Every Conflict is an Opportunity

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

November 5, 2006 | Brian Bill

Our focus this morning is on something that most of us don’t think much about: Every Conflict is an Opportunity.  If you’re at all like me, my guess is that you see conflict as bad, not beneficial.  Why is that?

  • Our world is at war.  I read recently that in all the years of recorded history, our world has been at peace just 8% of the time.  Over that period, 8000 treaties have been made and broken. Someone has made this perceptive observation: “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.
  • Our culture is in conflict.  I hope you’re planning to vote your values on Tuesday but have you noticed how much of the campaigning is conflictive?  I heard a candidate this week lamenting the fact that his opponent is using negative ads against him.  In the same breath, he fired a volley of verbal grenades back at the other candidate, attacking his integrity, his patriotism, and even his family.
  • Families are filled with friction.  Some of you are experiencing incredible challenges right now and you’d give anything for harmony in your home.  Whether the conflict is between spouses or parents or children or grandparents or grandchildren, it is sapping your energy.
  • Many relationships have ruptured.  As you scan your friendships, perhaps you’re grieving over the gulf that separates you and a friend.  

I did a Google search this week and discovered that there are over 1 billion links for “war,” 200 million for “conflict,” and just 2 million for “peace.”  I then used my  Study Bible and did a concordance search and found that there are almost twice as many references to “peace” than there are for “war” in the Bible.  Not surprisingly, the Bible has a lot to say about making peace.  Another way to say it is that the Bible is all about conflict and Christ the great Peacemaker.  If you look at the first and last books of the Bible, Genesis and Revelation, the first two chapters and the final two chapters are but “bookends of peace” to a world in conflict.  Friends, God cares about conflict and Scripture offers a solution, if we’re willing to do what it says.

Peace Principles

A brief biblical survey helps us see that there are at least 12 principles that describe both the importance of harmony and the hard work involved in promoting peace.  Interestingly, every letter in the New Testament contains a command to live at peace with one another.

  • We can’t be passive about peace; it must be pursued.  Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  Romans 14:19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” 1 Thessalonians 5:13: “…Live in peace with one another.”
  • Being a peacemaker can be lonely.  Psalm 120:6-7: “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.  I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”
  • Peace must be prayed for.  Psalm 122:6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”
  • The promoter of peace finds joy.  Proverbs 12:20: “There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.”
  • Pleasing God is a prerequisite for peace.  Proverbs 16:7: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
  • Those who bring peace have beautiful feet.  Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace…”
  • Jesus gives true peace.  John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives…”
  • Churches grow during times of peace.  Acts 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
  • We must do everything possible to live at peace.  Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
  • Peace is a directive from the God of peace.  1 Corinthians 7:15: “God has called us to live in peace.”  2 Corinthians 13:11: “…be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…”
  • Righteousness is rewarded to peacemakers.  James 3:18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
  • Jesus is the model for peace.  Ephesians 2:14-17: “For He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

Indeed, making peace is possible.  Please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God–even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  The Book of 1 Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul to a church consumed by conflict.  Believers were embroiled in disputes, they had worship wars going on, and they fought about things that should have been a source of sweet fellowship.  We have at least three opportunities when faced with conflict.  Let me warn you ahead of time that this is counter-cultural in an age of rights and “me-first” mentality.  This is radical teaching that will revolutionize the way you and I look at conflict.

1. Glorify God. 

We must get over our story and gaze on God’s glory if we ever hope to become a peace maker.

When most of us are embroiled in excruciating conflict, our default setting is to either escape or attack.  Or to say it another way, we’re prone to one of two extremes: peace faking or peace breaking.  If we want to move forward the first thing we must do is look upward and recognize the truth of Isaiah 43:7 where God declares, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” We must get over our story and gaze on God’s glory if we ever hope to become a peace maker.

Instead of focusing on our rights, we must strive to do what’s right.  And what’s right is to ask this question, “God, how can I glorify you in this situation?”  We see this in verse 31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  In the context of this verse, Paul is addressing the issue of dietary disputes; of whether or not believers should eat meat sacrificed to idols.  But he is also establishing a principle that applies to all situations.  If we must give glory to God in something as simple and mundane as eating and drinking, then we must certainly do so in every area of life.  And, since we eat and drink all the time, we must give glory to God all the time.

