In Joseph Hellerman’s book When the Church was a Family, he puts it plainly:
“It is not always easy to share life together as a church family. Nor should we expect it to be. We do not choose our natural families, and neither do we choose our church families. We might initially choose the particular church we attend. But once we commit to a local congregation, we invariably find ourselves among a group of brothers and sisters, some of whom we gravitate toward and some of whom we probably do not even like very well. But that is quite typical of family, is it not?”
If we believe what our Lord and Savior said about all of his followers being brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31-35), then we have to be dedicated to helping each other grow in Christ, which means sometimes fighting with each other as a family. We’re all imperfect sinners saved by God’s grace, and we’re all growing more into Christ’s image. Therefore, sin, conflict, and disagreement will be found within the Church.
God’s Word gives us guidelines for dealing with conflict in the church. Here are 7 Biblical Principles for Fighting Like Family:
1. Face-to-Face (Matt 5:23-24, Matt 18:15-20)
We must address conflicts in person. We don’t do it over text, email, and certainly not over social media. To be blunt, if you're not going to put in the effort to meet face-to-face, it can’t be that important to you.
Jesus gives us clear steps for dealing with sin and conflict in the church:
15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17)
What Jesus means by “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” is that if the person won’t listen to the church, they’re no longer part of the church. Hopefully things never get to that point. Long before it gets there — the very first thing to do — is meet with the person face-to-face and attempt to resolve it as siblings in Christ.
2. Don’t let it fester (Matt 5:23-24, Eph 4:26-27, Prov 27:5)
Along with meeting face-to-face, we must deal with conflict as soon as possible. Wounds that are not properly cared for fester, become infected, and that infection then can spread.
Jesus tells us that if you have an offering or gift for God and your brother or sister has something against you, God doesn’t want your offering or gift! Go be reconciled first!
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23–24)
3. Speak truth in love (Eph 4:15; 1 Cor 13:1-7, Prov 10:11, 12:18)
Love without truth misleads; truth without love falls on deaf ears. The Apostle Paul says if we speak without love, we’re just clanging gongs; we’re just making a bunch of noise. On the other hand, love devoid of honesty is worse than silence. We need a balance of honesty and compassion.
4. Listen with humble hearts (John 13:12-17, Phil 2:2-11, 1 Cor 13:1-7, James 1:19-20)
If I can be blunt once again, if you don’t know how to humble yourself, I don’t think you understand the Gospel. We’re all imperfect sinners saved by God’s mercy. God did this by humbling himself to the point of dying on a cross. Sometimes we need to just shut our mouths and listen. And really listen — don’t just wait to talk.
Our goal must be to seek understanding. When you do open your mouth after listening, try asking questions to gain a better understanding. Also, “echoing” is a good technique; repeat back to the person what he or she said in your own words: “If I’m understanding you, you’re saying… Is that correct?” Show to the person that you really want to understand where he or she is coming from.
5. Balanced emotion (Eph 4:26-27, James 1:19-20, Prov 15:18)
Yes, we want to address issues a.s.a.p., but use wisdom about whether you should wait until you’re less emotional. High emotions usually just lead to defensiveness and more high emotions. You don’t want to be an explosion when you meet face-to-face. On the other hand, we need to be OK emotion because emotion communicates importance, passion, and often pain.
6. Reconciliation (Eph 4:1-32, 1 Cor 13:1-7, Luke 19:1-10, Prov 16:7)
Our goal must always be reconciliation, not to win an argument or prove someone wrong. Again, if you don’t understand this, I question whether you understand the Gospel. The Church is made of sinners reconciled to God, and we must live reconciled to each other — and that may be a continual process.
Further, we can’t speak of biblical reconciliation without: Repentance, Reparations, Forgiveness. All of these are essential to true reconciliation.
7. Bring Glory to God before the unbelieving world (John 13:34-35, 17:20-23, 1 Cor 6:1-8)
People are watching — like it or not; Christians are going to be judged harsher than others. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35), and in John 17:20-23 Jesus prays that his followers would be unified so the world knows that they’re from God.
The Church’s unity is our witness to the world. We must learn to fight like family (according to these biblical principles) to help each other grow in Christ as siblings and to show to the unbelieving world the Gospel of Christ.