CONFLICT resolution has never been an easy task. Many have lost money, reputation and even their very lives for being involved with conflict resolution. The scriptures have several accounts of conflicts which were resolved using various approaches. A cross-section of these biblical approaches to conflict resolution is outlined below.
The apostolic approach
The confrontational approach
More often than not, a peace-maker needs to apply more than one of these strategies in order to see the light of day in any major conflict.
Analysis of different approaches
Our Lord Jesus was a firm believer in reconciliation. He never misused any opportunity to encourage his followers to be reconciled to their adversaries. He (Jesus) went as far as making forgiveness and reconciliation a pre-requisite for answered prayer.
Mathew 5:23 and 24 reads: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
He went further to recommend a complaint and appeal process in resolving conflict. Our Lord recommended that the first attempt at peace should be made between the two key parties who are directly affected by the situation.
Third parties, including the elders of the church, should be involved only when the first attempt at direct resolution fails.
Mathew 18:15 to 17 states: “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Our Lord indicates that every church must have the institutional capacity to resolve all conflicts be they personal or institutional. The size and complexity of the ministry will determine how sophisticated the appeal process will be.
The mediation process should be inexpensive and easily accessible. Failure to ensure such accessibility may create room for members to seek less palatable means of redress.
Jesus further recommended the excommunication of deviant members of the body. I believe this is in line with the position of Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians.
Galatians 5:9 reads: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
Much as our Lord is interested in peace and reconciliation, He is clear about His uncompromising stance against rebellion and indiscipline.
In sum, our Lord is advocating a process of reconciliation which involves:
The Apostolic approach
The early church had its own struggle working as a team. Due to various backgrounds of the individual members, there were problems of compatibility. The Gentiles felt slighted by the Jewish Christians.
Peter’s encounter with Paul after several years is an indication this was a deep-seated issue. In Acts 6, the widows of the Hellenistic Jews complained about their rations. The Apostles created a forum of the members and quickly organised an open election and appointment of seven deacons to contain the problem.
Acts 6:2 and 3 states: “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
Later in Acts 15, they were confronted with differences over the criteria for the Gentiles to qualify as believers. Eventually, the elders held a conference in Jerusalem to express varied opinions on the issue. After the presentations, they reached a consensus on the matter without any fall out.
At such consensus building meetings, the primary requirement is to have spiritually mature people as contributors. Furthermore, these persons should purpose to offer constructive proposals based on real and deep spiritual experiences and knowledge.
One clear lesson from the approach of the apostles is that “in a multitude of counsellors, there is great safety”.
The Jonah approach
Jonah the prophet of God was sent to Ninevah to warn the King and the people against the impending judgment of God. He instead, took a trip on a ship heading for Tarshish. In the course of the journey, the vessel was rocked by storms.
After an exhaustive investigation including the casting of lots, it was revealed that Jonah’s disobedience had caused it.
It was subsequently agreed that Jonah was to be “cast out of the boat” to bring about peace. Immediately after he was cast out, the vessel stabilised. Although this story does not directly deal with conflicts, the principle here still applies.
Whenever particular persons are clearly identified as the cause of a major conflict, it may be better to “cast out” or “relocate” them to avoid further conflict.
Jonah 1:15 says: “John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.”
Proverbs 22:10 reads: “Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease.”
In ministry over time, I have gotten to know that if there is contention, the same known names are the cause of it. If ever there is a major gossip doing rounds in church, you can literally mention the names involved. Some are congregants and sadly some are in leadership — or those directly connected to them. Over time in ministry I have “cast” people out, just to stabilise the church. In the New Testament, Paul referred to a similar principle when he said in Romans 16:17: “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; He who keeps his way preserves his soul.”
Sometimes senior pastors may need to release some of their troublesome leaders to stabilise their boat of ministry. Some may do better elsewhere. The clear aim is not to destroy the brother or sister, but to save the rest of the body from destruction.
There are some conflicts in which the more matured party must be encouraged to forsake his or her rights and privileges to enable peace to prevail in the body. Father Abraham’s herdsmen had a conflict with those of his nephew Lot as they moved from Mesopotamia to Canaan.
Abraham recommended to Lot to choose the portion of the land of his preference in order to settle his family and flock.
Genesis 13:7 to 9 reads: “And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”
Although Lot chose the choicest portions of the place, Abraham received a greater blessing from God Almighty after Lot had set off. In reconciling any two parties, it is essential to identify the more mature of the two.
It is usually such persons who are willing to forsake their rights and privileges to bring about peace.
Sometimes a simple gift to an opponent can go a long way to pacify them to ensure peace. Jacob, after robbing his brother Esau of his birthright and blessings, knew how deeply Esau hated him.
As a wise man, he sent his servants ahead of his main convoy. This advanced party presented gifts to Esau in order to pacify him.
Genesis 32:13 reads: “So he lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present for Esau his brother.”
Genesis 32:20 says: “And also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’”
Although Esau was reluctant to accept the present, he was obviously overwhelmed by Jacob’s gesture. In a way, the gifts showed the good intention of Jacob.
Similarly, Esau’s final acceptance showed his willingness to forsake the past, forgive and be reconciled to his brother Jacob. This act is similar to the Lord Jesus’s exhortation to us to give food, water and clothing to our enemies.
Such gifts need not be very expensive. It is important to know how well the gift may suit the receiver. The right packaging and timing of small gifts often adds value to it.
The confrontational approach
There are situations which require instant spiritual and physical confrontations to ensure that peace prevails. When Jesus met the leaders in the temple, He had no room for a reconciliation meeting with them.
When Peter under satanic influence tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross, the Lord did not counsel Peter. He instantly rebuked him. There are members and leaders in churches who from time to time yield to the devil to frustrate the work of God.
Corinthians 4:4 says: “Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
The prince of this world, Satan, often blinds the understanding of people.
The prince of darkness must be subdued through prayer, the word and other appropriate spiritual weapons in order to ensure a smooth motion of peace.
It takes divine wisdom to unravel complex issues that tear down churches, families and nations. King Solomon demonstrated such wisdom when he settled the matter of the two women, both who claimed a baby.
1 Kings 3:28 reads: “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”
Today’s mediators and arbitrators need such Solomonic wisdom before stepping out. Such wisdom comes from only God.
James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
One can also pursue such wisdom through study and listening to others who have learnt from God in His word.
God has equipped His church to prevent, manage and overcome conflicts, both within and without the church. In order to resolve conflicts, one needs to understand the effects, kinds, causes and levels of conflicts among others.