Letting the Steam out of Conflict

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series A Place to Call Home

Read at beginning of service:

Ephesians 2:13-18 (NIV)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.


Read Text ? Matthew 18:15-20

“The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community.” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, p. 40)

2 reasons conflict can be complicated in church:

Expectations are high ? Simply because church members profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, we expect a certain level of behavior from each other. But occasionally our expectations don?t get met.

Also, passions are strong in the church. People feel deeply.

Church becomes a very uncomfortable and unsafe place when conflict is dealt with inappropriately. People get involved who don?t need to, friendships are sacrificed on the altar of ego, and oneness becomes a distant dream ? like that tropical paradise pictured in the poster on the wall of travel agent. We?d like to imagine ourselves living out our lives in such a state, but make a mental note that we more than likely never will.

No church will be free of conflict. But still, church need not be the site of holy wars. What makes or breaks churches is what they choose to do with conflict.

It can drive us apart, or conflict can cause us to draw more fully on the resources available to us through the Holy Spirit.

Today I?m going to talk about ways in which we can let the steam out of conflict?

We Need the Right attitude

We Need the Right approach

We Enjoy the Resulting atmosphere

TRANSITION: First, if conflict is to become an occasion for us to draw more deeply on spiritual resources, then?


Matthew 18:3-4 (NIV)

3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The right attitude is humility

Admitting brokenness is the key. Because each of us is an imperfect, sinful human being, at times we do act in an unloving fashion. So, when approached in conflict, or doing the approaching, humility is the prevailing attitude.

Marshall Shelley says in his book, Well-Intentioned Dragons:

“All of us act out of sheer cussedness, even while justifying our actions to ourselves.” (Shelley, p. 48)

“The church, indeed every Christian, is an odd combination of self-sacrificing saint and self-serving sinner. And the church, unlike some social organizations, doesn?t have the luxury of choosing its members; the church is an assembly of all who profess themselves believers. Within that gathering is found a full range of saint/sinner combinations.” (Marshall Shelley, Well-Intentioned Dragons, p. 48)

Shelley says a safe church has some ground rules. He calls them the three P?s. They characterize the right attitude for a safe church.

Permission ? disagreements are OK

Potency ? allowed to state your position with clarity and


Protection ? No one gets intentionally hurt by someone else ? no one is allowed to inflict needless hurt.

Remember the words of Paul

Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV)

2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

TRANSITION: Second, to grow through conflict?


Jesus gives us some ideas about that approach in Matthew 18. Here they are in four steps?

I?m going to spend the majority of our time talking about the first step for a few reasons.

Since this step is first every last one of us will undoubtedly find ourselves in a situation where we will need to implement it.

Also, most conflict among Christians can be cleared up at the first step.

AND experience tells us that often the first step is ignored when conflict arises.

Step One: A private conversation (v. 15)

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Here are six guidelines to help you when the need for private conversation arises:

1. Start soon

You may need some space to deal with your emotions, but don?t put off conflict for two weeks. Get things settled as soon as you can.

Jesus instructed his listeners in Matthew 5:23-24:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

To worship God is highest priority in the life of a Christian. But Jesus says, being reconciled with others takes precedence over our acts of worship. Get right with your brother or sister ? then come and worship. Obviously if we need to get things straightened out with someone, that activity it would take precedence over everything else too. Appointments for work, family obligations, social plans.

Jesus wants us to know that fractured community is a matter of urgency. Take action right away.

Let?s imagine that after church all of us decide to go outside and play a giant game of road hockey. And while we are playing, you break your leg. The break is visible ? your leg doesn?t look the same. The break is debilitating ? you can?t use your leg. The break is painful ? you are rolling on the ground in pain.

A suggestion is made to take you to the Emergency Room so that your leg can be looked at right away. But you say, “No. I want to wait a couple of weeks. Maybe it will get better on its own.”

While most of us wouldn?t put off treatment on a broken leg, the practice in church all too often is to postpone the treatment of broken relationships.

