Stop the Feeding Frenzy: A Biblical Look at Dealing with Conflict.
As we come to the subject of conflict, we enter an area that every one of us has experience in. There isn't an individual in the world today who has not been involved in conflict to some measure. Whether it be at home, at work, at school, in the public square, or even at church, we have all faced conflict. Conflict is present in every area of life to varying degrees. We see it manifest in relatively small areas like disobedient children who refuse to eat what mom made for dinner, all the way up to world wars where 75 million people die.
Conflict is an unavoidable aspect of life. Why is that, why is conflict so ingrained in the human narrative? Well, it’s because of sin, more specifically, the sin of self-worship. If we don’t get what we want, we have a choice to make. We either submit to Scripture and die to ourselves, or we push for our own agenda at all costs. Those who do not know Christ have absolutely no power to submit to Scripture and what is more, they have no desire to submit to Scripture. They hate God and the things of God, they are enemies of God (James 4:4), they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), they indulge in the desires of the flesh and of the mind.
We shouldn't expect the unbeliever to act in a way contrary to their nature, they are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). By the same token, the Christian should not act in a manner contrary to their new nature. Christians are no longer children of wrath, they are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), no longer to walk according to the course of this world, no longer dead in their trespasses and sins. God being rich in mercy made them alive together with Christ. They are to die to self, to count others as more important than themselves. They are to humble themselves and exalt Christ, He is to be magnified in everything. If we keep that perspective, when we draw near to God and when we (through the Holy Spirit) are submitting to His Word, though conflict will come, in the end it will turn out in a manner that glorifies God, and that’s what we want. We desire Him to be glorified, we want His will to be done. If that means we don’t get what we want, then so be it. In fact, if what we want is not in line with His will, then what we want is irrelevant. The farther away from His will that our desires get, the greater danger we are in. When we make our desires paramount over God’s will, we are sinning, and this causes conflicts among us.
Paul the Apostle gives a vivid picture of this in Galatians 5:15 when he compares conflict in the church to the biting and devouring that animals engage in. These are strong, animalistic, carnivorous words used to bring out the fleshly nature of this type of sin. Paul does not simply say, “stop gossiping and slandering one another.” He wanted us to see the pathetic, unspiritual, vile, fleshly nature of this sin. This is a sin that is ugly and base, it should cause us to turn our head away in disgust. As I thought about this, visions of a pack of hyenas circling an injured baby elephant came to mind. They run in one at a time and take bites as the victim helplessly turns from side to side. With each bite they get more and more worked up, more and more frenzied. This is not something most people enjoy watching. We know it happens, but we don’t need to see it, it causes us to turn our head and look away as the elephant is eventually consumed. This is the idea here, this is how we are to think about what is potentially going on in the church of Galatia, and Paul is telling them not to let this happen. However, he does not leave us without an answer to this problem. Within the larger passage of Galatians 5:13-26, he gives us several principles on how to deal with conflict when it comes our way.
Walk in Love (Galatians 5:13-14)
This exhortation is essential for the believer to heed. If we were truly loving one another then there would be no biting and devouring, no gossip or slander, no backstabbing, or words with malicious intent. If we were truly loving our neighbors as ourselves, this would not be an issue, Biblical love kills conflict. We can see this all over scripture. If we were to look at the church in Corinth we would see a church that was full of conflict. They were fighting over who was the better speaker, over who had the best spiritual gifts. Paul shows them in chapter 13 what real biblical love looks like and urges them to be characterized by it. We then see that in dealing with conflict, we are to walk by the Spirit.
Walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:15-25)
We often hear this from preachers and other well-meaning friends, but how do we do it? Paul helps us understand how to do it by giving us the characteristics and desires of someone who walks by the flesh verses someone who walks by the Spirit. The degree to which we walk by the Spirit will be in direct correlation to how much we submit ourselves to the law of God.
The more we are in prayer, the more we are in the Word of God, and the more we are living according to that Word, the more we are walking by the Spirit.
The final admonition Paul gives us in Galatians 5, to help us in the area of conflict is that we are to walk in humility.
Walk in Humility (Galatians 5:24-26)
A prideful heart breeds conflict. It leads to challenging one another and envying one another. We see the problem of pride everywhere in Scripture. From Satan wanting to be higher than God, to King Saul being prideful and envying David. It always leads to no good. The New Testament warns us against it in several places. In James 4:1-10 we see a whole periscope regarding conflict. James states by telling us why it takes place and then tells us how to handle it in our own life. The quarrels and conflicts we deal with stem from a prideful heart that thinks it deserves something and will stop at nothing to obtain it. It goes back to the flesh- you are walking by the flesh, your heart is full of pride, that’s the source of your biting and devouring.
The fact of the matter is, conflict is inevitable in our lives, we will never be free of it as long as we live on this earth. However, if we live according to God’s Word, we can be sure whatever the conflict may be, we are honoring him as we interact with those he has put in our life. This should give us comfort and contentment in our Christian walk.
Draw near to him and he will draw near to you, stop the feeding frenzy today. Stop biting and devouring one another and begin encouraging praying for one another.