Conflict Resolution: What Not To Do

Conflict Resolution: What Not To Do

Warning labels have become a necessity for most products that appear in the marketplace. Their necessity is prompted by the potential of lawsuits when such labels are not present. The fascinating thing about some warning labels is that they seem unnecessary when common sense is applied. For example, many chainsaws provide a label warning users not to hold the blade end of the tool when operating, some hair dryers include a label instructing buyers not to use it while sleeping, and at least one brand of iron includes the warning: “Never iron clothes while they are being worn.”

Why do we need warning labels that tell us what not to do with a given product? Because sometimes knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what to do! For the Christian, this principle is important, particularly in the arena of conflict resolution because all too often we fail to respond correctly to disagreements, hurt feelings, and interpersonal strife. So, let us consider how we should NOT handle conflict as Christians.

First, we should NOT retaliate. Retaliation seems like the fairest response when we are wounded. The “Law of Retaliation,” that was implemented under Mosaic Law and is routinely summarized in the phrase “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21), appeals to us because it seems only right that consequences endured by the offender be proportionate to their offense.

Although retaliation may seem like the most appropriate reaction, it is not an acceptable Christian reaction. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:38-39). He then gave examples of how He expected His disciples to handle problems, which include turning the other cheek, giving the shirt off your back, and going the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-41).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus eliminated the disciples’ RIGHT to expect fair treatment when wronged and replaced it with the disciples’ RESPONSIBILITY to respond mercifully when wronged. Jesus was able to implement this expectation because he first modeled this expectation. Peter, writing about Jesus, said that “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Therefore, if I am going to respond to being wronged the way Jesus responded, then I must abandon retaliation and “do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).

Second, we should NOT make assumptions. For some of us, we naturally respond to conflict by making assumptions about the motivation and/or intent of the other person. An assumption is an accepted truth without proof. Since assumptions lack evidence, they are highly susceptible to error. And, since the one making assumptions is a flawed mortal with limited perspective and knowledge, the potential for error is even greater.

Although making assumptions may come naturally, it is not acceptable biblically. Solomon said in Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” In other words, a wise person seeks to understand a matter before he or she draws a conclusion. When we make assumptions, we are operating foolishly because we are casting judgment without a complete understanding of the situation.

Also, consider Jesus’ instruction in John 7:24 to “not judge by appearances but judge with right judgment.” Jesus’ point is that appearance is not an adequate gauge of information. Right judgment cannot occur without the correct information. So, like Solomon, Jesus is saying that we need to get all the facts before we cast judgment or draw conclusions.

Therefore, as we deal with conflict, we must not make assumptions about people’s motivation or intent. Instead, we should communicate with them to understand their perspective before we draw conclusions. Interestingly, such communication is the first step in Christ’s conflict resolution strategy (Matthew 18:15).

Third, we should NOT practice avoidance. For many of us, avoidance is a comfortable response to conflict. Like the gazelle who is being hunted by the lion, we choose to flee rather than face conflict. We are not alone in utilizing avoidance. Jonah ran away when he was conflicted about the Nineveh assignment. He did not want the Assyrians to receive God’s mercy because he hated them. Such is evident from the temper tantrum he threw when God spared the city (Jonah 4:2-3). So, instead of dealing with his personal conflict, Jonah avoided the assignment. What he didn’t realize is that his avoidance of Nineveh placed him in direct opposition to God’s will.

The lesson for us to learn from Jonah is that although avoidance may be the most comfortable response, it is not an acceptable Christian response. Jesus instructed both the offender (Matthew 5:23-24) and the offended (Matthew 18:15) to pursue reconciliation when conflict arises. Thus, the expectation that Jesus presented in these two passages is that reconciliation will be pursued rather than avoided. Additionally, Paul instructed the church in Ephesus to “not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). His words establish an expectation that Christians will not delay peacemaking.

If you respond to conflict by retaliating, making assumptions, or avoiding the problem, then consider this your warning label. Such tactics are not consistent with God’s expectation of Christian conflict resolution.