By MARCIA REED
One night when I was a child, my sister and I were arguing about something after we went to bed. I have no idea what we were arguing about, but I remember what my mother did: She came to our room and, with an angry voice, told us to get our Bibles out and look up Matthew 7:1-2. We were told to think about how it applied to our situation, apologize to each other, and GO TO SLEEP. I don’t remember my mom getting angry often. That night we’d apparently pushed every button.
Those verses made a long-lasting impression on me. I was supposed to be careful how I judged others because I would be judged the same way! Whatever measure I used to judge the way others looked or acted would be used to judge me. It’s a sobering thought, even to a child!
As an adult, I’ve been reminded of those verses and others that talk about how we as Christians are supposed to respond to people around us. The book of James is full of instruction about how we’re to live in harmony with others by not speaking against them, not grumbling about each other, not showing favoritism, and not considering ourselves more important than anyone else.
So how should Christians handle conflict? Is it possible to admonish another person without judging them? Isn’t there some standard by which we can say a behavior or attitude is wrong? Perhaps it’s not so much the judgment but the attitude we have while doing the judging? In pointing out behavior we think to be wrong, is our goal to show our behavior to be right?
Matthew 7 says that before we try to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, we should remove the plank from our eye. Every relationship will have conflict. Disappointment, unmet expectations and different opinions often lead to hurt feelings and actions that range from withdrawal to angry confrontations. Before you decide how to handle a conflict, test your reasoning (the log in your own eye) to see if the conversation will be redemptive and restorative or more about your own pride in being proved correct. Will the conversation bring about understanding and reconciliation for both of you?
There is biblical instruction for settling conflicts. We should do so quickly, not allowing things to drag on and create more misunderstanding and ill will as time passes. In fact, it’s so imperative to act quickly that Matthew 5:23-24 says if we know that someone has something against us, we should leave our gift at the altar to go be reconciled to them, then come and offer our gift.
A few years ago, I worked in a small office with around eight other people. A couple of situations arose, and I felt I was being targeted, as the only white employee, with gossip, and my actions were misunderstood by a few co-workers. One person in particular was stoking the fire. It was causing tension that everyone in the office noticed.
Though all of us were members of churches and claimed to be Christians, none of us seemed willing to address the problem. I comforted myself with the reasoning that my black brothers and sisters have had to deal with suspicion, misunderstanding and exclusion their whole lives. I was just getting a taste of what they lived through. But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me leave it there. He has a way of pointing out what we need to do, and often it’s our pride that needs to be broken before change can happen.
With some fear and trembling, I set a time to talk with my co-worker and found both of us had been under conviction for our part in the problem. Some of the misunderstanding was cultural expectations, and some was miscommunication. We learned a better way to communicate that left less room for misunderstanding. We didn’t become best friends, but tensions eased, and when either of us felt there was possible miscommunication, we were much quicker to talk it out.
Addressing conflict does leave you vulnerable for a time, but the reward of a reconciled relationship is worth the risk.
Mission Mississippi has taught, for years, the importance of conversations with people of another race. Communication is the way to establish relationships that can build trust and open doors for deeper understanding and fellowship.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” – Romans 12:18
Marcia Reed lives in west Jackson with her husband of 44 years, Phil Reed. She is recently retired from BankPlus, and they are members at New Horizon Church International.