From Genesis 3 to Revelation 21, conflicts – man vs. God, God vs. man, man vs. man – seem to be a part of human stories. Conflict can be defined as differences in opinions or goals which cause frustration. Our natural instincts towards conflict are either fight or flight. The epistle, James, gives us a Biblical perspective of its causes and resolution.
In The Peacemaking Pastor, Alfred Poirier comments that people often answer the question “why” of a conflict with a “who”. Poirier interviewed people of a church in conflict. The elders blamed the people for not submitting. They blamed the pastor for being incompetent. On the other hand, the congregation blamed the elders for poor leadership. The elders lacked communication skills and failed to inform the congregation clearly of their decisions. As such, it was not a surprise that the pastor and his wife blamed the elders for publicly humiliating them and the congregation for being fickle. If “who” is not the answer to the “why” of a conflict, then what causes fights and quarrels?
The book of James answers the “why” question with another question. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). James says that conflicts start not with him nor with her, but within oneself. It begins with my own desire for something.
There is nothing wrong with having desires, but everything is wrong if the degree of such desire rules my life. Imagine that I don’t get what I want; I begin to demand it. In different ways, I insist on having what I want. My way or no way! This escalates to quarrels and fights (James 4:2). My demanding desires may turn into damning desires. James cautions the believers not to slander one another (James 4:11), and provides a four-step solution to conflict resolution.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)
First and foremost, it requires me to humble myself, to put my pride or fear away, and to examine my desires. Then, I need to draw near to God and acknowledge that I cannot do it alone. When I am in Christ, I can find grace, help, wisdom, strength, peace and forgiveness. Next, I need to repent and put a stop to my actions which cause or worsen the conflict. Lastly, I must trust God and have faith in His sovereignty.
Conflicts seem to be inevitable in life. Where there are people with differences in opinions and goals, there conflict may arise. The Bible tells us that unresolved conflict is a result of demanding or damning desires. Yet, conflict resolution between Christians has a Godward facet. Let’s humble ourselves and seek His grace. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Grace effects change; this is the remedy to our conflicts.
Poirier, A. (2006). The peacemaking pastor: A biblical guide to resolving church conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.