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Solving Conflict in Human Relationships: A Bible Plan


Bible principles for resolving conflict and achieving peace.Bible plan for resolving strife, problems, and alienation. Love, appreciation, discussion, repentance, confession, forgiveness, assistance.

Introduction:

Everyone at times must deal with conflict and disagreements.

An elderly couple celebrated many years of marriage. The man said, “I’m pleased to say that we’ve never had a fight.” The wife responded, “Well, it helps to be old and forgetful!”

There is no such thing as a married couple that never has conflicts. But the same is true in many other relationships, including in the home, the church, on the job, etc. Unfortunately, most people lack the skill to discuss disagreements and resolve them. As a result, many people become seriously alienated but never resolve the cause of the problem.

The purpose of this study is to learn what the Bible says about how to resolve conflict in our relationships with others.

We are concerned with conflict in general, but especially with serious conflicts that destroy relationships with bitterness, quarreling, uncontrolled anger, insults, hatred, and even violence. People need the ability to discuss serious problems, reach a plan to resolve them, and then put that plan into action.

I emphasize that this is a skill that can be learned.

We hope to learn what the Bible says about how to develop this skill. Since these are Bible principles, they work when all the parties to a conflict respect the Bible, although they can be of some help even when dealing with those who are not Christians.

Consider the following steps that can help people avoid or resolve serious conflicts.

I. Trust God for Help and Hope.

A. Believe that God’s Plan Can Help Your Problem.

Hope is fundamental in resolving problems.

Many people have quarreled so long that they lose hope things will ever improve. They resign themselves to go on quarreling. God assures us He will help us deal with even the most difficult problems.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If we trust in ourselves, we may fail. But we must believe Jesus will provide the strength we need to please God.

No matter how other people act, a Christian can treat other people right.

If both parties work according to God’s word, the problem can be resolved scripturally.

People who are struggling with conflict need hope. If that is your case, study and make a list of Scriptures that assure us we can be faithful despite all problems and temptations in life.

(1 John 5:4; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 4:18; Ephesians 6:10-18; James 4:7; Genesis 4:7; Psalm 121:7; 119:11; Matthew 6:13; John 17:15; 10:28,29; 2 Peter 1:10; 2:9; Jude 24; Romans 8:31-39)

B. Pray for God’s Blessings.

Philippians 4:6,7 – Don’t be anxious, but by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. If we truly trust God’s power, then we will pray diligently about our problems.

Matthew 5:44 – Love your enemies … and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. If we should pray even for those who persecute us, surely we should pray for all with whom we have conflict and disagreement.

If we ask for help in resolving conflicts, we need to believe He will answer. If both parties are faithful Christians then they should regularly, together and individually, pray for God’s help with their problems. Confess the problem specifically to God and ask for His help.

But remember that God answers according to His will. He does not force anyone to do right. He gives encouragement and instruction in His word, but each party must choose to obey.

When you face serious conflict, how often do you pray for God’s help? How often do you pray specifically – even by name – for the other people involved in the problem?

(Matthew 6:13; 7:7-11; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 3:21,22; 5:14; James 5:16; 18:19; John 14:13,14)

II. Study and Follow God’s Word.

One of the biggest mistakes people make, even brethren, is trying to resolve our conflicts without properly discussing and applying Scripture.

A. God’s Word Has a Plan for Relationships.

God’s word has a plan for:

* The relationships of husband and wife.

* The relationships of parents and children.

* The relationships of members of the local church, including members to the elders.

* The relationships of employers and employees.

* The relationships of citizens to their government.

Our purpose is, not to discuss all these specific plans, but to emphasize the need to study what God’s word says about whatever relationship is troubling us. Then we will see that God’s word has a plan for resolving conflict with others, especially with other Christians.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – Scriptures provide to all good works. If solving conflict in our relationships is a good work, then the Bible will tell us how to do it.

B. Follow Bible Teaching Instead of Human Authorities.

Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord and let Him guide your path. Don’t lean on your own understanding.

Too often people seek guidance for problems outside the Bible.

They trust psychologists, marriage counselors, friends, etc. Such sources may help if their advice agrees with Scripture. But often they offer human wisdom instead of Scripture.

Other people are guided by feelings.

Couples get divorced saying, “I just don’t feel anything for her (or him) anymore.” But no amount of feelings can change what God’s word says.

Jeremiah 10:23 – The way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.

Most of us accept the need for Bible authority regarding salvation, worship, church organization, etc. Why should it be any different regarding our relationships with other people?

(Proverbs 14:12; Luke 16:15; Isaiah 55:8,9; 1 Kings 12:26-33; Acts 17:21; Romans 1:22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20)

C. Study and Teach What the Bible Says about Your Problem.

If we really believe the Bible has the answers, then we should study what it says. This is what we would do about any other spiritual problem. Why do otherwise regarding our conflicts?

Acts 17:11 – The Bereans learned the truth by searching the Scriptures. (Psalm 1:2)

We must study Scriptures so we can know God’s will. But we should also examine Scripture in our discussions with those with whom we have conflict. It is a serious mistake to attempt to resolve serious conflicts without consulting and discussing Biblical principles.

How much time have you spent in sincerely searching the Scriptures like the Bereans to find the answers regarding your problems with other people? How much have you relied on reading and discussing the Scriptures with those with whom you disagree?

