Conflict is an inevitable part of doing life with other sinful human beings. Some things will rub us the wrong way, miscommunication will arise, or someone will hurt someone else intentionally or otherwise. When these things occur, emotions rise, tempers flare, and conflict ensues. While conflict is a normal and expected part of life here on this broken planet and often outside the realm of our control, how we navigate conflict is within our sphere of control and should be different as followers of Jesus Christ.
The world handles conflict through litigation and argument. America is especially prone to this form of conflict management. We stand on rights and spend all our time seeking to logically outline how our rights have been violated and why we deserve retribution since our position is correct and our opponent is in the wrong. This is why lawyers make some of the most money, why law firms are everywhere, and why lawsuits are so common place that we even have a separate court system to deal with it: civil court.
But how does the Bible address conflict? How does God expect His children to navigate and handle disputes among themselves? Do we follow the world’s methods and models?
No! We have been redeemed and called to be set apart and different from the world in all ways; therefore, this would include our conflict resolution. Paul addresses this topic with the Corinthians. Similar to the day and age we live in, the Corinthians had conflict within their church and were using the world’s methods to deal with it. Members of the church were using the court system to mediate and litigate their issues. However, Paul points out that as believers they should be handling their conflict in a very different manner. He writes:
“I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!”
~1 Corinthians 6:5-8
Paul makes it very clear that two believers should not take each other to court and seek mediation from an unbelieving judge. Conflict among the members of the church body should be dealt with inside the church. Moreover, Paul states that it would be much better for there not to even be this sort of conflict within the church.
As Christians, we share the same eternal inheritance and serve the same God. Therefore, fights over petty, trivial, and temporary things like personal offenses and monetary loss should not hold such importance and priority in the life of the believer that lawsuits would be prompted. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that just the fact that brothers have lawsuits against other brothers is a defeat. No matter the outcome of the litigation, everyone loses because the unity Christ died to give us has been broken.
Therefore, what should Christians’ response to conflict be? In a lawsuit-riddled and sue-happy culture, how do we navigate conflict and offense?
According to the Bible, we suffer wrong. We are defrauded and do not retaliate. We forgive and love instead of seek retribution. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s completely counter-cultural and goes against every desire innate within us. But this is the example Jesus gave us and is the standard we are called to follow.
However, does that mean that we just passively sit and allow abuse to repeatedly occur within the church? No. Sin must be dealt with and that’s where the church discipline Paul outlined in chapter five comes into play. But this discipline should take place within the church and not dragged outside to the civil courts. Furthermore, the purpose of church discipline is to restore a brother, not gain retribution or win the argument for the sake of reputation. Paul is very clear that it is better to be wronged or defrauded than to bring lawsuits against one another.
We live in a conflict laden society with lawsuits happening around the clock and lawyers making big bucks off our inability to navigate our differences. But what if the church in America followed Paul’s instructions and stopped following the world’s method of conflict resolution and started bearing with one another in love? The culture could change. The church culture would definitely change and the watching world would see a counter-cultural response to conflict which would have huge impact.
Therefore, let’s start shifting our paradigm and rethinking how we as Christians approach conflict and those who have wronged us. For we are called to a higher standard as citizens of God’s kingdom and should, therefore, be more than happy to suffer wrong and be wronged for the sake of Christ without seeking retribution. Let’s start using God’s counter-cultural conflict resolution style for the sake of unity in the church and out of obedience to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
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