Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.
I confess that I have a weakness for some reality TV shows. It makes me sad to see how relationships are destroyed by immaturity, resentment, and strife. There is one warring family in particular that breaks my heart. As I watched them, I thought of several Christian principles that could help this fractured group to stop fighting and start to get along.
I will condense the story of this family and change some details. Bob, a man in his late fifties, is a successful businessman with three grown daughters and one son who worked for his company. His adult children except one had families of their own. All was well until one of his daughters, Sheila, married Ivan, who immigrated to the U.S. from eastern Europe.
Bob’s family was suspicious of Ivan from the start. They thought he married Sheila for a green card. When Bob helped out the couple financially, the siblings resented Ivan and were convinced that Ivan was taking advantage of their father. When father Bob decided to make Ivan a part of his business, the family went ballistic.
Every time the family got together, there was quarreling and yelling that sometimes escalated into physical violence. The sisters threw drinks and cake in Ivan’s face when they were not pushing and shoving him. Unfortunately, Ivan had a hair-trigger temper that erupted into verbal and physical abuse, making things worse.
Ivan and Sheila’s brother often started pushing and wrestling with each other. Poor Sheila felt torn between her husband Ivan and her siblings. The whole situation seemed impossible to resolve, but there are Biblical principles that can help them.
What the Bible Says About Quarrelling
It is God’s desire that we live in peace with others, and he blesses people who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Ephesians 4:3). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We should not be quarreling with others. Dissension often comes from pride. God hates arrogance and opposes the proud (Proverbs 8:32).
Arguments create misunderstandings and open the doors to hurtful words. Fighting can lead to familial alienation and physical altercations. Relationships are strained or destroyed (Proverbs 13:10).
Dealing with Conflict in a Christian Way
We should drop the matter before a dispute occurs if possible (Proverbs 17:14). Quarreling should be avoided because fighting is like causing a breach in a dam and releasing torrents of destructive water (Proverbs 17:14). There are several biblical ways we can prevent quarreling and deal with conflict.
When we forgive others as God commands us to do, we are letting go of the resentment and hurt that is driving the strife. We stop feeling offended and are more patient with them.
Consider the Root Cause of Disagreements
Some people are hot-tempered and provoke quarrels (Proverbs 15:18). Others love to meddle and stir up trouble (Proverbs 17:19, Proverbs 18:1). Some are driven by unhealthy human desires and lusts such as jealousy. These individuals are frustrated because they are not getting what they want (James 4:1-3). Drugs and alcohol abuse can also fan the flames of conflict.
From what I have observed in Bob, his family, and Ivan, here are some possible reasons for their conflict:
- The siblings believe that Ivan married Sheila for a green card and was taking advantage of their father Bob financially
- Ivan has a bad temper that is easily triggered
- The siblings are constantly criticizing and attacking Ivan verbally and physically
- Sheila’s brother may have a drinking problem
- The sisters are afraid that Ivan would take clients away from them
- The siblings were jealous of the attention Ivan and Sheila are getting from Bob
- The siblings are angry because they cannot control Bob and persuade him to stop helping Ivan
- Bob does not always set clear boundaries and stand up for himself
When we understand the causes of contention, we can make a plan to resolve it.
Arguments are fueled by hurt and anger (Proverbs 30:33). Sheila’s siblings did not listen to anything that Ivan said because Ivan often raged at them. Hot-tempered people stir up conflict. When dealing with people who are attacking us, we should focus on the conflict at hand in a logical manner. Giving a soft answer, acknowledging that we have heard them, or not responding to their barbs can help diffuse explosive emotions.
Past hurts should not be brought up during disagreements. Bringing up the past can indicate that we are still bitter and want to punish those who harmed us. We need to deal with those issues separately and work on forgiving perpetrators. Contentious situations are like fires that go out when they are not fed wood such as rage and indignation (Proverbs 26:20-21).
Approach the Situation with Humility
Pride stirs up strife and leads to the destruction of relationships (Proverbs 13:10, 16:18). On the other hand, a humble approach that is merciful, patient, and shows self-control is more likely to defuse the situation. God shows favor to the humble (James 4:6). We should regard other people as more important than ourselves and look out for their interests instead of being motivated by empty conceit and selfishness (Philippians 2:3-4).
Open Up Communication
When Bob decided to train Ivan in the family business, he had a family meeting with Sheila’s sisters and brother. He explained his plans and asked for feedback.
His family had a chance to express their concerns. Meeting like this can clear up misconceptions and address issues. This approach shows Bob’s openness to hearing concerns his family might have.
Accept That We Cannot Fix Things
There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. We can influence people, but we cannot force them to do what we want. When Sheila’s siblings were yelling and screaming at Bob, they were trying to force Bob to cut Ivan out of his business. They blamed Ivan for the problems in the families’ relationships. Every time the families got together, the siblings insulted Ivan and provoked Ivan.
Bob tried to bring the families together to talk things out and resolve their problems several times. The siblings were unwilling to participate. Nothing made them stop their behavior, even seeing their father Bob visibly shaken and upset. There is no chance of reconciliation when some parties are unwilling to hear the other out and compromise.
Boundaries keep us safe from harm. A lot of arguing might have been avoided if Bob clearly enforced boundaries and consequences when lines are crossed. Bob could used limits to stop the arguing. He could have said that his decision to include Ivan in the family business was final, and he did not want any more arguments about it. The consequences could be the siblings being banned from family gatherings until they showed a willingness to change their behavior.
Be Willing to Change
Part of the problems within Bob’s family is that most of them are entrenched in their positions. They need to admit they were wrong in some areas and show a willingness to compromise so their relationships can survive. As long as people refuse to be flexible and change, nothing can be resolved.
Take a Timeout, if Needed
For Bob’s offspring, this could mean not socializing with certain family members or not attending family gatherings for a time. Time apart can create new perspectives on situations. We have the right to refuse to participate in heated arguments and walk away for our own mental health. On the negative side, timeouts that go on too long can become a way to avoid dealing with conflict. Fractured relationships cannot heal.
Resolving contentious issues is not easy. The Bible says that someone who is offended is harder to be won than a strong city. Conflict is like the bars of a fortress (Proverbs 18:19). Situations such as Ivan and Bob’s family will take a lot of time and patience to resolve. The conflict continues. Some family members are choosing to avoid addressing the issues by cutting off contact with some.
Avoiding strife is the honorable thing to do (Proverbs 20:3). It is not God’s will for us to live in constant conflict and upset. Instead, he wants us to love and forgive the people who hurt us, compromise, resolve our differences, and live in peace with others. God wants us to be happy and have healthy relationships with the people in our lives.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
© 2021 Carola Finch