There’s really no other way to express it but to say this, my head and heart hurt. And, unfortunately, Advil and comfort food aren’t helping. Quite to the contrary on the latter.
As the current culture war rages, I join many Americans in being greatly saddened over the political and social chasm that is broadening the divide in our country. There are, of course, myriad ways average, every-day Americans like us can do our part to promote unity, but what specific direction does God give us in this regard to managing everyday differences?
To begin with, let’s first put into perspective the challenges we face. In John 16:33, Jesus plainly states that, “Into this world you will have trouble….” In our personal lives, and in the world around us, Christ tells us we will have struggles, but he also reminds us in the continuation of the verse, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
And so while we can expect obstacles of various kinds, Christians know that through belief in Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice on the cross, our sins have been washed clean, and we have eternal life. But as we progress through life, how can we honor God as we face conflict and strife of various stripes?
In addition to the message of law and Gospel found in the Bible are the everyday lessons God’s word provides his people on how to live faithful lives. In Chapter 18 of the Book of Matthew there are rich lessons and parables that teach critical truths on how to live honorably and in harmony with others. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches how to work through conflict.
“15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15 states that we are to directly approach those who offend us. To do so helps prevent the Evil One from getting a foothold by involving others and inhibiting speech and actions they may take. Translation: Gossip and drama.
It is important, however, to consider three fundamental elements ahead of approaching contention, such as prayerfully determining the right time, the right place, and the right spirit to address the matter.
Generally speaking, we know that good timing accounts for success with so many things, and certainly it can greatly increase the chance of a positive outcome relative to addressing conflict. Right alongside this is understanding the right venue and frame of mind. Being able to calmly assess these elements, for the other party as well as yourself, will go a long way to creating the right environment.
With time, place, and spirit judiciously considered, it is also necessary to bring a humble heart, and precise speech. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2).
As we typically bring our own myopic view of things into dealing with conflict, wearing humility can make for far less contentious, and bring about fruitful discussion. After all, it is entirely possible that your perception of things might be misguided, so coming with the beatitude of meekness (Matthew 5:5) and putting aside your self-justification long enough to express yourself respectfully and factually to the one who has hurt you can be very helpful.
As the stage is set for conversation, Ephesians 4:15 speaks to the important manner of speech to be used. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” This is where “pre-prayering” is so important. Asking the Lord to speak through you truthfully, yet respectfully, can bring peace and calm to one’s heart, and unimaginably successful conclusions.
Done in the right time, right place, and right spirit, with the right heat and words, the Lord can do powerful things, including, as Matthew 18:16 suggests, “gaining a brother” of the agitator. Subsequent verses in Matthew 18 teach how to winsomely bring others with direct knowledge into the conversation to provide credibility and resolution.
Working through conflict takes a great deal of courage, for it comes with unknown outcomes. For some, this comes more easily than others, but we can be comforted in knowing that as we “pre-prayer” for addressing difficulties with someone, the Bible says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
And so whether it's an interpersonal or family-related dilemma, work-place conflict, or something much broader, such as faithfully responding to an issue at the forefront of one of today’s many divisive social conversations, remember to always, above all else, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Brian Underwood is executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School.