As a counselor, I get to observe my share of conflicts. Frankly as a parent and church member, I get a close up view of conflict as well.
Conflict seems to be a constant in our culture, homes, churches, and relationships. We may go through seasons of peace, but we never seem to completely outrun the long arm of conflict. Further, in times of crisis, conflicts may seem to be exponentially more frequent and difficult to solve.
James 3:13-4:3 reveals four things we should evaluate as we experience conflict:
#1 – Your Perspective (James 3:13-15)
James starts with the question, “who is wise and understanding among you?” Think about the importance of this question. In conflict, we almost always see our perspective as truth, or the only right way. If we thought we were wrong or undeserving, we wouldn’t persist in conflict for very long.
James reminds us that in conflict, we are easily self-deceived by our strong desires and selfish perspective. He goes on to say that the wise person in conflict proves it by acting fairly, graciously, and wisely.
Key Question: Do you always think you are right in conflict?
#2 – Who You’re Focused On (James 3:16)
The next verse makes a profound observation about the source of ugly conflicts. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
We may be tempted to think that others in our lives create chaos and conflict and force it upon us. However, James points out that jealousy (I want what you have) and selfish ambition (I demand what I desire) are really the main culprits in chaos and conflict.
A few verses later, James describes the war that is going on within us. We get into chaos and conflict, because our hearts desire what seems to be unfairly taken or unavailable to us. We want what we want and don’t get it – in reality, selfishness takes root and conflicts abound.
Key Question: Do you most often put others before yourself in conflict or insist on your own way?
#3 – Your Christlikeness (James 3:17)
If we are wise within our conflicts, we will approach them with the heart attitude that we see in Christ. Imagine if the person you are fighting with was known to be open to reason, gentle, sincere, and impartial in their approach to conflict. It’s kind of hard to imagine having conflict with a person like that. What if that person could be you?
Children often struggle with conflict, because they lack the maturity to know how to navigate difficult situations in life. As we mature in Christ, we should increasingly see that gentleness, sincerity, impartiality, and fairness increase in our lives because we trust God to defend us and protect us.
We have seen God be faithful so we don’t have to manipulate and fight to win the battle. We know that Christ will be the source of peace for us when it seems that the world is drawing us into conflict and chaos. He enables us to live in relational harmony.
Key Question: Would those you are in conflict with see a picture of Christ in the way that you pursue a solution to the problem?
#4 – The Outcome You’re Pursuing (James 3:18-4:3)
In our conflict, we are usually pursuing an end. We may want someone else to back off, change course, give in, or feel stupid. James reminds us that if we are followers of Christ, we ought to want what He wants. He reminds us that whatever seed a farmers sows will only result in that particular kind of plant. We may think we can sow discord and get what we want, but peace only comes by those who have a heart attitude that desires righteous peace obtained through righteous means.
When we bully, belittle, manipulate, isolate or demean, we will never truly obtain lasting peace. We may get what we want in the short term, but the cost in the long run will be a field of chaos and conflict instead of a meadow of peace. Pursuing peace God’s way takes faith, because it is releasing control to God to determine the outcome. We must trust that His ways are better and more effective than our own.
Key Question: Have you been pursuing your desires by fleshly means or have you been trusting God to bring about the results you need?
James has some challenging words to say to us about conflict and our hearts. However, if we’re willing to take a step back and evaluate ourselves, we have a higher likelihood of personal growth and peace.