Key Scriptures: Numbers 12, Ephesians 4:26, Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:14-18, James 4:1, James 1:19, Proverbs 15:1, Ephesians 4:26, James 5:16, Proverbs 17:14, Matthew 5:25, Romans 12:17-19, Romans 12:20, Leviticus 19:18, I John 4:20-21, Ephesians 4:31
Guiding Question: How does God want us to handle conflict?
Optional Introductory Activity: Ask students how lawmakers from different parties should behave as they debate laws while they are in session. Show students a 30 second clip of lawmakers in session breaking into physical fighting. (Please pre-screen video clip. Often clips from other countries work best so students won’t hear any ugly words they understand.) Ask students how the video differs from the list they just created. Have them share reasons why they believe conflict amongst legislators can move from debating to physical violence.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) What creates conflict between two people? To continue a relationship of any kind between two people who are in conflict with each other, the conflict must be resolved. In some cases, it’s merely a minor disagreement. One or both parties may be willing to allow the other to “win” in order to keep peace in the relationship or in order for a decision to be made. At other times, both parties refuse to change their position and the conflict can quickly escalate.
There’s a great example of this with three siblings in the Bible. Read Numbers 12. Evidently, Miriam and Aaron were not exactly thrilled with Moses’ choice for a wife. What do Aaron and Miriam do when it appears Moses is ignoring them? Notice that not only do they talk against Moses, they start getting a bit prideful about their critique. Our version would be something like, “Who does he think he is anyway, not to listen to us? Doesn’t God think as much of us as he does of him?”
Do you see how quickly the conflict is escalating? What are Aaron and Miriam beginning to do in the middle of this conflict with Moses? Read Ephesians 4:26. Aaron are quickly letting the anger lead them to a place where sin enters the conflict.
God understands their will be differences of opinion that can lead to conflict. We can unintentionally or intentionally say something that causes conflict. Miriam wasn’t punished because she disagreed with Moses about his wife. She was punished because she allowed the conflict to upset her so badly, she was willing to make ungodly choices and apparently even sin to try and “win” the disagreement.
Read Matthew 5:9. Right in the middle of the Beatitudes is this blessing for peacemakers. Our conflicts need to be resolved as peacefully as possible. Unfortunately, there are always two or more people involved in any conflict. Sometimes, the others refuse to act in godly ways and the only possible resolution is to give them everything they want. Read Romans 12:14-18. What do you think it means by “if it is possible on your part”?
Doesn’t it sound like God wants us to do everything we possibly can to have peace with others? We can’t control what others say or do, only ourselves. What do you think stops most people from remembering this verse and obeying it when they are in conflict with someone else? Yes, the natural reaction is probably, “But I’m right. Shouldn’t I fight to win since the other person is so obviously wrong?”
That is why conflicts often last long past the time when anyone even remembers how they originally began. We can become like Miriam before we even realize what has happened. God knows conflict will always be an issue in life. That’s probably why there are so many verses in the Old and New Testaments telling us what to do when those conflicts arise.
So what does God want us to do when we disagree with someone? (For each verse you may want to ask students if they have an example of a time when they obeyed the verse and it helped resolve or at least calm a conflict.)
- James 4:1 Consider why you want to win the disagreement so badly. Is it just that you are being selfish? Will it really be so horrible if the other person gets their way instead? This verse is great to remember when you find yourself beginning to argue with someone on where to eat or what movie to watch.
- James 1:19 Often conflicts get worse because we do the exact opposite of this verse. When you speak quickly without listening and get angry easily, the conflict will usually get worse, not better.
- Proverbs 15:1 Sometimes conflicts get worse because we begin mirroring the other person’s angry words. What happens when someone starts yelling at another person? Most often, the other person responds in the same way and the conflict gets worse. The next time someone is angry with you, try this instead. Get quiet. Don’t make ugly facial expressions. Just get quiet. Ask and answer questions in a calm, even, soft voice. Often the other person will begin to mirror you instead and calm down a bit.
- Ephesians 4:26 We’ve already looked at the first part of this verse, but let’s look at the second half. Don’t let conflicts go unaddressed and unresolved for long periods of time. Sometimes a person may need a little time to calm down. In general though, ignoring a conflict doesn’t make it go away. Often it causes people to begin to dislike each other and lose focus on the original disagreement. If you can resolve it quickly or at least remove the anger from the conflict quickly, it saves the relationship and allows people to address the issue more calmly.
- James 5:16 Sometimes conflicts arise because we have hurt the other person in some way. Or during the conflict we may hurt the other person emotionally. It’s important to apologize when you have been ungodly in the ways you speak or act. The other person may not accept your apology, but you should do what you can to apologize sincerely and do what you can to make things right again. (Remember: “Sorry, not sorry” is not an apology.)
- Proverbs 17:14 Don’t start unnecessary arguments. Are you getting ready to say or do something that you know will start conflict? Why? Sometimes the wiser choice is to walk away and not address it at all. Remember if you start a conflict you will have to be a part of resolving it and restoring the relationship with that person when it is over.
