Conflict is inevitable when so many polarizing topics pop up on the news and social media. Everyone has a different story, and they have their own set of opinions and views. How should we handle disagreement and conflict? There are a few things we can see Jesus did when he faced disputes that we can embrace in our lives:
1. Pause and Listen
We all have heard the saying, "Think before you speak," but it's easier said than done. When we pause, we allow ourselves time to compose our thoughts, check our emotions, and have a more productive conversation. In John 8:1-11, Jesus faced a severe conflict. One morning, Jesus was in Jerusalem teaching a crowd. As he taught, a group formed, including some religious teachers and Pharisees. They brought forward a woman who had committed adultery and demanded guidance from Jesus, "...this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"
The religious teachers were trying to trap Jesus – would he agree to stone her for her sins or defy the Law of Moses? So, what did Jesus do? He knelt and drew in the dirt with his finger. The religious teachers impatiently stood there demanding answers, but Jesus kept drawing!
Finally, after listening to the teachers and thinking, Jesus stood and said, "...let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he kneeled back down and continued drawing in the dirt. The religious teachers all knew they couldn't honestly throw a stone, so they left, leaving just the adulterous woman behind. Then, Jesus stood and forgave the woman for her sins.
Pay attention to how Jesus handled this challenging interaction - he didn't interrupt, become angry or raise his voice at the religious teachers or sinful women. Jesus paused, listened, and thought before he spoke.
2. Choose the Right Time and Place
It can seem like everyone has an opinion on every topic, leading to disagreement and conflict. We might incline to avoid conflict, but that's not always what's best. Conflict is normal and can even be healthy, but there are good (and not good!) ways to disagree.
Jesus explains to his apostles how to approach conflict in Matthew 18:15, "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others back with you and go back again so that everything you say may be confirmed by these two or three witnesses."
It can be tempting to disagree on social media where hundreds of people can see our comments, in a meeting at work with all your coworkers, or even at the dinner table. But talking about conflict in such a public way can lead to embarrassment, hurt feelings, and fractured relationships.
Next time your friend posts an opinion on social media you disagree with, meet them for coffee or give them a call before you comment back. When your coworker shares an idea that you can't get behind, pull them aside privately to talk about it. When you have a problem with someone, speak to them about it one-on-one and face-to-face.
3. Stand Firm, but Don't Force Your Way
As painful as it is, sometimes we can't agree with others. We can do all the right things to share our views respectfully, but we don't see eye to eye in the end. Jesus ran into interactions like this often!
In Matthew 19:16-22, a rich man approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus laid out the steps the man needed to take, "You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself... go and sell all your possessions and give money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Jesus clarified what the man needed to do; he didn't leave any room for guessing and interpretation because he genuinely wanted the man to have eternal life. How did the man respond? When he heard he would need to sacrifice his riches to follow Jesus, "he went away sad, for he had many possessions." Jesus could have chased the man; he could have changed his mind, become angry, or begged him to stay – but he didn't. Jesus stood firm in his beliefs because he knew they were right, yet he didn't force his ideas on the rich man who wasn't willing to hear them.
Throughout Jesus' time on Earth, he preached to thousands of people. He wanted (and still wants!) everyone to follow him and have eternal life. But he knew that some people weren't ready to listen to him and change. Jesus never tried to manipulate or control people into agreeing with him. Instead, he stood firm in his beliefs but respected people who didn't agree with him at the same time.
4. Remember your Purpose
When conflict arises, it's easy to become narrow-minded and lose focus on the bigger picture. Jesus clearly defined the essential things in our lives in Matthew 22:37-40.
"Jesus replied, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment, The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."
As followers of Jesus, our biggest and most important priorities are to love God and love others. But the truth is, it can be challenging to love people you disagree with. Jesus explained how to show love to those people in Luke 10:30-37. He tells the parable of a Jewish man who was attacked and left "half-dead beside the road" by bandits while traveling. In his most significant moment of need, a priest passes by the Jewish man, but instead of helping him, he avoids him and crosses to the other side of the road. Then a Temple assistant passes by and does the same thing the priest did, refusing to help the Jewish man.
Then, a Samaritan came along. At that time, Jews "despised" Samaritans because of fundamental differences in their faith. The Samaritan was the last person you would expect to help the Jewish man – they were supposed to hate each other! Instead of ignoring the Jewish man in his time of need like the priest and Temple assistant, the Samaritan treated his wounds with expensive olive oil and wine, placed him on a donkey, and took him to an inn to care for him. The Samaritan showed the Jewish man love despite how deeply they disagreed.
When conflict begins to overshadow your relationship with someone, remember the purpose Jesus gave us, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
In Romans 12:2, Paul directed the Roman people, "Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." Conflict is bound to happen, and that's okay! Embracing conflict and disagreement like Jesus will lead us to healthier discussions and better relationships and ultimately reflect God's love for others.
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