10 Principles of Healthy Conflict Resolution

Scripture and Conflict

Believe it or not, the Bible is chocked full of stories, proverbs, and teachings aimed at getting us to engage in healthy conflict resolution. Being made in God’s image inherently means we are made for intimacy, to the point that we cannot live without it. Engaging conflict is one means by which we develop deeper intimacy. Below are 10 principles from Scripture to help you engage the hurt you experience from others in a healthier way.

Confrontation Is a Process
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love” (Matthew 18:15-17, MSG).

So how does this work?

If a brother or sister causes you harm, you ought to pull them aside (private message before you post on their wall) and reflect to them the pain you feel. Your job is not to convince them they are wrong, but to be a clear mirror in which they see their reflection. A good way to start this conversation is by saying, “When I heard/saw/felt you ____, I felt ____.” From there, describe what thoughts you had after the incident and what you want differently in the future.

Rather than accosting them, come to them with a soft start (and a soft heart). A kind invitation lends itself to accepting confrontation, whereas accusation almost always puts someone on the defense.

Now, if that doesn’t work, and they reply with defensiveness or further insult, pull in a few other brothers and sisters. Hopefully, this takes place within a context of community. The troll on your Facebook feed that you’ve never met will not respond to this, because you have no connection with them; thus, there is no empathy. Your goal as a group is to be a mirror—showing them their fault, not judging them as a jury.

If their heart only hardens to your plea for repentance, call your pastor, elder, deacons, or another leader to stand with you. Discipline is for the purpose of inviting people into deeper relationship with yourself and with Jesus. In addressing the pain they caused you, as uncomfortable as it may be, you are deeply caring for their heart. If this occurs online, be bold to report it to the website or host. If in school, talk with your teacher or principal, youth leader or counselor.

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 6:10).

Finally, don’t feel compelled to pursue their repentance forever. God’s call is for you to show up and introduce them to the pain they cause you, which is sometime sin—you would only harm them if you tried to manage their sin for them. If they remain unrepentant, kindly dust your feet and step away.  A mentor of mine has always told me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but if you hang around long enough, he’s likely to get thirsty.”

Be Gentle, for the Sake of Your Own Heart
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

When you aim to restore someone through confrontation, you face the huge risk that they will not want to be restored, and you also run the risk of getting angry and hurting yourself. Be gentle with them, and with yourself. Another person’s heart is not your responsibility. In fact, if you believe you are responsible for producing repentance in them, I can say with some certainty you are doomed to resentment, which will only serve to poison you. Do your part, and then trust God with the results.

Confrontation is Not About a Cause
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

This might be the most difficult guideline of all. Confronting someone has nothing to do with any cause or personal vendetta you may have. Obviously, our sin causes pain to those around us, but confronting another is not about fixing them.

Do Your Own Work
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye…” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Before you confront someone for hurting you, recognize how you are at fault yourself. Our hearts are prone to fear and distrust, to vengeance and bitterness. Ask the Father to show you the deepest recesses of your heart in the area of pain you are confronting. Ask trustworthy friends, family members, or colleagues what they see in you. Then practice confession, or simply put, be rigorously honest with someone else about your own flaws and failings, thoughts and judgments. This is the road to wholeness and holiness.

“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (James 5:16, MSG).

Be Angry and Be Unified
“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body, we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Ephesians 4:25-27).

When someone causes harm to you (and others), your proper response is anger—and I’m not talking about some timid, passive, nice “Sunday-School” anger. You ought to want to get up and fight. Your heart should pound, your palms sweat, your ears get hot. This is particularly true when the person’s intention was to tear you or someone else down.

And yet—

Be unified. Let your anger fuel your desire for restoration and peace, healing and wholeness, instead of pouring fuel on the fires of vindictiveness, resentment, or revenge. This is hard, and, if you are honest about confrontation, you will mess up. Sometimes, you will be too passive; other times, you will be too aggressive. I implore you to prepare yourself for repentance before you ask others to do so themselves.

Be Strategic
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

I promise that impulsively confronting people on social media or in an email at 3:30 a.m. will do absolutely no good in rooting out their sin, nor yours. Talk to people who are much wiser than you. I would highly encourage you to utilize The Gottman Method to develop healthy conflict resolution.

Ask for Wisdom
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

In reality, there is no “best” way to confront someone. Sin is messy, insidious, and deceptive. On top of that, everyone is unique, and whatever they do that hurts you is rooted uniquely in their heart. Ask the Spirit to guide you. Then look your brother or sister in the eye when you tell them about the pain caused by them.

Bear the Burden
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Christ’s command is that we love God, which then leads us to loving those made in His image (our neighbor as our self). If you see or hear something that is degrading or assaulting towards another, speak up, even if the defamed person would never “know” of the thing said or done against them.

This also means you ought to bear the burden of pain, hurt, and humiliation someone else experiences. If you hear someone hurting, and your first response is “They’re just being too sensitive; they need to move on,” I implore you to listen to their pain without trying to “fix it” with sympathy or a trite answer. Here is a short and helpful video by Brené Brown on the power of empathy, and the hurtfulness of sympathy.

Prepare a Reply
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Please do not be so naïve as to think pointing out sin in your brother or sister will instantly lead to repentance and confession. Chances are, if they are anything like me (and probably you), they will throw a stinging reply to deflect the reality of their sin. Be ready for it. Your counter-reply should include looking them in the eye, avoiding defensiveness, using safe body language (open hands, uncrossed arms), and practicing humility. Your goal is not to be right or to have the last word. You are being the mirror of Jesus, so try to act like it. If you say anything at all, you may want to leave it at: “I hear you, and I’ll be here if you want to talk about this in the future.”

Hope in Christ, Not in Outcome
“For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

This works both ways. Your reward for pursuing reconciliation and repentance may not come anytime soon. In all likelihood, you will not see the fruit of your labor. The point is, both judgment and reward are promised to be settled out at the coming of Jesus. This does not mean you ought to be complacent or passive! But it does mean your hope should not be placed in the immediate outcome. Bring attention to the pain caused by your brother or sister, and then prayerfully trust God with the long-term results.

Clearly, there is so much more that could (and should be) said. My final encouragement is this:

Stand Firm — Suffer Well — Love Much

Check out Part 1, How do you engage conflict?