I regularly meet with couples that struggle with unresolved conflict in their relationship. We all experience conflict. We all have unmet desires and that leads to conflict (see James 4:1-2). Periodically we need to revisit some fundamental truths, establish ourselves firmly there, and then move forward and build on those fundamentals. We need to consider the fundamentals of conflict resolution. We need to ponder biblical peacemaking.
In Matthew 18 Jesus provides instruction for how we should navigate conflict in the church. The first step of resolving conflict is for an offended person to make the offender aware of their “sins against” them (v.15). Of course, any offense that can be overlooked can avoid such a conversation as this.
Proverbs 19:11 reads, “good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” There are some offenses that are insignificant enough that they can be overlooked. For instance, sometimes we get offended by someone who isn’t aware of our personal context and they say something that is particularly sensitive for us but not otherwise sensitive at all. In cases such as this we may decide that being offended has more to do with us than anything the other person did wrong. But there are a few things that we should keep in mind if we resolve to overlook the offense.
If we’ve been offended and we decide not to address the offender, and we make the decision to overlook the offense, then we must make sure that we don’t hold a grudge against the offender. If we claim that we are overlooking the offense but continue to hold on to the pain, anger, hatred, or other associated emotions, are we truly overlooking the offense? The answer is “no!” Instead of overlooking the offense, we find ourselves often looking at the offense. This is what I call peacekeeping. We want to believe that we’re keeping the peace by not addressing the source of these emotions (the original offense), but we aren’t at peace with it at all. We think about it often, sometimes keeping us from being joyful around that person, perhaps preventing us from praying for that person, and usually causing stress (internal stress at best; relational stress at worst).
Ken Sande writes, “overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness, and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger.”
If we find ourselves often thinking about or talking about this offense or if we recognize bitterness rooted in the offense then we have not successfully overlooked the offense and we should resolve to address the offender.
Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking.
If the sin proves to be significant enough that it can’t be overlooked, then we consider Matthew 18 for instruction concerning how to navigate the conflict. First the offended party addresses the offender to make them aware of the offense. In most cases between two disciples of Christ the Spirit will bear fruit including a helpful conversation in humility and a speedy resolution.
In addition to the work of the Spirit, we can practice a few peacemaking principles that will honor the other party and enhance the peacemaking process. Ken Sande has this to say about personal peacemaking:
Reconciliation- if an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged our relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “If your brother has something against you… go and be reconciled” (Matt.5:23-24). “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).
Negotiation- Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to money, property, or other rights. This should be done through a cooperative bargaining process in which you and the other person seek to reach a settlement that satisfies the legitimate needs of each side. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
There are times when resolution isn’t accomplished between the offended and the offender and then we need to involve another two or three godly voices “that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16). In other words, there may need to be assisted peacemaking in the form of mediation, arbitration, and/or accountability.
Peacemaking is possible because of the gospel. In all forms of peacemaking, we are seeking to glorify God and be reconciled. Reconciled to God and reconciled to one another (Acts 10:43; Eph. 2:14:16).
When we have a commitment to peacemaking and we go about it in a biblical manner, peace really can be achieved (not to mention growth!). Peacekeeping leaves us with frustration, weariness, anger, and distance between us and the Lord. Remember that Paul instructs us not to participate in the Lord’s table until we’ve been able to clear up such conflict (1 Cor. 11:17-34). On the other hand, peacemaking leads to abiding peace, joy, intimacy with God, and maturity in our walk with Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Col. 3:12-15).
Because of the gospel, let’s commit ourselves to the enduring work of peacemaking.
Here are a few other helpful excerpts from Sande’s brochure:
The 4 G’s of Peacemaking
Glorify God: Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise by depending on his forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love, as we seek to faithfully obey his commands and maintain a loving, merciful, and forgiving attitude (Ps. 37:1-6; Mark 11:25; John 14:15; Rom. 12:17-21; I Cor. 10:31; Phil. 4:2-9; Col. 3:1-4; James 3:17-18; 4:1-3; I Peter 2:12).
Get the Log Out of Your Eye: Instead of blaming others for a conflict or resisting correction, we will trust in God’s mercy and take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts – confessing our sins to those we have wronged, asking God to help us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict, and seeking to repair any harm we have caused (Prov. 28:13; Matt. 7:3-5; Luke 19:8; Col. 3:5-14; I John 1:8-9).
Gently Restore: Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist or talking about others behind their backs, we will overlook minor offenses or we will talk personally and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook, seeking to restore them rather than condemn them. When a conflict with a Christian brother or sister cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to help us settle the matter in a biblical manner (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 6:1-8; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:29; II Tim. 2:24-26; James 5:9).
Go and Be Reconciled: Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation – forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences (Matt. 5:23-24; 6:12; 7:12; Eph. 4:1-3, 32; Phil. 2:3-4).
 This and other thoughts included here come from the helpful brochure titled Peacemaking Principles: Responding to Conflict Biblically by Ken Sande. You can find more information at www.peacemaker.net. See also Ken’s book Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.