This blog post is committed to an understanding of conflict resolution according to the Bible.
So, let’s go ahead and let’s look at a bad example of Christians and Conflict Resolution, and it is found in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
Please read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
In these verses we are dealing with the fact that God has given to His people a law. God has given us law in order to help us to understand and define what is right and wrong, also to help us identify sin in our lives, and also to give us a structure which will allow us to enjoy freedom that we have in Christ. But, this passage is dealing with the question, “What happens when we do not agree about God’s law or God’s rules?”
This happens all of the time in the society in which we live. It shows up in the context of marriage, and the marriage breaks down. It shows up whenever there is an employee who has a problem with a boss. It shows up when there are family members who are trying to run a family business and then there is disagreement. So, the question is, because conflict is so prevalent in our culture, “What happens when two parties are in conflict with one another?” Specifically two parties who are believers. Do they run off to a court of law? Do they run to get a lawyer? Well, apparently some people in Corinth were doing this exact thing, and so Paul writes this passage in order to correct their improper behavior. And he does this because he wants to show the Corinthians what a Gospel lifestyle is. In chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians, Paul has already discussed not judging those who are unbelievers, but now in chapter 6 he is confronting conflict with people within the church.
It is necessary to point out that the context of this passage is about conflict resolution it is not about predator/prey activity. Sadly, there are situations when a person within the church does something illegal and acts as a predator against a victim who is underneath their authority. When this happens police and courts MUST be involved. That is not what we are dealing with in this passage of Scripture, but we are dealing with conflicts and disagreements, and yes some may have legal ramifications but these aren’t abuse, harassment, or misconduct from an authority over and against a victim.
Before I go any further here I want to preface this passage with this: Paul is basically arguing Christians do not need to take their disagreements into court, but they should be able to settle conflicts within the local church. PAUL IS NOT SAYING COURT IS USELESS! He is also not saying judges are horrible people who are never helpful. In fact, in Romans 13, Paul says the local judge is “God’s servant for your good.” He also says the judge is “An avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Authority-even secular government authority is a good thing, because law and punishment are a means that God uses to right the wrongs of our world. However, Paul, here is arguing that because a local judge is not committed to the Gospel, and to the law of God, the judge is an unrighteous person (verse 1). Therefore, the wisdom that comes from a local judge is actually the wisdom of this world detached from heaven, the Gospel, and Christ. But, we are God’s people if we are believing in the Gospel. Therefore, when we think about wrongdoing, justice, and conflict, we should be thinking of these things within the context of heaven, the Gospel, and Christ! So this helps us to get to the answer of the question “Why are the Corinthians a bad example of Christians and Conflict?”
There are probably multiple reasons why, but to make it easier for our purposes I’ll just make the reason why they are a bad example a 3 fold-reason….
They are forgetting their position in Christ (6:2-4)
They are ignoring their resources (6:5-6)
They are accepting defeat (6:7-8)
So they are a bad example for Christians in Conflict because they are forgetting their position…. We see that beginning in verse 2… Paul writes here, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” Paul is urging the Corinthians and rebuking them for how they are dealing with conflicts by reminding them of their position in Christ which they have apparently forgotten! So, Paul is pointing them forward to the day in which Christ will return. And in those times when Jesus will return to judge the living, and the dead, Paul is reminding them that the saints will be with Jesus judging the world! And then he is saying to them “and how is it that you guys can’t even handle trivial matters, but yet you are supposed to be prepared to judge the world with Christ when he returns?”
Paul goes even further in verse 3, “do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more then, matters pertaining to this life!” Paul is simply pointing out the ridiculousness of how we, if we are believers in Christ’s sacrificial, life, and death, and in His resurrection which brings us our position described in Ephesians, 2:6, “we have been raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” And where is Jesus right now? Ephesians 1 says Jesus is “raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” And if this is where Jesus is, and we have been raised up and seated with him then this too is our position on the day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, and so if we are going to deal with conflict properly it has to start here! We can’t forget our position in Christ like the Corinthians. The Corinthians have forgotten their position in Christ, and therefore, they are unable to deal with trivial matters-this showed up in Corinthian culture, yes, but it shows up in our own culture as well sadly…. Whenever we gossip with our friends about a fellow believer, and then there is conflict, and we refuse to deal with the situation, and we instead run around town letting everyone else decide who is right and who is wrong, then what we are actually doing is we are forgetting our position in Christ-that we are the ones who have been given a position to be able to deal with matters of conflict, and to judge these matters according to the Gospel!
