Summary: Six steps to applying God’s wisdom to relationship conflicts.
When the first Lord of the Rings movie came out--The Fellowship of the Ring--my 12 year old son begged me to take him to see it. So we went; not just once, but twice. Since I’d never read the J. R. Tolkien books, my son had to explain parts of the movie to me as the story unfolded. As I watched, I was struck by how an unlikely group of different individuals was drawn together in a community by a common mission. They called themselves the fellowship of the ring, and they pledged loyalty to each other in their commitment to destroy the ring of power and defeat the evil Dark Lord. It was an odd community composed of humans and elves, hobbits and dwarfs. They had nothing in common but their shared vision for destroying the ring of power and saving middle earth from destruction.
Yet no sooner did the fellowship of the ring begin, when it started to unravel. After all, the individual members of the fellowship under normal circumstances would’ve been enemies. Distrust of each other grew, as the temptation to act selfishly lured various members of the group to act out of self-interest. At one point in the story axes were drawn, arrows aimed, harsh words were spoken, and the fellowship of the ring nearly collapsed. It was clear that the power of evil in the story was focusing all its efforts on destroying the fellowship. If they could be enticed to turn on each other, they’d never be successful in their mission.
As I watched The Fellowship of the Ring, I was reminded of how fragile our relationships with each other really are. Every significant relationship we have is vulnerable. Relationships with our kids, with our spouse, with our friends, with our coworkers, with our neighbors…all of these relationships can become places of conflict and pain. Even churches can be places where relationships go bad, sometimes leading to hurt feelings, divisions, even violence. I have a pastor friend who once asked me my advice, because he thought violence would erupt during the next Sunday’s worship service because of conflict in his church. I was so taken back, I didn’t know exactly how to counsel him.We respond to conflict in our relationships different ways. Some of us avoid and withdraw. This is the person who looks for the closest exit as soon as the signs of a conflict appear on the horizon. This person clams up about their feelings during a conflict, withdrawing into the safety of their own silence. This is the person who’d rather pretend that everything is okay than confront another person.
Others of us tend to explode in conflict. We stew and stew and stew until we finally boil over. When we finally do explode, we might yell or cuss, or throw a dish or put our fist through the wall. Then, after our explosion, we start stewing again, until the next outburst.
Still other people thrive on conflict. These are people who like the rush of being in an argument, so they instigate arguments wherever they go. These are people who like to fight, whether it’s a bar fight or an intense argument with their spouse or even instigating a church split.
We all deal with conflict in different ways. And most of us know that the sign of a healthy relationship is not an absence of conflict, but the ability to resolve conflict in a positive, healthy way. That’s certainly the sign of a healthy marriage. I worry about engaged couples who’ve never had a fight. I once told an engaged couple that I wouldn’t marry them until they had a good fight and learned to resolve the conflict. That’s also the sign of a healthy workplace, a healthy friendship, and even a healthy church.
As a church, we as a leadership team know people are going to have conflict with each other. People are going to fail to meet another member’s expectations. People are going to be disappointed or misunderstood by other members. Members are going to lose their temper at a soccer game with another member. The real test of our congregation’s health is our ability to resolve these conflicts in a healthy, biblical way.
Today we’re going to talk about wising up about conflict. We’ve been in a series called Wise Up About Life through the Old Testament book of Proverbs. We’re going to talk about six steps to wising up about conflict with people. But before we go any further, I want to state that these six steps are more like stages. Relationships with people aren’t like a recipe or a model airplane, where if you just follow the directions or put pin A in slot B, things will all come together. Relationships with people are messy and complex. So think of these six steps as fluid, each merging into the next as part of a process rather than a check list or recipe.