Why do two people like a husband and wife — who honestly, deeply and sincerely love one another — get tangled up in such high levels of conflict that they choose to give up on their relationship? And why do lifelong friends and family members fight to the point where they end their friendship?
Can you relate? Most of us have experienced at least one major conflict in our lives, whether it was a break-up, a divorce, or the end of a friendship. And yet most people struggle to understand the true source of their conflict and aren’t sure how to respond to it in an effective, Godly way.
Jesus’ brother, James, not only addresses the cause and consequences of conflict, he also identifies the solution so we would know how to stop it from ruining our relationships.
So, what is the root cause of interpersonal conflict? The answer might surprise you. It’s our consuming passion for self-gratification.
Really? Yes. James writes: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-2)
We fight with those we love because we have believed the lie that sensual pleasures will satisfy our inner desires for happiness. Having a “me-first” mindset is what drives our inner passion to “get our own way.” And when our way gets blocked, we wage war. On the inside we feel frustrated; on the outside, we fight.
As Christians, often we try to fulfill our selfish desires apart from God. Or if we do turn to God for help, it is often in an attempt to get our own way. Again, James speaks to this: “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4: 2-3).
We see this happen when we want something in our marriage or in our church and we don’t ask God. Instead, we try to use God to fulfill our desires by making Him into our “self-help genie.” Then, if we don’t get what we want from God, we try to get it in other ways. Sadly, our own actions make us an “enemy of God” in these instances.
So what’s the solution? Thankfully, God has already provided us with a way to restore our relationships and diffuse the conflict in our lives. He identifies four ways to do this, in James 4:7-10:
- Give In to God – Surrender: “Submit yourselves, then, to God” (v. 7). This means surrendering to God by submitting your desires, relationships and your will to Him.
- Get Tough with Satan – Fight: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7). The enemy lies to you and says: “The problem is out there. If that person would only shape up…or… if you had this house or made this amount of money… then you’d be happy.” Don’t believe these lies — take a stand against the enemy, the seducer and the liar.
- Get Close to God – Return: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (v. 8). This means getting real with God. When you’re hurt, He wants you to tell Him you’re angry. This also means spending time in prayer and reading the Scriptures. Ask him for what you do not have. God cares about you and wants the best for you.
- Get Right with Others – Stop Sinning: “Wash your hands… purify your hearts…” And let there be tears for the wrong that you’ve done (v. 8-9). If you have wronged someone, make it right. If you have bitterness and resentment or anger in your heart, tell God you’re sorry. If you need to apologize to someone, go do it.
Ultimately, when we choose to humble ourselves, God will lift us up and help us to restore our relationships. It’s His promise!
For more information on this topic, check out the series, Five Lies That Ruin Relationships. In it, we examine the false beliefs that prevent us from having healthy, enduring relationships with those we love. My prayer is that as you trade destructive lies for God’s truth, you’ll experience His peace and grace in all of your relationships.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip