This string of articles on friendships is about to reach its end—but not without one final word. One young reader, keeping up with the previous articles, suggested the title that you see above this paragraph. So, we will say a few things under this title.
All of us have had conflicts in our friendships. They do not all start the same way—a harsh criticism of your error, or an indifferent response to your sorrow. Neither have they all lasted the same time—some, less than twenty- four hours; others, for days; still others, left unresolved.
However they start, however long they are, conflicts are always ugly. Knowing how ugly they are, we want to resolve them—or do we?
Whether we want resolution or not, God calls us to end all conflicts with our friends in the church we belong to. The church, God through Paul says, must “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1). Conflict is opposite of unity and peace. Letting conflicts with our friends continue breaks the unity and disturbs the church’s peace. Letting a conflict go on, fester, and deepen, then, is disobedience to God.
Briefly consider, then, the matter of conflicts in friendships: their Triggers, Purpose, and Resolutions.
In a sense, there are many things that can trigger conflicts between friends. All of us can easily remember words spoken or actions done by our friends that have ticked us off. Perhaps it was a time, when you casually shared a thought with your friend, but that friend, without letting you finish, jumped in with what he thought— well, he sure wanted to listen to what you had to say! Perhaps it was a time when you confided in your friend about a certain problem, but your friend…first laughed. She probably did not laugh to mock you—oh, but it sure felt that way! Or perhaps, you and your friend have grown up, but now he has a girlfriend, or she has a boyfriend; and you see him lesser during the week, or you find that she spends less time with you. The friendship grows cold; both of you talk less to each other; and soon the blame goes to…
In our experience, many things can be an occasion for conflicts.
Yet, the Bible does not first of all pay attention to these “many things”. The Bible pays attention, firstly, to the heart—no, the evil of our hearts. And so, when we want to know from Scripture what starts a conflict between friends, we will find that it is sin.
Turn nowhere else but to Proverbs, first. Hatred stirreth up strifes: (10:12a). When your friend steps on your toe, and you bear a grudge against him for that one action, you have stirred up strife. He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife (28:25). When a friend comes to us with problems, but we brush them aside because we think they are weird and the problems are small, we are stirring up strife. When God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves, but there is hatred and pride, there will be conflict.
Then turn to the conflicts Scripture records. The very first conflict between two humans was Adam and Eve. When God confronted Adam with disobedience, Adam said proudly, “It was not my fault; my wife at the fruit first! It’s her fault!” Adam was too aloof to admit he was at fault; and there, he set a conflict with his wife. There was Abram and Lot, too. Lot, jealous of Abram’s riches, brought his conflict between his herdsmen and his uncle’s. Eventually, Lot chose a greener pasture and separated himself from Abram. His jealousy started a conflict between Abram and Lot.
The one trigger to all conflicts between friends is sin.
Worse still, sin not only triggers conflicts, but it also prolongs them. Hebrews 12:15 speaks of bitterness— hatred that is kept in our hearts. When I am angry with my friend, and I do not get rid of that anger; that anger, like roots gripping the soil of the ground, grips my heart, so that I will not stop thinking of that anger when I look at my friend. Or look back to the times when we had conflicts with others: Were we the first one to say, “Let’s talk about this”? Or were we too proud, thinking that he should have made the first move? Or when the words “I’m sorry” had been spoken to us: Did we still bear that anger in our hearts? How pride—how sin—triggers and prolongs conflicts!
Horrific as it may be, conflicts have a purpose, as God is in control of the conflicts in our friendships.
Briefly, God ordains conflicts to sanctify us and our friends. Think back to the conflict between Euodias and Syntyche: The Lord ordained that quarrel, so that he may teach the church of Philippi—including Euodias and Syntyche—to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). Likewise, as sin sows discord in our friendships, the Lord uses it to teach us how we ought to live together as friends in the church. How the Lord does so is by showing us from His Word how to resolve those conflicts.
How does God want us to resolve conflicts?
There is our attitude, firstly. Do we want to resolve the conflict? However, realise with me that we are wrong to start with that question. When are we to think first of what we want; is not what God wants more important? Does God want you to resolve the conflict? God declares the ceasing of strife to be honourable (Pro. 20:3). Let us, then, desire resolution.
There are also certain actions that can help us when there are conflicts. Let us list a few here (in no particular order):
1) Listen. Be ready to hear what your friend has to say about the conflict. Maybe there are some things you did not know you have done that hurt your friend. Often, you will not know these things until you stop talking and let your friend share his part. After all, doesn’t God listen to us when we speak to Him in prayer?
2) Examine yourself. Ask yourself: “Have I done anything wrong that has started or continued this conflict?” We already know how depraved we are; therefore, we must not leave ourselves out when it comes down to “Who started the conflict?”
3) Have a face-to-face conversation. Not by the phone, or by Whatsapp. With your fullest attention, talk to your friend. Such conversations tell your friend that you are not afraid to settle the conflict, even if it means admitting your own sins to your friend. Also, using indirect means of communication (Whatsapp, phone calls) may lead to more misunderstanding. Writing out your thoughts may be helpful, but it may not convey all your thoughts to your friend. Meeting directly with your friend gives you the time and space to speak your mind out and clarify things. After all, doesn’t God want us, His friend-servants, to be in His presence?
4) Forgive. When sins have been confessed to each other and regret has been acknowledged, you must be ready to tell your friend, “I forgive you”. Read Q&A 126 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
5) Bear with it! Do I tell my friend that I forgive him, when he does not think he is in the wrong when he clearly is? If our friends do not acknowledge their faults in the conflict, then we must be ready to bear with those faults for some time. To bear with faults can be expressed this way: “He doesn’t know where he is wrong: But that is fine. Maybe he needs more time to realise his fault; why he needs more time, I do not know. I will just give him that time he needs. Meanwhile, I will pray for him, that the Lord shows him his error. All I want for him to know is that I love him and am ready to forgive”. Does the Lord patiently bear with our sins that we are not conscious of? Have we seen Him lash out at us in eternal fury? Never. In time, He gradually makes us discover a new depth to our depravity and brings us to confess the sins we have grown conscious of. Even as God has shown us patience, so we must be patient with our brethren, and bear with their weaknesses.
6) Doing the same thing in the home. If we do not practise forgiving our parents and siblings in the home, we must not expect ourselves to be able to forgive and resolve our conflicts with our friends.
More can be said on conflicts between friends in the church and on dealing with these conflicts. Yet, one point must never be left out: How we deal with our friends is how God deals with us. Has God ignored us when we sinned? Has God ever said, “I forgive you”, but make us sense that he is still angry with us? Has God looked at us, only to bear thoughts of anger and hatred? Never, from eternity to eternity!
That is our pattern, my dear friends.
Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 44