Conflict Revolution: Can Conflict Transform Us?
For the past three Sundays, both Rick and Jeff (and Heather and Steve) have made the point that conflict is inevitable. If there are two people in the room, there will be conflict. We experience it with work colleagues, spouses, children, and even in our interior places where we can be of two minds about a specific issue. Rick made the point Sunday that there is a war going on within all of us that feeds off jealousy and anger and envy. As Jeff noted, these are 3 of the 7 deadly sins that inevitably impact all of us as we live on the planet and grow up inside the western cultural bubble we find ourselves in.
Does it have to be this way? Both Jeff and Rick (and the scriptures they cited from James 4) strongly asserted that it does not! So why is it so hard? We all know that if we are to change our ways, it takes more than a kind word suggesting that certain behaviors are counter-productive. That doesn’t work with our kids, and it never works with adults either. When we enter into a conflict, the adrenaline surge will always point us toward seeking our own benefit first. There is a lot of quick energy available to us that few can resist. But the outcome rarely honors who God wants us to be. So how do we actually get there?
It is possible to work at it because most of our conflicts occur with people we see every day—our spouse, our kids, our work colleagues, and our good friends. Lots of opportunity there since one of the requirements is that we are already invested in the relationship. There are lots of ongoing interactions; otherwise it is not a conflict, just a disagreement that goes nowhere. Interaction is essential.
James says to ‘humble yourself before God and others’ like it is a quick and easy thing to do. It is not. Inside of us, there is an emotional connection between the experience of humility—a good thing—and the experience of being humiliated. The latter we resist down to our bones, and the recovery process is long and arduous. So we move cautiously into the experience of being humble, and it takes many false starts and failures (asserting our point of view too strongly) in order to finally get to humility. Anger, jealousy and envy inevitably stay close at hand in almost all situations. There is quick energy there, and winning will always feel good.
But that is not God’s way, not the way James encourages us to go. As Jeff pointed out, the ‘win’ in any conflict is not that I get my way, but that the outcome demonstrates my love for God. If we take ‘for the sake of others’ seriously, that outcome must always be our goal. Jesus came for the sake of others; we are saved not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of others. Those of us who came to faith as adults heard the gospel first through the life of another, not from a pulpit.
Ah, but there is help for us. The Spirit is always interceding for us (Romans 8), working on our behalf, and making available to us valuable fruit. We know of the list in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul emphasizes that against such things there is no law. Notice that humility is not among them, however it can be accessed through any one of them. Humility can only be ours consistently as a by-product of the activity of the Spirit in our lives on a moment by moment basis. The lived Christian life experience is only available to us through the Holy Spirit. We lose sight of that, we lose access to humility.
Back to the original question, can conflict transform us? No, it cannot—not a chance. It will expose in us the need to lean hard into the Spirit’s activity in our lives and find that pathway to humility. Transformation is the sovereign work of the Spirit. Responding in humility is not a natural response for us, and will challenge us many times each day. Life is daily, and the world is a relentless place to live. But God’s love is even more so—more true, more available, and even more relentless.