How we respond to conflict has a huge impact on our health and the quality of our relationships. On the one hand, we can choose to ignore conflict when it arises. This seems easier than resolving it but only makes its effects more disastrous. Unresolved conflict makes us bitter, resentful, stressed, and difficult to get along with. People who refuse to work out their differences with others end up divorced and without friends.
On the other hand, we can choose to resolve conflict when it arises. This seems harder than ignoring it but actually strengthens our character and relationships. Resolving conflict makes us more gracious, forgiving, honest, and understanding. People who enjoy a lasting marriage and long-term friendships understand that conflict is unavoidable and handle it well.
The Bible says a lot about conflict resolution. We should expect it to, for it is ultimately the story of how God resolves His conflict with sinful mankind. It tells us what to do when we are offended and when we offend someone else. If you follow its advice, you will be a healthier person who has healthier relationships.
When You Are Offended
People are going to offend you; they will speak to you or treat you in hurtful and mean ways. Rather than hold a grudge, be reconciled by following these three steps:
- Overlook it. Before approaching someone to resolve conflict, try to overlook what they said or did. Sometimes we make too big a deal out of things and need to give others the benefit of the doubt. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Become a wise and patient person who isn’t easily offended. This is what Jesus means when He says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
- Ask for an apology. If someone offends you and you cannot overlook it, approach them and ask them to apologize. Tell them what they said or did to offend you and how it makes you feel. Say, “I feel _______ because you said/did ________. Will you please apologize to me?” This simple formula helps you express your feelings and helps them understand how they offended you. Jesus says, “If you brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).
- Forgive. When the person who offends you apologizes, forgive them and let it go; don’t hold it against them anymore! The goal of resolving conflict is not winning an argument but restoring a relationship. Be willing to forgive someone before asking them for an apology. When asked how many times we should forgive someone who offends us, Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). He also warns, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
Resolve conflict quickly and be done with it. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Settle the matter and let it remain settled.
When You Offend Someone Else
You are going to offend people; you will speak to them or treat them in hurtful and mean ways. Rather than being proud or uncaring, be reconciled by following these three steps:
- Be approachable. Others will need to approach us and ask us to apologize for something we said or did that offended them. When you are approached, don’t be quick to defend yourself. Listen to what they say and understand how they feel. James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Thank them for sharing their feelings and tell them you will consider their thoughts. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Approach them. Some people are too timid to approach you when you offend them. If you can tell someone is offended by you, approach them and ask what you said or did to hurt them. Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
- Apologize. When you offend someone, apologize for what you said or did to offend them and ask them to forgive you. Say, “I’m sorry for making you feel _______ when I said/did ________. Will you please forgive me?” Be sincere when you apologize; nothing insults more than an insincere apology. Show that you are truly sorry for hurting them and want to restore your relationship with them.
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