Conflict is a word that seems to be on the rise. We hear about conflict in the Middle East, conflict in government, and conflict in the home. The world in which we live has reached a point where we find ourselves asking, at times, is it even possible to reach any form of resolution? Despite all of the awareness of conflict in the world, often we neglect any understanding of another form of conflict we deal with each and every day. There is a war of the flesh and the spirit that goes on within us continually (Romans 7:32). This conflict is of the innate sinful desires of our flesh and the spiritual leading of God. The continual state of this conflict drives us to ask if there is any method toward resolution? Is it possible for us to live a life of victory and overcome the temptations that beset us? Utilizing an eight-step process of relational conflict resolution methods we aim to determine a concluding answer.
The apostle Paul is accredited as the author of the book of Ephesians (Eph. 1:1, 3:1) and is believed to have written the book while in a Roman prison (Acts 28). Despite the austere conditions of the prison, Paul managed pen at least four epistles that still affect the lives of people today (Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S., 1910). At the conclusion of his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul discusses the concept of the Armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20). In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Paul introduced the understanding of conflict that is still happening in the lives of people all over the world today. The regressed state of spiritual understanding in the world has led individuals to bring a knife to a gun fight, so to speak. People today are attempting to combat spiritual matters through fleshly means. The principles of conflict resolution can be applied effectively to both relational and spiritual matters.
Conflict of Flesh and Blood
One does not have to search very hard on any major news media outlet to discover that the hostility of humanity is quickly culminating to catatonic meltdown. We one examines the sheer amount of dissatisfaction prevalent in the world today, it can be easy to fall into the trap of analyzing counties vexed by the distress of war and nullifying the exasperation found on our streets. If one’s attention is diverted for mere seconds on a local highway, they can quickly find themselves as the object of another individuals' road rage. Humanity today has come to the conclusion, humanity itself is humanity’s greatest problem. The apostle Paul teaches, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood…” People today have come to the erroneous conclusion that flesh and blood are our great enemies. They have looked past the fact that it’s not the people themselves, but the spirit within them. All sense of spiritual comprehension has been thrown out the window, and, unfortunately, the answer to humanity went out along with it. The apostle continues, “…but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). While it is true, people hurt people; the influence of the spirit is the determining factor of the equation.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), sin flooded humanity. The sin that seems to be a rampant epidemic throughout the world is nothing new. People have been this way for a very long time. A quick study of the Bible will reveal that even the patriarchs and apostles of the Bible were affected by sin. The very apostle who penned Ephesians, and the verse we have looked at was once the archenemy of the Christian church (Acts 8:1, 9:1-2). Paul speaks of himself in Romans 7:19-20, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” It is very true that people do terrible things, but these things that are done stem from the result of the innate sinful nature of humanity.
In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, Paul gives us an understanding of putting on the Armor of God, “…that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Innately, each of us deals with temptation and sinful desires on a daily basis. We see in Genesis 6:5 that sin had infiltrated man to the degree that, like a terminal disease, completely negated every other aspect of man. It was sin, and the actions of sin, that brought judgment by flood on humanity. God did not cause the flood because he hated humanity. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good…” God made man, and at that point God deemed his creation of man as very good. If God wanted to destroy humanity completely he wouldn't have spared Noah, and he most certainly would not have come to Earth wrapped in flesh (John 3:16, Colossians 2:9). God’s desire has always been to negate sin and establish a relationship with man. This is why Calvary was the ultimate victory, because Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for man (Isaiah 53, Hebrews 10:14). While the apostle Paul was most certainly correct that we wrestle with sin and the spirits that come with it, this is not a conflict that was predestined to be a losing battle. God has given us the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:4) and the power that comes with it (Acts 1:8), to live a victorious life. “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). At the end of the day, Jesus conquered sin and gave us the power to do the same.
In the article, The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution, Dr. Dudley Weeks shows that a conflict can be quickly, and easily, resolved in a few simple steps. Dr. Weeks comprised the article from the viewpoint of conflicts that arise in relationships. I believe it is totally possible to take the core fundamentals behind these steps and apply them to our daily spiritual conflict.