And from God?s perspective, broken relationships among his children are far more serious than broken bones. (idea for illustration from Matthew Rogers message, “Handling Conflict Appropriately”)

Do you need to have that private conversation with someone? If so, don?t delay. Start soon. To God it?s serious.

2. Meet face to face

Technology today makes it easy to have private conversations in any number of ways.

Yet Matthew 18:15 says, “Go!”? “Go and show him his fault.” Jesus had a face to face conversation in mind.

Any other form of communication falls short. Robbing us of either the chance to read emotions, faces or tone of voice.

So when faced with conflict, use e-mail or the phone or a hand-written note to set up an appointment, but don?t rely on technology to help you have a conversation that would be better face to face.

3. Affirm the relationship

Remind the person that you are trying to resolve this conflict precisely because you care about them and about your relationship. A good way to approach the subject might be with a statement like this, “I want to discuss something that may be difficult for both of us. I value our friendship and you are too important in my life to let our relationship remain strained. I am confident that with God?s help, we can resolve this together.”

4. Make observations, not accusations

It is one thing to say, “Now, Bob, I?ve asked for that report three times and each time you promised that you would give it to me the ?next day.? As I understand the situation, this is a broken promise and a lack of commitment to the work we need to get done. I feel like you don?t respect me or my request, and we need to resolve this right away.”

It?s another to blurt out, “Bob, you?re a liar! Three times you told me you would do this and you haven?t. You liar!”

The first approach is firm and direct but makes observations about what has been seen, perceived and felt. The second is an accusation. Calling Bob a liar is an assault on his character. It will immediately make him defensive.

5. Get the facts

Besides offering your own observations, be sure to let the other person respond. You might say, “Here what I saw, heard and felt. Now, what about you? How do you understand this situation? I might be missing or misunderstanding something.”

6. Promote resolution

The point is not to fight, win or prove someone wrong. The point is reconciliation ? restoring relationships that are valuable to us and important to God. In this private conversation we need to decide what steps need to be taken to restore trust, recreate some sense of harmony.

(From Building a Church of Small Groups, by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, p. 97-98)

It may be that the individual has no desire to be reconciled to you or even meet with you. What then? Jesus says?

Step Two: Take witnesses (v. 16)

Matthew 18:16 (NIV)

16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

The witnesses are there for the same reason. To urge the person to end the conflict and seek reconciliation.

Some might interpret this as a gang tackle or numbers play, but it?s actually nothing of the sort. Jesus wants us to meet privately first. But the temptation is usually to involve others from the beginning instead of meeting privately.

Some people will go to a leader in the church and say:

“You know what Nadine did to me? That crazy woman has a real problem. You need to talk to her.”

If anybody comes to me with something along that lines I will always ask them if they?ve talked with the person one on one yet?

Church becomes a very unfriendly place when we implement the tactic of involving others in our conflicts before we meet privately with the person involved. Other people are brought into the situation ? their opinion of someone else may be tainted, when really you might have misinterpreted the person?s words or motives. And that is how long term damage is done. Satan loves it when we do this. Somehow he convinces us to air our conflicts with anyone but the person involved.

Jesus says that other people only need to get involved if the person refuses to meet with you or listen to you.

If we are like most churches, we have some room to grow in this area. But we?ll only grow when each of us makes a firm commitment to rely on the Holy Spirit for courage to handle our conflicts one on one rather than complaining to someone else.

In a safe church we would even sometimes stop our friends in the midst of a conversation from time to time and say, “As much as I?d like to listen and help you with this, I need to ask you. Have you gone directly to this person and told them how their actions made you feel?” And if the answer is no, we?d say, “Let?s pray together for courage and draw up a plan for how you might contact that person for a face to face conversation.”

That?s a safe church. Does that describe how you would handle the situation?

Jesus has a couple of other steps to be used only in the most extreme cases.

Step Three: Tell it to the church (v. 17a)

Matthew 18:17a (NIV)

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;.