D. Then Obey the Bible Teaching.

Matthew 7:24-27 – The wise man not only hears what God’s word says, but also does it. The foolish man hears but does not obey. If we believe that God’s word holds the answers to our problems, we must determine to do what it says, not just learn what it says.

Hatred, bitter quarreling, and alienation mean someone is disobeying God.

God created families and the church for our good, not to be a source of hatred, grudges, and bitterness. When these exist, either the problem began because someone disobeyed God, or else people have reacted sinfully to the original problem. In any case, severe alienation and bitterness in relationships almost always involve sin.

But if the problem is sin, then the Bible has the solution. Recognizing that sin is the problem gives hope, because a Christian knows that God has the solution to sin.

God expects you to follow His word, even when others do not.

Romans 12:17,21 – Repay no one evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Conflicts always involve more than one person, so they can be completely resolved only if all parties are willing to obey God’s plan. If only one person obeys God, the other person can keep the problem alive. Nevertheless, you can and must follow God’s will regardless of what others do.

If all parties commit themselves to practice God’s plan, sin can be eliminated from any relationship. And regardless of whether or not others obey God, you can still please God if you follow His word.

(Matthew 22:36-39; John 14:15,21-24; Romans 2:6-10; Hebrews 5:9; 10:39; 11:8,30; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; James 1:21-25; 2:14-26; Luke 6:46; 1 John 5:3; 2:3-6)

III. Express Appreciation and Praise for What Is Good.

Our appreciation for one another is always important but especially in times of conflict.

Romans 13:7 – Christians should give honor to whom honor is due. (Philippians 4:6,7)

Often when we are upset we fail to see the good in others. This tends to blow problems out of proportion. In particular, when other people do try to improve, instead of expressing appreciation for those efforts, we immediately criticize and demand more. “Well, but what about this…”

Bible teaching about praise and appreciation of other people is interesting because the Bible emphasizes our need to give praise to others but not to over-emphasize receiving it. This is definitely an area where it is more blessed to give than to receive – Acts 20:35.

God Gives Praise and Appreciation for Our Efforts.

Matthew 16:17 – When Peter confessed Jesus, Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” Peter was often wrong, but in this case he was right so Jesus praised him.

Matthew 25:21 – The master (who illustrates God) told his servant, “ Well done, good and faithful servant.”

1 Corinthians 4:5 – Then each one’s praise will come from God.

God’s praise and appreciation for us should teach us to do the same for others.

(2 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Peter 1:7)

Husbands and Wives Should Give Praise and Appreciation.

Scriptures showing husbands and wives should give praise and appreciation.

Proverbs 31:28-31 – The husband of a good woman ought to give her praise. A woman who fears the Lord, shall be praised. Let her own works praise her in the gates. Husbands, do we praise our wives for the good they do, or do we just criticize? (Proverbs 18:22)

1 Peter 3:7 – The husband should give honor to his wife. Yet, one major failing many husbands have is that we give much more criticism than we give honor. This is absolutely one area in which I failed in the early years of our marriage.

Ephesians 5:33 – Let the wife see that she respects her husband. Is it respectful to criticize your husband repeatedly but rarely have anything good to say about the work he does?

Applications

In time of conflict, we tend to focus on the problems and overlook the blessings.

Time and time again we have seen cases where one spouse really tries to improve some area; but instead of appreciation, all their spouse gives is criticism. It is never good enough.

This becomes a vicious cycle because then people complain that they are not being appreciated enough. Soon everybody is complaining and nobody is expressing appreciation.

And sometimes we set our own standard as to how much appreciation we think we deserve and we feel sorry for ourselves if we do not receive it. And even when others try to express appreciation, we are never satisfied that it is enough. This just escalates the conflict.

Acts 20:35 – This is truly an area in which it is more blessed to give than to receive.

In times of conflict, it is important to focus on giving appreciation to others.

But have a thick skin and don’t brood about how much appreciation we are receiving.

So, if you are angry and upset with your companion, do three things. (1) Make an honest list of every good quality your companion possesses and every good work he/she does. Be as thorough as you can. (2) Then every day make a definite point to find something specific to compliment and express appreciation for. (3) Do your best to focus on resolving the main conflict but try not to focus on your own feelings about whether or not you are being appreciated.

This will significantly help when it comes time to discuss your problems, and it will also make your problems seem much less serious.

(Proverbs 12:4; 19:14; 31:10)

Parents and Children Should Give Praise and Appreciation.

Parents should praise and appreciate their children.

Luke 15:20-24 – The prodigal son had been wrong, but he determined to change. When he repented and returned, the father kissed him, rejoiced, and gave a feast in his honor. The father praised the efforts to do better. But instead, the older brother just harped on past wrongs. Are we like the father, expressing appreciation for sincere efforts to do right, or are we like the older brother who harped on past errors?

Colossians 3:21 – Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Far too often we allow our conflicts with our children to lead to continual harping and nagging, so they become discouraged. We gave them little or no credit no matter how hard they try, so they give up because they think they can never satisfy us.

(Psalm 127:3-5; 128:3,4)

Children should appreciate their parents.

Proverbs 31:28 – Not only the husband but also the children should appreciate a worthy woman. Her children rise up and call her blessed.

Proverbs 20:7 – The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. If your parents sincerely seek to serve the Lord and to raise you to please God and have eternal life, you have a rare and very special blessing. Few people in the world have that blessing. Do you appreciate it? And do you tell your parents that you appreciate it?

What often happens is that we allow our conflicts and disagreements to become our focus so we ignore the good that our parents or our children do. Even when they sincerely try to improve, instead of expressing appreciation, we keep finding more they need to change. “What about this?” and “What about that?” They become convinced their efforts are never good enough, so why try?

Do we continually nag and focus on the changes we think family members should make, or do we make a sincere effort to express appreciation for their good efforts?

Brethren Should Express Praise and Appreciation.

Notice examples in which Paul expressed appreciation and mentioned specific qualities for which he was grateful in those Christians to whom he wrote.

Romans 1:8 – I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Ephesians 1:15,16 – Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:

Philippians 1:3-5 – I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel…

Colossians 1:3,4 – We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints.

1 Thessalonians 1:2,3 – We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.

In addition, Paul often mentioned specific individuals and expressed appreciation for their work (see Romans 16). Even in letters in which Paul rebuked churches for their problems, he always made a point of expressing appreciation for their good qualities where he could.

(1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17)

But Scripture Also Warns Against Too Strongly Desiring Praises from Other People.

Galatians 1:10 – For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Matthew 10:34-37 – Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”; and “a man's enemies will be those of his own household.” s He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Sometimes people seek to resolve conflict with loved ones by compromising the will of God. Others may even pressure us to do what they want to please them. We must always remember that our primary motivation must be to do the will of God and receive his praise.

So, on the one hand Scripture does teach us to give appreciation to others for their efforts to do right. However, Scripture also warns us not to over emphasize receiving appreciation from others. Our main goal in life must be to please God, not people. If others do not appreciate us as they should, we must not use this as an excuse but must serve God faithfully anyway.

(John 12:42,43; 5:44; Matthew 6:1-18; 23:5; 2 Corinthians 10:12,18; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Acts 4:19; 5:29)

IV. Always Speak and Act in Love.

Love is fundamental in resolving conflicts. God requires love in all human relationships.

Family members should always act in love for one another (Ephesians 5:25,28,29; Titus 2:4).

Brethren should always love one another (John 13:34,35; 15:12-17; Ephesians 4:2,31-5:2; Philippians 2:2,3; Hebrews 13:1; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:10-18,23; 4:8-5:3).

Love Is Concern for the Wellbeing of Others.

1 John 4:8-11 (Ephesians 5:25,28,29) – God demonstrated His love in the sacrifice of Christ. New Testament teaching about love is ultimately based on the example of the sacrifice of Jesus. He loved us so much He gave His life so we could be saved. This teaches us the meaning of the love we should have for others. Love requires us always to do what is best for others. (1 John 3:16; John 13:34; 15:12; Ephesians 5:2; Matthew 5:44,45)

1 Corinthians 13:5 – Love is not selfish.

Romans 13:10 – Love works no harm to its neighbor.

Until we learn to overcome selfishness and love others like Jesus loves us, we will never understand the best way to resolve differences.

Love Is a Choice of the Will.

Biblical love is not fundamentally a feeling or emotion. It is a choice. Feelings or emotions may follow, but love begins with an act of the will.

Love is a command.

Matthew 22:37-39 – Love for God and for others are the greatest commands. Love can be commanded because it is a matter of the will. We can choose whether or not to love, just like we choose whether or not to obey any other command.

Some think love just happens: you “fall in love” or out of love. Some couples give up on their marriage because they “just don’t love one another anymore.” This view makes us victims of circumstances, so we are not in control.

When we realize we can choose to love, then we can put love into a relationship.

And if we fail to put it in, we sin.

Romans 5:6-8 – Christ loved us while we were yet sinners, not because we were so lovable that He couldn’t help Himself. He chose to do what we needed done. Just as Christ initiated love toward us when we were not acting lovingly, so it is our responsibility to initiate love.

Luke 6:27,28 – We are commanded to love our enemies. How do you love an enemy? Not by falling uncontrollably into love, but by choosing to do what is best for them.

In marriage the statement “I just don’t love her/him any more” is a confession of sin! The same is true in any other relationship. If we do not have love, we must repent as an act of the will!

Proper love can help avoid many conflicts. But when serious conflicts come, resolving them requires everyone involved to choose to show love.

Love Must Be Expressed in Words and in Deed.

Love should be expressed in what we say.

Ephesians 4:15 – We must speak the truth in love. This is especially important in times of conflict. We must be sure we always speak for the good of all concerned. And we should reassure one another that we really do care about one another.

John 3:16; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 3:8-11; Romans 5:6-9 – God’s word repeatedly states His love for us. Likewise, we should be willing to express in words our care and concern for others.

Do not wait for an overwhelming “feeling” to move you. Since love is a choice of the will, we can choose at any time to state that love. And our speech must always be guided by love.

Love should be expressed in what we do.

1 John 5:2,3 – Love for others requires us to love God and keep His commands. Keeping God’s commands is loving God.

1 John 3:18 – We must love, not just in words, but in deed and in truth. This is a vital principle in every relationship. We ought to say loving things, but that alone is not enough. We must act in love. Whatever we do and say must be directed by God’s will, motivated by love.

