3 Ways We Must Handle Conflict

by Robert D. Jones, author of Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts

Conflict in this world is inevitable. The question is, how will we handle it?

  1. God calls us to resolve our conflicts actively, not assuming they will resolve themselves.
  2. We must deal with conflict diligently, making concentrated, strenuous efforts to reconcile our relationships.
  3. And we must deal with it immediately, not delaying, postponing, or procrastinating.

Our Lord Jesus sets this active-diligent-immediate agenda with two complementary commands.

  1. Matthew 5:23-25:
“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. Settle matters quickly with your adversary.”

The aggressiveness of this agenda underscores Jesus’s priorities about peacemaking.

  1. Matthew 18:15-16
"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."

These passages, viewed together, form a powerful dynamic—what I call the “Matthew 5 and 18 Dynamic”: When we have offended someone, we should go (Matt. 5:23–26); when someone has offended us, we also should go (Matt. 18:15–16). In either case, Jesus calls us to take the first step toward pursuing peace with others.

Christ's apostles echoed the same need for active-diligent-immediate effort:

  • “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16).
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
  • “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

The cumulative effect of these half-dozen verses leaves no room for complacency or passivity. Instead, they constrain sincere Christians to cry out for the Holy Spirit’s help in this formidable task.

These passages also mean, contrary to popular myth, that time does not heal all wounds. Conflicts will not mend themselves. People do not “get over” insults and injuries. Instead, unresolved conflicts scab over. They go underground, surfacing later, and sometimes with greater fury, animosity, or coldness. That’s why relational reconciliation requires hard work. The above verses call us to “pursue” peace—to go after it, track it down, and hunt for it. Peacemaking is not easy or optional.

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3 in this series.

Robert Jones serves as a biblical counseling professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a certified biblical counselor, a Christian conciliator, an adjunct instructor, and a church reconciliation trainer with Peacemaker Ministries. Jones is the author of Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts and has written numerous ministry booklets and articles.

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