Summary: Advice on how to manage conflict in our lives. What can we learn from James that will help us work well with other people?
Working with People
Conflict on the job—have you ever dreaded going to work because of some conflict going on there? When people are getting along it’s not too bad; but it’s hard to work in an atmosphere of strife. It’s hard to be productive and keep your mind on the task. Have you ever been in a church where people were at odds with one another? That is a horrible experience. The very place where a person should be able to go and find peace instead becomes a battleground. The same thing can happen in a home—misunderstandings and disagreements arise between husband and wife or between parent and child. Life becomes almost unbearable when it is filled with unresolved conflict.
The Bible gives some advice to anyone who loves life and desires to see many good days. I think that would describe most of us here this morning. We desire to see many good days. Part of the advice in Psalm 34:14 is to “seek peace and pursue it.” The question that follows is how? How do I conduct myself in a way that could be characterized as seeking peace and pursuing it? Does it mean I become a wet noodle and let people run over me? No, I don’t believe the Bible tells us to do that. The examples of godly people in Scripture were not wet noodles or door mats. People like Abraham and Joseph and Daniel were people who pursued peace. But they were also people of strong personal conviction.
This morning I want us to go to the book of James and get some good, down to earth advice on how to manage conflict in our lives. What can we learn from James that will help us work well with other people?
1. James recommends that we ask God to give us wisdom. James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” For that prayer to work we have to recognize our need for wisdom. If we think too highly of ourselves we will lean upon our own understanding and that will not be sufficient for the challenges that we will face. Proverbs 26:12 asks “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” We must recognize our own insufficiency in this matter. We need to also recognize that God is the source of the wisdom we need. Education is helpful. Experience is helpful. But ultimately we must look to God for the answers.
Solomon made a good choice early in life when he asked God for wisdom. Later in life he failed to draw upon the wisdom available to him and made same big mistakes. But in broad terms we should ask God to give us His wisdom. The context of James 1 is a person experiencing a difficulty or trail. The difficulty may involve conflict with other people like we’re talking about this morning. When we have a problem we should ask God specifically for wisdom concerning that issue. And the promise is that He will not belittle us for asking but will graciously grant our request. Do you have a specific problem that you are facing right now? A good beginning point is to ask God to give you wisdom in the solution of that problem.
2nd. James tells us to pay attention to this bit of advice. James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Isn’t it natural to do just the opposite of that? When we disagree with someone we usually want to speak and convince the other person of our point of view. But James says discipline yourself—make yourself slow down and listen before you speak. When you do that, two things happen. First, you just may find out something you didn’t know. And secondly, you communicate respect so that the other person will tend to mirror that and listen to you.
Many times issues of respect lie below the surface of a conflict. Just communicating respect in that way may resolve part of the conflict. I don’t agree with all of Stephen Covey’s theology but he states a principle very much in line with what we are talking about here in this verse. The principle is this: First, seek to understand; then seek to be understood. Our tendency is to want to quickly convince the other person of our perspective. So we are prone to speak quickly. But James tells us to discipline ourselves and listen to the other person.
What about the anger issue? Do you count to ten? Do you go for a walk and then discuss it? Do you pray awhile first? Work on ways to be slow to anger. Why—James 1:20 “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Anger may get short term results; but it will never give us the quality of relationships and abundant life God wants us to enjoy. Proverbs 25:28 “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.” (NKJV) There is a difference between denying your feelings and controlling your feelings. We can appropriately acknowledge our disappointment, our fears, and our anger. But that does not give us license to blow up and dump our negative emotions on other people. You reap what you sow. If you do that it will come back on you. So what was James’ advice? James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That advice alone will reduce unnecessary conflict in people’s lives.