Iron Out Differences

October 13, 2022 | Carrie Henry

Having interactions with other people guarantees that you will, at some point, have conflict. It’s inevitable. Whether in marriage, friendship, or at work, we bear the responsibility that our words, attitudes, and actions contribute either to the health or detriment of others.

Marriages break down because of anger and arrogance. Friendships break down when misunderstandings are blown out of proportion or not addressed at all. Work relationships break down when conflict is ignored. Biblically managed conflict is an opportunity for spiritual and relational growth. Why then are we afraid to ask our spouse to actively listen before moving to problem solve, or to tell a friend their words hurt us, or ask our boss for clarification of expectations?

The truth is it takes patience and humility to develop the ability to respond to a conflict in a gospel-centered and biblically faithful manner. In our own understanding, we are tempted to look for ways to gain the upper hand and build a strong defense against our perceived foe, and following this trajectory to its end, eventually write the relationship off. There is a way that makes sense to a hurting heart, but unless submitted to God, it doesn’t lead to reconciliation.

A few years ago, I found myself in a painful relational conflict. I was confused and hurt. By prayer and wise counsel, I made the hard-fought, gut-wrenching effort to resolve the differences and preserve the relationship. Philippians 4:4-9 provided what Howard Hendricks calls a “five-part recipe for conflict resolution.” 

Euodia and Syntyche were two women, described by Paul in Philippians 4:2-3, who had served in ministry together and were now in such disagreement that a helper, a “true companion,” was needed to help resolve their conflict.

  • Verses 4-5 point out that joy is the result of trusting that difficult situations have a good purpose. In conflict, the idea of rejoicing in the Lord isn’t easy when we’re at odds with another person. The conversations need to be aimed at believing the best even when we’re hurting, yet Paul says twice to “rejoice in the Lord.” Not easy to do. But God can iron out differences. 
  • Verses 5-6 instruct us to let our reasonableness, or gentleness, be known to everyone. This suggests we notice the log in our own eye before the speck in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3). The posture with which we enter conversations for resolving conflict needs to be humble, open, and teachable in contrast to wanting to be right. Our gentleness reflected in speaking truthfully in love. We are not alone; the Lord is near. He loves us and he loves the person with whom we are in conflict. Not easy to do. But God can iron out differences. 
  • Verse 4:6 instructs us to not be anxious about the conflict but to ask God to resolve it. In our fear, we want to talk to others, to gain their sympathy and support, to hear how right we are, to be affirmed, but clearly, we need to take this to God first and most often. Wise counsel is wise when it follows having sat with God about it. Not easy to do. But God can iron out differences.  
  • Verse 4:7 helps us understand guarding our heart and mind with the peace of God by framing the issue in such a way that the other person agrees with it as a fair summary of the conflict at hand. This is a doozy. Everything in us wants to be seen and valued, and right wrongs. We may face that reconciliation isn’t possible. Not easy to do. But God can iron out differences. 
  • Verse 4:8 tells us to find something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, and set your mind there. Replaying conversations, painful memories, or what the person did wrong not only prolongs the sting of the conflict but is sin on our part. Not easy to do. But God can iron out differences. 
  • Verse 4:9 reminds us that “the God of peace will be with you.” 

How we handle conflict will determine the quality of the relationship. We have the opportunity for a restored relationship and mutual respect as issues are resolved. In the cases where reconciliation is not possible, we can expect the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”, and we know that even a broken relationship is not beyond the hope of God’s goodness.

Along with authenticity, transformation, and perseverance, at FBC we value community—together is better. As conflict is inevitable when people are in community, it should not be avoided, but engaged with humility, truth, and love, always with the goal of restoring unity and peace.

Don’t let unresolved conflict rob you of the joy that healthy relationships can bring. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18