Resolving Interpersonal Conflicts, Part 2

The Hatfield-McCoy Feud is a part of American folklore that has come to symbolize a long-standing cycle of conflict. This feud was a decades-long, violent conflict between two extended Appalachian families in the late 19th century. An episode of this sad story from 1882 involved Johnse Hatfield and Rosanna McCoy attempting to elope. Ellison Hatfield was shot in Kentucky, and officials arrested three McCoy brothers. Then, as they were en route to the local jail, armed members of the Hatfield clan ambushed them. Hatfield patriarch, Anse, took the suspects back to West Virginia. When Ellison Hatfield died of his gunshot wounds, the three McCoy brothers were killed. It took another decade for the law to prevent the cycle of violence from continuing.[1]

Conflicts in marriage, family, and church spring from the same seeds of selfishness that grew to infamous proportions in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. In the previous article we looked at how pride, selfishness, ineffective communication, judgmentalism, and narrow-mindedness cause conflicts.

But how can we resolve conflicts? What is our responsibility in such cases? How can we be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?

As we look at ways we can deal biblically with conflict, note that the key issue is how we respond. It’s so easy to just react, instead of responding with Christ’s wisdom and love. And right responses flow from having God’s perspective. Martin DeHaan noted, “We repeat cycles of conflict when we assume that what we want is always what we need, or when we are more concerned about the people who are against us than the God who is for us. Misbeliefs are the fuel of ongoing cycles of conflict.[2]

Remedies for personal conflicts

1. Recognize the unity of the Holy Spirit.

True Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who organically unites them into the international Body of Christ. This truth is included in Paul’s list of unity factors in Ephesians 4:2-6: “… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Therefore, believers do not manufacture unity; they are to recognize it and protect it. This will powerfully impact a watching world. As Christ prayed, “I do not pray for these [disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20,21).

2. Demonstrate agape love.

1 Corinthians 13 gives the classic definition of love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

And the apostle Peter described the importance of this quality in resolving interpersonal conflicts: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Paul Billheimer pleaded,

“The only power that will bring unity in the Body of Christ is the power of agape love. Adequate love for Jesus enables one to accept and love those whom He accepts and loves, regardless of their opinions in non-essentials. We shall never be united by conceptual truth, church polity, liturgy, or any canon or confession of faith–only by agape [unconditional] love. With a sufficient flow of love in the Body, all divisive factors will shrink and diminish in significance. Increasing love will cover all differences concerning non-essentials to salvation and bring the oneness for which Christ prayed.” [3]

And from where do we get increased love? “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Gal. 5:22). “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As we really believe and accept the infinite love of God for us, we will increasingly reflect it to those around us (see Matt. 22:39).

3.Communicate, clarify, and negotiate mutual expectations.

Most often we assume that others know and accept our expectations in a relationship. In a seminar on this topic 95% confessed to missing this vital point! As these are understood, proceed to clarify roles and responsibilities.

Imagine a football team running onto the field before deciding who would be quarterback, and who would be center… Or a baseball team assuming they knew who would be pitcher and who would be catcher. It’s no less important for families, ministries, churches, and businesses to follow through on these areas of communication and planning.

For example, marital roles under the lordship of Christ serve to facilitate harmony and teamwork in the home (Eph. 5:21-3). Christian couples need to honestly study and adjust to these grace-based responsibilities. However, some may hesitate, assuming that any kind of disagreement is a sign of marital failure. Cary Lanz dispels this myth in his book, Shifting Sands and Foundation Stones:

“…marriage will include hurts; that is a given. How we play the hand we’re dealt is the critical question. Certainly repeated or intense unresolved battles take their toll on the marriage relationship. And, while inability or unwillingness to resolve differences effectively may, indeed, contribute to the demise of a marriage, learning to respond constructively can actually strengthen the relationship. The only difference is in the response; conflict, itself, is not the culprit.”[4]

4. Accept diversity.

Scripture passages that emphasize the unity of members of Christ’s Body also testify of our diversity (1 Cor. 12:4). We differ in gender, age, nationality, personality, spiritual gifts, talents, education, socioeconomic rank, denominational affiliation, and the list goes on! To maintain unity requires constant consideration of these differences. For example, Peter advised, “you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honouring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of life. If you don’t do this, you will find it impossible to pray together properly” (1 Peter 3:7, Phillips). This leads us to the final point that we’ll consider…

5. Pray for one another.

How should we respond to mistreatment? The Lord Jesus teaches us, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Paul Billheimer again commented, “One cannot pray for others while he is judging and condemning them. Lovelessness slays the spirit of prayer because prayer for others is inspired only by a loving concern.” When we intercede for the one who we are at odds with, it will help us as much as it helps them.”[5]

James 3:14-18 shows the need for wisdom in resolving interpersonal conflicts:

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”[6]

Fellow believer, are you willing to take responsibility for your response to conflict? Whether you have offended someone (Matt.5:23-24), or someone has offended you (Matt. 18:15-17), promote reconciliation (see Rom. 12:17-21). Admit any personal wrongdoing (or neglect of kindness) and ask for forgiveness.[7] Surely an unbelieving society looks for such examples of peacemakers. May we say “amen” this prayer of Phillips Brooks:

“Let me not loose faith in my fellow men.
Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness.
Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). Christ — the Prince of Peace — longs to express His supernatural patience, forgiveness, and love through you!

Part 2 of 2


[1] Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, “Hatfield-McCoy Feud.”

[2] Martin DeHaan II, How Can We Work Through Our Differences? (Radio Bible Class, 1992), p.10.

[3] Paul Billheimer, Love Covers, (CLC, 1981), p.106.

[4] Cary E. Lanz, Shifting Sands and Foundation Stones: 101 Myths and the Wisdom of the Wedded,” (1st Books, 1999), p.115.

[5] Billheimer, p. 130.

[6] V. Raymond Edman wrote: “As long as a man is …alert to his liabilities and limitations, active in service for God and man, he can be courageous, generous, altruistic, large-spirited; but when he allows himself to get on the defensive; defending his position, policies, procedure, personality, program, then he tends to become timid, selfish, self-centered, and small. He has lost the magnanimity that can minimize insults and injuries. He forgets the wholesomeness… necessary for his own soul.” The Disciplines of Life, (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications), pp.66-67.

[7] See Grace Notes: “Dimensions of Forgiveness.”

Copyright 2001 by John Woodward. Permission to reprint for noncommercial use is granted if credit is given to the author and Scripture quotations (unless indicated othersie) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright by Thomas Nelson.

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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