Likely the most common of all sources of disunity and disharmony, plain, old-fashioned sin and selfishness are still the primary culprits in relational conflict. The answer always is repentance, confession, and forgiveness, and following God’s commands.
See, the fact is that the real reason, I Corinthians 1:10 to 13, the whole chapter, I Corinthians 3, “I have heard among you, brethren, there are actually divisions among you,” Paul says, “and I believe it because some say, ‘I’m of Paul,’ some say, ‘I’m of Peter,’ some say… ”
And at the root of it was their carnality. Paul writes and says, “I’d like to talk to you as mature [believers] but I can’t. You are so small minded, you are so selfish, you are so into the politics of the Church, you’re so into your own agenda, you’re so using the Church of God for a platform for your own ego strokes.” He says, “We are not flat out putting up with that!”
In fact, one of the strongest words, powerful, strongest statements in all of the New Testament is I Corinthians 3 about verses 16 and 17. And it talks about the Church there, the “you” is plural, speaking of the Church plural, and basically it’s a warning that if you mess with, if I mess with unity in the Church of God, the very hand of God will come down on you.
See, this unity stuff is real big to God because a disunified Church communicates to the world that Jesus wasn’t sent by the Father, that the faith isn’t true, and that this is nothing other than a glorified Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, or Kiwanis Group. All wonderful groups, by the way, not all commissioned to save the world, not all commissioned with the life-saving message of Jesus, fully God, fully man, resurrected.
See, we are not a social club. We’re an army, we’re a family, and we’re people with a purpose. And part of that purpose is we must live in harmony with one another.
I came across a list of various personality traits that give us problems. There’s the critic, constantly complains and gives unwanted advice. These are really the carnal type personalities that we have all experienced. And I’ll do this to jog your memory because I have an application at the end that you might think, “Ooh, mm, I know that person I need to talk to.”
The martyr, forever the victim and wracked with self-pity. The wet blanket, pessimistic and automatically negative about everything, all the time. The steamroller, blindly insensitive and runs over people. The gossip, spreads rumors and leaks secrets. The control freak, unable to let go and let be, if it gets out of their hands, out of their control.
The back-stabber, the irrepressibly two-faced person; the cold shoulder, the person who disengages and avoids contact when there is conflict; the volcano, builds up steam and is ready to erupt, we just don’t know when or where; the sponge, constantly in need but never gives anything back.
The workhorse, always pushes and pushes, no matter what you do, they are never satisfied. And the chameleon, the person that is eager to please and always avoids conflict.
What am I saying? I’m saying that there are lots of legitimate reasons for conflict that godly people have. Our personalities, our sin, it’s not a good reason but it’s one, isn’t it? And until Jesus comes back or you go to Him, we’re going to struggle with that, I’m going to struggle with that, we’re going to have theological differences, we’re going have philosophical differences, and just change. Every time there is change, even good change, is going to bring conflict.
So, here’s the deal, if there are that many situations that cause disharmony, that God tells us about, right in Scripture. And we’re commanded to live in harmony with one another, here’s the question I want to spend the rest of our time on. How can we restore harmony in relationships? How can we restore what God commands, Jesus prayed for, the early Church practiced, and when they did, it was transforming? How do we do it?
First, refuse to tolerate disunity. As far as it depends on you, Romans 12:18 says that. “Be at peace with all men, as far as it depends on you.” Refuse to tolerate disunity. As far as your relational network goes, you know there is a problem with you or with someone else, just don’t let it happen. Address it. Don’t avoid it, it won’t go away; don’t procrastinate, don’t buy that lie. “Oh, it’ll get better, I’ll give it time.”
Yeah, like an infection. You know, “Just give it time.” What’s it do? You get gangrene! That’s what happens in the Church. “Oh, well, someone will tell them.” “Yeah, who is it bothering?” “Me.” “Then, you tell them.”
Third, don’t delegate it. That’s a coward’s way out. You know, we find someone, “Why don’t you go tell them about that problem over in our church? They are really messing up our Bible study group. You think you could tell them?” No way, you tell them.
Fourth, don’t rationalize it. That’s denial. Unresolved conflict is not an option in the body of Christ. Unity is a nonnegotiable.
I came by a quote that is, I think, one of the saddest quotes in commentaries I have ever read, ever, in my life. When I think about America, when I think about what God longs to do, when I think of the power of the gospel, when I think that you have been sealed with the Spirit, that God wants to do a great work…
Lyle Schaller has been a guy around for about forty years consulting with churches, crisscrossing in all kind of denominations, para-church, churches, here is his observation as he has been around the country in the last forty years. “On any given day, three-fourths of all church’s ministry is significantly reduced because of non-productive and destructive conflict.”
