In a perfect world, we would not have any disagreements, heartaches, or underlying sin issues that tend to cause problems. But the fact is that we do not live in a perfect world. It is broken and has been since sin first entered into the world, and that crack made in the very foundation of creation is present still today. Therefore, we should expect to have disagreements with others. But as believers, the way we handle conflicts should look different than those who do not know Christ. So how do we disagree well with others?
- We need to keep the main thing the main thing.
The gospel is the main thing. It is not an aspect of your life. It is not an addition to hold on the side for when it is most useful. No, the gospel is life-changing. Once received, the dead comes to life, hearts of stone are now hearts of flesh, and the innermost parts of our hearts are changed for the glory of God. Paul says, "For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:2-4 CSB). As believers, we are changed people because of the gospel. The gospel is of most importance. The cross, Jesus' death, and His resurrection stand at the heart of our faith. Therefore, Paul is admonishing the Corinthians to get this–if you do not take away anything else, take the gospel. Paul knew that not only was the gospel life-changing for him, but it is the one thing that has altered the course of history, restoring sinful mankind to God. This is in fact what has brought those of us who know Christ from death to life, given hope to our hopelessness, and restored to us a relationship with the Father.
2. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Oftentimes, our disagreements are founded on preconceived beliefs and we are not particularly interested in hearing from another point of view. But even that realization exposes our hearts. We are prideful human beings who most always want to be right. And this likely happens when we lose sight of what matters most–the gospel. James gives us another way to live as believers. James says, "My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak..." (James 1:19). This is what we are called to do, and this is what it looks like when we apply the Word of God to our hearts, minds, and lives. We walk humbly with others–both our brothers and sisters in Christ and those in the world. This is counterintuitive and radical, but it is the power of the gospel in our everyday lives.
As believers, we should assume a humble posture, and one way we do that is by humbling ourselves in a disagreement. It does not mean that you cannot have an opinion, but it does mean putting that opinion in the correct position on the level of importance. It may be a time when you can choose to be silent. It may be something more serious, and you can choose to engage in a profitable conversation, honoring the other person you disagree with. But we do not go in with our banner waving for whatever we think is due us; rather, we wave the banner of Jesus–the one who humbled Himself to death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
3. Take responsibility for your sins, apologize for the hurt you have caused, and ask for forgiveness.
There are times to disagree, and we can have disagreements with those both in and outside of the church. But the Lord has called us to walk in an honorable way. The Apostle Paul says, "Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).
We are called to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and keeping the unity. Our sinful selves will get in the way of at least one, if not all of these, every time. We would rather be right than preserve unity, or we allow our emotions to carry the disagreement rather than submit them to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, that means acknowledging our sins. We will likely hurt people we meet–professionally or personally, inside or outside the church. As believers, if we sin against someone, it is our responsibility to confess that sin. This means taking ownership of the wrong we have done. We not only have to confess our sins to God but should also initiate a talk with the person offended. It is a right and mature thing to do to own our sin and then to apologize for the hurt we have caused.
It may be that you have been the one offended and hurt. I am challenged daily by Ephesians 4:32: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you in Christ." Being kind to someone who has caused you pain is not the easiest thing to do. Being tenderhearted makes a wounded person feel even more susceptible to another hurt. And forgiving seems to be far out of reach. But Paul gives us an illustration that, for believers, should cause us to do a heart check. We are to do that "as God in Christ forgave you." We are forgiven by the God of all creation. He sent His Son to die for us. Though our sins are many and have separated us from God, He didn't leave us in our sin. Instead, He sent Jesus to save us, and through His blood, He forgave me–you. He has forgiven an infinite number of sins against an infinite God. Surely, through His Spirit, we too can forgive those who have hurt us.