Resolving Conflict: Interpesonal Conflict
Tonight we’re starting a series on conflict, which is a staple of my life. I’m critical and judgmental. I’m competitive and prideful. I’m rebellious. And I have a big mouth, so I say a lot of things to hurt people. It all makes for a lot of conflict. One thing we’ve done for this series is to distinguish between different types of conflict. For example, when someone really bugs you, and no matter what they do you can’t stand it, then often the problem is not any particular issue. Often the problem is an emotional problem. That person has hurt you, or offended you, or somehow left a scar. So now almost anything they do is unbearable. And there is conflict that is more subtle that comes from the very nature of your relationship with another person. For example, peers, especially in the teens and early 20’s, tend to compete with one another about almost anything. And there are often tensions with authorities. But tonight we want to talk about the type of conflict that comes up when you disagree with someone or when there is some kind of bone of contention between you and another person.
Let’s think of a few examplesÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
Let’s think of a few examplesÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Example: I was arguing today with my brother about why some things have happened. We were looking at the cause of some of the things that have happened in this church. And our argument was in a good tone. I think it was probably informative for both of us. But at the same time there was tension there. Afterwards I kept thinking about it. “I should have said this!” And, “Wait till next timeÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” kind of envisioning how our next conversation was going to go. I was kind of surveying around today with people about conflict they have been in. I was asking them to describe to me some of the scenarios they encounter. And I heard a lot of different ones. Example: One guy told me he conflicts with his mother when she gets over-protective or controlling. Example: Another person told me she fights with her roommates when they’re too messy. Example: Another person said he’s argued with someone about recycling. Example: I had people tell me how they are in repeated conflict with their families about their faith. They’ll go home and get attacked (or so they say), for what they believe or the fact that they’re going to Bible studies or something. Example: People talked about situations where they were already irritable, and then it just took a difference of opinion to set things off. All of the sudden you’re calling each other names and stuff. The thing that makes issue-oriented conflict distinct is that you have a good or neutral rapore with the person, it’s the issue that makes the conflict. Of course, it can quickly turn into a more personal thing, especially if the issue drags on for a long time without resolution or if you approach the conflict too competitively. I want to say three things about issues-oriented conflict tonight. First I want to critique the way this world looks at issues-oriented conflict. Second, I want to look at the way God handles issues-oriented conflict. And third I want to consider one of the greatest poisons, the gasoline we pour on conflict. And that is our own insecurity.
The world’s ideal: No conflict over issues
If we look at the way the world looks at conflict today, I would say the ideal is that we don’t conflict over issues. Example: Miss Manners would say it’s impolite to take issue with a person just because you disagree! As we talked last week about confrontation, the normal approach to confrontation is to confront someone only if they offend you or hurt you. And like we talked about last week, more often than not, that’s the situation where we should just let it slide. That’s the situation where we can be sacrificial and simply forgive someone. Having issues-oriented conflict with someone is based in the notion that there are ideals worth conflicting over. There is such a thing as right and wrong, not just different opinions. There are morals or truths worth discussing or even arguing about. That is an idea that is tremendously unpopular. On the other extreme we have people who disagree with you about everything. They are idealogues to the extreme. And they’re rigid thinkers. And they can’t accept the notion of letting someone slide. They can’t imagine hearing someone they disagree with and not saying, “Well, actuallyÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone like this in your life?someone who you’re always arguing with. Example: I was reflecting last week how I was kind of like this at one time in my life. It was in the area of theological truth, biblical teaching. Before I went to school, I fancied myself as knowing quite a bit of the Bible and how it should be understood. And when I got to school I found some people who disagreed with me, and were able to argue their positions very effectively. And, sadly, they were also the same people who were grading my papers. I found myself speaking out in class and raising my hand, to an extent that a year or two later I was embarassedÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Example: I remember being confronted at one time in my life about they way I confronted people about their music. I had a very clear understanding of what good music was. I knew what bad music was and why. And I had no problem critiquing people’s music selection and tastes. And this friend finally blew up at me and said, “You have a way of making people feel like they’re wrong for the music they listen to!” And I realized that’s really kind of stupidÿ.ÿ.ÿ. But there are times when we should take issue with someone. And we should be willing to argue. Example: When someone holds a belief that you see as potentially threatening to their well-being. Beliefs do make a difference. If someone believes that all ways lead to God, that is a very profound belief. And it has powerful implications for your choices in life. You already know how I feel about thatÿ.ÿ.ÿ. And I would be willing to argue with a person about that (hopefully in a gracious manner). Example: When someone is exhibiting a behavior that is harmful. The example of the alcoholic is classic here, but there are many more behaviors that are harmful. The pursuit of money to the exclusion of other values. Or excessively egotistical behavior. Example: When a personal issue between you and another person is irritating enough or large enough that you can’t just put it aside. I used to have a roommate who was really stinkyÿ.ÿ.ÿ. But you could have issues with people like the way they treat you, like their messinessÿ.ÿ.ÿ. These are all issues that have to be talked out.
