In the midst of conflict, when emotions are running hot and feelings of injustice are strong, the words we use can betray more about our own theology than we sometimes think. Phrases like, “You’ve broken my trust,” “I was wrong, but...,” and “You shouldn’t have waited before coming to me,” pervade our conversations around conflict. I understand the sentiments, but each of these phrases may reveal more of our own heart than they do the other’s.
You’ve broken my trust.
In the midst of conflict, it can feel at times as though our trust has been broken by another. We can feel overlooked, hurt or offended, even if the other didn’t intend to inflict those pains on us. It can be tempting in those moments to forget that God alone is both the best source of our trust and the One in whom our trust should be resting. But God has put us here on earth and in relationship with others, and to navigate those relationships faithfully, we have to have some measure of trust with one another. In the midst of conflict when our trust feels broken, it can be a reminder that only God is perfectly trustworthy (Jeremiah 17:5). When our trust in a fellow human feels broken, be encouraged; it was never meant to fully rest on them.
I’m sorry, but...
The most beautiful thing about repentance is there is no “but...” after the brokenness. To add a “but you...” or “but they...” after our admission of guilt (no matter how justified we may feel in our counter-accusation), removes the weight we’re meant to feel in our mourning over sin and the staggering beauty of a God before whom we stand fully approved and fully loved as his children. One of my favorite passages on our response to sin is when Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ought you not rather mourn?” (1 Corinthians 5:2) So often we apologize and run quickly to a counter attack or to a false sense of security. Brothers and sisters, there is no security in winning an argument. A repentant heart doesn’t conclude their apology with a “but.”
You should have told me sooner.
There are sometimes two kinds of people in a conflict:* one may tend toward prolonged grace and the other toward quick righteousness. In the midst of conflict, the former will typically overlook a matter (to God’s glory) four, five, six times before finally coming to the brothers or sister and entreating them to righteousness. The latter who desires quick righteousness might respond, “You should have told me sooner,” and so excuses the severity of their sin. We ought to be like the former. As much as it depends on us to be at peace with all (Romans 12:18), we should extend grace, pursue peace, forgive seventy times seven without saying a word (Matthew 18:21-22). The common belief is that if we bottle up our feelings we’re somehow doing ourselves a disservice and betraying our hearts. I have good news for you: God holds every one of our tears in His capable hands (Psalm 56:8). He knows them and cares for them and has paid for every one of our sins—even the ones five times back. When you cover a multitude of sins with the love of God, you are not doing a disservice to yourself or to the accused. It is kindness that draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4) and love that keeps us there.
Make no mistake, Christian, our theology is on display in the midst of conflict. Our belief in the gospel and its permeation in our lives comes through in those confrontations, apologies, stalemates and arguments. God, the ultimate reconciler, has given us clear directives for the ministry of reconciliation. Conflict does not surprise or bewilder Him; He has made a way and set an ultimate example of humility, obedience and persistence through His Son. Trust Him. Believe Him. We will always be disappointed by people but never by Christ.
*Note: this refers to common conflicts (Phil. 4:2,3) or differences of opinion (Acts 15:36-41), not abuse of any kind, which should not be overlooked but brought to the attention of the accused and of any authorities who should be involved.
Originally published at sayable.net, edited for use at tvcresources.net