The key to being happy in life is the state of your relationships. That includes your relationship with God, first and foremost, but also your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. Think about it: money won’t make you happy if you have no friends; career success won’t feel very good if you fail at your marriage; and having fun’s not very fun when you’re always by yourself.
If you want your relationships to be happy, though, you’re going to have to get good at resolving conflict. Conflict comes with the territory. It’s part of living in a fallen world with imperfect, selfish people. People like me. I’ve unintentionally killed relationships due to conflict, before I learned how to handle it correctly.
The Bible talks a lot about resolving conflict. Things like forgiveness and making peace are a major part of any Christ-follower’s life. So, it’s really clear in Scripture how we are to go about dealing with conflict. It’s simple, it makes logical sense, and it works.
Step 1: Acknowledge and ask forgiveness for your role in the problem.
It’s rare for there to be a conflict where it is wholly, 100% the other person’s fault. Even when it seems like you did nothing wrong to contribute to the problem, carefully consider whether that’s the case. Is there anything you could have done differently to prevent the problem, or keep it from escalating the way that it did?
This is not at all “blaming the victim.” But it is taking responsibility for your own mistakes or sins against your neighbor. Practically, it is much, much easier to get someone to admit they were wrong when you first admit how you were wrong.
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Luke 6:42
Step 2: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Some wrongs just aren’t that big a deal. There’s no reason we have to make them into a big deal in order to resolve them. If it’s a small offense, overlook it.
How do you know if it’s small enough to overlook? Basically: if you can overlook it, you probably should. However, if it’s bothering you, and you don’t have peace about it, then you need to go on to the next step. Don't call something that is bothering you a “small offense” because you don't want to put in the work to resolve it.
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11
Step 3: Talk to the person in private.
If you can’t overlook it, then you need to talk it out with the person who wronged you.
In Matthew 18, Jesus makes it clear how you are to go about this. You are to start by talking with them one-on-one. This means that there is no attempt to shame them or make them look bad in front of others. You take the problem to that person; you don’t gossip about them or complain about what they did to everyone but them. It’s possible that they may not even realize that they did anything wrong, so it’s not fair when you don’t give them a chance to apologize and make it right.
This step might be hard, but it’s not complicated. You tell them what they did and how it hurt you, and ask forgiveness for your part in the conflict if applicable (step 1). If they acknowledge that they were wrong and ask for forgiveness, you forgive them. And then you’re done; you can move on. In most cases, there is no need for step 4.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. – Matthew 18:15
On the other hand, if they won’t acknowledge that they have sinned against you and need forgiveness, you move on to:
Step 4: Bring others in.
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. – Matthew 18:16-17
You could divide this one into three separate steps, though hopefully it won’t go that far:
Take one or two other people with you, and again approach the other person about the problem. Who should you bring? Either a witness to the wrong, or someone you are in close community with.
If that doesn’t work, bring in church leadership. At Watermark, a good portion of our staff’s time is dedicated to helping members resolve conflicts in their lives.
And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says to “treat them as you would a pagan (a non-believer) or a tax collector.” Now, note that Jesus spent much of His time with sinners, and Matthew himself was once a tax collector. So, this means you should love them, not avoid them or treat them badly. But it does mean that they are choosing not to be a part of the church body, and you probably shouldn’t put yourself in a position to be hurt by them again.
At this point, even if they have refused to listen, you have peace in knowing that you’ve done literally everything you can do about it. The fault then lies solely with them.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18
How do you handle conflict?