by Rachel Dahlhausen, Women's Counselor
Living back at home with family, particularly during a stay-at-home order, brings out the good, the bad, and the ugly in us and in those around us. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. Still, as a college student, I remember the frustrated, sick feeling I would get after what seemed like every interaction I had with one of my siblings. No matter how a conversation started, it felt like it always ended in an argument. I began to dread sitting together at meals because of the “inevitable” conflict that would ensue. Bitterness started to creep into my heart like the Kudzu vines in the South, slowly eating away at the good and turning the whole relationship into something tangled and brown.
Conflict can look like arguments and yelling. It can look like silent treatment and avoidance. It can, sadly, even look like physical abuse or cruelty. Certainly, if your situation is unsafe in any way because of other’s sin against you, please reach out immediately for help from civil authorities, a godly pastor, and a biblical counselor. Maybe you are trying to navigate life in a house filled with verbal time bombs, or maybe you are ashamed of the harsh words and fierce anger of your own heart towards someone you love. Whether you live in a home where Christ is honored or where you are the only Christian, we all need help and hope from God regarding how to handle conflict. There is much that the Scripture gives to guide us, but today we will focus on three foundational principles.
1. Acknowledge the Real Source of Conflict
James 4:1 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
The Bible teaches us that conflict comes from the passions of our own hearts. Other people can live selfishly or speak unkindly, and God will hold them accountable for their behavior, but we are responsible from what comes out of us in response. We sin because we are self-centered and want our own way. Jesus said that it is what comes out of one’s heart that defiles a person (Mk. 7:15). Conflict usually arises because I am not getting to rule my “kingdom” the way I want to. I want things to go my way! I must acknowledge my sin in a conflict and be willing to humbly confess it as sin and turn to God in repentance. I must repent of my ruling passions, the heart desires that fuel the conflict in my life.
2. Remember Your Christ and Your New Identity
By faith I look to Christ. I remember His work on the cross and His full forgiveness for every sin. I rehearse how I am now “in Christ”, a phrase used over seventy-five times in the Bible! To be “in Him” means I have received every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). I am forgiven. I am loved. I am empowered. I am accepted. I am set apart for God. I am no longer a slave to sin (Rom. 6:4). I now live for my created purpose—to worship God and enjoy Him forever (1 Cor. 10:31). I am living, not for my kingdom, but for God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:33).
3. Overcome Evil with Good
The passage God used most to change my heart in relationship to my family member was Romans 12:16-21.
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12 comes after powerful passages earlier in the book that talk about salvation, justification (being declared righteous before God), and sanctification (growing in looking more like God). Because of what God has done, I am able to live free from sin and alive to God. I kill my old responses and in the power of the Spirit I live out new ones. That looks like living in harmony. It looks like, as much as is possible, living peaceably. And it looks like overcoming evil with good.
Overcoming evil with good. How difficult that is! How absolutely contrary to my nature! How undeserved by the other person in the conflict! But God displayed the ultimate example of this when He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for your sin and my sin. My evil was overcome by His good.
Try and picture Jesus, the rabbi who healed the lepers and who loved the children, gasping for breath as His tortured body hung suspended by nails. Greater still was His anguish of spirit as God the Father poured out His wrath for the sins of the world upon His beloved Son. Yet as Jesus hung there, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” God offered forgiveness while we were still sinners. All the evil in the world cannot overcome the good that God brought from the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus! Though we may not see what good will result from our humility and forgiveness in relationship to others, we can be confident that God’s purposes are good and trustworthy.
So how do we overcome evil with good? If we are called to love our enemies, we are most certainly called to love our family. What good can you do for those in your family today?
Because we are deeply loved children of God, let’s imitate Christ when conflict arises. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).