He also said that conflict is so severe in one-fourth of those churches that the conflict has to be reduced before the church can solve or do anything.
Seventy-five percent of the churches in America are spending inordinate energy doing what? Fighting! Fighting! And a fourth of them can’t even get out of the blocs because they are so inwardly focused, at each other’s throats. Does that sound just like the opposite of what Jesus prayed?
I’ll tell you what, it takes hard work, it takes everyone involved, it takes a nonnegotiable, “we will take it to the limit,” attitude about disunity. But don’t tolerate it.
And, see, that’s an issue of the will. That’s where it starts. When there is disharmony in relationships, in the body of Christ, one of the options is not, “Let it go.”
Second, embrace conflict as normal and unavoidable. John 16:33, Jesus promised us, “In the world we will have tribulation.” Why? It’s a fallen world, there’s your flesh, there’s my flesh, we have multiple differences, and the enemy’s number one agenda is what? Divide and conquer.
Conflict is normal, learn to deal with it, embrace it, and grow from it. The fact of the matter is the times when I have grown the most have been the worst conflicts in my life. Why? You get desperate, don’t you? I don’t like to confront people, I don’t like to look at issues in my heart, I don’t want to deal with deep things that keep coming up and one, two, three, four people tell you the same thing over a period of years.
It’s that old adage: “Bob has a problem with Sue, Bob has a problem with Bill, Bob has a problem with Barbara, Bob has a problem with Sue again…” What’s the problem? Bob.
There are certain little things, just like a wheel in my life, that keep coming back. And I realized, you know what? The conflict has caused me to look at those.
Third, be the initiator in conflict resolution. Be the initiator. You say, “Well, it’s not my fault.” The Scripture says it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Matthew 5:24 says, “When you come to the altar to worship God and there remember your brother has something against you, go to your brother, lay down your offering, go make it right.
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother has offended you, if he has sinned against you,” what? “you go and if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” In a word, when it’s perceived to be your fault, take the initiative. When it is perceived to be their fault, take the initiative. If there is a problem, take the initiative. The body and the health of Christ’s Church is more important than who is right, who is wrong, and who ought to apologize first.
We’ve got people sitting at opposite ends of the churches all over America for ten, fifteen, fifty years waiting for that other person to come across the aisle and say, “It was really my fault.” That’s ludicrous. That’s carnality. And it’s sad. Take the first step, regardless of whose fault it is. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
Who took the first step with us and God? Who had the problem? Who brought on the problem? Us. Who took the initiative? God. Who left heaven? Jesus. Why? We had a problem. Conflict resolution. He came, dealt with the conflict, lived a perfect life, conflict resolution, made an offer, and whosoever would desire to come, you can come because He didn’t wait to figure out whose fault it was. He knew that. It was ours. Take the initiative.
Fourth, deal with you before you deal with them. Luke 6:41 is that classic passage about the speck in your eye and the log in your brother’s. What I mean by this is don’t be impulsive. Own your part even if it’s, quote, in your mind, “Five percent of this was me but ninety-five percent of it was them.” Okay? Tell you what, here’s what the Word of God says, “You own your five percent and you repent of your five percent and you go and tell them you are sorry for your five percent.”
Well, will they then own their ninety-five percent? I don’t know. That’s not your responsibility, is it? See, we don’t do what God says because we’re promised results, we do what God says because He says it.
Get your perspective before you try and give it to someone else. There’s a real process I think that you might want to go through. We worked together on church staff here and I put together something that’s called, “Making Peace at Home.” And if you wanted to learn how to resolve conflict in your marriage, this is a booklet that we have put together and you can get it in the resource center.
Really, it’ll work for any conflict resolution. It’s just geared and slanted toward a marriage conflict. So, if you’re thinking, “Okay, I need to look at myself first, what would you really do? How would I ask it?” Instead of going into that tonight, that’s available, we have already put it together.
Finally, meet together ASAP and outline the issue. Alright? You’re not going to tolerate, right? You’re not going to let disunity, disharmony go. You’re going to embrace it and say, “God is going to do something good. This is going to be painful but I’m going to do it. I’m going to take the initiative.”
You’re going to deal with the “you” before you start to deal with the “them.” And then meet together as soon as possible. Now, here’s what you do, you ready? You work on this. I got to do this last week. Got to do it last week.
