Updated: Nov 24
Grace Meditation #9
Grace-Based Conflict Resolution
Resolving Differences in a Gospel Centered Way
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
“Whenever two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them.” Those are the words of Jesus in Matthew 18. Most of us think of these words in the context of worship. But when Jesus spoke them, it was in the context of disagreement-brothers sinning against each other-confrontation, and conflict resolution. Because another, baser maxim seems to be at work in sinful human nature- “Whenever two or three humans are gathered there will be conflict!” Even when the two or three are followers of Jesus! Often it is as axiomatic as “You say ‘tom-ay-to’ I say ‘tom-aa-to!’”
Why is this the case?
Because we’re all sinners! We are all by nature self-centered, self-righteous, and selfish. We are all sinners and sinned-against, but we tend to elevate our own “sinned-againstness” over our own sin, and therein is the heart of the problem. We all want mercy for ourselves but justice for the one who has wronged us. And we carry this attitude into our relationships with our spouses, our families, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are much quicker to want to confront someone who has sinned against us than we are to want to be confronted, rebuked, and repent over our own sin. We want love to “cover a multitude of” our own sins but are quite allergic to our own love covering a multitude of sins against us.
But the fact of the matter is we will hurt and sin against others, and they will hurt and sin against us. So, how do we interact with each other in a gospel-centered, grace-based way, when being the iron that sharpens, or the iron being sharpened?
If someone “truly” sins against us-and I mean more than just inadvertently hurting our feelings, making a mistake, or having a different opinion-if someone really sins against us, it is necessary for us to confront that sin (all sin is first and foremost against God) for their good and God’s glory. That is why God Himself reveals to us our own sin and in His kindness leads us to repentance. He does use us as agents of the Holy Spirit in each other’s sanctification.
But the first question should always be “Is what the other person has done against me truly a sin?” Or am I just being “offended?” We shouldn’t walk around with a chip on our shoulder just waiting for someone to knock it off. We do often have differing perspectives on reality that are not sin, but we want to extract our pound of flesh over that difference in perspective. So, “Has the other person truly sinned against God or am I just bothered by them?” Is there a possibility that they could harm themselves or others because of this “sin?”
But if someone has truly “sinned” against you, is it something you can forgive and overlook, or does it actually need to be confronted. And if so:
1. Remember you have probably sinned against them in some way too!
(Maybe not in the same way. But if you have been in relationship with someone for any more than about five minutes you have probably sinned against them!)
2. Is the confrontation for your benefit or theirs?
(I know our modern culture emphasizes “self-assertion,” “having a voice;” “feeling empowered,” and “setting boundaries.” But are these modern notions actually compatible with the self-sacrifice and others-centeredness that we are called to in the gospel?”)
3. Is my desire or need to confront someone actually loving?
4. Am I able to confront the other person with humility and gentleness?
(Let’s be honest, when we are sinned against our anger can be explosive! We mustn’t sin against them with our anger in our desire to confront. Angry words can be very hurtful and only serve to exacerbate the problem. James is clear “man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God!” James 1:19
5. Remember, the other person is your brother or sister in Christ!
(The gospel is a great leveler. You are a sinner saved by grace just as much as the “offending” party.” The countless instructions in scripture about relationships within the body of Christ aren’t nullified by the fact they sinned against you!” (See the previous “grace meditation.”)
And this counts even if, and especially if, the offending party is a relative! Your husband is your brother in Christ! Your wife is your sister in Christ. Your child is a brother or sister in Christ if they have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation.
The Colossians 3 passage above is a great example of life together in the body. It calls us to forgive complaints against one another “as we have been forgiven!” That does not always require a “confrontation.” But if it is necessary, then we must make sure that we have put on-clothed ourselves-with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”
14 And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony!
I have shared this before, but I believe my grandmother’s wisdom was spot on when challenging people concerning confrontation. Grandma Schumacher always asked:
1. Is it loving?
2. Is it true?
3. Is it necessary?
And as Steve Brown says, “You think about that. Amen!”