We can resolve this. I’m confident of that.” I spoke these words to two dear friends who sat in my office. I love both of these guys deeply, and my desire was to see their conflict resolved so they could move on toward encouragement and brotherly love.
Not all conflicts are as easy to solve as this one. Some strife between Christians is so severe it may never be resolved until Christ returns. Witness the heated separation of Paul and Barnabas over the utility of John Mark in Acts 15. Though Paul later affirmed the value of John Mark, there is no biblical record that he and Barnabas hugged and made up.
Conflict is inevitable wherever two or more sinners are living in community. But it doesn’t have to be something that hurts and divides—it can be a learning tool, used by God, for sanctification. Renowned Christian conflict negotiator Ken Sande writes in his book, Peacemaking for Families: “As you worry less about going through conflict and focus more on growing through conflict, you will enhance that process and experience the incomparable blessing of being conformed to the likeness of Christ.”
Christians shouldn’t seek conflict, but we can’t really shy away from it either. Every incident can be an opportunity for growth. What’s important, however, is that Christians serve as peacemakers.
Peacemaking has a bad reputation and is often mistaken for weakness. But Scripture assumes that God’s people, living under the wisdom of Christ, seek to reconcile warring factions within their sphere of influence. Consider the popular Proverb, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). This maxim is not only a valuable relational tool, it can be a way to diffuse tension and even speak hard truth to difficult audiences.
Our culture typically confuses “gentle answers” with capitulation and compromise, as if those who shout the loudest are the most courageous. But we know this isn’t true, not only from our own experiences, but from the witness of Christ. The most powerful words ever spoken were the soft, but firm answers Jesus gave to Pilate. And consider the empty silence at the accusations of the religious leaders. These were actions that shook the world.
If Christ sacrificed to be the minister of reconciliation between God and man, shouldn’t He be our example in our relationships?
When I think through my ministry experiences, I’m amazed at how often a snarky word ignited an unnecessary confrontation that took much relational energy to resolve. I’m also amazed at how well-timed words by wise and sober servants of Christ relieved tensions and build new ministry bridges.
If Christ sacrificed to be the minister of reconciliation between God and man, shouldn’t He be our example in our relationships? If we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, to bring the good news of the gospel to people far from God, shouldn’t we have it as our goal to “be at peace with all men,” as much as possible (Rom. 12:18)? It was Christ who said “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).
Perhaps our low view of peacemaking stems from a misunderstanding that to seek peace means to avoid conflict and hard conversations, to shrink from important battles. But peacemaking is not at odds with courage, with standing firm for what we believe. Rather peacemaking may actually be the best weapon for gospel warriors. It affords them more influence than those who instinctively seek conflict, who eschew soft answers to difficult questions.
Not every relationship issue can be resolved. Not every conflict can be solved with wise words and simple solutions. But as much as we can, Christians should model in their lives what the kingdom will look like in full: peaceful harmony between God and man . . . and between each person.