At two o’clock in the morning, I’m struggling with an issue, and struggling with a very, very close friend and it was more, I saw some symptoms, and the week before I had talked to him and he is of the personality and giftedness that when you mention something casually it’s usually bang, bang, bang. I mean, the world happens.
And it was a week later and couldn’t quite figure it out and then I learned he was kind of frustrated with his job, and I was getting kind of frustrated with mine, and I was thinking, “What’s the deal here?” because I felt a little tension coming up, ministry-wise.
But what I have learned is, if you let ministry tension go, eventually it’ll end up in your relationship. And so I said to Steve, “We really need to talk.” And, see, it happens to everyone. He’s as close a friend as I have in the world. We have been working together for fifteen years but I was up until two and for the rest of the night churning, churning, churning, churning.
And so, here’s what you do. First, the what. Calmly describe what you perceive the other person is doing to cause the problem. And so I did. I think there’s a problem and I told him, “This is what I think you’re doing to cause that problem.”
Second is the how. Tell them how it makes you feel. And I told him, “Man, I am frustrated. I’m really frustrated.” And then I learned that I think he was more frustrated than me.
Then next, the why. Tell why this is important to you. I’ve been doing a lot of planning and a lot of thinking and there are some opportunities in March, I’m going to be in Hong Kong and in Communist China for two weeks doing some teaching and there’s a three part series and Steve is going to need to do that and he’s going to do a great job.
In fact, he preaches in August now and people visit the church and they ask him to speak at other churches. I think that’s pretty exciting. But I’m thinking, he’s got a three part series coming and the issue I’m looking at is, “Boy, he’s overloaded and I think the priorities maybe should be here instead of here,” and I’m thinking I need to give him some big stuff, and he’s feeling like he is torn apart as it is, I’m thinking, “This isn’t going to fly.” So, I told him why it mattered to me.
And then the question. Notice, “What are we going to do to fix it?” See, I knew it wasn’t a “his” problem or just a “my” problem. We’ve been working together a long time. In fact, before the service I asked him, “Is it okay to share this?” He looked at me, he said, “Yeah!” There’s no emotional stuff here. We do this so often, so forthrightly all the time, there are people that come into a meeting that we’re in and look at us like, “Oooh, I think I’ll catch you guys later.” I mean, it’s just out there!
Why? Because he loves me. He always tells me the truth and I try hard to tell him the truth. He’s better at that than I am.
So, then I got to, “How are we going to fix this?” How are we going to fix this? And then we sat down and we talked, and he talked about what his job is doing to him, and I talked about what my job was doing to him, and what are his responsibilities, and mine, and how do we look at this? And what I think they ought to be, and what he thinks they ought to be, and then we came to, “Boy, yeah, we need to address that.”
And so then you encourage their response and feedback. Someone has said, “Fifty percent of the time when you go to a person, they didn’t even know there was a problem. Thirty percent of the time they are more than willing to work at it.” So, eighty percent of the time when you go and talk with someone, you’re going to get a great response. We think it’s just the opposite.
And then write down the desired action. This is a central step. After I stayed up all night, then I went to my little donut shop and I read my Bible and I prayed and then I got a napkin, I wish they would get better napkins because it was very hard to write on, and I wrote down what I thought the issue was, I wrote down every single thing, and then I came up with a specific game plan of what I thought we needed to address this issue, for he and I to work in a way that would be productive for the kingdom of God and he have some sanity, and me have sanity as well. And so I wrote it down and I gave it to him.
Then, set a specific time to revisit. Patterns don’t happen overnight. Patterns aren’t broken overnight. And so what I realized - see, I could give you all the stuff on this - is that my first response to life when it’s not going well, this will surprise some of you, is anger.
Because I seem like a really nice guy up here and on good days I am. And that’s part of my personality that just loves to be with people. Underneath that real nice person that likes to be with people, I, on those tests, come out real high “D.” Make it happen, here’s the task, take the hill, what’s the problem, we agreed on this, there’s what we’re going to do, why aren’t we doing it?
Now, I have learned and I’m trying to say it and learn how to do that in very, very nice ways. But the way I internalize it, when there’s a roadblock in what God wants to do at this church or in my life, I get mad. And then I have to say, “Why am I angry?” And I go to that anger series and work through all my issues.
And what I realized was, here’s what happened to me, as I realized, major transition, change. Steve has got worship and trying to do all that, plus the staff, we’ve rearranged things but it’s not working in a way where he is getting the relief from it. He has gotten totally sucked in to so many day to day things, he can’t have the big picture to do all this.
And so, some of the things are falling through the cracks. Well, my first reaction is I am angry. So, from two to three I’m angry. From three to four I’m figuring out why. By five I’m realizing, “You know what? You know who really has a problem? Steve doesn’t have a problem.”