The eight steps that Dr. Weeks gives are: Create an Effective Atmosphere, Clarify Perceptions, Focus on Individual and Shared Needs, Build Shared Positive Power, Look to the Future, then Learn from the Past, Generate Options, Develop “Doables,” and Make Mutual Benefit Agreements. Quickly, looking at each of these, we can see the spiritual application and utilize them in our lives.
Eight Steps Toward Spiritual Conflict Resolution
The first step is applied in creating an effective atmosphere. In terms of relational conflict, this would mean approaching the conflict with the other individual at the right time, location, understanding, and opening the discussion of the conflict. All of these are also practical in spiritual conflict. If we can establish an effective atmosphere of praise and worship within our lives that will then draw the presence of God. Times of prayer, location of prayer, and how we begin praying all affect our effectiveness in prayer. We must create an effective spiritual atmosphere in our lives.
The second step in terms of relational conflict is that there must be a clarification of perceptions, or in other words, determining what the issue is behind the conflict. We cannot fix the issue, and resolve the conflict, until we figure out what is the issue. Spiritually, the same must be done when we are praying and asking God for strength or help in the matter. It is true, God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8), however that doesn’t mean you shouldn't ask. Often, being specific in what we are praying for benefits us by knowing what to look for when begins to God answer.
The third step shows that in a relationship both parties must recognize the individual and shared needs of the relationship. In our spiritual relationship with God, we must recognize that we need Him with every fiber of our being. Unlike step two, here is where the realization of our dependency comes in, as opposed to specific personal needs.
The fourth step states the relationship must establish shared positive power. In essence, this means that both parties establish a positive outlook. In our spiritual lives, we must develop an understanding that we are victorious through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:37) who as already won the battle. Life has it’s up’s and down’s, but at the end of it all, we will live eternally in heaven with God. It is vital to have a victorious mindset as opposed to a victimized mindset, in relation to spiritual matters.
The fifth step requires both individuals to look toward the future goals of the relationship, but learn from past mistakes. We cannot allow the past to lead our relationship, but we can allow it to give context for the future. In our spiritual conflict, we must not allow past mistakes to get the best of us. We are all human, and none of us is perfect (Romans 3:23). Our past mistakes only reveal the depth of God’s ever expansive grace and mercy.
The sixth-step implements searching a resolution to the problem. In a relationship, both individuals must search for answers. After all, if the conflict is going to be resolved there has to be an answer. In context to our spiritual conflict, we must first understand God is always the answer. If there is not an apparent answer, God will simply make a door to your answer and walk you through it. Stories like that of Joseph and Moses, in the Bible, reveal the truth behind this.
The seventh step, towards resolution, states that in order to reach the predetermined answer, from step six, there must be a road of “doables.” In this step, one must determine a series of “doable” actions to pave the way toward resolution. Some of the more generally applicable, yet still effective, “doables” in the lives of Christians are praying, fasting, and reading the Bible. There is a reason these may seem like clichés, they work.
The eighth step asserts mutual benefit agreements must be established to both, completely resolve the issue, and to ensure the issue does not happen again. In our spiritual lives, we can view this as the process of salvation. When we obey the process of salvation, given to us in the book of Acts (Acts 2:38), we are immediately given everything we need for continual spiritual conflict resolution.
The Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). The Bible gives every precept we need in order to live a life that is victorious and resolves the spiritual conflicts of sin. We understand that this is not yet a totally resolved issue. Spiritual conflict is something that we deal with on a daily basis. As we have seen, it is possible to live an overcoming life. There are methods, like the eight steps given, that allow us to work through, and implement strategies, to overcome our personal spiritual conflicts. The Bible gives us all the principles necessary for conflict management, but it is materials like Dr. Weeks, The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution that allow us to apply the principles easily
Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Weeks, Dudley (1992). The Eight Steps to Conflict Resolution. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.