Conflict is very dangerous (“The Slippery Slope”, from The Peacemaker*). Don’t make things worse through unbiblical methods of handling conflict.
But also conflict is very dangerous. In your folder, there is a spectrum there. I have it also on the PowerPoint, and it’s called The Slippery Slope of Conflict. And the way it’s designed, maybe it’s easier to look up there, is that the the far left and the far right represent unbiblical responses to conflict. Escape responses is avoiding conflict. Attack responses is being overly aggressive against the person with whom you’re having the conflict, and then the middle are biblical responses which are peacemaking responses. My observation is in most conflicts you often will have one who wants to run and one who wants to fight. My observation especially is this is true in marriage. You’ll have one who’s like a bulldog and we’re gonna solve this, and we’re gonna fix it, and they just keep at it, at it, at it, often times really trying to win, rather than to resolve the conflict. And you’ll have another who just wants to brush them to the table and let’s not talk about this anymore. There are some people, when there’s conflict, and they’re on the right side, which is in this case not good, but bad, on the right side, and they fight. Revenge. The scripture says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved. Never pay evil for evil to anyone.” But some people say, “You can’t do this to me, and whatever you’ve done to me, I’m gonna do back twice to you.” revenge is incredibly common. When people feel like they have been wronged, and this actually… Part of our being in the image of God is we have a sense of justice, and we have this a little balance scale in our heart. And when somebody wrongs us, it’s like the balance is now off kilter. And we have this desire to take action to put it back even again. And that desire is really to play God and to punish the guilty to make things right. The problem is you are not God. And that desire for revenge where, example I was dealing with in counseling this week, where a woman is very upset with her in-laws for having meddled in her marriage. And so, what she has done is making Facebook posts for all the world to see about how terrible her in-laws are, and sending emails to people.
The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God, but revenge in various forms, a way it can happen, and actually here’s some examples. Verbal attacks with his tongue, the Proverb says, “The godless man destroys his neighbor. “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword.” I counsel couple sometimes, and when they come in, and they start talking, they both, as far as I can tell, their objective is to absolutely destroy and obliterate the other party. They’re not trying to solve a problem. They attack each other, and they expect me to kind of applaud. Yeah, you really got him there, ma’am. There’s nothing left but a pile of dirt where you just do that lightning bolt. But they just throw grenades and shoot bazookas at each other, and assault each other verbally. And when you’ve been married a long time, you know the faults and the sins and the past of the other person, you could be pretty effective at it. Another way is to do it behind their back. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends. So you don’t wanna face him and tell what you think of him, so you tell other people, and you undermine their reputation. Everybody thinks he’s so great. I’ll tell him what he’s really like. And then of course more severe going down the spectrum is attacking someone physically, beating them, abusing them. Murder, the ultimate peace-breaking.
Another one the Bible talks about is lawsuits. That’s something probably our country surpasses all the world in all of history in terms of the use of the courts. It’s interesting, Paul actually write to the Corinthians aghast saying, “Does anyone of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” And he is disgusted at the church members suing each other. Courts exercise brute force. They don’t restore relationships, especially the way our courts are. It’s a completely adversarial system. One of the worst things that could happen in a conflict is that it goes to court, and people are on opposite sides. We actually had a case many years ago where there’s a man who I’ll call Al. And Al was living with his mother, and Al was about 40 years old. And Al and his mother, his mother had received an inheritance, and she had bought a house with the inheritance in which they lived. And then as he was working, she was retired. They accumulated some money. I think they maybe made a loan on the first house. And they started buying lots of rental houses, scattered around the area. This would’ve been in the mid-90s. And over time, I think they owned eight houses that were rental properties. And they were all in the name of the son who worked to maintain them, and his salary was the basis they were getting the loans, and yet she had put in the original down payment for the first house. Well, Al fell in love. He actually fell in love when he was about 30, but his mother opposed it. She said that, “You must honor your mother and obey your mother, and I forbid you to marry this girl.” Actually, the story is also told in our new book on Parenting Your Adult Kids. But Al didn’t obey his mother exactly, but he didn’t disobey. He kept seeing the girl over a period of several years without actually marrying her. They weren’t involved in fornication, but they were attached to each other. And finally, when it came to us, we persuaded him that as an adult who was of age, he was free to marry what was a very godly lovely girl. The only thing I wondered her is why she waited several years for Al who lived with his mother. But when Al made that decision, his mother became very angry. And opposed the marriage. The issue came, and suddenly their relationship became like a divorce in which they had eight homes as community property. And I actually, in the room around the corner, along with another elder, met with Al and his mother, and tried to negotiate some way of them dividing that property, and we came up with recommendations. Really what it was, was mediation.
Mediation is the process of trying to get two parties to come to an agreement they both can accept. Arbitration is more binding where you turn it over to someone else and they make the decision. That’s what Paul actually tells the Corinthians do. He says, “Find someone in your own congregation to judge the matter. Give up your authority and let this person make the decision.” But in this case, all we could do is mediate. And because primarily his mother’s viewpoint was “all of it is mine, and I’m mad,” and he’s willing to divide it in various ways. So, the matter went to court, and they each got, ironically, Christian lawyers who advertise locally. Can you guess what the outcome is? Well, I think Al’s mother still lives in the house they started with. The other properties had to be liquidated to pay the attorneys. They wound up with nothing, and on top of that, right after that is when the housing boom here began, in terms of prices, like, tripled over the next four years. And they lost millions of dollars, potentially, two, three, four million dollars. Lawsuits are not the way to go, especially with other believers.
