Most people know of someone who at one time attended church; however, they say they no longer attend church because they got hurt. Whether that is the full story or not we will never know, but one thing is certain: most of these conflicts will never be resolved and the real problem never discovered. This points to the need for a church to have intentional conflict resolution. Intentional conflict resolution is one of the keys to a healthy church. That is why this week’s lessons will attempt to bring light as to how conflict arises and how to resolve it.
Peace is not the absence of conflict but a byproduct of a willingness to resolve disputes. The church is called to demonstrate a redemptive community where individuals can learn to grow in spite of differences. Harmony does not come from conformity, but rather from an appreciation of unique differences. Therefore, the aim for peace is not to avoid conflict but rather to work through conflict.
An unhealthy view of conflict can result in seeds of division. A weak concept of mercy and love that shuns confrontation often bears worse fruit. In the name of tolerance or maturity, some people attempt to evade necessary resolutions, thus producing the very trauma they sought to avoid. Only by a healthy view of conflict will a church grow into maturity.
Peace is certainly a goal, but not at all cost. When one responds out of weakness and fear rather than healthy love, then peace is eventually lost.
While instructing the church in Rome to live in harmony, Paul says,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
From this admonition we discover that it may not be possible to have peace; however, as far as you are concerned, you must take the proper steps and do your part.
The Holy Spirit produces unity and that unity is kept through humility, gentleness, and longsuffering of the saints. So while it becomes imperative that Christ’s disciples learn how to resolve conflict, it must be done through the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.
Reconciling an Offended Brother
Let’s address one of the first concepts of conflict resolution: repentance for your own sin. Of course, it goes without saying that your first priority is to God; however, the Scripture says that when one goes to worship and then remembers that a brother has a case against him, he must address it immediately before further worship.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
God sees the need for reconciliation to be such a priority that even worship does not take precedent. In the holy presence of God, in humble worship, the Holy Spirit is able to remind us of any offenses that have not been resolved. This requires immediate action. Go and reconcile or make the situation different between you and the offended brother.
This principle works when a brother is offended at you for no apparent reason. However, the context and authority of this instruction does not refer to unknown or hidden offenses. Notice, Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember.” This refers to a known offense that has been overlooked or forgotten by the offending brother but in the presence of God, the offender remembers that he has a case against him. Now that he remembers, God Himself holds him accountable. He must act obediently. This concept works between all Christians and should be used by couples in marriage as well. For those who are married are first Christians before they are married partners.
How to Ask Forgiveness
One of the greatest characteristics of a disciple is one who is willing to own his own transgressions. To humble oneself and accept wrong words or actions is a great virtue. Much damage has occurred because the offending brother has not understood the means of seeking forgiveness. How one approaches another seeking forgiveness sets the tone and maybe the outcome of reconciliation.
First, the one seeking forgiveness should have a clear concept of his sin. If it is a situation where that has not been clarified, then an open heart is necessary to identify with the offended brother. If in fact it is a “remembered” sin, then the offender will know. To have a clear conception of the sin is to know how God sees it and how it has offended the other brother. Identify with the pain that the sin has caused. See it from the other person’s perspective.
Second, go to the brother prepared to repent regardless of his response. Remember, you are only responsible for your actions. If the offended brother fails to offer forgiveness, then God will work on your behalf.
Third, do not use the words, “I am sorry.” In our English language those words are used too lightly. Some have used those words with such frivolousness that it has offended even more. For example, the repenting person’s tone and attitude with the words, “I am sorry that you were offended,” may sound like, “I am sorry that you were so weak and unhealthy that you got offended over something that a normal person would not get offended over.” The best approach is to say, “I was wrong!” An example of someone properly repenting would sound like this: “I just want you to know how bad I feel about my actions. I see how wrong I was, and I have been so convicted about it. It grieves me to see how I have hurt you. It was not right. I was wrong. Would you please forgive me?” Wow! Can you imagine the different response that kind of repentance would bring over someone saying, “I am sorry if I offended you”?
The desire to justify and preserve ourselves is so strong that it is tempting to put words in the repentance sentence that lessen the feelings of wrong that we are experiencing while repenting. For example one might say, “I probably should not have done that” or “if I offended you.” It is important to leave out words like “if,” “maybe,” or “probably.” Simply own your transgression without justification.
If the offended brother responds inappropriately, it is important that you humble yourself for true reconciliation. God will vindicate you in time. The offended brother may say, “Why have you waited so long to ask forgiveness?” Or he might strike back with, “You just don’t know how much that hurt me!” In each situation it will be important to respond in a Christ-like manner. Simply say, “I can see how this has really hurt you; it just shows how deep my sin has been. I was so wrong.” By humbling yourself and not becoming defensive, you are allowing the Holy Spirit to work on your behalf. Remember, God sees this attempt on your part as being equal to worship and honoring of Him. Treat it in the same manner.
About the Author:
Glenn Shaffer is the author of Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, Christianity 101 and Discipleship 201. He has a Masters of Ministry degree in leadership studies from Southwestern Christian University and is working toward a Doctorate in Ministry at ORU in Tulsa.
Glenn and his wife, Ami have been married for 40 years with two sons, Matt and Daniel. Together, they co-see the elder pastoral care of Destiny Life Church, one church in two locations (Owasso and Claremore, Oklahoma) where they have been serving for almost 4 decades. It is a non-denominational church, based on a New Testament Apostolic form of church government. Together, they also serve as the directors of ATI- Apostolic Teams International, an emerging network of churches and ministers.