I like Charles Ryrie’s definition of God’s glory: “God’s glory is His reputation.  To live for God’s glory means to live so that God’s reputation is enhanced (heightened in quantity and quality) and not diminished in any way.”  Glory in the Bible refers to worth, value and beauty.  God’s glory is equated with His name and his fame.  In the Old Testament, the word meant weighty.  When we say that we want to glorify God, we’re saying that we consider His reputation of higher regard than our own, His will more important than ours and His worth weightier than our own.  John Piper puts it well: “God is the most valuable being in the universe.  We are quite secondary…the root problem of our human nature is that we do not want God to be God.  We want to be God…If God made us for His glory, it is clear that we should live for His glory.  Our duty comes from His design.”

Because peace is part of God’s very personality as the “God of peace” (Hebrews 13:20), He longs for His people to be marked by peace as well.  Ken Sande suggests that “conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify God, that is, to bring Him praise and honor by showing who He is, what He is like, and what He is doing.  The best way to glorify God in the midst of conflict is to depend on and draw attention to His grace…”  He then gives some practical ways we can do this:

  • Trust God.  Instead of just defaulting to disharmony or responding the way we always have, conflict gives us an opportunity to depend on God and do things the way He wants us to, even when it’s the opposite of what we feel like doing.  It’s an opportunity to claim His promises and to allow Him to give us strength to do what we think we could never do in our own power.
  • Obey God.  God gets the glory when we obey Him.  In John 15:8, Jesus says: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  When we bear the fruit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking, God gets all the glory.  I don’t want to minimize how difficult this is but it’s also pretty simple.  Instead of just doing what we think we should do, or saying something like: I’m so hurt I’m never going to speak to that person again, our first question should be: God, how can I obey you in this situation?  After all, if we say we love God, then we better do what He says, right?  Jesus put it this way in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
  • Imitate God.  Into the midst of Christians in conflict, we read these words in Ephesians 5:1: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love…”  One of God’s names is “Jehovah Shalom,” the God of Peace.  We honor Him when we imitate Him by breathing shalom into conflict.
  • Acknowledge God.   When you and I take the steps that lead to peace, people will notice and wonder how and why we’re doing it.  Use this as an opportunity to say something like this: “God is softening me and I realize that I’ve contributed to our conflict and I know that God wants me to make it right with you.”

Here’s a powerful statement from Sande: Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God.  If you consider Him to be weighty in your life, then take Him at His Word by trusting, obeying, imitating and acknowledging Him.  Here are a couple benefits that come our way when we do things God’s way:

  • If we can begin by focusing on glorifying God, we may be kept from making things worse by giving in to our emotions and saying things we might later regret.  Psalm 37:31: “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”
  • This makes us less dependent on results.  I heard someone say once that my response is my responsibility.  I can’t control how the other person responds but I can take responsibility for what I know I need to do.  Some of us don’t move forward because we think the other person won’t respond the way we want them to.  It doesn’t really matter because that’s up to God, not us.  If my response is my responsibility than their response is their responsibility.  We can find comfort in the knowledge that God is pleased when we obey Him.

Here’s a frightening thought.  If I do not glorify God when I’m in a conflict, I will inevitably glorify someone or something else.  When it all comes down to it, my actions in the midst of adversity reveal whether I think God is bigger than my problems or if my self is bigger than He is.  Sande states: “If you do not focus on God, you will inevitably focus on yourself and your will, or on other people and the threat of their wills.”  God’s glory in essence becomes a rule of conduct for us.  If what we are doing advances the reputation of God, it is right; whatever we are doing that does not magnify His name, is wrong.

Here are some questions that we can ask ourselves:

What does the Bible say about this?

How can I please and promote God within this relational rupture?

How can I bring praise to Jesus by showing that He is changing me?

Oh, if we could only live like our Lord did when He made this statement in John 5:30: “I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me!”  Couple that with the certainty of knowing that God Himself is our companion when dealing with conflict in John 8:29: “The one who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.”

2. Seek the good of others. 

First, give God the glory.  Second, and this is equally counter-intuitive, seek the good of others.  I was surprised this week to receive a picture of my parents from a costume party.  I can barely recognize them in their biker outfits!  (Show picture)

Our predisposition in conflict is payback

Our predisposition in conflict is payback.  If he hurts me, I want to hurt him.  If she yells at me, I want to yell back.  If we’re wronged, it’s natural to retaliate.  We can stop this cycle if we first give God the glory and then get the focus off ourselves and put it on the other person.  We really need to think in two directions when we’re faced with relational discord.  First, look up and honor the holiness of God.  Next, look around and think of the good of others.  