What I believe Jesus has in mind at this point is continuing, confirmed, and unconfessed sin. For instance if a person?s spouse is having an affair with another person in the church. A private conversation brought about no change. So a couple of leaders in the church meet with the person and the person?s spouse. Yet there is still no desire for repentance or reconciliation. What then? Jesus says, “Tell the church.”

He doesn?t specifically say, “Make a formal announcement from the pulpit during a worship service.” Though perhaps some extreme cases may call for that. I believe what he means is, “If one on one doesn?t work, and the person is not convinced by the presence of a few witnesses, then enlist a larger group to pray, and to encourage. Remember, the goal is reconciliation, so at this point involve some others in the church who will also work with you toward that goal.”

Then, what if reconciliation still doesn?t come?

Step Four: Love them as an outsider to be won over (v. 17b)

Matthew 18:17b (NIV)

?if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Jesus commanded his followers to love pagans and tax collectors. Love them and seek to win them over with your love. If all this doesn?t bring reconciliation, then start from square one. Love them.

Nine times out of ten, if a person refuses to be reconciled through all of the first three steps, they have already removed themselves from the life and participation of the church body. So we start loving them as a person who needs to be brought into the fold.

Questions to ask ourselves if someone refuses to be reconciled to us:

Does my heart long for reconciliation?

Have I honestly done all I can?

Do I still act lovingly toward the person?

Do I mourn for the harm the person is doing to toward their soul, to me and to others?

If so we are displaying the kind of heart that has no desire to live at odds with someone.

TRANSITION: Finally, when we grow through conflict, relying on the spiritual resources God makes available to us means?


Perhaps contentiousness and quarreling are inevitable results of the Fall. Still, they disgusted Paul, who wrote with sarcasm:

1 Corinthians 11:19 (NIV)

19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

A few verses later he sets sarcasm aside:

1 Corinthians 11:22 (NIV)

?What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

God?s goal is always reconciliation.

Ephesians 2:13-18 (Written to a Jew/Gentile context, but think in terms of any conflict you might have with another believer ? was read this morning):

Ephesians 2:13-18 (NIV)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

God?s goal is community!

A safe loving place where no one stands alone. A place that people call home. A city on a hill.

Jesus? words on conflict end with that goal in mind in Matthew 18. Verse 20 says?

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

When we reconcile, when we live together in harmony, we resemble God?s oneness.

When people come together they have an ability to act in concert for the good of themselves and others.

If this were truly a safe church, it would be a place where:

People resolved conflicts soon

Met face to face

Embraced their own brokenness

Humbly accepted the words of others who approached them

Gave anger to Jesus instead of embracing it

Church is a place where people are being molded by the Holy Spirit.

A key to reconciliation is to see that people change. Don?t dwell on what they were, but on who they are becoming.

TRANSITION: Conflict can draw us closer to the Holy Spirit and eventually closer to each other.


ILLUS – In the 1980?s a retired couple was alarmed by the threat of nuclear war so they undertook a serious study of all the inhabited places on the globe. Their goal was to determine where in the world would be the least likely place affected by a nuclear war — a place of ultimate peace and security. They studied and traveled, traveled and studied. Finally they found the place. And on Christmas they sent their pastor a card from their new home — in the Falkland Islands. However, their “paradise” was soon turned into a war zone by Great Britain and Argentina in the conflict now recorded in history books as the Falkland War. (From SermonCentral.com)

Conflict cannot be completely avoided. Not even in the church. We?re imperfect people. Have to admit your brokenness to start our journey with Jesus.

There will be conflict in the church. The secret not everyone knows is that having gone through it, we can actually forge deeper dependencies on the Holy Spirit.

Each of us contributes to the overall safety of this church. Someone?s perception of us might be a result of how they saw any one of us behave.

You may not be in conflict with anyone right now, but if an incident were to arise this instant, what area of your life or character would be tested most?

My temper?

Practiced humility?

Learned to listen instead of respond with venom?

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