Fracas In The Family: Biblical Family Conflict Resolution

Every parent has their pet peeves, right? For me, Dad Pet Peeve #1 has to be loud noises and the children running upstairs in our home. Some evenings, when the kids are at Peak Sugar Levels, it sounds as Gideon and his 300 men are up there, complete with the smashing pottery. “What are they doing up there?” is what I grumble to my wife, who generally deals with this repetitive question with a tremendous amount of grace.

Every subsequent noise, every heavy thud and creaking footstep convinces me, this time, they are going to succeed in destroying the house completely, which will accordingly come crashing down around us. My wife, who listens to this with a patience likely borne from repeated readings of Job, will assure me our house was built in a time of craftsmanship and attention to detail, and that three children will not easily be able to send it down around our ears. I remain unconvinced, and often express myself rather uncharitably on this issue.

At the same time, I have to ask myself, when I am upset or irritated, how am I acting towards my family? Are my responses based off raw emotion, or am I striving to follow the example set forth in God’s Word?

Whether we’re a father, mother, child, sibling, or other family member, dealing with family strife is one of the most challenging aspects of life. In the Christian walk, it’s something that can easily take our family’s focus off of pursuing a relationship with Christ, and more on tearing one another down or striving to win arguments, regardless of the cost to our relationships. There is a lot of hurt out there—many families are dealing with wounds and scars far bigger than rowdy kids or minor grumbling. It is well understood that not every conflict and hurt will be dealt with in some sort of ideal 30-minute TV sitcom window. But whether the conflicts in our household are relatively small or totally life-shattering, the Bible has instructions for us.

When we consider the wisdom of God, and the truth of His Word, we have some pretty clear areas that should define how we resolve conflicts without the family:

Obedience: It’s amazing how many of our family issues rear their ugly head when we take our eyes off the example of Christ. It can become hard to forgive, and even harder to reconcile. Forgiveness itself can be mocked as weakness or foolishness. Proverbs 14:9, however, states “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright”. Going to the Gospels, Christ instructs us in multiple places on the necessity of both forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:25) and reconciliation (Matthew 5:24). It’s the example of having our owns sins forgiven that we need to approach others: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13).

If we aren’t following the Word of God in terms of our conduct, what are our chances of successfully dealing with each other in a godly way? Are our minds going to be on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable”, as Philippians 4:8 commands, or on old hurts, ugliness, and the worst of each other and ourselves? Are our avenues of conflict resolution we choose in line with Biblical principles? Is our conflict resolution taking its cues from Philippians 4, or from Dr. Phil?

Faithfulness: It can be easy to try to live by God’s commandments, run into difficulty, and backslide to worldly ways, with a sort of “well, that didn’t work” attitude. Our sinful nature is quick to reassert itself when we live not on God’s Word, but on how we feel. But as we’ve studied that “old godly way” in church these past weeks from Jeremiah 6:16, we need to realize it isn’t a single point in time, but a lifelong path to follow. In John Bunyan’s allegory A Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian had to stay on the straight and narrow path until he reached the Celestial City. It wasn’t that the path didn’t go through danger or strife; rather, it was absolutely guaranteed it would! In the same way, just because we are challenged or encounter difficulties doesn’t negate the value of God’s will for us.

There’s nothing in God’s Word about “try this commandment for a while; if it doesn’t work out, go back to what you were doing”. Rather, we are called to endure in faithfulness; Hebrews 10:36 states “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised”. James 5:11 also addresses this, saying “we consider those blessed who remained steadfast”. We can’t control how others respond, but we pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and wisdom to endure on that narrow, godly path.

Discipline: When we are in a role of family authority, there does come a time to discipline. Discipline itself can cause conflict (after all, we’re rebellious by our fallen nature), especially if it comes from the wrong sort of intent. Perhaps one of the most-quoted Proverbs is 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him”. Note the intended (and often overlooked) motivation or purpose for that discipline—love. It isn’t to take vengeance, or to humiliate, but to lovingly correct. Ephesians 6:4 reminds, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”. Time and time again in the Bible, discipline is presented not just as necessary, but beneficial (Hebrews 12:11, Psalm 94:12, Proverbs 12:1, to name just a few). Ignoring discipline, or approaching it with the wrong intent, can lead to family conflict, or exacerbate existing troubles.

We’re going to have times in family life where we drive one another crazy, where we have hurt feelings or anger. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul knew they were going to have times in their relationships where they felt frustrated and upset, perhaps even justifiably so in response to unrighteousness or sin. It’s why he warned them, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Even anger borne out of righteousness can lead to sin, which is why we need to be very careful not to go down paths that lead to enmity, vindictiveness, or retribution.

From a personal viewpoint, I know there have been far too many times in the home where I have let anger or irritation rule how I react and deal with my loved ones. Sometimes, I’m too proud, or just too concerned with my own ego to handle things calmly or forgivingly. But it isn’t weakness or foolishness to work out problems with eyes fixed on Christ’s example. In Proverbs 19:11, we are told “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense”.

As Christians, we have a Heavenly Father who deals with us by allowing to take our problems to him, who is slow to anger, forgiving of sin, generous in our supplication, who sent an incomparable sacrifice that we might be reconciled to Him. Christ on the Cross showed us that no hurt, no sin, no wrong is so terrible that it cannot be reconciled and forgiven. No matter what our family issues may be, emulating the supreme example of love and forgiveness is still the foundation for reconciliation and peace.

-Zachary Houghton

Questions

1) What are some of the biggest hurdles to forgiveness and resolving conflicts in our families?

2) What is Christ’s ultimate example of what forgiveness should look like?

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