When Conflict Contends With Relationships

Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

“God blesses those who work for peace,for they will be called the children of God.”

Powerful words… ‘God blesses’ … God moves with favor upon… how? Those who have peace with everyone? No… those who WORK for peace. (More common translations say ‘peacemakers.’)

God is calling us to join a Divine Peace Movement…Divine Peace-Keeping Force tha involves a commitment not to a concept but to a working pattern..

From the very start… given a picture of human relationships apart from God… insecurity… Cain kills Abel.

Today despite all our progress…. the cost of conflict is telling of our need.

The total amount all countries spend on arms now exceeds $1 trillion a year, and about $140 billion of that is spent by Third World countries where those funds could better be invested in social programs for the poor, agricultural development, and educational improvements. ("The human cost of the small arms trade" by Larry Wilson. World Vision, Oct/Nov 1993. Pages 2-7.)

Cost of conflict in our courts…
Consider these statistics from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). Between 1984 and 1991, civil caseloads in U.S. courts rose by 33%, yet the national population only rose by 7%.
In 1990, "new cases filed in state courts exceeded 100 million--about one court case for every three persons in the United States."

Conflict has a power that can control us… and cost us…

What’s even more fascinating … is how much we may try to bury… and how much it will end up costing. The greatest cost is not the military… or the courts… but the human soul.

Christ isn’t setting forth simply an ideal…. Peace isn’t just an idea; it’s a way of life.
Not just about racial harmony… but real neighbors…
Not just about Rwanda… but rifts between friends, family, co-workers…
Not just about Middle East… but marriages….
Not just about political rhetoric…. but personal relationships. …. with the hurt they can experience.

This becomes clear in what Christ goes on to speak of…

Matthew 5:23-24

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Profound truth about spiritual life… there is an inseparable relationship between our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
Jesus said the whole of life’s calling can be summarized by two great commands… love God with all your heart… and your neighbor as yourself. Here he makes clear that they relate to one another. We can think of them as the vertical and horizontal dynamics of the heart… and they intersect HERE… in our hearts. Two commandments that intersect within each of our individual hearts.

Becomes more specific about what such a process involves… as he speaks of the other side of conflict…

Matthew 18:15-18

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he 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 he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Jesus is setting before us very real principles for handling conflict as peacemakers…

God’s Way of Peace and Reconciliation…

1. Take responsibility for being timely and direct.
Jesus addresses both sides… common calling > “GO”… responsibility falls to both… and to both there is a responsibility to go directly and timely… as soon as you’re aware.
My experience has shown me what a strong relationship there is between being timely…. and direct.

2. Don’t assume resolution will always be immediate…but trust a reasonable process.
Jesus foresees a potential process involved…. Not with a sense of pessimism but realism.
Common challenge… we don’t see our conflict as easily resolvable in one step…> Jesus didn’t presume it was.
One step at a time.

3. Only involve others when needed.
“Only if they won’t listen”… unresolved… are we to involve others.
Difficult > The emotions at work in conflict aren’t patient. Anger and defensiveness… often go searching for allies… jurors and judges for the courtroom we develop in our minds.
But involving others before going directly, invariably violates the relationship itself… by nature it contends with reconciliation.
Is there any appropriate way to process hurt with other people… friends, spouses, prayer and accountability partners? I would suggest we do well to be honest about the temptation… and ask a few questions…

Are those I want to process this conflict with people who are so mutually involved with the other person that it would be particularly violating?

Am I prepared to do my best to speak fairly of the other person and circumstances involved?

Are they lives who have the maturity and influence in my life to truly hold me accountable for then going quickly and directly to the person involved?

4. Only involve others who are appropriate.
Establishment of witnesses…. Witnesses must have credibility… a fitting place in our lives / community.

5. The primary goal must be relational restoration… and as such will require an open heart and sincere respect.
Jesus is calling for reconciliation… relational restoration.
Without an open mind and respect in heart… you’re not prepared to go. If my heart is set on punishment… revenge… don’t go.

Paul would describe such a heart…
• "Restore with the spirit of gentleness" Gal 6:1
• "Speak the truth in love." Eph 4:16

Both Jesus and Paul recognize…. There may be a point in which one’s refusal to deal with sin or evil in their life…. may make it appropriate for the community to treat them for what they are… a non-participant. (Ex - > they chose to beak fellowship.)


Things I’m learning about the process…

  1. None of us are perfect in the process… and few of us are even initially natural at it.
    Solicit feelings / fears…
  2. Fears of being rejected and disliked.
  3. Fears of creating anger and making things worse.
  4. Concerns for hypocrisy or legalism.
  5. Discomfort with sharing such feelings.
  6. Lack of confrontational skills.