I’m asking him to see a big picture and do things for other staff members and by five thirty, what I realized is, I’m asking him to do what I am not doing for him. Guess where the problem landed? Right back in the center of my desk. It wasn’t his problem. It was my problem.
His lack of perspective, of getting sucked into things, who does he report to? He reports to me. What’s my job? My job is to make sure that he does only the most important strategic things. I dropped the ball. I blew it. I have to own it. But you set a time so that you can address it.
So, Monday at eleven fifteen, he and I are going to get together. I’ve got a game plan, I’ve been thinking about it, and, man, we’re going to get together and we’re going to meet every Monday at eleven fifteen so that I keep my focus and he keeps his because I have not done a good job of giving him what he needs to minister effectively.
Finally, commitment by both sides to put the issue in the past once solved. See, the reason I can share this even though it was just last week, man, I’ll tell you what, we’re committed. We’re committed to doing what God wants us to do.
So, now, don’t turn the page yet, okay? I hear those papers rustling. Please don’t turn the page because I want to tell you something. We happen to get along really, really well and so there are parts of this that are a great example. The good part of this example I like because I actually did what you’re supposed to do. I was really happy about that.
However, sometimes when it’s really messy and there’s not a lot of freedom and it’s hard to speak the truth in love, you get it resolved and then you don’t make this final commitment by both sides to put the issue in the past once solved.
What this means is you don’t bring it up to others. You don’t tell. I asked permission. And because it’s not a problem anymore, you don’t bring it up to people, “Well, you know, I had this problem and I was talking to her and, yeah, we talked and we met.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It’s done. Shh. You just, shh. You don’t tell anybody else.
Secondly, don’t bring it up to this person again. If it’s solved, if it’s behind you, you may meet, you may work through it, but in the heat of another argument don’t pull out of your bag, “Well remember that time when you did…?” No, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm. You’ve let loose of that, that’s gone, that’s foreign territory.
And finally, here’s the big one, don’t even bring it up in your own mind and your thinking and fantasizing. Don’t replay the tapes of what they did, when they did it, how. It’s resolved, isn’t it? Bang, it’s done. You have power over what goes in your mind, how you think, and how you don’t. Stop.
Hey, “Lord, thank You.” The enemy will come in and just stir that pot, stir that pot, stir that pot. So you meet together, you say - what? Calmly describe the problem, how it makes you feel, why this is important, and then the question, “How are we going to fix this?”
You answer the question by encouraging their response, I got Steve’s, write down the desired action, what are you going to do? Set a specific time to follow up so you do it, and then make a commitment together, “This is in the past.” You got it? Okay, flip the page. You guys are a good group here tonight.
Number six is, “If resolution does not occur, follow the biblical guidelines of Matthew 18.” And all I’m going to do is read them. There are four steps in Matthew 18. You go to them and you love them and you share your heart and you do it with a right attitude, you go to a brother, you go to a sister in Christ, and they basically stiff arm you and say, “Get out of my face,” in sort of a nice or an un-nice kind of way.
“If your brother sins against you,” step one, “go and show him his fault just between the two of you.” Step one is personal confrontation. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother,” it’s over. You’re done. Step two is small group confrontation. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
So, if he stiff arms you, or she does, [then you go back with] someone they respect, someone they think is objective, someone that actually is objective would even be better. And you go back and say, “You know, we gotta get this resolved. Unity is nonnegotiable in the body of Christ. And so I want to bring so-and-so and so-and-so that they can get in on this so that the data and the fact and if it’s my perception or yours, whatever.”
Step three is you take it to the church. If they refuse to listen to them, the small group, tell it to the church. And in our case, that’s take it to the elders. We have anywhere from three to six of these going at any given time in the life of our church.
We take church discipline seriously. I believe it’s one of the reasons why God’s hand is on this church. You don’t sin and just walk away from it. We are going to, we’ll meet you, we’ll find you, we’ll talk with you, we’ll do it with an attitude, as we’ll talk about later, of reconciliation and of love and restoration. But you don’t just walk out. You don’t just thumb your nose at God, thumb your nose at God’s people.
We will come and find you and love you and we’ll put that before you because you matter to God. And giving up isn’t an option. And so it says, “Take it to the church,” in our case, first the elders, “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
So, we have a two-step process where it goes before the elders, we work it through there, if there’s still no response, then it goes public. And then after that it’s excommunication. It’s what he says. Treat him like a tax collector.
That’s hard. That’s how important unity is. Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”