Great conflict can be resolved if we would but live out the Great Commandment to “love God and love others” (Mark 12:30-31).  Jesus modeled the “upward” and “outward” when we read in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

We are not exempt from seeking the good of others just because they are mean or vindictive or have mistreated us.  Our Lord offers no loopholes in Luke 6:27-28: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Instead of reacting with revenge, God calls us to be merciful to those who offend us, just as He is merciful to us (Luke 6:36).  We can’t just write someone off because of what they’ve done to us.  We don’t have that option as followers of the Prince of Peace.  To be in disagreement with someone gives us the opportunity to bestow dignity on them.  Paul had an others-orientation in verses 32-33: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God–even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

  • Don’t allow conflict to cause others to stumble.  We are interrelated and interdependent.  What I do and how I act toward you may cause you to be tripped up spiritually.  We discussed this principle in the Dive Deep class on Monday from Hebrews 3:13 that says if I’m not encouraging you daily and you’re not encouraging me daily, we may be contributing to sin in each other’s life.  If simply not encouraging someone can harden them to sin, can you imagine the damage that unresolved conflict can do?  Here’s the principle: Don’t deliberately offend anyone.  Romans 14:13 adds, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
  • Work at being pleasant and pleasing to others.  Some of us frankly don’t give a rip if we trip someone up.  This especially happens when we’re hurt or mad or bitter.  The challenge during these times is to get out of ourselves and to put our selves in the shoes of the other person.  Paul says that he tried “to please everybody in every way.”   Too many of us “demonize” those we’re in disagreement with, thinking only of the bad.  Paul worked at pleasing people, not at the expense of pleasing God, but so that he could stay at peace.  Romans 15:2: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
  • Seek the good of others before your own.  It’s amazing to me that Paul could say, “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many…”  This can only come about when we live out the truth of Philippians 2:3 and consider others more important than ourselves.  When we breathe in God’s grace we can then breathe out that grace to others.
  • Every interaction moves people closer or farther from Christ.  The reason Paul was so committed to reconciliation and to a culture of peace is because he was eager for everyone to be converted: “…so that they may be saved.”   If we could stop and ask ourselves if our actions or reactions are pushing people away from Christ, or drawing them nearer, we would be much more careful with what we say and quicker to resolve conflict.  To say it another way, if you and I persist on “being right” or staying mad or continuing in conflict, we may be pushing someone away from becoming a Christian.

As we seek the good of others, they may come to realize that they have been wrong and need to change.  Our attitude goes a long way in helping people find their way.  We see this in Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

When you’re in conflict, look up and make sure you give glory to God.  Next, look around and seek the good of the person.  Finally, look within and view the turmoil as a way for you to grow in your relationship with Christ.

3. Grow to be like Christ. 

Notice 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  When we’re in a battle with someone, we need to recognize that there are others watching.  This is especially true if you’re a parent or a grandparent.  Paul had no hesitation inviting people to follow his example.  Why?  Because he followed the example of Christ.  Friends, in the midst of the mess and distress of clashes and quarrels, never forget that God has some things he wants to teach you.  Your opponent is usually not the only one at fault.  God’s highest purpose is not to make us comfortable, but to conform us to the image of His Son.  He is more interested in our holiness than our happiness and conflict is one of the many tools that God will use to develop within us a more Christ-like character.  Here are some things that God has taught me when I’m in relational turmoil:

  • I’m reminded of my weakness and so I depend on God more.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 teaches us that “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.”
  • I become aware of sinful attitudes and my stubborn pride.  When I’m squeezed by the grip of unresolved conflict what comes out is often not very pretty.  Just ask Beth.  I’m often like “The Fonz” from Happy Days when it comes to admitting my sins.  Do you remember how worked up he’d get when he’d try to get the words out?  He’d say something like: “I was wrrrr…wrrrrrr…wrrrrrrr…wrrrrrrroooo…wrrrrrrrroooong.”
  • I’m able to draw on God’s grace in new ways.  When I seek to do what God says, and think about the other person, I find renewed strength to do things God’s ways.  The fruit of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control begins to sprout in the soil of adversity.

Sande refers to this as the ABCs of spiritual growth: Adversity Builds Character.  Here’s the goal: “As we worry less about GOING through conflict and focus more on GROWING through conflict, we will enhance the process and experience the incomparable blessing of being conformed to the likeness of Christ.”

Closing Thoughts

Which animal most represents you today?  Are you seeking resolution or are you rejecting it?  Has bitterness hardened your heart and defiled those around you?  Are you oblivious to conflict?  Or, are you like the wise old owl who was concerned first and foremost with the glory of God, then with the good of others, and finally with the growth that comes from conflict?

Francis of Assisi was known as a man who loved animals.  He was also known as the guy who wrote the famous “Peace Prayer.”  Let’ say this together:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?