- Matthew 5:25 Don’t let things escalate to the point where the legal system is involved. Sounds silly, but adults sue each other over silly things like a neighbors’ leaves from a tree falling into their yard. You definitely don’t want your conflict to be loud, angry or violent enough that the police or school authorities are called. Nothing good ever happens at that point.
- Romans 12:17-19 We’ve already looked at part of this passage, but notice what else it says. If the person with whom you are in conflict does something evil to you, you are not supposed to do something evil to “punish” them in some way. Doing something evil is never acceptable to God. Look at the last part of this passage. If the other person has done something so horrible to you that God thinks it should be avenged – God will take care of it for you.
- Romans 12:20 If the conflict is bad enough, you may begin to consider the other person your enemy. So what does God say about how you should treat your enemy. With love and kindness, like you should everyone else. As an added incentive to do what is right, we are told doing good things for an enemy will upset them much more than if we did evil things to them.
- Leviticus 19:18 Don’t hold grudges. We don’t talk about grudges much. A grudge is when you decide to always remember what someone else said ro did to you that you believed was wrong. Not only do you refuse to forgive, but every time you see the person or hear their name, you get angry again and reflect on every horrible thing the other person has ever done. This verse is great because God gently reminds us we have probably made someone angry enough at us that they could do the same thing to us. Love your neighbor as yourself is an easy verse to repeat to yourself any time you are tempted to hold a grudge.
- I John 4:20-21 Don’t let the conflict get so bad that you begin to hate the other person. If you aren’t sure if you are being as loving as you should, review I Corinthians 13 for what love looks like.
- Ephesians 4:31 Notice the word slander? This is basically saying ugly things about someone behind their backs. Often these comments are exaggerated or untrue and shared just to make the person with whom we are in conflict look worse to others.
- Colossians 3:13 Forgive the other person. Notice the verse doesn’t say, “When the other person comes and begs for your forgiveness, forgive him/her.” It just says to forgive. God has forgiven us of many things and He expects us to forgive others.
We’ve talked a lot about conflict, but one question still remains. Why is it so important to handle conflicts in godly ways in the Church and between Christians? Read 2 Corinthians 5:20. As Christians, we are ambassadors for Christ. An ambassador represents a country and its interests to another country. When we are Christ’s ambassadors to the world, we are his representatives. When people who aren’t Christians see us and our behaviors, they will assume we are accurately representing how Jesus wants us to live. When they see fighting, arguing and worse, it doesn’t give them a good impression of Christ, nor does it make them want to learn about becoming a Christian. To be a good ambassador, we need to do a better job of handling conflicts when they arise.
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. What are some of the ways God wants us to speak and act when we find ourselves in conflict with another person?
One of the problems with conflict resolution is that parenting experts tell parents to let their children “work out conflict on their own”. This means a lot of parents are allowing four and five year olds to resolve conflicts in ways that seem smart to them. What does an average four or five year old do when they disagree with someone? It’s no wonder very few of us have had godly conflict management techniques taught or modeled for us!
There are some things you can do when you find yourself in conflict with another person. They work better when the other person is doing the same thing. Sometimes you can make teh suggestion that they do one of these steps. At other times, you may be the only one who is following them. That’s when those other verses we discussed are helpful.
So what should you do when you realize your are in conflict with someone else?
- Take some time alone to calm down.
- Think about how you feel and why you feel that way.
- Calmly tell the other person how you feel, using the following sentences. “I feel ______ when you ______, because _________. I would like _________.
- Do not use ugly words when talking to the other person.
- Repeat what the other person wants and needs in your own words.
- If the other person believes their wants and needs were not re-stated correctly by you, ask them to please tell you again what they were.
- Ask the other person to help you list as many possible solutions to the problem as possible. Often the best answer for everyone is not either of the two original choices presented.
- Try to pick the solution that will help everyone get what they need.
Sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s not always so easy in the moment when you are upset. So we will practice this several times with different scenarios to help this way of dealing with conflict something that is more natural to you than how you may currently handle conflict.
(Give students a scenario of a common conflict between students their age in your area. Pair them up and have them try to use the steps above to resolve the conflict. As they are working, walk around and listen in on the various pairs of students. After everyone has had a chance to resolve their conflict, bring students back together. Ask them to share their experiences. Review the steps again and make suggestions if necessary.
Have students change partners and give them new scenarios. If students seem to be struggling, you may want to demonstrate in front of the class with you and another adult or a student going through the steps. Remind students this will take a lot of practice before it becomes how they immediately handle a new conflict. Encourage them to help each other remember the steps if they see each other in conflicts outside of class. This Christian Life Skill is so important, you may want to have a short conflict scenario for additional practice each class for severeal weeks or even months.
Application Challenge: Read other stories of conflict in the Bible. How did the people in those stories handle their disagreements? Who acted in godly ways and who didn’t? Review the steps for godly conflict management we practiced in class. Try to use them and the verses we studied to help you handle any conflicts you have this week in more godly ways.
Author: Thereasa Winnett