This past Sunday my sermon was on a difficult topic, resolving conflict, based on Romans 12:18. Though it was a hard topic I think it was one of the sweetest worship gatherings our church has experienced. The worship team led us in an excellent time singing Christ-exalting songs and the Lord’s presence was among us in a notable way. Several people commented they also noticed it was an extra sweet time of worship together. And part of that was due to the Spirit’s work doing the above text in the lives of our people.
Several members commented about how God has recently helped them address a conflict in their family or workplace or relationship within the church. There were those also expressing the conviction that they know they must obey God’s word and go to someone to make things right. And in my own affairs there have been a couple occasions lately where I have had to go make things right with someone. I am thankful to see God’s work among us in these ways.
So here are some frequently asked questions on the issue of settling a conflict. I’ll do my best to offer a brief, helpful answer that I hope to be based on God’s word and useful to others.
Q: Does settling the conflict mean I must subject myself to the abusive actions of the person who has hurt me so many times in the past?
A: My assumption is this kind of question comes from a person who has been abused physically or in some way worse than just unfriendly treatment. So I would answer that, no, one is not required to expose themselves to physical or other sinful abuse as they seek to make peace. Such abuse is both sinful and illegal. It should never have happened the first time and it must never be allowed to happen again. That should include the perpetrator being prosecuted their crimes. If the abuse was something less than criminal certainly protective steps ought to be taken to prevent it from happening again.
Q: Does God expect me to forgive the person who committed a crime against me?
A: Again I want to make clear that physical and sexual abuse are crimes. The perpetrator should be prosecuted and punished as our law demands. Forgiving your enemy does not demand that one should not be punished for their crime. Having said this, next it must be emphasized that Jesus calls believers to a life free from hatred, resentment, and revenge. That means we must forgive even our enemies. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus commanded, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Q: What if I try to make peace with someone but they refuse to be reconciled? How can I obey God in this way when the other person refuses to reciprocate?
A: Remember what the Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). The words, “if possible,” make us see that sometimes settling a conflict will not be possible. Yet we are commanded to do whatever possible “so far as it depends on” us. Once we have done our part but the other person refuses to be reconciled we should move on with our life knowing we’ve done what God requires of us though we should continue to pray and watch for that person to come around some day.
Q: What if I settle a conflict with someone and forgive them but after awhile they do the same thing again? Should I go through the whole thing again?
A: Yes. There is no instruction in the Bible telling us to drop the peacemaking effort after the first encounter. But we do see Jesus command His followers to forgive continually, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy times seven” (Matthew 5:22).
There may be other questions like these related to someone with whom you have a conflict or someone who has wronged you. Since we live in a broken world, broken ourselves, there can be very difficult matters to resolve and even difficult to understand. Often you can be helped by talking with a church pastor, small group leader, or other godly and wise fellow church member. So I recommend asking a wise counselor for direction. Leave the other person involved anonymous and simply get wisdom for how you should respond in a God-honoring way.
If some question comes to your mind other than the ones addressed above, please leave a comment stating it and I will do my best to give an answer. And may Jesus continue to build His church stronger and stronger as we live out His grace toward one another.