Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Counselor, Mark Johnson as part of our series on Pursuing Peace. In this series, our counselors are unpacking how to find peace in all areas of your life.
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
Conflict in families is as old as families themselves. Adam and Eve resorted to blame-shifting and finger-pointing just as soon as they sinned in Genesis 3. Genesis 4 goes on to describe how Cain killed Abel in a fit of brotherly jealousy. We don’t have to look very far in our own past to find instances where our family conflict gets the best of us. Unfortunately, family conflict comes quite naturally to us all.
We understand that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, but on occasion, we treat our family worse than how we treat our neighbors. James 2:8-9 calls us to account for how we behave, reminding us that we do well to “love your neighbor as yourself.” James continues, “but if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
First of all, the word partiality here means “favoritism,” the idea of wanting to make a good showing or impression. If I treat someone from outside the home well, I may think that I can get something from it. Family; we’ll always have a family.
Second of all, partiality is active. My behavior doesn’t just happen; it comes out of the heart (Matt 15:21-20; Mark 7:12-23). I kick myself for how many times I’ve said, “I didn’t mean it,” because Jesus’ words tell us that we actually do mean it, and then we are surprised how wicked our hearts really are.
To pull it together, the conflict in my home usually starts with me. So, how do we address it?
Robert D. Jones has a simple, easy to understand and implement process defined in his book Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts. I will borrow his outline: 1) Please God, 2) Repent, and 3) Love the other. Let’s unpack that.
1) Please God
We need to get our vertical relationship straight first; that is, you to God. When we engage in conflict, we need to start with recognizing our sin and pleading for forgiveness from the only one able to take away our sin. We have a merciful Savior who not only ever lives to make intercession for us, but also one who advocates for us (Heb 7:25; 1 John 2:1). No one in all creation wants a relationship restored as much as Jesus Christ wants it. He died for it and now lives for it!
David pleads with God in his prayer in Psalm 51. He says in verse 4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” This might confuse us if we are familiar with the story in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. The idea David is conveying here isn’t that his only sin is against God, but that God alone can blot it out (cp. Isa 43:25; 44:22; Jer 2:22; 4:14). We turn from the sin of letting our passions rule our thinking and our behavior, and we restore the goal of loving our family to its rightful place.
Now that the vertical relationship between you and God is restored, and you have repented by showing godly sorrow, now it is time to love your family. What I’ve described above is essentially the process of getting the plank out of your own eye (Matt 7:5). Even if the conflict is someone else’s fault, beginning with the first two steps ensures you are addressing conflict gently, just as Jesus deals with you (Gal 6:1; Matt 11:28-30).
To begin restoring the horizontal relationship (you to others), if you are the key one at fault, now you need to confess your sins. Dr. Lucy Ann Moll wrote a terrific article entitled “7 Tips to Make a Great Apology” in February of this year. Take the time to carefully read Dr. Moll’s post, prepare your plan for repentance, and pray for patience while the Holy Spirit moves in the heart of your family to resolve conflict.
Call for Action
Peace begins with you. Remember who you are, that you are united with Christ. Remember that you are united to your family as well.
Here is one more challenge for you. We spend a good deal of our parenting lives preparing our children to leave home with a Biblical decision-making process: get God’s word in your heart, seek counsel on difficult or significant decisions, and pray about it. How much time do we spend teaching our children a Biblical conflict-resolving process? Teach your kids how to confess, and model for your kids how to have a conflict for loving your neighbor starts at home.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 115.
 Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 158.