Dealing with Challenge and Conflict

Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you do not grow weary and lose heart (Heb.12:3).

The Biblical record of God’s people is never a life of ease, without conflict and challenge with others. Right from when sin had entered the world this was the case, and the Bible clearly explains why the conflict was there. It says that we are to be “not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous” (I Jn.3:12).

Consider the patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had their problems and conflicts with others, even in Abraham’s case to the shedding of blood (Gen.14:13-15). Isaac had an extensive period of conflict with the Philistines (see Gen.26). He was wealthy and successful, and the Philistines envied him. This was the same evil attitude the Jews had towards Jesus-see Mat.27:18.

The essence of envy is the desire to tear down someone else merely because he is superior. Envy was the motivation of the Philistines in filling in Isaac’s wells with dirt (Gen. 26:15). They did not confiscate these wells for their own use; instead, they destroyed his inheritance from his father. They were not made richer, but Isaac was made poorer. This is the heart, mind, and soul of envy. When a society compromises the rule of law in order to tear down economically successful people, it slays the judicial goose that lays the golden eggs. When a society knows this and does it anyway, it has become consumed with envy. Its earthly reward will be an increase in judicial arbitrariness, bureaucracy, and poverty, as well as class resentment. [1]

Sometimes the patriarchs’ conflicts were with outsiders, sometimes with their family members. Even when Jacob was on his death-bed (see Gen.49), he was explaining to his sons there would be consequences of their godly or foolish behaviour.

Lot “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day” (II Pet.2:8), when living in Sodom, Moses had to flee for his life from Pharoah (Ex.2:15), and John the Baptist lost his head because he confronted Herod concerning his adultery (Mat.14:3-12).

These Biblical examples should serve as a warning to us. When we are struggling with someone, we should not automatically think it is because “I have been a horrible person, and deserved this.” The problem is sin: mine, or somebody else’s, and sin generally has an ugly consequence.

James is quite blunt: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel…” (Jam. 4:1-2).

I have been working with a team of painters. Knowing I am a believer in Christ, one of them has taunted me with the challenge that he wants to become a Moslem soon. Another has claimed that because the Bible has been translated so many times, no one can be sure what it really said in the original, and that God could not be concerned with the intricate details of our personal lives anyway. Another says we are all the off-spring of aliens from another planet.

Then there are the bad attitudes, the off-colour jokes, the alcohol abuse, the wasting of time and money, and all the other things that make up the lifestyles of degenerate men.

The common theme?

Sin: the desire to subvert the truth of God for a lie, and then to impose it upon me, to bring me around to their fallen viewpoint.

Conflict for the believer seems to be an almost never-ending one. Furthermore, there is conflict both with those outside the Church, and those in it. Over the centuries, the Church has sometimes faced greater problems from compromisers within it, than from outsiders. This has often led to challenges from heresy, or other forms of compromise, and is still a significant problem today. When the Church has successfully dealt with heretics, it has led to peace, but whenever we have tolerated heretical views, it has been to our great detriment and loss.

David spoke of times of great challenge and conflict:

My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. I said ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest’ (Ps.55:6-8).

Conflicts may be with us till the end of our lives, but that does not mean that we are somehow without hope in the midst of them. Rather, the will of God is that we grow in the midst of conflict, so we can cope with bigger challenges in the future.

What is the solution to conflicts?

The first part, is to not be too surprised when they arise, and be able to handle them correctly. David himself in the same Psalm, tells us the first part of this:

“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Ps.55:22).

Secondly, we must take responsibility for what we have done, to bring on this conflict. Was it my fault? Some conflicts are a result of misunderstanding or a lack of communication.

Thirdly, we must seek a proper resolution. It is hope in the Lord and His redeeming power that propels us to face the issues of life and its conflicts squarely, knowing that we will give an account to Him. The knowledge of that accountability must motivate us towards successful resolution, whenever that is possible.

Fourth, we may need to be flexible in conflict, but not a compromiser on principle. Jesus was loving and compassionate, but always on His righteous terms. He was loving to the woman in adultery, but said, “From now on, sin no more” (Jn.8:11). No one imposed their standards on Him.

Fifth, we must recognise that if people are committed to a position that rules out a proper resolution of conflict, we may have to leave them to their choice. That is sad, but often necessary. Some people won’t be changed.

Conclusion:                                                                                                                           

There won’t be conflict for us in heaven, but it is a part of our life today, and we cannot legitimately avoid it.  Rather, we must face up to it with hope and confidence, knowing that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6).

 

 

[1] Gary North, “Inheritance and Dominion,” 1999, ch.25.

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