You are somewhere along the scale of conflict averse and conflict crazy. If you’re on the conflict averse side, you hate conflict and want to avoid it if at all possible. On the other side of the scale, you enjoy conflict and thrive in such an environment. The fact of the matter is, conflict happens – and people try to navigate it in different ways.
2 Corinthians 7:5-9 gives us a further glimpse into the conflict between the apostle Paul and the Christians in Corinth. And as we look into it, we’ll get insight into how to navigate conflict as Christians. So let’s have a prayerful spirit entering into this passage. God might remind you of conflict going on in your life and show you specific steps to take in order to resolve it.
The Conflict Between Paul & the Corinthians
For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.2 Corinthians 7:5 (ESV)
The Corinthians had wanted Paul to come and deal with their conflict in person. But instead, he went to Macedonia – it wasn’t for a nice, relaxing vacation, though. It was brutal for him both physically and spiritually with no rest, affliction, “fighting without and fear within.”
Paul’s time in Macedonia was rough, no doubt, but he was comforted by the Corinthians. They probably didn’t expect him to say that, but that’s what Paul goes on to say in verses 6-7:
But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
If you’ll remember, Paul sent a “letter of anguish” to the Corinthians through Titus. So he was eagerly waiting to see Titus again and find out how things went. You know that feeling when you message someone via email or text about a sensitive subject and have to wait for their reply. Will they misunderstand what you said? Are they going to get mad at you? Will it sever your relationship and make them never want to talk to you again? This is what Paul must have been feeling.
When Titus returned, though, he brought a good report that the Corinthians responded in three ways:
- Longing. The Corinthians longed to see and be with Paul. They could have read his letter and said, “No way! We don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore,” but they didn’t.
- Mourning. They were sorry for their part in the conflict.
- Zeal. The Christians in Corinth were concerned for him and eager to repair the conflict.
Conflict Makes Relationships Stronger
Working through this conflict with the Corinthians caused a lot of hardship for Paul. But, because the hard work of reconciliation was successful, he was able to rejoice. As he writes in verses 8-9:
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it – though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
Paul never wanted to hurt the Corinthians. Apparently, he regretted some things he said in his letter, which is perhaps why it’s not included in the Bible. However, he really didn’t regret it because it caused people to repent.
As painful as conflict might be, it makes relationships stronger. This is why Paul was glad and comforted.
Here is the bottom line:
It is better to fight for our relationships than to give up on them. Specifically among Christians, giving up might seem like the most painless way to go. But that’s not true because Christian relationships are valuable.
Paul could’ve given up on his relationship with the Corinthians. His letter of anguish could have been a mic-drop on their relationship. Instead, he painfully worked to keep the valuable bond alive.
Our identifying mark as Christians is love. And the world will know that we are Christians by how we love each other. No conflict among Christians should be too great to resolve eventually. Our relationships are worth the pain of conflict to reconcile, to stay united and to show the world the unique love we have for one another.
So ask the Lord, “What steps do I need to take toward resolving conflict with my Christian brothers and sisters?” What relationships are fractured? How can you work toward reconciling them?
Relational conflicts are often complex issues. What’s more, there are often different types of relationships like social media friends, acquaintances, close friends, etc. It can be difficult to know how much work you’ll have to put into resolving the conflict. So, instead of laying down blanket rules, just ask God to show you if there’s something you should do to resolve any conflicts with Christians in your life.
Here are five questions based on our Scripture to help you as you think about conflict resolution:
- Are there any Christians you don’t want to see ever again?
- Is there any of your behavior toward a Christian that you regret?
- Are there any Christians that you don’t care about anymore?
- What (possibly painful) steps do you need to take toward resolving conflicts with other Christians?
- What conflict-causing sin do you need to repent of?
Relationships – especially Christian ones – are so valuable. It’s worth it to fight for them. It’s better to painfully fight for relationships than give up on them.