On Resolving Conflict

As Christians, how should we go about resolving conflict with a neighbor?

The first thing you should do when someone does something to offend you is to go tell a bunch of other people about it. Or if it’s a really serious offense, you should punch him in the nose, right on the spot.

Of course I’m teasing. This is what we might want to do; but not what we should do. What we should do is follow the Bible’s instructions. The Bible is a very practical book and gives us instructions about how to deal with offenses in a godly manner.
The first option, of course, is simply to overlook the offense.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
     and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11)
Jesus speaks of this also, when he says,
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:38-39).
In other words, absorb the shock. Suffer the wrong without retaliation. Peter says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Pet. 3:9). More than this, we are taught to respond with kindness and gentleness when we are wronged. “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:28). And in Proverbs, we are told,
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
     and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
     and the Lord will reward you (Prov. 25:21-22)
“Burning coals heaped upon the head” is a reference to the sense of shame and remorse that anyone with a conscience will feel when he has wronged his neighbor, but his neighbor, instead of retaliating, treats him kindly in return.

When we do this—when we don’t seek to retaliate, but respond with kindness and gentleness—the conflict is often diffused and comes to an end. Not always, but often this is the case.

Now, I should point out that there are certainly times when it is appropriate to confront the person who has wronged you and to insist that he make things right. In Leviticus 19:11 we read,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:17-18).
He says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” when he has wronged you. In other words, confront him with his wrongdoing; point out how he has sinned against you. He doesn’t say, “Go tell everyone else what he has done to you.” Rather, go to the one who has offended you.

This is what Jesus says, also. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15), which is what you would want done to you. If you were the guilty party—if you had done wrong to your neighbor—you would rather your neighbor come directly to you and speak to you about it than go and tell everyone else.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
     but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Pr. 17:9)
“Reason frankly with your neighbor,” “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” And I would add this also: do this humbly and charitably, realizing that you may have misunderstood his words or his actions that have offended you. Offense is often taken where none is intended. Often conflicts arise through simple misunderstandings. So make sure you understand the situation as thoroughly as possible before you start casting blame.

What if there is no satisfactory resolution? Well then, Jesus says, “Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16). In other words, initiate the process of seeking a formal resolution to the conflict by involving Christian brothers who can serve as witnesses to the confrontation according to what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17.

Finally, as Paul said, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18).


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