Guest post by Rob Tims
As I age, I increasingly find myself longing more and more to be at right with as many people as possible. Not in a people pleasing kind of way (that goes away with age too, I’m finding), but in a “Not everything is worth fighting about” kind of way. In other words, I’m becoming more proactive about making peace, and the Bible has a lot to say about such things. Properly making peace (as opposed to keeping peace) begins with a biblical view of conflict. What do we find as we explore the Bible and what it says about conflict?
First, conflict is about broken relationships. In the Genesis account of creation, the Garden is essentially described as a paradise of perfect relationships. That harmony, however, was destroyed as Adam and Eve came to desire equality with God rather than community with God.
Second, conflict is spiritual. Paul writes in Ephesians 6:11-12 … “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” But conflict is not only Satan’s fault. Remember what James says in 4? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this: that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel … You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” So conflict is spiritual in nature, and much of the blame weights squarely on us.
Because conflict is relational and spiritual, it’s also inevitable. Paul put it very succinctly in Galatians 5:17. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” In other words, while we can be disheartened or disappointed when conflict arises in a church, we should, by no means, be surprised.
The good news is that conflict is also necessary. Remember Job’s story? God permitted a high degree of conflict into Job’s life to illustrate the sovereignty and grace of God in his life. Remember what Jesus said to Peter regarding the conflict he would undergo with Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion? Jesus taught Peter that the “sifting” he would undergo would put him into the position to strengthen his brothers later. From these and other accounts, we conclude that conflict is necessary because it is the means by which God accomplishes His redemptive purposes.
Finally, conflict is an opportunity for making peace. Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Psalm 119:71 reads, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Again and again we see through the Scripture that conflict is an opportunity for God to make peace among us.
Far too often we are surprised at conflict, and because of this, we don’t treat it as a necessary opportunity for the gospel, but as an embarrassment to the gospel. But when we trust the Bible’s message about conflict, we don’t need to be passive, evasive, defensive or aggressive when it comes. Instead, we can be courageous and watch God work to make His Name great through the conflict.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.