Let’s think of how God deals with us
Let’s just think for a minute about how God deals with us on these kinds of issues. Because God does disagree with us about many things.
His accceptance is unconditional (2ÿTim.ÿ2:13)
For one thing, we know that his acceptance of us as person is uconditional. In 2ÿTim. he saysÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Even if we have such severe conflict with God that we walk away from him, he still loves us. There’s a story of this kind of love in Lukeÿ15ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. There is no question that the father disagreed with that son. But in spite of that, when his son returned, his father ran out to great him with a hug and rejoicingÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So God is capable of making a distinction between an issue he might have with us and us as people. Example: I remember having a conflict with a boss once. I don’t know if any of you have ever been told this or not, but it’s kind of hard to take. He said, “I can’t stand people like you. And I don’t have to, so you’re fired.” Normally I might have said, “Is there something I can work onÿ.ÿ.ÿ.?” But I realized it’s me he doesn’t like. He’s rejecting me! That is personal rejection. And that is something you’ll never experience from God. That is, if you have received his forgiveness. Not everyone stands under the forgiveness and acceptance of God. That is a gift that you have to decide upon. You have to receive God’s forgiveness. He’s offering it to you, but He’s not forcing it upon you. Once you do have his forgiveness, he doesn’t go back on his promiseÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So that is a key element in the way God deals with us. He may have an issue with us, but he does not reject us because of that issue. And if there’s anything we could learn about dealing with each other it’s thisÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
The last thing I want to consider about conflict between us is the problem of insecurity. Insecurity comes up when you feel weak. You may feel weak because of your position. You may feel weak because of who you are in comparisson to someone else. And insecurity has a way of really screwing up conflict.
1 Kings 12
To understand this I want to look at a story that is kind of humorous but tragic in the OT. It’s the story of Rehoboam in IÿKingsÿ12ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Rehoboam was Solomon’s son. And Solomon was one of the greatest kings Israel had ever had. Now comes Solomon’s son. And one of the first things people do when he takes the throne is come to him and complain about some injustices that his father had left behind. Namely, his father had them building (with virtually free labor), many cities and fortresses and thigns that kings build. And they were tired of it. And if you read the list of thigns that Solomon had them buildÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So they make this request of Rehoboam, “Lighten our load.” The story then tells us of a contrast between two different answers. The first is from the older counselors who counselled Solomon. The second is from the young men who were Rehoboam’s friendsÿ.ÿ.ÿ. What explains their response? It is the desire to win. It is the desire to be strong. It is the desire to assert myselfÿ.ÿ.ÿ. And this is precisely what happens when someone is insecure. Rehoboam was young. He was insecure in his new position. Perhaps he was insecure because he was following in the footsteps of someone so great as Solomon. When someone is insecure, they have to win. When someone is insecure, they see your disagreement as a personal assault. When someone is insecure, the conflict is totally threatening.
I Cor. 6:7
Paul says in IÿCorÿ.ÿ.ÿ. You can’t say that kind of thing if you’re insecure.
Where do we get our security from?
Sadly, tonight we don’t have time to go into the huge topic of insecurity, except to say that God wants to make us people who are completely secure. He wants to cure us of the disease of constantly needing the approval of others. He wants to help us rise above the threat that other people pose in our lives. And he wants to do that by becoming the most important, secure, central relationship in our livesÿ.ÿ.ÿ. The outcome, of course, for Rehoboam is that it backfired. He lost 5/6 of his kingdomÿ.ÿ.ÿ.