This happens all throughout our culture in courtrooms with people suing over trivial things, or often in divorce court.
So, they have forgotten their position in Christ, but now we see they have also ignored their resources in verses 5 and 6. This point is pretty straightforward so I won’t spend much time here. Really it starts in verse 4, “If you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Paul’s point is very simple…. Government judges serve human institutions, and therefore they are only good for certain types of conflict, in order to bring about justice, and to rightfully punish, and rehabilitate people. They do not know or have God’s law. They do not care to deal with conflicts in a Gospel-centered way. So, Paul says to them “Really can’t you find anyone in the church who is empowered by the Holy Spirit and God’s law to help you guys settle disputes?” And really he’s asking a rhetorical question, because the obvious answer is “Yes of course they can find someone in the church to do this and be a helpful mediator in conflict resolution.”
Paul is saying another reason why the Corinthians are a bad example of Christians and conflict resolution is because they are accepting defeat. That is because now Paul is making the argument that any time that two Christians are feuding with one another and they have to take their conflict to a secular judge they have already lost no matter what the verdict is that the secular judge reaches.
It says in verse 7, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud-even your own brothers!” Paul is saying to take a conflict between 2 believers to court is a loss for you both, because you are showing that you trust more in a Godless human institution to carry out justice rather than trusting in God and in the Holy Spirit who uses God’s people to reconcile two parties to each other. So, Paul is saying anytime you have a conflict with someone and you go around talking about it, trying to get people to choose sides what you are actually doing is you are trusting in human justice rather than God’s Word for conflict resolution-and so Paul says if you do this you lose. The very fact you have to take it to people outside the church shows you haven’t trusted in God.
In these situations the real winner is Satan. The very fact that these conflicts and fights even exist among God’s people shows that Satan’s mission to divide God’s people has worked! And it also makes Christ look bad as the watching world sees God’s people fighting and bickering with one another.
But there is something even deeper here! This is what I’m calling the Way of the Cross! Paul hits on this Way of the Cross when he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” this is a startling comment by Paul especially in a world we live in which is all about individual autonomous rights. We live in the United States, and so we all have been raised in a culture where people are constantly referring to their “right to free speech,” and their “right to this or that.” And I’m thankful we have rights, but we have to keep our rights in the proper place-because Paul is saying when we are in conflict there are two ways we can deal with it-one way would be to appeal to our own rights and go to court, which we have the right to do, and try and win…. He has already argued that when this happens among two believers we lose no matter the outcome! What Paul is suggesting here though is the way of the Cross-that when we are in conflict, rather than take our fights to a secular world, and air our dirty laundry for everyone to see, and to appeal to our rights, Paul is saying “Isn’t it better to suffer wrong? Isn’t it better to be defrauded?” You might be like “Where is Paul getting this from?” He’s getting it from Jesus!
If there was ever a person who was in conflict and was wronged and who had the right to appeal to his rights to win his conflict-it was Jesus! But did he? Now, here is the Way of the Cross. At the cross Satan meant for all kinds of evil, but at the cross God overruled that evil to accomplish the salvation of all who believe in the Gospel of Jesus. God even overruled the sins being committed against Jesus to forgive the sins of people who have rejected Jesus and who would go on to repent and believe in Jesus. So, the question is “Was all of this accomplished by Jesus standing on his rights? Did Jesus win the victory for us by appealing to his own interests, and by seeking out justice for himself?” The answer is not at all! Because the Way of the Cross in the Gospel is that Jesus realized it was better to suffer wrong, and it was better to be defrauded.
Now, From this point I will move on to discuss the patterned formula for dealing with conflict which I have called the Way of the Cross…
I am suggesting that the correct way a believer should deal with conflict is the Way of the Cross…. And Jesus has shown this pattern I’m about to run through. So, I am going to walk through this pattern, and show you how Jesus lived out this pattern of conflict resolution.
OK, so we had a bad example of Christians and Conflict from the Corinthians, but now we have a good example and it comes from Jesus-the Way of the Cross…His example for this can be described in four words
I will briefly explain each of these four words and how they tie in to the Way of the Cross in Conflict Resolution.
