds. We all have different personality types. What makes sense to me can sometimes be gibberish to you. Conflicts are bound to happen. And when they do happen, the one thing that will keep us from splintering apart is love.
Love holds everything else together. If you don’t have love, you may as well give up. The other attitudes won’t do you any good. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
I love what somebody once wrote as a rule for followers of Jesus Christ: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” In other words, we’re going to disagree on certain things. But we should never disagree on the essentials. And, even when we do disagree, our disagreement should be characterized by love. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
Rate yourself on love this morning. If you struggle with loving those who are different than you, rate yourself a 1. If you can honestly say that you love others, rate yourself a nine.
These are the secrets of diffusing conflicts: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, self-restraint, and love. When the gloves begin to come off, these are the qualities that we need to pick up.
What if this doesn’t work? What if you try to demonstrate all these attitudes, and you still run into conflict?
Well, that’s going to happen. But when it happens you’ve got some help. You’ve got God’s method of conflict resolution. It’s found in Matthew 18:15-17:
If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
It says when you have a problem the first one you go to is the person you are having a problem with. Don’t waste your time talking to other people. Talk to the person who has offended you. Go to them. Then it says if they won’t listen you take a long another witness. Most of the time, if you follow this procedure, and if you display the attitudes that we’ve talked about this morning, the issue will be resolved. Even if you can’t come to an agreement on the issue, your relationship can be restored.
Friends, this isn’t at the fringe of what it means to follow Jesus. This is at the core. If we don’t know how to handle our differences, we have no right to say that we’re following Jesus. 1 John 2:9 says, “Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others.” This is at the core of what it means to be a believer.
God made us with all our diversities. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have it all together. You don’t have the total picture and perspective on life. So God took His truth and put it in different personalities so that we would need each other. As much as I would like to think that my worldview is the correct way or that you’d like to think that your way of doing it is the correct way, it’s not. God has seen to it that we are different and we need each other. He wants those differences not to divide us but to enrich us. Not to compete, but to compliment. If you will take these six ingredients and build them into your relationship, you’ll find that happens.
I’m sure that in a congregation this size there are relationships here this morning that are really hurting. When communications come to a stand still or maybe it’s being distorted, the message is weak and it just isn’t getting through. Maybe what’s needed in your relationships is a healthy dose of these six attitudes. You need to put on God’s clothing in order to have healthy relationships.
Father, we pray that you would help us put on these attitudes. Help us to be more compassionate and kind. Help us to be humble enough to admit when we’re wrong. Give us quiet strength, so that even when we’re right, we’re willing to make concessions. Make us patient. Make us loving. Lord, I know that I can’t control these things and build these in my life on my own. Father, I’m asking your Spirit to give me the power to make these changes in my life.
If you aren’t a follower of Jesus Christ yet, God can give you the power to be the sort of person who displays these qualities. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what means to be compassionate and kind. There’s nobody more humble than him. He is gentle and patient. He loves you, and he is willing to come into your life today and to begin to work these qualities into your soul.
Would you pray with me, if you would like Jesus to take control of your life this morning: “Lord, I need your forgiveness. But I also need your power. I need you to take control of my life. I come to you today, depending on you alone for my salvation, and ask that you would take control of my life, my heart, and my actions. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”