Far too often in times of conflict, we seek our own will, our own advantage, a victory at the expense of others.

(Luke 10:25-37; 6:27,28; John 14:15,21-24,31; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:6; Hebrews 10:24; 1 John 2:3-6,15-17; 5:2,3; 2 John 5,6; Revelation 3:19)

It follows that continual angry quarreling, strife, insults, yelling, slander, and vengeful speech are unloving, unhelpful, and sinful.

As with many other Bible subjects, contending, striving, and disputing can be right or wrong depending on our motive, our manner, and whether we are contending for the truth of God’s word (Jude 3) or for our own personal desires and self will.

Proverbs 6:16-19 – God hates one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 3:30 – Do not strive with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm. (Note the implication that we may have proper cause to strive with someone who has caused harm.)

Proverbs 18:19 – A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.

Proverbs 19:13 – The contentions of a wife are a continual dripping.

Proverbs 26:21 – As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Romans 1:29,32 – Those who practice or approve of strife, malice, etc. are worthy of death.

Romans 13:13 – Let us walk properly … not in strife and envy.

1 Corinthians 3:3,4 – For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (When Christians fuss about exalting people, that is strife and division that God forbids.) (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Galatians 5:15,20,21 – But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! … contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions … those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Timothy 1:4 – Do not give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. (Note the implication that we should contend for views that do cause godly edification in the faith.)

James 3:16-18 – For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 4:1,2 – Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

3 John 9,10 – Diotrephes loved to have preeminence, prating against John with malicious words and putting some out of the church.

Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

1 Corinthians 13:5 – Love does not seek its own.

This is why love is so important in resolving conflict. Truly solving problems requires seeking the edification and welfare of others, not just to get our own way in order please ourselves.

(Proverbs 10:12; 13:10; 16:28; 17:1,14; 18:6; 20:3; 22:10; 26:20; 28:25; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:23-25; Titus 3:9; 2 Corinthians 12:20)

Love Requires Giving and Self-sacrifice.

Giving of self is the essence of love.

Ephesians 5:25 – Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it.

John 3:16 – God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.

1 John 3:14-18 – If you see your brother in need and don’t give what is needed, you don’t have love. Surely this applies in the home or the church. If I see my spouse, child, or brother in need and don’t give what is needed, I do not have love. (Notice that says “need,” not “want.”)

Romans 12:20 – Even loving your enemy requires giving food and drink when needed.

Note that this also requires giving our time and effort for the good of the other person. Many homes and churches face serious problems because people are too busy doing other things – maybe even useful things – to develop and maintain good relationships with one another.

Families and brethren must determine to take time for one another. This is a requirement of love, and love is a Divine command. If you are too busy to spend some time regularly with your family and the church, you need to rearrange your schedule!

A basic requirement in solving disagreements is a willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others.

In times of conflict, each party typically refuses to change because he/she is upset at something the other person did. If we would view the situation honestly and objectively (as if it were someone else’s problem), we might see that changing would help. But we refuse to admit our error or change because of something we dislike in others.

The fundamental lesson of Christ’s love is that we should give up our desires for the good of others even when they are not acting like we think they should. Don’t say, “I’ll change if he/she will too.” If an act would be helpful, do it regardless of what they do. If we have been wrong, admit it regardless of whether or not they admit their errors.

Even if we are convinced we are not the root cause of a problem, we should ask ourselves honestly what we can do to help improve it. This does not mean ignoring sin. Jesus never committed or compromised with sin, but He did sacrifice Himself to provide a solution to the problem we caused. He did not just sit back and criticize us for our sin, but He became involved to provide a solution. He did not do everything for us, but He made sure we had a way whereby we could overcome the problem.

A mistake I often made early in our marriage was to just criticize without offering help in solving the problem: “Here’s the problem and I expect you to solve it.” Is that helpful? Instead think, “What can I offer to do – how can I become involved – so as to help resolve this problem?” Instead of saying, “Why don’t you do this?” say, “Why don’t you and I work on this together?”

As long as neither party will take the first step to give up what they want, strife will continue. When one is willing to give in for the good of the group, then a start has been made toward resolving the problem. When both are willing to give in for the good of the group, then the solution definitely will be found.

Love is essential to avoiding and solving conflict.

V. Discuss the Problem

A. Be Willing to Discuss.

Sometimes one party or both parties in a dispute refuse to talk.

Solving problems requires being willing to discuss.

Proverbs 1:5 – A wise man will hear and increase learning.

Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.

Proverbs 10:17 – He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray.

James 1:19 – Every man should be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

When a person refuses to discuss a problem, he is implying that he needs no advice, or that he already has all the answers and no one can have a better way. Such an attitude is arrogant.

(Proverbs 15:22; 19:20,21; 15:31,32; 13:18)

Specifically, husbands and wives should discuss problems and needs.

Ephesians 5:25ff – The husband is head of the wife as Jesus is head of the church. But God listens to our requests in prayer (Philippians 4:6,7).

Ephesians 5:28,29 – The husband should love his wife as he does his own body, but the body communicates its needs so the head can make decisions according to what is best.

1 Peter 3:7 – The husband should treat his wife with understanding. But since men are not mind readers, this requires listening to the wife’s views.