    Jesus didn’t say, “if you’re comfortable… not intimidated…”

2. Conflict will challenge our character… allowing us to face difficult issues in our hearts and to grow in significant ways. (Ephes. 4:22-32; cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 1 Peter 3:13-15)

Conflict is about spiritual growth / discipleship… which by nature involves discomfort.

3. Complexity of circumstances must not overcome the core principles of the Lord’s mandate.
I’ve served as the leader of a community for enough years to know… complex… conflict can involve many dimensions including personal, employment, and legal.

The Lord’s principles hold up.

4. We must rise above our natural defensiveness… especially the tendency to protect our ‘well developed case’ from engaging a more objective truth which may require an appropriate third party.
Defensiveness is natural… often we can create a well developed case… but we never present it openly… because it may not be as ideal a picture of the whole truth if all the facts were laid out fairly with others.

Step up…. to those who have a grievance with another… step up or shut up.
To those who receive… careful of your own temptations… alliance, insider, drama.


  1. We must keep our hearts open to discovering a clearer picture. Never assume certainty of ‘the whole truth of the matter’ unless and until hearing all sides.**
    • I’d like to think I’m fairly astute at discerning issues… I’ve been sincerely humbled by developing perceptions before their time. I have had to learn to really guard my mind and heart from settling in to definitive judgments before really hearing all sides.
    • I’ve found this critical in protecting my integrity of respect for spouses… if counseling marriages. Significance of “two or three witnesses”… protects reputations…. And the integrity of truth.

6. Empathy is the pathway to truly relational and redemptive exchange.
If Christ is calling us to shift from angers desire for revenge… to that of reconciliation… we will need to see people as more than simply an adversary. This is where empathy is essential. It’s what socio-paths are said to be missing and ever true peacemaker seem to discover.
It simply means that we consider what another feels… what might be going on in them. You see… although it may be a common statement in our current lingo…“Nobody is just a jerk.” Or just anything. There is always that which shapes our outward behavior… and empathy is interested in at least understanding that.

7. Mercy is the critical choice we must come to terms with… and is released by a deep humility before God.

Matt. 18:21-35(cf. Luke 6: 27-39)
• It’s a story of mercy being extended… but the profound point is really about the lack of humility we bear if we refuse to extend mercy. > You live by mercy… so live by mercy.

Letter from a mother to her son…
The son had just finished High School… was in a long season of running away from God… and critical of some of what he saw in other Christians… now taken off to Hawaii to live for an undefined time. He received this letter from his mother.

Dearest Son,

> I've thought constantly about our phone conversation since last night - I only wish I had all the right answers for you.
> > I know you're going through a difficult time and have been most of this year-trying to decide if you're going to live for the Lord or the world.    The thing is what we have to do is make our own commitment and do our best right in the middle of the world-we can't live like monks. And we can't blame anyone else if we fall along the way. The responsibility is entirely our own. If we can't life a committed life when the world's pressures are on us it doesn't mean much.
    > I wish I could be the perfect example for you so I could say you see how right I am, but, of course I'm not and never will be. And neither will anyone else-we're all going to make lots of mistakes.
> So, put your trust the only place that's constant-in the Lord-and accept the rest of us the way we are.
> We love you very much, and can only do what we see as right for you.


It was a timely call to humility. I can tell you those were hard words to hear… but a timely truth… because they were written by my own mother to me at a time that I was hiding beneath the arrogance of criticism towards others.


• Life is found in relationship to the living God who bears justice and mercy… so our glory is to become like Him.
• “Father … forgive….” > God is a God who cancels debts.
Helps us understand the role of forgiveness when the other person does not recognize and repent of having done anything wrong. I think both what we find true of God towards us… and the obvious nature of relationships… makes it clear that there are two dimensions… the inner nature of the one violated and the outward relational consequences.
Forgiveness begins within… and is always available to us internally. If it is not received,,, a lack of relational reconciliation will remain… but peace can be restored within.

Romans 12:18
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

  1. If we ‘go’ to others in this manner there lies the potential of great freedom for all.

A lot of energy goes into a trial… both the literal courtroom… and the courtroom of our mind.
The anger, animosity and general adversarial nature… are negative and draining.

Be reconciled… so you can live freely.

What will you do with Jesus call to “work for peace”?
A lot of us may begin to realize… there are some conflicts we simply tried to leave behind… took a more passive hope in just letting it go…
I want you ask you to consider responding to what Jesus has called us to… not to be at peace… but to seek to be at peace with every person… to accept Jesus’ teaching as a PATTER FOR LIFE.