The most important thing in life is relationships. Whether you’re married, single, divorced, or widowed, what makes life worth living is relationships. Let’s face it, when you feel loved and have authentic community life is pretty sweet; but if your relationships aren’t working, life can be downright miserable and heartbreaking.
Why do we fight with those we love? How is it that people who honestly and deeply love one another can say and do such horrible things to each other?
We all long for intimacy and love in our relationships, but we have all experienced the destructive cycle of conflict, bitterness and anger that separates best friends, divides families, and ends marriages.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel… (James 4:1-2)
Jesus’ half-brother, James, reveals that the root cause of our relational conflict is our consuming passion for self-gratification. It’s that pulsating “me first” mindset to satisfy and gratify my wants and my desires ahead of everyone else.
Conflict arises from competing desires—the inner passion within each of us that craves our own way. And behind that craving is the false belief that our significance and worth can only come through obtaining personal pleasure, power, and possessions.
We’ve believed the lie that money, status, and power will make us a “somebody.” We’re just a house remodel, a marriage, another baby, a new car or a better sex life away from being really happy. In a world of Cosmo, People, Fortune, and reality TV, we are enticed into believing the age-old lie of hedonism.
It’s the classic picture of one cookie and two 2 year olds. As adults we mask our selfish passions much better than whining and screaming toddlers, but it gets played out the same… only with more sophistication…we use manipulation, intimidation, or image management to try to get what we want instead of going to God and asking Him to fulfill the deepest desires of our heart.
Early in our marriage, Theresa and I struggled with conflict and communication. I used my verbal skills to make her feel guilty (seeking to manipulate her) to get my way, and she would withdraw into a “cone of silence” to punish and manipulate me to get her way. Although we both loved God, we had learned destructive relational patterns from our pasts and did not recognize how genuinely selfish we both were. As the Apostle James teaches us, at the core of relational conflict is pride.
My pride wanted my way “on my own terms” in our marriage. My pride has shown up in greed, lust, and longing for people’s approval—even at the expense of others. It wasn’t until I owned that “ugly reality,” that health and harmony replaced conflict and competition in my relational network.
In our honest moments, we all have to admit we’ve let this lie seep into our thinking and behavior. We can act sophisticated, put verses around why we do what we do, but the reality is: you have conflict in your home, your marriage, your work, your church, and with your friends—and so do I.
We all need to confront these issues…we live in a fallen world and we will do things and struggle in areas that will cause interpersonal conflict.
But how do we break out of the cycle of conflict and learn to love others with our words and actions? Well, God gives us His Divine Prescription for resolving conflict in James 4:7-10. It’s one word—humility!
Let me share with you four steps James gives us for developing humility and diffusing conflict in every relationship.
#1: Give in to God: Submit yourselves therefore to God… (James 4:7). This command tells us that we need to submit our relationships, motives, and desires to God and allow Him to have control of our lives instead of pursuing our personal agendas. To “submit” means to surrender all that we have and make God the CEO of our lives. When we “give in” to God and what He wants, our race for self-gratification will naturally turn to a journey of following Him and reflecting Christ-likeness to others.
#2: Get Tough with Evil: Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7b). We live in an evil world system that constantly seduces us to fulfill our passions even if that means back-stabbing a friend, cheating on a mate, lying about our motives, or not fulfilling a serious commitment. We must recognize how the evil one is working in this world and take a firm stance against him. It means we take careful thought concerning what we put in our minds—what we listen to, what we watch, and how we use our time.
This week I challenge you to memorize Romans 12:2,
Do not be conformed any longer by the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve His will—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
#3: Get close to God: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a). Be proactive in your relationship with God. You never get any closer to someone unless plan intentional time with them. Set aside 15 minutes before you start your day to enjoy God and listen to His Word. Take a walk with a friend this week and talk about what God is doing. Put on some good worship music in the car. Pour out your heart to Him concerning your relational challenges. As you spend time in God’s Word and understand His love, the Holy Spirit will create new desires within you to love and serve others like never before.
#4: Get Right with Others: Cleanse your hands…purify your hearts… (James 4:8b- 9) All of the previous steps aren’t easy ones to take, but this last one is where the “rubber meets the road.” As we get close to God, He is going to reveal things in our life that aren’t pretty—we’ll see the patterns of bitterness, anger, manipulation, and hurt that have cycled in our relationships.
God calls us to first “own our stuff” and then make things right with others. This means we go directly to the person that we’ve hurt or the one who has wounded us. Hard? Yes! Healing? Absolutely!
I know for me, going back to the person I’ve bad-mouthed or lied to is absolutely humiliating! But isn’t it interesting that “humiliating” has the same root word as “humility?” Part of humility is taking responsibility for my sin and asking forgiveness even when it doesn’t feel good. God wants to heal and restore your relationships, but it’s not easy.
Yet, I have come to realize that it takes more energy to hide and constantly live with unresolved conflict than to come out and say, “I’m wrong and I am sorry.” I’ve also found that people are pretty merciful and understanding to those who come to them humbly.
And as you follow the above “divine prescription“, God promises that “He will exalt you.” When you begin to actually take these steps in your relationship with God and with others, you will be amazed at how God will bless you, prosper you, and heal your relationships.
Do you really want to end the conflict? Then read James 4 this week, follow his four steps to humble yourself before God and others, and watch God do some “Grade A” miracles in your relationships.
If this post really hit home, this teaching comes from my series, Five Lies That Ruin Relationships.You can listen to the sermon for free in our Living on the Edge Community. Just click here.
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