On Sunday evening we heard from Colossians 3:5-14 about the practical aspects of Christian living. One verse particularly caught my attention:

“...bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Colossians 3:13

I love the realism in this verse. Paul doesn’t think church is a fairyland of blissful friendships. On the contrary, he’s fully aware that if you stick 10 sinners in a room, sooner or later someone is going to annoy someone else. Multiply that up to 500 (which is what we are on Sunday evenings) and the possibility of conflict rises too.

Unfortunately we’re not always brilliant at putting this verse into practice. We can be good at conflict avoidance (sticking our head in the sand, pretending nothing is wrong, or even leaving the church rather than dealing with the problem). What would our church family life look like if we started dealing with conflict as Paul tells us to? Here are six ways we can start to do that:

  1. Don’t assume the worst. If someone hurts or upsets you, consider that they may not have intended it in malice; it may just have been thoughtless.
  2. Don’t respond in anger. Texts and emails sent in the heat of the moment never ever help resolve a problem. Prayerfully ask God to help you love the other person. Once you’ve calmed down consider the next step.
  3. Keep the circle small. Colossians 3:8 tells us to put away malice and slander. You don’t need to tell everyone your grievances. This kind of gossip will cause people to think less of the person you’re talking about. If you need help with how to deal with a situation seek counsel from a mature Christian who you trust, and think carefully about how much information you’re going to share with them.
  4. Sometimes people wind us up for no real reason except that they’re different to us. Learn to see these brothers and sisters the way Christ does: a forgiven sinner who has been purchased by his precious blood. As you learn to love them with genuine brotherly affection (Romans 12:9-10) God will be glorified.
  5. If appropriate, go directly to the person who has hurt you. Consider your words carefully, and explain the problem to them. Be gentle; this may be the first time they realise they’ve done something wrong. If they ask for your forgiveness, don’t hold back! And why not pray about it together? Working out forgiveness is a huge topic. If you need to consider it in more depth you may find 'Unpacking Forgiveness' by Chris Brauns a helpful book.
  6. Respond with patience. If someone comes to you to discuss something you’ve done be quick to listen, and slow to defend yourself. Learn to say the words, “I’m sorry for what I did, please forgive me.” You may find it helpful to meditate on Colossians 3:12 and consider where you need to grow. We all need to keep putting on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. These are, surely, the antidote to conflict!