So, some people fight and they wanna win. Others run away from conflict. Ken Sande calls these people peace, not peacemakers, not peace breakers, but peace fakers. They pretend like everything is okay, but again, there are some people who will do anything they can to get away from actually having to face a problem. Some just live in denial. they just try to ignore it. If I don’t think about it, maybe nothing will happen. The problem is if you try to sweep into the carpet, the carpet gets pretty lumpy. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. If you don’t talk about the problems, if you don’t deal with issues, the problems grow. Bitterness can grow. People talk about a root of bitterness. You wonder sometimes what has happened to couples, that when they get to me, and they’ve been married 25 years, and they can’t stand each other. They can’t say three sentences without one of them arguing with the other. They’re irritable, they’re annoyed. How do you they get to this point? I’m convinced they’ve gotten to that point by unresolved conflict which produced bitterness that grew and grew over many years. When the Lord gave us this building 15 years ago, and the little side yard which is over there. The very first week we had this building, I noticed there was a little sprig like this. It looked like a seed that blown from a tree across the street into our yard. And the little sprig was like that. This thing could’ve been mowed over by the lawn mower in the first week, and that would’ve been the end of it. You could’ve picked it up with two fingers and pulled it out. The weed-whacker could’ve gotten it. But whoever mowed the lawn for the first time went around it. And they kept on going around it. And during lunch, you can go out there and see that they’ve actually cut it way back now. This thing became, I don’t know, 20 feet tall. it’s getting tangled in the phone lines. we keep having to trim it back. And that’s what happened. If you let a conflict, a little sprig which could be resolved in the first five years of marriage very quickly, following biblical principles, if that isn’t resolved, the little seedling becomes the sequoia of bitterness, which creates division, unhappiness, and misery in a relationship which can last for many, many years. A lot of the counsel… I went to a bunch of weddings lately and performed weddings. You see how happy they are and how much they love each other. You almost can’t imagine that these people ever felt this way about each other, when you see them, when they’ve lived that way. And it’s through avoidance, not dealing with the issues, and the bitterness grows and grows. And sometimes it’s a seething anger which erupts in volcanic fury, but sometimes just people grow apart. It’s almost like shifting my analogy. You’ve stuck the tree in the bed, and it’s between them, and it used to be that big, and now it’s 10-feet wide, and they’re on the opposite ends or in different rooms. How did it happen? Some run away. Some withdraw emotionally. You heard a woman say, “Okay, I wanna stay married to you until the kids are grown, but that’s your room, this is my room. I’ll buy the groceries and you work, but I’m done with you when the kids are grown.” Some divorce as a way of escaping their problem. Some leave a church when they have a conflict with somebody in the church. There’s one person in the church who they just can’t stand. Rather than dealing with it, they go. Problem is the next church has sinners too. And so, there are some people jump from church to church to church. Some people end friendships where they feel hurt or betrayed. And rather than bringing about resolution, they just unfriend you, they avoid you, and sometimes you don’t even know why. The ultimate escape is suicide. People trying to get away from conflicts, get away from things that are hard in life. And then of course some escape just by giving in, and offering peace at any cost, which probably relates to the denial while the sequoia keeps growing.
Conflict brings opportunity: to glorify God, to be more like Christ, to serve others, and to bear witness to a watching world. Rom 8:28-29; 12:14,20: 1 Cor 10:31
But along with conflict being dangerous, conflict also brings opportunity. As I said earlier, that we as Christians are not different because we always get along with each other. Our marriages aren’t always perfect. Our churches certainly aren’t perfect. What makes us different from the world is that when we have a conflict, God has given us both the instruction, but also the ability to carry out the instructions so that our conflicts can be resolved. And so, this is something that, as I’ve been learning, has really changed my way of thinking, that conflict gives us opportunity to glorify God. It says, “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” even when you’re fighting. Fighting may be not the right word. But when you’re not getting along with somebody, when there is a conflict. And I’ll admit that for me now, when I find myself in a conflict, which obviously we all try to avoid, I get kind of excited, thinking I wonder what God is gonna do. I wonder what’s gonna happen when these principles are applied. When I have counselees come in and they have a conflict. I get kind of excited, because I’ve seen God glorify himself so many times in so many ways to applying these biblical principles. It’s kind of interesting and exciting to wait for what is yet to come. It gives us a chance to reflect the glory of God.
It also gives us opportunity to learn to be more like Christ, that God’s purpose is to conform us. We’ve been predestined to be conformed to the image of his son. And part of progressive sanctification is God uses trials, including conflicts, to make us more like Christ, and to teach us to be more like Christ, and remembering. What did Christ do? What did Jesus do to resolve the conflict? He showed grace, he forgave, he made great sacrifice, yet never in conflict with justice. And so, it gives you an opportunity to be more like Christ. If everybody treat you great all the time, you don’t get an opportunity to be like Christ. They didn’t treat him very well. The real opportunity to be like Christ is when you’re in a conflict and you’re being hurt. Conflict also gives us opportunity to serve others. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And we can feed the enemy, overcoming evil with good, to show love to others. And then it gives us opportunity to bear witness to a watching world that unbelievers may see that we’re different. Maybe they learn about the conflict. Maybe other family members are aware of it, but when they see us pursuing peace the way the Bible says, this becomes a testimony and a witness. One other thing to keep in mind in terms of God glorifying himself is that your life may not be the only life in which God is working right now. And you need to think about that. Maybe God has something really important he plans to do in the life of the other person or the other people involved. And then maybe you’re privileged to be a part of that.