I don’t know too many people who enjoy conflict. Most of us will avoid conflict at all costs. We “bite our tongue” or allow ourselves to be a doormat because, frankly, it’s better than a long drawn out conflict. Typically, conflict brings out the worst in us, and ultimately, that’s kind of the point.
Conflict is not only a natural part of life, it’s a necessary part of life. As a follower of Jesus Christ, our goal is not to “be nice” and avoid conflict, but rather to handle conflict well. The situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves are all tools in God’s hands that he uses to refine us and make us more like Jesus. We aren’t called to be “nice.” By that I mean we aren’t supposed to go passive, compromise the truth, or disobey God just so someone else doesn’t get mad at us, or because we’re uncomfortable “going there” with someone. Love “goes there” when it is for the common good.
Undesirable situations are neither good nor evil. They just are. In every event we find ourselves there are two forces at work. We can’t deny that the enemy is at work to cause division between us, God, and each other. He is influencing our perception in such a way as to foster anger, resentment, jealousy, division…selfishness. Yet God is also at work through our circumstances, using all things for His glory, and our good.
There are three beautiful functions conflict can serve. First, it reveals what’s really in our heart. We can talk a good game when there’s no pressure; it’s not hard to look and feel righteous when it’s all going our way. When God turns up the heat and squeezes us a little, what’s really inside will come out and we can see the unholy, unrighteous attitudes and traits that still have a foothold in our lives. We are then led into an opportunity to confess and repent.
Conflict also exercises our faith. In seasons of conflict we are afforded an opportunity to take God and his word and trust him in a situation that may seem out of our control, or taxing on our emotions. We are also able to see what attributes of God are needed to address the issue and minister to the other person and apply them. As God transforms us–the hallmark of salvation–conflict with others will require us to act in the heart and mind of Christ. As we do, we experience the faithfulness of God and we grow closer to him.
Believe it or not, conflict will also serve to make our relationships with one another stronger. Like I said before, the goal for the Christian is not to avoid conflict, but to handle it well. As we do–trusting God for ourselves, and looking to the best interest of the other–we work through our conflicts, we learn trust and love, and we are able to see each other’s true heart. In the case of a married couple, the husband seeks the best interest of the wife, they work through the conflict together (as one), and the wife learns that her husband loves her as Christ does the church and sees him as worthy of her respect and trust. Through such an event, that marriage bond is made stronger and prepared for bigger challenges down the road.
We cannot escape conflict, nor should we try. We are never instructed how to have a conflict-free life. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 describes love as intentional attitudes we choose, which can minister to others and guard our own heart. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 show the attributes of the Spirit manifest in us and are held up as a way to overcome conflict (v. 26). We are in the world, and must manage everything that comes with that, but we are not of the world, and when we fight, we cannot wage war like the world does. We use weapons of divine power (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) to demolish strongholds and free captives, to restore and enlighten; to enrich and in the process exalt Christ. Jesus never shied away from conflict, and he always kept in view the glory of God and the purpose of His kingdom. Let us do likewise.