"7 Principles About Conflict Resolution"

Jerry A. Collins

If you live on planet earth, you have conflicts. Autonomous beings, by the very nature of their individual existence, will come into conflict with each other. A conflict is a state of opposition between persons that leads to enmity or hatred of each other. The conflict is personal in that it is between two people and it is a real conflict indicating a disagreement that can, may or is leading down the road toward enmity in the relationship. The Bible teaches us that all personal conflicts must be resolved. From the world’s perspective there are at least four ways to resolve our conflicts. (1) Retreat go for lose-win where I lose and you win. The problem here is that I build up resentment and look for ways to get even. (2) Self-Destruct go for lose-lose. That's where we both lose and the problem is that we both lose. (3) Attack go for win-lose. That's where I win you lose and I get something at your expense. (4) Negotiate settlement go for win-win or compromise. That's where we both win thinking we are both right from own perspective and we then determine what is right for us. Each of these sees the conflict between you and the other person and the basic problem with these approaches is that they leave God out. The Bibles perspective sees the conflict as between you and God not you and the other person.

1. Face The Conflict Vertically not Horizontally

The Bible never says we should define a conflict as between two people. We should encourage people to pursue a right solution before God. For instance, the Bible sees the situation as a conflict between them and God not between them and the other person.

Understanding that the real conflict is between God and me we can now face the other person in an entirely different way, with different set of principles to accomplish entirely different objective. Now our objective is not win/win but bringing glory to God. Our dealing with the other person is now a function of our obedience to God. Our actions toward the other will be directed by God, His Word with objective to do all things pleasing in His site.

2. Define conflict as Sinful Activity

Whether I am in conflict or it is someone else facing conflict, the Bible describes it as a situation where Gods values are being violated. For instance, in Matthew 18:15 Jesus says if you see a brother heading into sin go to him and show him his fault. It is not conflict between two brothers but one pointing out a sin in another. In case of adultery in 1 Cor. 5 Paul does not see it as a conflict between he and adulterous brother but as pointing out his sin. When Paul challenged Peter for not eating with the Gentile believers did not see it as a conflict between he and Peter but as a sin of Peter Gal 2:11. When John challenged Diotrephes he did not describe it as a conflict between them but pointing out Diotrephes' sin 3 John 10. Jesus did not just have a conflict with Pharisees he pointed out their sin Matt 23. Peter did not have conflict with Simon the magician he pointed out his sin Acts 8:20. So conflicts are not just described as two brothers who have a legitimate disagreement Gal 6:1. It is a violation of Gods values that constitute a conflict and when we are having a conflict we must first view it as vertical and determine where our sin nature has come into conflict with Gods Word or where a brothers sin nature is in conflict with God.

3. Focus on goal of confession/forgiveness/restoration

Confession is to say the same words as the one to whom you are confessing. Confession is first and foremost what one does before God. I am agreeing with God about my sin 1 John 1:9. Then it puts me on the same side of the issue as God. I am now looking at it Gods way. Conflict with someone is not necessarily a result of sin. Yet most of our conflicts are caused by or at least contributed to by our sin nature Rom. 3:10-18. It is possible that our conflicts could be caused by our righteous actions. But when we view them as us vs. them rather than the struggle we go through conforming our will to Gods then sin is included on our part 1 Cor. 6:7. So confession is primarily a vertical issue. Forgiveness is taking on the consequences of another's sin. It only has to do with God and me not the other person. It is vertical not horizontal. Matthew 18:21-22 conflict is resolved by forgiving someone of the earthly results of their sin against God without seeking justice, revenge, bitterness or hatred. Once we recognize the damage caused by our sin and confess it to God and are forgiven by Him then we should also be restored to fellowship. But that does not erase the consequence of the sin. Other believers can restore me and you to relationship but no one can undo the damage done by sin. Every genuine request for forgiveness must be met with restoration to fellowship but being restored does not wipe out the sin or its effects.

4. Frame all our relationships in context of our love for God

In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus gives us the two great commandments and loving God is first, loving your neighbor second. The vertical governs the horizontal. Love is doing the best good for the other person and it always results in giving. You can do nothing to pay it back but only receive it. But I do this out of my love for God. I love my neighbor, my wife, my husband, my father and mother, my lost friend, my enemies. So love resolves conflicts when we first and foremost love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. In that vertical context I can love my neighbor for whom I can do good. If someone has a conflict with us they are in our sphere and we have opportunity of serving that person within the context of our vertical love for God 1 Cor. 13.

5. Look at conflict as chance to change yourself

Most people want to resolve their conflict with some other person by changing that other person. But that sees the problem as horizontal again. We can only improve our relationship with the other person by changing our own relationship with God. Seeing resolution as requiring change in another instead of ourselves means giving up all participation in resolving the conflict since the real conflict is vertical not horizontal. Since you and God are the two involved in your conflict the only person you can change is you. Pursue what is most profitable for yourself from God's point of view. What are most profitable are rewards in heaven. Satan, our sin nature tells us to sacrifice the future for the present. God, new nature tells us to sacrifice the present for the future. (Illustration of disciplining children for looks, become responsible, rewarded in heaven).

6. Help others see conflict vertically

People generally see conflict as a wall with them on one side and you on the other. This wall looks different from each side and it becomes thicker and higher as we look. We can continue to build it bigger or ignore it but neither resolves it. Our task is not to see it from their side or our side but bring God's perspective to their side. We need to get the attention on Gods Word instead of each other's opinions Phil8-16. Ask ‘what is the heart of God in this issue?’

7. Realize not all conflicts can be resolved

An unresolvable conflict is one where a clear sin needing to be confessed is not found yet unresolvable differences exist. The solution seems to be separation from each other Acts 15:39-40 unless there is a biblical command forbidding separation like marriage, parenting. Separation in these situations may result in stronger ministry for the kingdom of God, being used mightily of God and producing stronger leaders for God.