Conflict Resolution in the Church

‘I’ll sue’ are popular words today, and there are people out there who are ready to help you do it. We are pestered by telesales people who inform us that we have had an accident or some such thing and more than likely we will be able to get some money out of it.

Things weren’t much different in Corinth! Taking people to court was popular. In reading 1 Corinthians you’d think, it can’t get any worse can it? The answer is, yes, it can! Their wrong headedness was affecting many different areas of their lives and relationships – bad thinking it needs to be noted leads to bad living, poor theology to bad practice. It matters how we think and work out our theology.

In chapter 6 Paul begins to dig deeper into their wrong-headed thinking and alliances, this time exposing their lack of wisdom regarding issues of conflict resolution and the nature and use their own bodies, both of which were having a negative impact on their witness to the world, and maligning the name of Jesus Christ.

Life is about ME.

As a people they were much like those of today, they were self-absorbed, life revolved around them, and sadly there were some in the church who were buying into it – not a good way to approach conflict resolution where we need to be able to step back and see the bigger picture, the bigger story of which we are but a small part.

They were going to court (6:1) to resolve all sorts of things and as such bringing shame and reproach upon Jesus and His churchThe courts, not in small rooms, but public, were of this world, they were corrupt and played into the fallenness of humanity, the strong over the weak, the rich over the poor, a place where you could only sue downwards; favours and backhanders played a role, resulting in unfair judgments as the wealthy and strong were favoured over the poor and weak. This also created division in the church as the rich had the advantage over the poor.

They were claiming to be wise, wise as kings and able to rule, yet they were going to those outside to settle their disputes, their grievances (It should be noted that these were civil cases not criminal ones for which God has instituted the courts, and to which such cases should go), and Paul says,DARE YOU? … Aren’t there any wise enough to decide such things among you?’ (6:1, 5). Once again Paul is exposing the wrongheadedness of their so-called wisdom. They claimed to be so wise, and were proud of it (a contradiction in terms!). He says ‘Don’t you realise that one day believers/saints will judge the world… angels..’ (6:2,3). ‘Shame on you’ he says!

The Problem

It was the symptom of a larger problem, the failure to recognise who they really were – a family, the family of God. Paul’s use of ‘brother’ here is important  (6:5, 6), in the culture of the day it was unheard of to sue your own family, they were your own flesh and blood and to go outside was to betray your family, rather it was the responsibility of the fathers, those with maturity, to decide on matters like this. And take note, trials in the courts were about glorifying a winner and humiliating and destroying a loser, they were more about revenge than love, vindication than unity and peace. Families though are about family ties, and the Christian family is just such a one. By doing what they were, they were denying the very nature of being the family of God and therefore bringing it into disrepute – much as those who would hang their dirty washing (their grievances) in the public square of the internet today.

Paul says you should be competent to sort these things out (6:1-3). Instead they are actually defeated by their actions (v.7). To go about it as they were was the way of defeat he tells them, then he says, ‘why not just accept injustice… being cheated… instead you do wrong and are cheating one another.’ Hang on Paul, do you really mean that!? Yes. As God’s people we live for the sake of the whole not the one, if an answer can’t be found among you, why not accept injustice, being cheated, in order that peace and unity may be maintained.

Then he says ‘Don’t you realise that such people…. Will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ (6:9) Frequently this is spoken and written about as a stand alone text addressed as a reprimand to the church as a call to live holy lives otherwise they will not see the kingdom of God (I’ve done it). The context though reads differently, it’s about them going to the courts, and Paul is saying why would you who know the salvation of our God and are part of the kingdom that has come and is coming go to those in a fallen world who are subject to sin and get your answers from them, they don’t have the wisdom of God and they don’t have your best interests at heart. 

Then he says, ‘Such were some of you… BUT’ (1 Cor. 6:11), I love God’s but’s! Yes they too had lived like that but now they have been saved, cleansed, made new in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. They were part of a family, and families do things differently, especially the family of God, so live like it with all grace and humility, seeking the unity, peace, honour and blessing of those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ!

Questions to ask in times of conflict

Conflict is part of life, whoever we are, wherever we are, what we do with it is what counts. In God there is way through.

  • How best can I get the wisdom of God? Who can I talk to, share with?
  • Is there a better way of resolving the situation I find myself in than what I am doing at the moment?
  • Will it cause harm?
  • Is what I am doing motivated by love or revenge?
  • Is about point scoring points over another that puts that person in their place (down) and leaves me on top?
  • Is it about me or the community?
  • Is the aim unity and peace or vindication?

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