When a man is unwilling to discuss with his wife about decisions that affect her, he shows a general misunderstanding of Scripture. But when serious problems exist in the home, that approach can be even more dangerous. Serious problems can be resolved only when both spouses are willing to communicate about the problem.

(Matthew 7:12)

If sin is involved, both parties are commanded to discuss.

Luke 17:3,4 – The one who believes the other has sinned, must rebuke him.

Matthew 5:23,24 – One who has been accused of sin must be willing to seek reconciliation.

Leviticus 19:17,18 – You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke [“reason frankly with” – ESV] your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

Note that the person who believes he has been wronged and the person who is accused of doing wrong are both obligated to discuss the matter. If conflict is to be resolved, it must begin by discussion. “Clamming up” is not an option.

This does not mean that matters must be discussed endlessly. Later we will consider steps to bring a problem to a conclusion. But finding a solution must begin by discussing.

Proper timing and circumstances are also important. Avoid discussing in front of uninvolved parties or when one is extremely angry. Nevertheless, don’t just “clam up” or stalk out of the room and refuse to discuss. Instead, say, “Let’s discuss that in private.” Or agree to discuss the matter later and set a time when you will discuss it. Make an appointment and keep it!

(Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1; Proverbs 27:5,6; 10:17; 13:18; 15:31,32; 29:1; 25:12; 9:8; 12:1)

B. Speak to Resolve the Problem, Not to Hurt One Another.

Matthew 5:24 – The goal is to be reconciled, not to hurt people. Many are willing to talk for the purpose of getting their way, raking other people over the coals, winning a victory, or proving the other person wrong. The purpose ought to be to find a Scriptural resolution.

Romans 12:17,19-21 – Don’t repay evil for evil or seek vengeance but return good for evil. Sometimes people start out trying to resolve a problem, but one insults the other, then the other returns an insult. Soon the goal becomes to see who can hurt the other person worst.

Too many discussions end up being quarrels, because we let the problem become an occasion to attack one another. Instead, we should work together to attack the problem. Discuss to solve the problem, not to hurt one another’s feelings.

Suggestion: Introduce the specific problem objectively, then maintain focus on the problem. “There’s a problem we need to talk about…” Don’t enlarge the problem to attack the character of the other person. Avoid: “You’re just selfish, that’s all,” or “Why can’t you be like so-and-so?” or “You’re just like your mother!” or “Why do you always have to ...?”

C. Listen to Other Viewpoints.

A “discussion” requires both listening and talking. In practice, however, many people only want to express their own views and expect everyone to listen to them.

James 1:19 – Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Don’t enter the discussion assuming the other person has no valid reasons to consider. We should be quickly willing to listen and slow to present our views, especially when we are angry.

Suggestion: Begin the discussion by asking the other party to explain his/her view. Do not assume you know their view. Ask questions to help you understand. “Could you explain why you did it that way?” “Have you considered doing it like this?” Maybe they have considered your idea and have some valid reasons for preferring another approach.

Do not dominate the discussion. Let the other person express his/her views. Do you appreciate it when others just attack your views but refuse to listen to what you have to say? “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and practice the golden rule (Matthew 7:12).

D. Honestly Discuss the Evidence.

John 7:24 – “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Honestly seek to learn the facts of what happened.

Maybe the other person did not do what you thought they did. Maybe they have reasons that you have not considered.

Matthew 18:16 – By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Acts 24:13). Do not consider others guilty of wrongdoing until the evidence is clear. Do not condemn on the basis of opinions and flimsy appearances for which you would not want be condemned.

Present evidence for your view. Don’t just make charges and accusations. Don’t jump to conclusions or assign motives. If you don’t have proof, then ask questions. But don’t make accusations unless you have proof. Prove what you say or else don’t say it!

Volume does not constitute proof.

Sometimes one or both parties will try to get his/her way by talking loudly, talking endlessly, bringing a matter up over and over and over, or repeatedly interrupting others. The result amounts to intimidation, browbeating, bullying, or nagging. It is an attempt to wear other people down, frighten them, or make them miserable till they give in.

Matthew 6:7 – Some people “think they will be heard for their many words.” God does not grant such requests, so why should we?

Proverbs 21:9; 19:13 – It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman. A form of Chinese torture was to have drops of water repeatedly drip on a man’s forehead. That is how Scripture describes nagging.

Proverbs 10:19 – In the multitude of words sin is not lacking; he who restrains his lips is wise.

Just because you can talk longer and louder than others does not prove you are right! All parties must be willing to listen and to speak honestly to resolve the problem.

(Proverbs 20:3; 21:19; 17:27)

E. Read and Discuss Scripture as Your Authority.

Appeal to the Bible and examine it together whenever we believe sin is involved.

1 John 3:4 – Sin is transgression of God’s law. God’s laws are revealed in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16,17). So we establish what is right or wrong by appealing to Scripture.

Matthew 4:4,7,10 – When disputing with Satan, Jesus cited Scripture.

Matthew 19:4-6 – When debating about divorce and remarriage, Jesus quoted Scripture.

Matthew 22:29,32 – When disputing with the Sadducees, Jesus said they were mistaken because they did not know the Scriptures. Then He cited specific Scripture for His belief.

Ephesians 6:17 – The sword of the Spirit is the word of God.

Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

The Scriptures are God’s standard to determine truth and to persuade other people to believe it. In any conflict about what is or is not sinful, who is or is not guilty, we must always base our appeal on Scripture. Open the Bible and read it together.

(Acts 15:13-18; 17:2,3)

E. Honestly Examine Your Own Conduct, Motives, Etc.

Consider honestly the possibility that you may have been wrong, or that you may at least have contributed to the problem. Do not just find fault with others. Perhaps you can improve.

Genesis 3:12,13 – When the first couple sinned, the man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. Both had been wrong, but neither was willing to admit wrong. Even when we are guilty, we want others to bear or share the blame: “Look what he/she did!”

Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. When serious problems exist, almost invariably there is sin, but the guilty one(s) refuses to admit it, blames others, rationalizes, etc.

Pride keeps us from admitting guilt. Most people can think of lots of applications to others, but what about you? (It is interesting how many people, after beginning this study, say their spouse really needs this material! It may be said in humor, but are we examining ourselves?)

Honesty and humility lead us to seek the truth and admit our errors. And remember, even if we are not convinced we caused a problem, love leads us to get involved and help solve it.

(2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Psalm 32:3,5; Galatians 6:1)

F. Be Patient and Control Your Temper.

1 Corinthians 13:4 – Love is patient. Often we become frustrated when a matter is not quickly resolved. Some solutions require many discussions and gradual improvement. Don’t give up. Don’t expect people to change overnight. Give it time.

Proverbs 18:13 – To answer a matter before we have heard it is foolish. Sometimes we are ready to judge a matter before we have thought it through. Don’t make snap decisions.

Don’t expect complete solutions the first time a matter is discussed. Take time for everyone to think things through. If initial discussion doesn’t lead to a solution, ask for time to think about it. Make another appointment to discuss again later. You are more likely to reach a rational conclusion, and others will know you have taken the matter seriously.

Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Don’t allow anger to cloud your objectivity so you resort to hurting the other person. Anger is not necessarily sinful, but it must be controlled so it does not lead us into sin.

(Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Ephesians 4:26; James 1:19,20)

VI. Follow God’s Pattern for Reconciling Alienation.

The goal is, not to talk endlessly nor simply to vent frustrations, but to resolve the problem. You should seek to determine a plan of action whereby the problem ceases to alienate you.

All disagreements fall into one or the other of two categories:

(1) Differences that involve no sin

(2) Problems that do involve sin

Both involve Bible principles, but the second is of greatest consequence.

A. Overlook or Compromise Differences that Involve No Sin.

These can be discussed under two categories:

Overlook differences that are of little consequence.

Each of us dislikes characteristics in others that may not be sinful. Either they cannot be changed, or it is not worth the trouble it would cause to try to change them.

Scriptures

1 Corinthians 13:4,5 – Love suffers long and is kind. Love is not selfish.

Ephesians 4:2,3 – We should be longsuffering and bear with one another.

Proverbs 17:1 – Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.

Proverbs 17:14 – The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.

Proverbs 29:11 – A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. Some people brag, “I say just what I think.” Apparently they do not realize some things are better left unsaid.

Applications

We should learn to overlook these differences without bitterness. Sin must not be overlooked, but if there is no sin and others do things we just don’t like, then love will not push personal desires to the point of alienation.

“Research has shown that every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of ‘incompatibility’ or disagreement that they will never resolve … If we switch partners, we’ll just get ten new areas of disagreement.” – Diane Sollee of SmartMarriages.com, Eagle Forum Report, 3/2017

Note carefully: this research describes happy, successful couples. Yet they average ten areas of disagreement that they have never resolved and never will resolve.

Some couples allow such matters to make them so unhappy they divorce. But they would just have different problems with somebody else.

Some family members and some brethren fuss, quarrel, nag, and insult one another repeatedly over differences that are not sinful, but they are just determined to get their own way.

So why are some couples happy and successful? It is not because they have resolved all the differences, but because they have determined simply to overlook some differences! Some characteristics and some differences are just not important enough to cause conflict about.

Compromise more serious differences that are not sinful.

It is true we must not compromise with sin. But not all differences are matters of sin.

Scriptures

James 3:17 – Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable and willing to yield. Christians want peace, especially in their families and in the church. Purity must come first – we do not overlook sin. But when a matter is not sinful, seek a peaceable resolution that avoids conflict, even if we have to give up our own desires to achieve it.

Genesis 13:5-9 – Strife occurred between the herdsmen of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot because the land was not able to sustain their large flocks. Instead of insisting on his own way, Abraham sought peace because they were brothers. They achieved peace by separating.

Genesis 26:19-22 – Water was essential in Palestine, especially for those with large flocks. When his herdsmen quarreled with other people about water, Isaac just dug another well, then still another well. Finally, he moved a distance away and dug another well. That achieved peace.

Acts 15:36-40 – Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” about whether or not to take Mark on their second trip after he had deserted them on the first trip. They solved the disagreement by a compromise: they separated. Barnabas took Mark, and Paul took Silas. There is no evidence here or elsewhere that either Paul or Barnabas sinned.

Proverbs 20:3 – It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel.

(Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:11)

Applications

Refusing to compromise for the sake of peace in matters that are not sinful can be wrong just as surely as compromising with matters that really are sinful.

Choose your battles.” Don’t make an issue over everything that irritates you. Decide how serious the issue really is. Is it sinful? Is it worth conflict and disagreement? Some matters should simply be dropped. Others may be discussed but resolved by compromise.

Be willing to compromise – give and take. Seek a middle-ground solution. “I’ll give in here, if you’ll give in there.” Or, “Let’s do it your way this time, and then next time we’ll do it my way.” We must not compromise regarding sin. But simple differences of view are another matter.

Perhaps, in some matter, you will end up each going separate ways and doing separate things.

Our family used to have conflict over what movie to watch on family nights or where we should eat on trips. We found the solution: take turns. This time it is one person’s turn, next time another person’s turn, etc. There is no arguing. Each person knows he/she will get his turn but will also have to agree without fussing when it is someone else’s turn.

However, if one has been guilty of sin, then another approach must be taken.

B. Repent of Sin.

I emphasize that God has a pattern for reconciling sin just as surely as He does for salvation, worship, church organization and work, etc.! We have no more right to ignore or disobey this pattern than we do any other.

Start by examining yourself.

Before you blame others for a problem, consider your own conduct.

2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. In matters that may be sinful, we are obligated before God to consider our own guilt. Remember, guilt is determined by Scripture, not by our opinions or those of others.

Matthew 7:3-5 – Do not just consider the speck in another person’s eye, but first remove the plank from your own eye.

Most of us are experts at minimizing our errors while maximizing the “errors” of others. “Well, maybe I did make a mistake, but look what you did!” My errors are “mistakes,” but yours are big, black sins!

This is true in the church, but it is also true – and sometimes a bigger problem – in the home.

Recognize your errors and humbly determine to change.

Acts 8:22 – Those who have sinned are commanded to repent and pray for forgiveness.

2 Corinthians 7:10 – Godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation. Repentance is a decision and commitment to change. We must recognize we have been wrong and agree to do right. If sin is the cause of our problems, we will never correct the problem until we repent.

One of the first steps each of us must learn in solving conflicts is to recognize and admit where we have been wrong. “Clean your own slate first,” then you can help others with any corrections they need to make.

(Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9)

C. Acknowledge Our Sin (Confess It).

Scriptures

Luke 17:3,4 – If we have sinned, we must say, “I repent” (or words that mean that). Sometimes we realize we were wrong, but we are too proud to admit it. Until we do so, those whom we have wronged cannot know we have repented.

Matthew 5:23,24 – When we have wronged someone, we must go to them and make it right, or God will not accept our worship. Note it: God does not accept my worship if I refuse to correct the wrongs I have done to others. Have you made right the wrongs you have done?

James 5:16 – We must confess our sins one to another. Sometimes we think admitting error will cause people to lose respect for us. This is simply pride. But love is not puffed up (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Or we think others are as much or more to blame, so we expect them to admit their error before we will admit ours. But God commands us to admit and confess our sins, whether or not others ever admit sin. Is it really worth it to persist in your stubborn pride when the result is that you stand guilty before your Creator and will give account in the day of judgment?

Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

Applications

Don’t say, “I’ll apologize if he/she will.” I have seen cases where people in obvious sin would grudgingly admit error only if everybody else – or at least somebody else – would apologize too. They think they can save face, because other people had to admit error. If I “repent” only on condition that other people repent, is that real repentance?

My confession must come from repentance, and my repentance must come from godly sorrow. If I am truly sorry, then I must repent and confess whether or not anyone else does. If I sinned, God commands me to say, “I repent” – no conditions on what others do.

If I don’t repent and confess, I remain in sin. If I refuse to repent because other people refuse to repent, then I am allowing myself to remain in sin because other people remain in sin! If I really am sorry and repent, others will not need to drag an apology from me or bargain with me. I will willingly be the first to apologize!

Confessions should be specific and clearly stated. Don’t minimize, make excuses, blame shift, or recriminate. Even if you are convinced others are wrong too, honestly admit your own error and correct it. Don’t try to save face.

Don’t demand that other people forgive you. Don’t instruct them on how they ought to treat you. Just humbly apologize. Then later, perhaps at some other time, discuss the errors you believe they need to correct.

D. Pray for Forgiveness.

Acts 8:22 – Peter told Simon to repent and pray for forgiveness. If we have sinned, we must confess, not just to others, but also to God.

1 John 1:9 – He is faithful to forgive us if we confess our sins.

Some of us are too proud even to admit our sins to God! God says to confess our sins or we remain in sin! When you have sinned, do you humbly confess it to God and to those you hurt?

(Matthew 6:12; Psalm 32:5; Proverbs 28:13)

E. Forgive One Another.

Scriptures

Luke 17:3,4 – When one has sinned against us and confesses, we must forgive, even seven times a day if necessary. Love forgives as often as is needed.

Matthew 18:21-35 adds that we must forgive 70 times 7 – i.e., without limit.

Matthew 6:12,14,15 – If we refuse to forgive others, God will simply not forgive us. These principles apply whether we are talking about someone in the church or in the family.

Applications

Colossians 3:13 – We must forgive the way God forgives. How does God forgive us?

Do not limit what kind of sin or how many times we must forgive.

Does God say, “I don’t care how sorry you are or how hard you try, I won’t forgive”? “I’ve forgiven you enough already.” Or “I won’t forgive stealing or adultery or murder.”

