Summary: How to diffuse interpersonal conflicts through humility
Humility is the cure for interpersonal conflict.
The story is told of a Christian couple who were married for a number of years but they got into terrible fights. After one particularly intense argument, the husband stormed out of the house. The wife got on her knees and prayed, “O Lord, you know how these fights with my husband are tearing me apart. I pray that if these fights don’t stop, that you take one our lives away. And after you do that, I can go live with my sister.”
Do you think interpersonal conflict is common? We see it in marital relationships, in relationships in the workplace, between parents and children, in fact conflict exists in just about every place where humans live together. In one sense, we may expect that in the world. But what about Christians? Are we immune to fights and conflict between each other?
When we were on the mission field I remember taking a course on how to handle interpersonal conflicts. The course was mandated by the directors of the mission because so many missionaries were leaving the field early because they couldn’t get along with other missionaries. And of course that’s not just true overseas. That’s true right here, in the church. That’s why we have different churches splitting and people leaving, disgruntled and angry. But the problem isn’t new in our generation. It has existed since the church was founded. It was a problem in the church during the time of James.
But there is a solution to interpersonal conflict. There is a way to disarm fights and battles. Humility is the cure for interpersonal conflicts. This passage tells us how this happens. Look at James 4:1-12 (read verses).
This passage begins by describing the cause and effects of fighting and quarreling. Look at verses 1-3 (read verses). These verses are really connected to the previous passage. Last week we looked at the choice between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. When we choose to live by heavenly wisdom then the results are found in James 3:18 (read verse). What happens when we choose to follow worldly wisdom? James 4:1-3 describes the result. Remember last week we talked about the two key attitudes that fueled worldly wisdom? What were they? They’re found in James 3:14. Bitter envy and selfish ambition are the attitudes that drive worldly wisdom. And those are the two attitudes described here. Fights and quarrels come from the desires that battle within us. We want something, we covet what others have and we fight them for it. Selfish ambition says that we have to have our own way. We have set goals and we strive to achieve them and if anyone tries to block our goals, then we fight them tooth and nail.
When our kids were younger one of the most stressful times in our home was on Sunday morning. My wife Ruth and I had to run around getting everything ready. We usually needed to bring lots of stuff like books and toys for the kids, snacks, fill up the diaper bag and bring stuff for church. Not only did we need to organize this mass of material, but we had to feed and dress the children, and at the same time get ourselves ready. Well, what typically happened was that the time would come for us to leave and I would be standing at the door waiting. You see, it generally takes women a little longer to get ready than men. That’s why women are so much more beautiful than we are.
Well, like I said, usually I waited at the door. And as each minute ticked by, the temperature under my collar rose by a degree. When Ruth was finally ready, often I would too angry to talk with her. Things are much better now. The kids are older and we bought a second car.
Why do you think I got so angry? Because my goal was blocked. My goal is to be recognized as a good pastor and if I don’t get to church on time then I think people will see me as a failure. But pursuing that goal brought stress in my relationship with Ruth. That’s the result of choosing to selfishly pursue our own goals at the expense of others. But even worse, if we continue to make this our lifestyle, then we will also sever our connection to God. That’s exactly what verses 4 to 5 say (read verses).
When we choose to live by worldly wisdom then we become adulterers. We say we are devoted to God, but instead we live by another standard. We live by worldly wisdom. When we become friends of the world, that means, we live by the world’s rules and standards, then we become enemies to God and His ways. 1 John 2:15-16 describes what love for the world means: