Everywhere I look people are struggling with conflict in their relationships, whether in personal drama, public discourse, or political debates. The atmosphere is thick with selfishness, blame, anger, slander, irritability, and rude behavior. Conflict is normal and to be expected in human relationships. Yet many have lost the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. The question is not, “Will I go through conflict?” but “Will I grow through conflict?” So, how can you and I actually grow through conflict?
There are many biblical passages that provide insight to dealing with conflict. James 1:19 (ESV) reveals every person should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Unfortunately, we often reverse this, and are quick to become angry, quick to speak, and slow to listen!
First, be quick to listen. My grandmother was deaf due to a childhood illness, but was quite skilled at reading lips… usually. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving when Papaw leaned back and exclaimed, “I’m thankful for a good wife!” In shock, my grandmother shouted out, “What? You want to trade me for a new wife!?” While she could not hear, we often choose not to hear. Jumping to conclusions, interrupting, trying to solve every issue, or thinking of what we’ll say next reveals foolishness and often leads to embarrassment (Proverbs 18:13 and 15:28). It is crucial to listen; not just to hear words, but also to understand. Listening reveals humility, sincerity, respect, and enables you to gather more complete information. Ask questions, clarify, be objective, share agreement when possible, and consider the content and feelings behind the other person’s words.
Second, be slow to speak. Don’t react. Respond. Words are powerful. James 3:1-12 compares our words to a small spark that can create a raging fire and to a small rudder that controls the direction of a giant ship. Focus not just on what you say, but how you say it (Proverbs 25:15, Ephesians 4:15). Both truth and tone matter. In conflict, communication experts recommend using “I” statements that focus on a specific example and how it made you feel (i.e. “I felt disrespected when you didn’t call me back.”). We should avoid “you” statements and generalities which often come across as attacks (i.e. “You are so insensitive!”). First Corinthians 13 explains the characteristics of true love. We should speak and act in ways that are patient, kind, not rude, proud, impulsive, irritable or resentful. Instead we are called to believe the best about other people, speak directly to (not about) the other person, and seek to build them up (Ephesians 4:25-32).
Third, be slow to become angry. Anger itself is not always wrong. In fact, Jesus became angry (John 2:13-22). Righteous anger is characterized by the right motivation, focus, control, and end results. We are called to have a long fuse and express anger in an appropriate way, time, and place. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” That shows maturity and grace. It also means not looking for ways others have wronged you, or seeking retaliation and revenge. Proverbs 22:24 says to avoid people who are easily angered.
Growing through conflict means disagreements and differences are addressed with a heart toward unity. The result leads to life, not death, in relationships. After all, isn’t that what we all need and want?
Dr. Chris Larmoyeux is the pastor at First Baptist Church Maumelle. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Maumelle with their three children. You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.