Some things in life are inevitable. As the saying goes, three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and change. Yet, recognizing life in a sinful and fallen world requires a fourth certainty: conflict. It is in our families, friendships, communities, and churches. I have observed and noticed this reality in my own life as well.
As Christians, we cannot escape facing conflict, but we can choose how we respond in the midst of conflict. Rather than conflicts becoming an obstacle in our relationships, they can be an opportunity to share the truth of the gospel. James 4:1–12 highlights how the gospel can be proclaimed and portrayed in our conflicts by laying out three biblical truths. These three biblical truths are the three things I pray when in a conflict.
1.Confess the Source of the Conflict (vv. 1–5)
The ultimate source of the conflicts I face is not the other person but my own heart. Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying the other person never bears any responsibility. We live in a fallen and sinful world so that means we will sin against others and, yes, others will sin against us.
Two more items worth clarifying: not all conflict is bad and not all desires are bad. Conflict can prove fruitful and desires can be glorifying to God just as long as things do not find a place above our devotion to God. Still, we must learn to confess the source of our conflicts. We bear the responsibility for how we respond to possible conflicts.
When our desires and passions are not satisfied, we escalate to conflict. When we do not get our way, we sin, we do not go to God, or we go to God with the wrong motives (4:2). The result is we care more about our selfish desires than God’s desires. We do not put Him first but put Him in the backseat.
We commit spiritual adultery (4:4)! In the midst of conflict, I’ve learned to go to God, confessing to the Lord my sin of selfishness and idolatrous desires, asking Him to work on my heart that I may desire what He desires and may not allow secondary things in my life to become primary.
2.Submit to the Solution of the Conflict (vv. 6–10)
With the problem stated, the next step is to find a solution. Too often, when it comes to conflict the goal for each side is to win the argument. However, such a goal fails to be the solution to the conflict. The solution comes not when someone convinces the other they are right but when both parties look to the One who has made us right with God.
In other words, the solution to our conflicts is found in the gospel of God’s grace. The gospel shows us we are sinners and that we can be saved only by grace because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can be brought near to God and He to us because of the gospel. The gospel of grace enables us, by the Holy Spirit, to submit to God and resist the devil (4:7).
The presence of repentance (4:8-9) and humility (4:6, 10) in our actions and affections display the truth we have received the solution. We will not be so hard-pressed to always be right and always win the argument but will care more about the person who has been made in the image of God (see James 3:8-12).
Now, when I face conflicts, I reflect on the grace of God which produces gratitude in my heart. the growing response, then, is to extend that grace to the other person and to care more about them than about winning the argument.
3.Know Your Stance in the Conflict (vv. 11–12)
While we could stop at the solution, James goes on to reveal to us what our stance in the conflict needs to be. In short, our stance is to obey God, not “play” God. We do not approach our relationships or conflicts as if we are in the position of God. We are not the ultimate judge and we certainly do not judge by our opinions but by God’s standard, the Bible.
God is the one who is in authority over all, not us. Our role is to obey Him, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors, and even our enemies. When I grasp the gospel in the midst of a conflict I am facing, I not only extend grace but God’s Word convicts me my role is to obey God in my response, not to “play” God in handing down judgment. When my stance is obedience to God, I rightly deal with the problem and hold firm to the solution.
The next time you encounter a disagreement with a family member, you argue with a friend, or contend with a fellow church member, how will you respond? Let the Word of God guide you and may the truth of the gospel point you to confess the source on the conflict, submit to the solution of the conflict, and know your stance in the conflict. Pray these things as the Holy Spirit enables you to apply them.