It’s a word we would rather avoid and something we spend much time wringing our hands over. Conflict in our workplace, conflict in our families, conflict in our circles of influence—each of these threaten us with relational fractures and emotional anxiety.
Of course, we may be just the opposite. We may love conflict. We may seek out the Twitter threads and Facebook posts diving deep into comments with boxing gloves, just waiting for a target to lambast with our wit.
We know as those living amidst the kingdoms of this world, yet living for a greater Kingdom, there will inevitably be times we have to dig in our heals and stand for truth—come what may. We also know that in our flesh, we can often want to be right. The desires to justify ourselves, see our preferences win the day, or slap back at a social media post can be difficult to subdue.
In today’s volatile emotional climate, it seems virtually impossible to maintain unity despite diversity. Tribalism, identity politics and the ability to easily erect echo chambers around ourselves have all fed a cultural epoch in which we view people as relationally binary – either for us or against us.
When it comes to relating to those within the church, however, questions over conflict and disagreement take on entirely new hues. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, united as a faith family, is it ok to have conflict with one another? Can we disagree over some issues while maintaining solidarity over others?
If we are Jesus’ disciples, we must seek to follow in His footsteps. But in times of disagreement, how do we know if we should follow Jesus to turn over tables or quiet waves? Here are a few ideas that may help us disagree well.
Know whom you represent
You are not your own. You were bought with a price. We must remember that our old lives were crucified with Christ and we now walk in resurrected life. Therefore, in any encounter, we must remember that we do not participate as those seeking to build our own kingdom, but God’s.
Jesus was never a pushover, but He also rebuked the disciples when they wanted to call down lightning on those who did not receive them. Our Savior made demons cower in fear at His power, yet even the weakest child was safe in His arms. Why? Because it was clear who Jesus represented. Jesus came to do the will of the Father who is awesome in power, yet great in mercy.
To the wayward and broken, Jesus offered compassion, mercy, and grace. To the haughty religious elite who took the name of God upon themselves, yet did not represent Him to the world around, Jesus had stinging rebukes and steel-like resolve. But He died for people in both camps. That’s the Savior we are to follow into disagreement—the one who stood firm for the truth, yet died for those stuck in the lie.
Know your battles
Not every hill is worth dying on and not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes the best way to put out a fire is to let it burn itself out. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for Jesus to walk among simple people like myself who continually say the wrong thing in the wrong way and need constant correcting. I can’t picture how difficult it was for Jesus to grow up and live in an age of foreign Roman occupation in which those in power wielded paper swords against Him.
The main reason I can’t adequately picture or imagine these things is because so few of these encounters exist in the Scripture. I can imagine how Jesus would treat a sexually broken person from a rival enemy of my tribe. The woman at the well tells me that. I can imagine how Jesus would converse with a religious man who was wrong on so many levels, yet still held a curiosity for the truth. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus tells me that. But I don’t know how Jesus would wade into weeds and make ad hominem attacks. He didn’t fight those battles.
If you’re simply a hammer looking for a nail, you won’t be a carpenter in the manner of Jesus. Know what you’re building. Pick your battles.
Know your enemy
Paul reminds us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). What angers us in spirit and causes us to enter into disagreement must not be people, but powers.
When Jesus rebuked Peter in Matthew 16 for a seemingly innocent and well-intentioned statement of support, it was not Peter He rebuked, but the source of the idea he spoke. Jesus didn’t fight the man, he fought what held the man captive.
If we are going to disagree like Jesus, we must remember what we oppose. We are against any kingdom that would set itself against our King’s Kingdom. Yet we are also seeking to set free the captives who live in their domain.
Of course, the most important thing to remember in discerning how to disagree like Jesus is to remember one important detail: you’re not Jesus. You might actually be wrong. Have the humility to listen first and self-examine before you cross-examine. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
May we all as brothers and sisters dwell together in unity—even when we disagree.