The Purpose Driven Life: RELATIONSHIPS ARE ALWAYS WORTH RESTORING. Because life is all about learning how to love, God wants us to value relationships and make the effort to maintain them instead of discarding them whenever there is a rift, a hurt, or a conflict. In fact, the Bible tells us that God has given us the ministry of restoring relationships. For this reason a significant amount of the New Testament is devoted to teaching us how to get along with one another…. Since Christ wants his family to be known for our love for each other, broken fellowship is a disgraceful testimony to unbelievers.
Since we are to “love one another” as Jesus loved us, that love calls us to be willing to love not only when relationships are easy, but also when they are hard. Jesus looked down from the cross and said of those who caused him great pain, “Father, forgive them – they know not what they do.” This should also be what we say when we look down on others, or we have the problem as much as they do.
Jesus made the priority clear in Matthew 5:22-24: But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
As a pastor, I’m reminded of this saying often on Sundays as I’m putting things in order just before worship begins. If I take it literally, I’ll need to leave off preaching and put more energy into peacemaking. Conflict has scarred me, and left me less able to do the work that God has called me to do. I’m not as good at resolving conflict and making peace as I need to be, so these lessons are important. The comments below from the Purpose Driven Life are an excellent tutorial on this issue.
The Purpose Driven Life: If you want God’s blessing on your life and you want to be known as a child of God, you must learn to be a peacemaker… Because you were formed to be a part of God’s family and the second purpose of your life on earth is to learn how to love and relate to others, peacemaking is one of the most important skills you can develop. Unfortunately, most of us were never taught how to resolve conflict.
Peacemaking is not avoiding conflict. Running from a problem, pretending it doesn’t exist, or being afraid to talk about it is actually cowardice. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was never afraid of conflict. On occasion he provoked it for the good of everyone. Sometimes we need to avoid conflict, sometimes we need to create it, and sometimes we need to resolve it. That’s why we must pray for the Holy Spirit’s continual guidance.
Peacemaking is also not appeasement. Always giving in, acting like a doormat, and allowing others to always run over you is not what Jesus had in mind. He refused to back down on many issues, standing his ground in the face of evil opposition.
The Purpose Driven Life: Here are seven biblical steps to restoring fellowship:
1. Talk to God before talking to the person. Discuss the problem with God. It’s wiser to “ventilate vertically” rather than upon the person with whom you are in conflict.
2. Always take the initiative. It doesn’t matter whether you are the offender or the offended: God expects you to make the first move. Don’t wait for the other party. Go to them first… Schedule a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible. Delay only deepens resentment and makes matters worse. In conflict, time heals nothing; it causes hurts to fester.
3. Sympathize with their feelings. Use your ears more than your mouth. Before attempting to solve any disagreement you must first listen to people’s feelings… Focus on their feelings, not the facts. Begin with sympathy, not solutions. Don’t try to talk people out of how they feel at first. Just listen and let them unload emotionally without being defensive. Nod that you understand even when you don’t agree. Feelings are not always true or logical. In fact, resentment makes us act and think in foolish ways.
4. Confess your part of the conflict. If you are serious about restoring a relationship, you should begin with admitting your own mistakes or sin… Confession is a powerful tool for reconciliation. Often the way we handle a conflict creates a bigger hurt than the original problem itself. When you begin by humbly admitting your mistakes, it defuses the other person’s anger and disarms their attack because they were probably expecting you to be defensive. Don’t make excuses or shift the blame; just honestly own up to any part you have played in the conflict. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
5. Attack the problem, not the person. You cannot fix the problem if you’re consumed with fixing the blame. You must choose between the two…. In resolving conflict, how you say it is as important as what you say. If you say it offensively, it will be received defensively.
6. Cooperate as much as possible… Peace always has a price tag. Sometimes it costs our pride; it often costs our self-centeredness. For the sake of fellowship, do your best to compromise, adjust to others, and show preference to what they need.
7. Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree about everything. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. When we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often becomes irrelevant. We can reestablish a relationship even when we are unable to resolve our differences. This doesn’t mean you give up on finding a solution. You may need to continue discussing and even debating — but you do it in a spirit of harmony. Reconciliation means you bury the hatchet, not necessarily the issue. “Love one another” is ALWAYS more about people rather than ideas.
I found this chapter of the Purpose Driven Life to be very helpful. As you think over your experience with conflict, inside and outside of a church, how does it speak to you?
Some quotes in italics are from Day 20 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).