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Conflict is an Opportunity

This article by Erik Raymond first appeared on The Gospel Coalition Website.

Most people don’t enjoy conflict. We tend to avoid it if we can. I suppose there is something healthy about this fact. We certainly don’t want to enjoy conflict.

However, there is something that is lost, particularly for Christians, when we avoid biblically handling necessary conflict. We could rightly say that in this case there is an unhealthy avoidance of conflict.

CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DENY INSTEAD OF COMFORT OURSELVES.

Let’s think about the basis of our fellowship and relationship with other Christians. We are united—before anything else—by and through Jesus Christ. The way that we come to share in fellowship together is by individually sharing in the fellowship with Christ. So whether we are talking about a marriage, other family dynamics, or other friendships within the church, the primary basis for our relationship is the gospel. And let’s not forget that the way in which we come to enjoy the benefits of the gospel is to admit that we are sinners who have come to realize our sin and our need for a Savior.

With this level of transparency why do we then proceed to live in such a way that we avoid conflict? Husbands and wives avoid necessary conversations because it makes them uncomfortable. Friends at church insist on not dealing with patterns of sin because it makes them uncomfortable. Do you see the painful irony here? The primary basis of our relationship is the fact that we admit that we are sinners and need a Savior, so then why do we live in such a way that says that we are neither sinners nor in need of a Savior? This type of living, even just a sliver of it, can make a marriage or a church unhealthy, because it mutes the gospel and masks pride. Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial not self-comfort.

CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TURN UP THE GOSPEL VOLUME.

I have sat across the table from people who seem like godly men and women. In the course of our discussion it became clear that they had an issue with one or more people. In effort to try to get it worked out I remember appealing to them that whatever the issue was I can assure them that we have a gospel that is big enough to handle it. Whatever has happened we can get it worked out. Let’s put this big gospel to work.

Sadly, I’ve often been rebuffed by stoic glares and unwilling hearts. Content to nurse a grudge they sadly mute the gospel and ensure that nothing gets solved.

CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR INTIMACY.

When properly addressed within the context of the gospel, conflict is actually a surprising minister in the relationship. By addressing conflict and sin biblically it actually forges a deeper intimacy than personal comfort could ever do. I have seen husbands and wives work through big stuff and come out shining brighter than the couples that play prevent defense in their marriage. I’ve seen young people and older people become great friends after working out their issues together through gospel humility.

This is because the gospel is the great unifier. It brings all of us low. Jesus teaches us that the way down is the way up (Phil. 2:3-10). How could it be any different in our relationships?

CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO EMBRACE PROVIDENCE.

Failing to address conflict also says something about our view of providence. If God is truly upholding and governing all things, bringing everything to pass that comes to pass, then what are we to say about our conflict? Providence has permitted it at this time. We must apply the Word of God and this big gospel for the glory of God and the good of ourselves and others.

Too many times we in the church deploy the world’s methods and hope for heaven’s results. It simply won’t happen. We cannot mute the gospel and expect blessing. We cannot second-guess providence and hope for good. We cannot avoid any type of discomfort and expect genuine community. After all, in the church where the requirement for entry is admitting that you often break things, we should not pretend that we are perfect, nor should we expect that others will be.

Conflict can drive us apart or close, depending on whether or not we apply the gospel.

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children.

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