Dr. Randy Lowry, president of Lipscomb University, is one of the nation’s leading experts on Conflict Mediation. I have used a chart he developed on several occasions in discussing conflict in relationships, including in last Sunday morning’s sermon. On the chart he has two axis that form the graph. A left, vertical axis represents the “Issue,” while the bottom, horizontal axis marks the “Relationship.”
Imagining a scale of one to ten for each of these two axis, and you end up with the coordinates at each of five points that represent five different strategies in dealing with conflict. Deciding which tactic to take depends on the value placed upon the issue versus the relationship.
- If neither is important, then you can simply avoid the conflict altogether. Both issue and relationship on the scale are at 0. Such as when you allow someone to go on their merry way after they have pulled out in front of you on the highway. You don’t know them, so the relationship doesn’t matter. And the issue (even though you have been wronged) does not warrant risking your life or the lives of others to prove your point. Overemphasizing the issue here is called Road Rage and calls for professional help. Jesus did this at times when he just walked through crowds who either wanted to make him king or wanted to stone him to death.
- If a compromise can be worked out, then both issue and relationship are at a 5. Compromise by its very definition means no one gets everything they wanted but they come up with something that’s acceptable to both. The compromise in Acts 15 offered by James at the “Jerusalem Conference” is a Biblical example.
- Sometimes both issue and relationship are crucial, and so the rating is 10/10. That’s when a collaborative solution must be discovered. This typically is very creative, and may take some imagination or “thinking outside the box” to come up with. Biblical examples are when the Apostles in Acts 6, instead of doing it themselves and taking their time and energy away from other responsibilities, told the Jerusalem church to select seven spiritual servants who could be trusted with the responsibilities of taking care of some of the widows that had been neglected. Jesus Himself did this in John 8 when He challenged the Jewish leaders who had brought the woman caught in adultery to test Him. He called on anyone who had never sinned to cast the first stone. In this way, He was faithful to the Law and to Biblical morality (the “issue”), but also valued the “relationship” He sought to cultivate with the woman.
- If the relationship is at a 10 and is much more important than the issue, which is at 0, then you accommodate. You acquiesce on the issue, because you do not want to threaten the relationship. A Biblical example is when Paul had Timothy circumcised in Acts 16, or when Paul took part in the vow of some Jewish men in Jerusalem in Acts 21. Sometimes this is the right thing to do. We must choose our battles, and not all the issues are worth fighting over. This seems to be the most popular strategy for many voices in our society today.
- However, there are times when the issue was so important that rather than budging on what was right and true, the relationship was put in jeopardy, and you confront the wrong. And yes, there are Biblical examples of even this. Jesus and early church leaders at times confronted others because of their sin, when the issue was of such importance that He was willing to risk losing the relationship rather than bend on the issue. Paul brought uncircumcised Titus with him to Jerusalem for a discussion about whether Gentile converts must follow the Law of Moses, because he could not bend on the truth of the gospel. Jesus drove the rich young ruler off by confronting him in the one area where he had placed something before God: material possessions. And even the woman in John 8 was told, after Jesus saved her from her Jewish accusers, saying, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11) This is where our society seems unwilling to go. Yet if we are to be faithful to our Lord, we must be faithful to His Word and His will. Yes, a part of that is loving others, the second greatest commandment. But let’s not sacrifice the first one—loving God—for the sake of the second one! When we do this, we are actually not loving others, but are approving of actions in their lives that separate them from their Creator and Savior, actions God calls sin.
Paul puts it succinctly in Ephesians 4:15 when he calls us to commit to “speaking the truth in love.” Christian unity and faithfulness demand all three.