It doesn’t matter what the context or setting is, any time two or more people in a community there will be times when there is conflict. Whether it is the home, workplace, a fishing club, or in the church, when two or more people seek to share together in each others lives there are going to be times of disagreement. The question of whether that disagreement can be for the good or bad depends how all people involved handle such conflict.
For the church, we are not left with any old option of handling the conflict. Too often I have seen Christians employ a utilitarian ethic (the end justifies the means) in dealing with others. The problem is that when such ethic is employed, the means of arriving at the persons end goal is generally out of character with the gospel of Jesus Christ and that normally only hurts others…creating animosity. Unfortunately, as a preacher, I have been the recipient of such treatment in the past and so I can testify to how damaging it can be when the utilitarian ethic is employed. Further more, when such ethic is used, the end goal often becomes a self serving goal.
So how does the Christian community avoid the utilitarian ethic and deal with conflict in a manner consistent with the gospel? The answer to that question is huge and one that cannot be fully answered here. However, I believe the answer to that question begins by hearing Jesus’ words afresh:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13.34-35, NRSV)
In response to those words of Jesus, her are some questions that we need to ask:
- How has Jesus loved us? How does the Gospel of John depict the love of Jesus for us?
- How then are we commanded to love our fellow Christian?
- How does the commandment to love one another effect the way we respond to someone we believe has treated us wrongly?
Again, this is not the only relevant passage on this topic but I do believe it is the point of departure for dealing with conflict. As I understand the passage within the context of the Gospel of John as well as the larger biblical witness, Jesus’ love for us is neither conditional, prideful, nor self-serving. Jesus’ love is a humble disposition that self-sacrificially serves by befriending disciples (even Judas Iscariot), telling them the truth, and laying his life down form them. This is most vividly depicted in the washing of feet, his final discourse to the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion (ch 13-17), and his crucifixion where he willfully lays down his own life. The bottom line, Jesus does not treat his disciples as they deserve nor as he may have (in his humanity) liked to treat them at times. Instead he treats them as God would have and therefore, we ought to do the same in our relationship to others.