Learning Love and Patience in the Classroom of Conflict

Conflict seems to be the order of the day. Open any social media news feed and you’ll see the news is rife with reports of one conflict or another. As long as there have been humans, there has been conflict. It started in the garden (Genesis 3:5) and mankind really hasn’t improved much in our handling of conflict since. 

Aside from the daily conflicts we see reported in news stories, there are more personal battles that many of us face in our homes, our workplaces, and our churches. Disagreements aren’t inherently bad by nature. It is perfectly acceptable - and often strengthening - to have a disagreement with another person. But I fear that we are reaching a point in our society of believing the lie that in order to be in a relationship with someone else, we must fully agree with them on every point of every matter. There is a distinction that must be made between disagreement and conflict. 

The Source of Our Conflict 

Love and Patience in the Classroom of Conflict

Unfortunately, the church is often a product of the culture it is meant to influence. It doesn’t take long to discover that most American churches are just as rife with conflict as the social media news feeds we scan daily. James tells us that the source of our conflict can always be traced back to our sinful hearts. 

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?  ~James 4:1

The church tends to have a vastly different approach to conflict than culture does, however. Instead of getting an emotional high by engaging in whichever conflict is the flavor of the week like our society does, the church tends to swing the pendulum directly opposite and avoid the conflict altogether by sweeping it under the rug. It seems to be the church’s preference to let the big, fat, pink elephant make herself at home in the middle of our messes and completely ignore her existence.

Love 

Ignoring conflict, pretending it doesn’t exist, is not loving. Instead, it is actually harmful to do so.

Recently, on the Women’s Hope Podcast, we began a 9-episode series on the Fruit of the Spirit. The first element of the nine characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit is love. Working together as a family to resolve conflict biblically is an act of the agape love we discussed on the first episode. 

Our working definition for agape is benevolent love. Spiros Zodhiates goes on to further define this benevolent love as follows “Its benevolence, however, is not shown by doing what the person loved desires but what the one who loves deems as needed by the one loved.” 

As humans, we tend to avoid conflict because it’s uncomfortable. As Christians, we put a Jesus label on this sin of avoidance and say we are extending grace or overlooking sin. When we do this, we effectively step over passages like Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1-2, deeming them irrelevant to our preferential comfort. 

Scripture does instruct us to overlook many of the sins committed against us as a way of showing love (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7). But Scripture does not teach us to pretend we are perfect and have no problems. God calls Christians to a life of integrity and honesty. If we are pretending everything is shiny and happy when it’s dingy and angry, we are liars and we are representing Christ poorly. Christ took it very seriously when the false prophets would prophesy false peace, saying “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. 

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace. ~Jeremiah 6:14

Patience

This week on the podcast, we discussed another element of the Fruit of the Spirit that must be considered when addressing conflict, and that is patience. On the episode, we learned that the Greek word for patience in Galatians 5:22 - makrothumia - points specifically to patience with people rather than patience with circumstances {I promise! Listen to the episode for more information. (See what I did there?)}

Well, now, that certainly changes the game a little, doesn’t it?

When we’re in conflict with one another within the body of Christ, patience with each other is not only necessary, but it is already available and readily accessible within the gift of the Holy Spirit that indwells every believer (Romans 8:9-11). Each believer has crucified the flesh at regeneration by becoming children of God (Galatians 5:24). You are no longer slaves to your fleshly desires. Instead, you now have the Holy Spirit enabling you to walk in the Spirit. 

This means, that if you have lost your patience with people, it is because you have chosen to. 

If in the middle of a conflict with another person, you sin against them in some way, it is because, at least for the moment, the pleasure of satisfying your fleshly desires was more attractive than remaining obediently patient. {Let the church groan together in a collective ouch!} Friends, it is possible to remain patient with that sandpaper saint the Lord has allowed to attach herself to your hip. God has given us everything we need in the gift of the Holy Spirit and within His Word to teach us and enable us to walk through conflict both patiently and lovingly

So, how do we do it? How do we love each other enough to confront conflict and not sweep it under the rug while keeping some sort of relationship intact?

Remember the Cross

Christ gave Himself up on a gruesome cross to pay for every sin you have, are, and will ever commit (Galatians 1:4). He made His substitutionary atonement available for all those who would call upon His name for salvation (Romans 3:21-26). He did this for you. Rejoice, O Christian, that you are redeemed!

But, Christ didn’t just die for your sins. He died for the sins of that church member that hurt you as well. He died for the sins they have committed against you. And He offers forgiveness for those sins. 

When you remember whatever it is that person did to harm you or create the conflict, take a walk past the cross. If you can remember the cross without remembering your own sin that Christ has redeemed, perhaps you need a Gospel refresher (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Once you’ve remembered your own sin, you might just discover you have more compassion for the one with whom you’re in conflict. 

Ditch Fear

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has see, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  ~1 John 4:18-21

Once you have walked past the cross and remembered your own redemption, you need not fear the judgment of God or others. Often, we avoid tough conversations in conflict situations because we are afraid of the outcome of that conversation. But when we remember that true godly love casts out fear, we can have confidence that God is Lord even over our conflicts. 

Will it be uncomfortable to begin the process of conflict resolution? Probably. Will it get worse before it gets better? Possibly. Are we demonstrating God’s love toward a brother if we hate him by letting conflict fester? Absolutely not.

Godly love seeks the best for others. It doesn’t allow room for bitterness to grow because bitterness doesn’t honor the Lord. 

See to it that no one come short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. ~Hebrews 12:15

Bitterness is like a cancer that sweeps through a church and defiles the saints. We must guard against it. A sure way to guard against bitterness is to deal with conflict swiftly, at the beginning of the mess, before it festers like a wound and begins to seep throughout the congregation. We should fear the cancer of bitterness far more than we fear the initial discomfort of a difficult conversation.

Bear with One Another in Patience

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

In the passage above, I emphasized all the elements of God’s agape love that would be good to remember in the midst of conflict. There is a reason this section starts with the words love is patient. Do you see how each following statement is an outflow of God’s patience with mankind, and by extension, our patience with one another?

God is patient with sinners (Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22). Therefore, we must be patient with sinners as well. The mere fact that we woke up this morning reminds us that God has patiently withheld His wrath against evil. His divine timeline knows the perfect time to redeem each lost person (Galatians 1:15-16), and He has a uniquely timed progressive sanctification process in mind for each of His children. We all have growing to do. We must be patient with not only our own sanctification process but the process of our brothers and sisters as well. 

Conflict is usually not resolved overnight. It takes steadfastness with the timeline and patience with the people. Resolving yourself to see conflict through to the end is an act of love. It tells the other person that you are committed to them enough to stay in the process however long it takes. My friends, this is love and patience in shoe leather.