How to Respond to Conflict in the Church
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Inevitably there is and will be conflict in the church. Far too often these conflicts lead to broken relationships, broken hearts, and broken churches. Certainly there are times when a church needs to be shaken because it is not properly serving under the Lordship of Christ. More often, however, the cause of the turmoil is disagreements between people that have little to do with upholding right doctrine and proper ministry. In such times personal self-desires take priority over God’s desires.
In today’s selected scripture Paul instructs, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Note that he begins this declaration with the words, “So I say…,” which means that this verse is related to previous verses from Galatians 5. The context of instruction has to do with Christians in the Galatian church who were stirring up trouble by undermining his teaching which resulted in turmoil in the church. In verse 15 Paul writes, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Sound familiar? Many of us have very specific knowledge of such behavior in the Lord’s church.
Sadly, our disagreements often involve backbiting and destructive behavior. That is not to say that we should not or will not have differences of opinion. There will be times when we are provoked and our feelings are hurt. However when such times arise we must do our best to “not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Our response to disputes with our brothers and sisters in Christ should always be “by the Spirit.” One of my favorite scriptures appears here in Galatians 5. I use it as a checklist to gauge my Christian behavior toward others. In verses 22 and 23 Paul speaks of “the fruit” that is a result of living “by the Spirit.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Surely you have heard or even used the popular expression, “What Would Jesus Do?” The question seeks a response to a situation based on the life and teaching of Jesus. In effect, Galatians 5 asks a similar question, “What is the Spirit saying?” Conversely, the question can be asked, “What is the sin nature saying?” Which instruction will you follow? Obviously God wants us to follow the direction of the Spirit.
When you find yourself at odds with others make certain that you do not give into the “desires of the sinful nature.” Yes, there are times when you want to give somebody a swift kick in the pants, a smack in the face, or a tongue lashing. You may feel like forming an alliance with others of like mind where you can vent your frustrations through vicious gossip and backbiting.
In times of conflict in the church you must turn your heart and mind toward God. Remove yourself from the melee and seek His direction in the midst of the turmoil. What is the Spirit saying? As you stand for what is right before God temper your behavior toward others with “love.” What can you do that restores “joy?” What action can you take that will promote “peace?” Make certain that your response is one of “patience.” Look for ways of approaching those involved in the conflict with “kindness.” Remain “faithful” to God and what He expects of you. Handle others with “gentleness.” By the help of God respond with “self-control.”
We cannot control the response of others…but we can influence it. There is amazing power in the voice that is influenced by the Spirit. When conflicts arise in your church or in your Christian relationships remain faithful to God. He will bless your faithfulness.
A friend of mine who was in a position of leadership shared a concern regarding conflict in the church. He asked me what he could do and if I thought he and his family should leave. I suggested that he remain faithful to God by responding in behavior that honors God. I reminded him that the church belongs to God — and not to man. Trust God to settle the matter. Most of all, pray fervently for God’s intervention. As far as whether he should leave I counseled that he should ask for God’s direction. In fact, he did stay and within a few years God completely transformed his church. The troublemakers have left and new leadership is in place. Today the church has a vibrant ministry, the membership is growing, and people are coming to Christ.
Be guided by “the Spirit” and refuse to give into the voice of “the sinful nature.” Make your cause that of Christ and not selfish ambition. Be part of God’s solution and not…man’s turmoil.
And never forget, when responding to conflict in the church, it is God’s church.
For more on this topic, check out this article: Beware of Argumentative Christians
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.