For many of us, the first memory associated with conflict is negative. After experiencing a major conflict with someone they love, most people feel hurt, anger and frustration. The most frequent response to the word association suggests that conflict is bad.
Certainly conflict can be negative and destructive. It can lead to feelings of hurt, anger and frustration, and there are clearly unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict. At the same time, there is such a thing as constructive conflict.
Conflict is a major theme in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see people in conflict &151 with God, within themselves, and with others. Conflict is the process we go through and the price we pay for intimacy. Intimacy is always achieved at the price of facing our differences and negative feelings, listening, understanding and resolving them.
Why is there conflict? Because we are all different. And we are different because God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to make each one of us different. In I Corinthians 12-14 and numerous other passages, it is clear that God designed differences. The strength of a marriage, a family and especially a local church body is largely related to the diversity of those individuals.
In Romans 15 we are encouraged to “be of the same mind’ (v. 5, NASB), to “accept one another” (v. 7) and to “admonish one another” (v. 14). As we seek to function biblically and to work toward becoming one in Christ, reflecting the unity Christ prayed for in John 17, we find that at times our differences produce problems. They can lead to disagreements that may result in conflict.
Relationships aren’t destroyed by differences. They are destroyed by the immature, irresponsible and unhealthy ways in which we view those differences and our unwillingness or inability to take them to God and allow Him to use them for His glory.
The real problem is not that we are different, nor that we disagree and have conflict. It’s that most of us automatically view conflict as something negative rather than as a tool God can use to help us better understand ourselves and one another.
When you experience conflict, it means that someone has a different value or opinion that you do. Most of us assume that our position is the correct one, and we try hard to help the other person see things as clearly as we do. Of course the other person feels exactly the same way. They invest an equal amount of energy trying to help us see things as clearly as they do.
Rather than working at listening and understanding, most of us attempt to change the other person. I’ve worked with many conflicting couples who weren’t too sure what the real issue was. But they were sure that whatever the issue, their position was the correct one. To add more muscle to their argument, they would say that their view was the most biblical one. Who would dare argue with that?
Threatened by Differences
I’ve known some Evangelicals who believe that Christians who are mature will agree almost all of the time. Every decision made must reflect the unanimity of those involved. Conflict is viewed as a sign of immaturity and carnality. But in many ways just the opposite is true.
Those who believe that diversity always leads to division feel threatened by differences. They tend to discourage individual uniqueness and creativity. Individuals are pressured not to disagree. Spirituality and maturity are in part determined by the degree to which everyone thinks alike.
Yet someone once said that when everyone always agrees and thinks alike, no one thinks very much at all. Several years ago I heard Warren Wiersbe say that “unity without diversity leads to uniformity.” Christ died to take away our sins, not our minds. In fact, in Romans 12:1,2 Paul tells us that as part of the process of sanctification God wants to renew our minds. In Phil 2:5 we are encouraged to have the mind of Jesus.
True, diversity can lead to division. But diversity is also essential for unity and harmony. There are few things I enjoy more than a good symphony. In the orchestra there are groups of instruments including woodwind, brass, string and percussion. Within those groups there are many different instruments with different sounds. The musicians have spent thousands of hours practicing their instruments. The orchestra has spent many more hours rehearsing for the performance.
Finally, on the night of the performance, the conductor lifts his or her baton, the instruments begin to play and it happens. All of those different people playing different notes on their different instruments come together and create one beautiful sound. Out of the diversity comes harmony. The beauty of that symphony lies in the harmony.
Throughout Scripture, but especially in John 17, God makes it clear that the greatest apologetic for the deity of Christ, for the truth claims of the Gospel message, is the unity of the Body of Christ. I believe that this unity starts in the home. If there isn’t unity in the marriage, there won’t be unity in the family. If there isn’t unity among the individual family units, there will never be unity in the church. What we don’t allow God to accomplish among four or five people, He will never accomplish among four or five hundred.
There is a big difference between families with problems and problem families. All families experience stress and problems and have conflict. But healthy families value conflict and have the ability to handle problems in a constructive way. Families that don’t face and deal with their problems become problem families. Healthy families understand that conflict is a normal part of being in relationship. In fact, it is not only normal but is also essential for the development of understanding, intimacy and unity.
What is your view of conflict? How well do you handle criticism? Do you welcome it? What are some of the differences between you and the significant others in your life? Is it possible that God has brought these individuals into your life for a purpose? What might God want to teach you through these difficult people?
Throughout this next week, choose to consider the potentially positive side of difference. Remember that each conflict provides a unique opportunity to better understand another persons’ opinions and values. When faced with a conflict, pause briefly and ask God to help you use it as an opportunity for learning, growing and increasing maturity.
Copyright © 2003 Gary Oliver. Used With Permission.
Read more from Dr. Oliver at LifeRelationships.org.