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How Do We Resolve Conflict?

Living out the commands of Jesus

It takes two to tango. Conflict takes two parties, and when conflict descends into sinful conflict, rarely do we find only one offender. This makes conflict so terribly difficult to deal with. One party may have “sinned first” and that detail is buried under a history of conflict and sin so convoluted that no one can find out who cast the first stone. And after a very short while it does not matter. Once two people have descended from “We have a problem” to “you have a problem” and worse into “you are the problem” where it all began does not matter. Only reconciliation matters.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago,
“You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

But I tell you that
anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Again, [you have heard it was said]
“Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ’Raca’, is answerable to the Sanhedrin.”

But [I tell you that]
anyone who says, ‘You foo!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person: then come and offer your gift.
– Matthew 5:21-23

The “gift” in the passage above was the Fellowship Offering or Peace Offering, the only sacrifice the average person ate as a sign of the Peace between them and God. You cannot have peace with God while you are at war with your brother or sister in Christ.

How do we make peace with each other? Early in the conflict we may be able to do it on our own. So long as “we have a problem” we can strive together to find a solution. Even if we descend to “you have a problem” we can recognize that we have broken unity and reconnect. However, somewhere along the path from “you have a problem” to “you are the problem” the damage becomes severe enough to need a mediator. You will be able to know if you need a mediator if you walk the path of reconciliation and find you cannot make the journey alone.

The Path of Reconciliation The path of reconciliation needs to walk us back through the path of conflict.

  • You are not the problem. Until we de-personalize the problem we will cannot cross over to cooperate in finding the solution. There are two halves to this issue:
    • Loving the sinner while hating the sin. Until I can separate the person from their behavior I cannot love them. Still, if I do not condemn ungodly behavior I cannot forgive it. Therefore, I need to see that the person from whom I have disconnected is a creation of God and a person whom God has called me to love as my neighbor and to embrace in the congregation. Having loved them, I can seek to forgive them, not as a service to them, but as a way of liberating me (on my side) from the resentment that separates us.
    • Confessing our own sin, while loving ourselves. Humbling confessing our own sinfulness and the sins we have committed in the relationship also tears down barriers between us. I stand on common ground with my opponent at the foot of the cross, both of us sinners saved by grace. This confession begins in our hearts and with others with whom we feel safe. We can only enter into confession with the other person in the context of knowing that we will not be abused or demeaned in the process.

  • We are together with this problem Once we see that we are not the problem we can move on to share the problem. Since the problem involves a difference between us, we need to work on the problem together.
    • Owning our own needs. Often we hide the true nature of the problem behind issues of “right and wrong”. There may, indeed, be clear moral principles that one person is overlooking. Still, the issue of love lies in the fact that your behavior is injuring me in some way. Until I recognize, acknowledge and tell you what the nature of that injury is, we probably can’t make headway on the problem. Since I am “right”, the problem lies entirely with you. But once I am wronged or hurt by something you do, then we share this problem.
    • Understanding their needs Just as owning our needs helps them cross over to us, likewise understanding their needs helps us cross over to them. However, this sounds easier than it is. I don’t really know your needs until I can reflect your needs back to you and have you and have you acknowledge that I have stated your needs correctly. This sort of reflective understanding eliminates misunderstandings along the path to a solution.
  • We are together in this solution. Once we become unified across the problem, we can seek a solution that addresses both of our needs. Of course, not every situation allows for a complete satisfaction of everyone’s needs. When there are limited resources (such as only one worship service to satisfy diverse worship styles, implying needs to express our love for God differently) not ever need can be met. Yet, we know that we will not stop until we find some solution together.

The need for a Mediator
Sometimes, the gap between us becomes too great. The hurts one or both sides have experienced cause a level of anger, division and distrust that cannot easily be bridged. When that happens, you need a trained mediator. This will be a party separate from the conflict that can bridge the gap, much as Christ bridged the gap between God and man and between various people.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility
– Ephesians 2:13-14

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life
– Romans 5:10

The mediator will go to both sides and walk them slowly toward each other over the gaps of “you are the problem” and “you are the problem” toward “we are together in this solution”

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