Time and again I have seen couples that have fought so long that one of them decides he or she will not forgive again, no matter what the spouse does or says. They may grieve for years about some error their spouse committed. Finally, the spouse humbly apologizes and asks forgiveness and they say, “I have put up with this so long, I just can’t forgive him/her.”

Do not bring up a forgiven transgression as a weapon.

Some people keep reminding a person of his errors even after he has repented and confessed. Sometimes they drag out old sins to make the other person feel guilty so he will give in about some current disagreement. When God forgives, does He keep bringing it up to condemn us?

Illustration: When Indian tribes made peace, they would symbolize it by burying a hatchet (tomahawk). The point was that everybody knew where it was, but nobody would dig it up and use it to hurt the others. So forgiveness does not mean we are no longer aware the thing happened. It means we will not bring it up again to hurt the other person with it.

Proverbs 10:12 – Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.

Note: Give a specific verbal assurance of forgiveness. The confession should be clearly stated and the forgiveness should be clearly stated so no one is left in doubt.

Do you love God and others enough to admit your errors and then to really forgive like you want God to forgive you?

(Matthew 5:7)

F. Seek Help (If Necessary)

If we really love God and one another, the steps we have described will resolve most serious conflicts in the church and in the home. But what if there clearly is sin and the above procedure has been tried, but the problem remains? The Bible tells us to get help from other Christians.

Seek help from one or two faithful Christians.

Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens. Our first source of help should be other Christians. Some are proud and embarrassed to have others find out about their problems, but one of the first steps to overcoming a problem is to admit we have it.

James 5:16 – Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another. Sometimes other Christians have had experience dealing with a problem and can give the Scripture or application that we need. Surely they can pray for us.

Sometimes, if they seek help at all, Christians will go to a counselor or psychiatrist who is not even a true Christian. Such counselors often complicate problems instead of solving them. In any case, if the problem is sin, who can help solve it better than other Christians?

Follow Matthew 18:15-17.

If your brother sins against you, first discuss it privately with him. But if this does not resolve it, get help. Take one or two other Christians with you.

We would hope that the help of one or two other Christians would solve the problem; but if it does not, then the Bible says to take the matter before the congregation. Perhaps the involvement of the whole church will bring the guilty party to his senses.

If even this does not solve the problem, then the one who is clearly in sin must be withdrawn from. (2 Thessalonians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 5; etc.)

This discusses cases where one Christian sins against another. Many think this passage applies to disputes in the church but not in the home. Why not? Where does this, or similar passages, exclude family members from the application? Most of the Scriptures we have cited in this study have been general in application, not specifically regarding the family, yet we can all see they would apply to the family. Why is that not the case with this verse? (Compare 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.)

This is not to say we should run to the church with every personal problem. Nor should we be quick to pursue such a course. We should be patient and give abundant opportunity for correction before such measures. But if sin is clearly involved and private efforts do not lead to repentance, God gives a pattern for proceeding. In far too many cases, sin continues in the church and in our homes because we are too proud or too foolish to pursue the Scriptural course for seeking help.

G. Develop and Carry Out a Plan to Correct the Problem.

Many problems in the church or home are deep-rooted. Some people confess a sin over and over, then they go back and commit the same sin again and again. They never change because they never make a plan for changing. They seem to think that all they need to do is to admit the wrong from time to time and people should overlook it without requiring specific commitment regarding how the person intends to change.

Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. No matter how often we confess a problem, it is not truly resolved until we determine to change our conduct!

Matthew 21:28-31 – Jesus described a son who did not do what his father said. When he repented, he had to do what he failed to do. When we repent of wrongs, we must work to make sure they are not repeated. For longstanding habits, change will require planning and effort.

Acts 26:20 – One who repents must bring forth “fruits of repentance” or do “works worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8-14; Matthew 3:8). This includes making sure that we do not repeat the wrong in the future. But it also includes doing what we can to overcome the harm caused by our wrong deeds of the past.

When people have longstanding and deepseated problems, resolution should include a mutual agreement about what they specifically intend to do differently in the future to change the conduct. They need a specific program or plan of action, perhaps even one written down.

Future courses of action should be discussed and agreements should include exactly what each person will do differently in the future. Preferably, these should be stated in a way that it will be evident when the changes are (or are not) being carried out. Specific commitments or promises should be made to carry out these actions.

James 5:12 – Let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” When we make commitments to one another, we must mean what we say and then must carry out our commitments. We must make the changes we promised to make and fulfill the plan of action we agreed upon.

(Compare Ephesians 4:25-32; Matthew 12:43-45; Ezekiel 33:14,15; 1 Samuel 12:3; Philemon 10-14,18,19; Luke 19:8; Romans 1:31,32; 2 Corinthians 8:11.)

Conclusion

We might think that the church and the home would be the relationships in which people would most love and care for one another. But I am convinced that many people will be lost because of their treatment of their spouses, children, and brethren.

But the Scriptures provide us to all good works, including how to solve conflicts. There is no need for Christians to live year after year with serious alienation in their homes or in the church. There is hope for troubled relationships. We can solve our problems God’s way.

What about your relationship with your family and with your brethren? Do you need to make changes? Do you need to begin by receiving forgiveness of your sins and becoming a child of God? If you have done that, are you living faithfully in all your relationships?

c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018

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