How to Avoid Arguments, Deal with Disputes and Stop Fighting
How to Avoid Arguments, Deal with Disputes and Stop Fighting
Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, Iraq. Wars, terrorism, strikes, murders, divorce, splits in the church. Open the newspapers any day and practically every page will include stories of arguments, disputes and fighting.
When sin entered the world arguments, disputes and fighting began. Adam blamed Eve. Cain murdered his brother. The history of the world ever since has been one of conflict of all kinds.
When people turn away from God, they start fighting one another. We see the breakdown of relationships wherever we look: broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships at work, civil wars and wars between nations. Sadly, the church is not immune. Right from the start there have been arguments, disputes and in-fighting.
How should we handle conflict?
1. Avoid argumentsProverbs 18:17-19:2
As always, Proverbs is full of practical advice on how to avoid arguments.
- Listen to both sides
There are usually two sides to an argument, and it is always worth hearing both parties. The right of cross-examination is an important one, with a vital place in any legal system. ‘The first speech in a court case is always convincing – until the cross-examination starts!’ (18:17, MSG).
- Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit
We need God’s guidance especially when facing ‘tough decisions’ (v.18, MSG). In the Old Testament, ‘casting the lot’ was a way of settling disputes. However, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there are better ways of receiving God’s guidance over disputes (see 1 Corinthians 6:1–6).
- Avoid unnecessary offence
Do everything you possibly can to avoid offending your brothers and sisters. ‘An offended relative is more unyielding than a fortified city’ (Proverbs 18:19). Serious disputes create barriers among friends. These walls are easy to erect and extremely hard to pull down.
- Choose your words carefully
Be careful in what you say. Your words can bring great satisfaction and heal division: ‘Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest’ (v.20, MSG).
Yet words can also bring destruction: ‘Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose’ (v.21, MSG). As Joyce Meyer writes, the words you speak ‘carry either a life-giving force or a destructive force.’ You can do great good or great damage with what you say.
- Choose your companions carefully
I don’t know whether it is coincidence that it is in this context that the writer says, ‘Find a good spouse, you find a good life – and even more: the favour of God!’ (v.22, MSG). It is certainly true in my experience that Pippa’s wisdom, advice and involvement have often helped me to avoid getting into trouble in this area. A good husband or wife can often be a peacemaker.
Whether we are married or not, what we need are really close friends. The second part of this proverb reminds us that while friends come and go, ‘There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister’ (v.24b). These are the sorts of friends we need in our lives. Ultimately, of course, Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister.
Lord, help me in all I do and say to avoid unnecessary offence and disputes. Forgive me for times when I have upset other people. May my speech be a source of life to those around me.
2. Deal with disputesRomans 14:1-18
This passage is so relevant to some of the disputes going on in the global church right now. If only the church in the last 2,000 years had followed Paul’s instructions. As John Stott writes, Paul’s purpose in these verses ‘was to enable conservative-minded Christians (mostly Jewish) and liberal-minded Christians (mainly Gentiles) to coexist amicably in the Christian fellowship.’
There are certain matters over which Paul was willing to fight to death – the truth of the gospel (that Christ died for us, vv.9,15). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus (v.9) and the Lordship of Christ (v.9) are examples of what is non-negotiable.
However, Paul writes here that there are other things that are not nearly as important. They are ‘disputable matters’ (v.1). They are secondary areas. He gives various examples such as vegetarianism or thinking of one day as more sacred than another.
Today some Christians abstain from alcohol. Others do not. Some Christians are pacifists. Others are not. And there are many other issues where Christians are passionately divided about disputable matters. How do we deal with these disputes?
- Welcome those with different views
He writes ‘accept’ (the word means ‘welcome’) those ‘whose faith is weak’ (v.1a). ‘Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do... Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God’ (vv.1,10, MSG).
- Do not be quick to judge
‘Don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with’ (v.1b, MSG).
He goes on, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servants?’ (v.4); ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?’ (v.10); ‘Then let us no more criticise and blame and pass judgment on one another’ (v.13, AMP). We must allow people to have different views from our own without judging them for it.
This is the heart of the matter. Four times in this passage Paul says we are not to judge one another.
- Don’t look down on others
We ‘must not look down on’ (v.3a) those who have different views from our own. God has welcomed them (v.3b). So should we.
- Do what you think is right
On all these secondary matters ‘everybody should be fully convinced in their own minds’ (v.5). ‘Each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience’ (v.5, MSG). ‘If you eat meat... thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian... thank God for broccoli’ (v.6, MSG). Just because we may agree to disagree on these matters does not make them irrelevant. We need to be careful to do what we think is right in every situation.
- Assume the best about other people’s motives
‘Those who regard one day as special, do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat, eat to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain, do so to the Lord and give thanks to God’ (v.6).
We should give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are seeking to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord (vv.7–8).
- Be sensitive about other people’s consciences
Paul goes on to say, ‘Make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in another believer’s way’ (v.13). For example, if someone regards drinking alcohol as wrong, it would be insensitive to drink alcohol in front of them – even if we are convinced in our own mind that there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation. We do not want to cause them distress (v.15). For a brilliant exposition of this passage see C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, chapter 16.
- Help and encourage one another
‘So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault’ (v.19, MSG).
- Always act in love
‘If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love’ (v.15). ‘So be sensitive and courteous... Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love’ (v.21, MSG).
Disputable matters are important, but not as important as what unites us all: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (v.17). This is what really matters. Let us not get caught up in arguments about disputable matters, which divide the church and put off those outside the church.
Follow the words of the medieval writer Rupertus Meldenius: ‘On the essentials, unity; on the non-essentials, freedom; in everything, love.’
Lord, I pray for a new unity in the church. Help us to focus today and each day on what the kingdom of God is really about: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
3. Stop fighting1 Chronicles 9:1b-10:14
‘The Philistines fought against Israel… The fighting grew fierce around Saul’ (10:1,3). Saul was attacked by the Philistines and died as a result. We find this account in 1 Samuel 31. However, the writer of Chronicles adds an explanation: ‘Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God. He didn’t obey God’s words’ (1 Chronicles 10:13, MSG).
As we look back at the book of Samuel we can see that the real problem was that Saul became jealous of David. David can pretty well be considered an innocent party in the matter. He did everything he could to submit to Saul and to be on good terms with him. Saul would have none of it. He was out to get David. This internal dispute weakened Saul and made him vulnerable to an attack from outside.
We see today how internal disputes among the people of God make us vulnerable to attacks from outside. Jesus prayed that we would be one in order that the world would believe (John 17:23).
Lord, help me, as far as it depends on me, to live at peace with everyone. May I welcome those with different views. Help me always to act in love.
Lord, by your Spirit, unite your church in order that the world will believe.
‘He who finds a wife finds what is good.’
What more is there to say?