Why Is There Conflict?


Conflict arises naturally. No two people ever agree on everything. When this happens their perspectives on the world conflict. However, this does not need to lead to what we normally think of conflict – a relationship-destroying division between people. Yet it often does. Why?

Well, the short answer is, of course, sin. However, we can chart the course of conflict and begin to see where sin takes its hold.

  1. “We disagree.” At this level we recognize that we are different people with different perspectives, passions and desires. One of us may be “right” about a question or we may simply have different perspectives. If nothing crucial is at stake here, or if we can go separate ways on this question, then no conflict will arise.

    My wife and I have very different ways of watering the house we are now renting. She turns the water up higher and covers more area at a time and likes to put the sprinkler closer to the house (so that the water drips off of the roof) I put the water on lower, move the sprinkler more often and avoid the house entirely. Though we disagree we have not conflict because we can let each other do it our way when that person waters.

  2. “We have a problem.” Now a conflict begins to arise. Either:

    • I feel a need to make you do it or think of it in my way,


    • Your doing it your way prevents me from doing it my way. (We’ll talk about issues of “your way preventing me from thinking of it my way below.”
    Sin creeps in here in two ways. First, why do I have to make you act or think in my way? For whom is this good? When I have to have you act or think some way so that I can be comfortable, I sin. I am not looking out for your good, as well as mine (Philippians 2:4) Even if my way is “better” in my mind, it may not be better for you. To force others to act and think the way we do shows that do not have the mind of Christ. He willingly allowed the young rich ruler to walk away and not follow him. (Mark 10:17-22) The same with the Samaritans that opposed his going to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-56)

    There are times that limited resources give rise to disagreements leading to conflict. The “worship wars” American congregations seem to pass through regularly reflect this reality. If you church only has one service, it can be traditional, high-church, contemporary, alternative, post-modern, blended, or something else. But it cannot be all of these things at the same time. With limited resources come conflicts.

    Yet, even here we have not yet crossed a critical boundary. We have a problem. We share this problem together and we can find shared solutions.

  3. “You have a problem.” Now the conflict has gone bad. We are disconnecting from one another. If you have a conflict, I don’t have to help you solve it. You are on your own. Just don’t bother me with it or because of it. Fundamentally, we have begun to reject each other.

    We may conceive of your problem in many ways:

    • “You have a bad attitude.” The problem lies in your personality or your disagreeable nature. Since I can’t change those things, I don’t have to help you with “your” problem.
    • “You have bad beliefs.” If I can impugn your ideas as bad in themselves, then I don’ have to make an effort to understand them or you. I simply dismiss you as wrong.

    This approach (and any other rationalization for separating from each other) runs afoul of Colossians 3:15-16

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
    since as members of one body you were called to peace.
    And be thankful.
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
    as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
    through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit,
    singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

    Separating breaks the unity. The unity leads to mutual teaching – engaging each other over the truth – in such a way that it is “melodious”

  4. However, things can get worse.

  5. “You are a problem” Now things have become personal. We no longer have an issue “out there” that we can each examine, or at least “you” can examine. Now the person becomes the issue. When this happens, the only removing the person (you) will solve this issue for “us”. A person that Jesus calls us to seek, embrace and teach becomes a person to exclude.

    At this point the violation of the unity of the Body and the Mission of Jesus grows complete. We no longer “love our neighbor as ourselves” or “love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you. Because of that, we no longer “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” because:

    If we say we love God
    yet hate a brother or sister,
    we are liars.
    For if we do not love a fellow believer,
    whom we have seen,
    we cannot love God,
    whom we have not seen.

    – 1st John 4:20
How do we get this far? Several things contribute:
  • We injure each other with our words and actions. In any situation when hold our opinions strongly we are apt to say and do hurtful things. Some we do not intend. Some we feel justified in doing. And some become deadly to our relationships.

    In his landmark study on married couples, John Gottman found that four actions could predict with 90% accuracy whether a couple would remain married up to 6 years later. He called these four the “four horsemen”:

    1. Criticism – saying that the person is the problem.
    2. Contempt – open signs of disrespect such as rolling the eyes, heavy sighs, sarcasm and belittling.
    3. Defensiveness – trying to shift blame for a problem from self to circumstances and even others.
    4. Stonewalling – withdrawing from the relationship emotionally, verbally and perhaps physically.
    5. I believe that these are good markers for how disagreements become conflicts which degenerate and become personal. No church can survive such unchristian and unloving actions.

  • We do not repent and make amends. Even when a conflict degenerates to the point where “divorce” is likely, we can still turn around. That, after all, is what it means to “repent”. We turn back around toward each other and toward right behavior. We turn back around in our judgment of our past behavior and in our desire to make things right with others. We turn around our judgmental attitude that unremittingly condemns someone who has wronged us and toward forgiving them.
  • Disagreements do not have to become conflicts. And every conflict can be resolved if we live our our apprenticeship with Jesus.

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