Engage: Jesus has engaged a world that is hostile to him by nature.
Romans 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life.”
Colossians 1:21 “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
These verses are saying that because of our Father, Adam, we all are born as enemies of God. We are not neutral when we are born, we actually are even as children naturally opposed to him, and at conflict with Christ. This means that there is no chance for reconciliation and resolution unless God does something about it-which he has done in Jesus! We have been reconciled to God because He has engaged with humanity when He sent His Son into the world. Jesus actually engages with the very people who are naturally at conflict with Him.
Truth: Gospel: Jesus has spoken the Gospel truth at all times even since the very beginning of his ministry, and even in the hardest points of his ministry. Even right before he was put to death. We see this right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel right after John the Baptist has been arrested-so it happens to be at a time of conflict, and Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” Now throughout Mark’s Gospel there is a ton of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and the Scribes, and over and over again he engages them, and then gives them the truth in light of the Gospel. We even see it at his trial at the end of Mark’s Gospel-obviously an intense time of conflict. The High Priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus says, “I am and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61-62).
Jesus engages those he is in conflict with, he speaks the truth in light of the Gospel, and then he is patient with them and endures hardship as he waits for their hearts to change. This is the third part for us in how to deal with Conflict by the Way of the Cross: Patience and endurance-or Patiently Endure. Jesus is even patient with people who do not love him. This is the point of 2 Peter 3:9. It says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Jesus knows that in conflict-people can’t be forced to change, their hearts have to be changed by the Holy Spirit, and then they can repent of their sin and act differently towards those they are in conflict with. Jesus knows this, and this is why even though it may appear as if sometimes Jesus is slow to bring people to faith and repentance, the truth is that Jesus has engaged us and given the truth, and then he patiently endures and even oversees unbelief until the Holy Spirit causes people’s hearts to change and leads them to repent.
It is only after Jesus engages, speaks the truth in light of the Gospel, and endures patiently, that then the end goal is reached-forgiveness. This is the effect of Jesus’ gospel, that through him we all can repent of our sin and trust in Jesus, and therefore, even though we once were far from God we can be brought near to him.
That is John 3:16 right? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
Ephesians 1:7: “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
1 Peter 2:10: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Jesus deals with conflict resolution in at least each of these four ways, and each of these 4 words we just went over are interconnected. We can’t have forgiveness unless Jesus engages with us. And we can’t have patience without the truth of the Gospel-they all go hand in hand. This is why in conflict resolution we can’t jump straight from the first word here “Engage” to the last “Forgiveness.” Because for true resolution to take place there has to also be the truth spoken in light of the Gospel, and also at least some sort of patience, and endurance as a person’s heart changes so that true forgiveness can take place.
Conflict Resolution for a believer…
Engage- do not remain separated but come together. Confront a problem head on-don’t be content with sweeping it under the rug. Don’t act like a problem is fixed when it isn’t.
With Truth (Gospel). In conflict, the words that need to be said are the true words spoken with and in the power of the Gospel. Before you say anything ask yourself the question “Is what I’m about to say to defend myself, or is it to proclaim the truth of the Gospel?” If you are simply defending yourself and tearing down the other person then you need to repent in your heart and not say it. If what you are going to say is Gospel truth then you need to say it regardless of how you think the other person might respond, but be sure to say it in love and with tact.
Be patient (Endurance) with the other person (people). One of the marks of a true believer is that they persevere until the end no matter what is thrown their way. No matter what drama, conflict, ill-will is thrown their way they endure. Even after you have engaged, spoken the truth, you must then endure the wrath or the disagreement of the other person even if it means they hate you for it…. You do not need to defend yourself or argue against the other person. And you certainly don’t need to tear the other person down.
Forgiveness…. After you have engaged with the Gospel truth, and have endured patiently this is when forgiveness can actually take place. Sometimes this can take years!
The underlying principle in all this is that conflict resolution, or reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it is always the work of God. God works in your heart to be able to and to desire to engage with the person you are in conflict with. God gives you the ability to speak the truth. God equips you uniquely in each situation to be patient and to endure hardship, trials, and even temptation. God then changes hearts and accomplishes true forgiveness, and then he establishes restoration in the relationship, as he has established this in the hearts of those involved in conflict.