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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Moffit

Staying Humble in the Midst of Conflict

Pride can take many forms. We often think of pride as a sin that is clearly seen – the person who takes every opportunity to brag and boast, the person who thinks they are always right or that person who thinks they are God’s gift to every situation. However, pride is often more subtle and sneaky especially within the church where the more outward forms are quickly called out.

One example is how easily pride enters into our hearts unwittingly when we have conflict with another person. In conflict, we often judge other people by their actions and the direct consequences of those actions, “Your words are hurtful.” However, in that same conflict, we judge ourselves by what we intended, “You misunderstood. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you.” Do you get that? We judge others by what they did/said, and we judge ourselves by what we intended! That is why we so easily justify our own part in conflict and condemn others.

To illustrate – let’s take a look at a typical conflict between two sisters, Martha and Mary, in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus entered a village and Martha, being the hospitable person that she is, quickly welcomed Jesus into her home. Now, the Bible says that Martha was distracted with much serving. She was busy loving and serving all the people in her house, making sure they were taken care of, that they felt welcomed, all so that they could hear what Jesus had to teach. She was doing “kingdom work!” No doubt from her perspective her motives were entirely pure.

But Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Martha looked at her sister’s actions of sitting doing nothing except listening to Jesus. She assumed her motives – she must be lazy, unhelpful, and selfish. Then Martha compared her observations and assumptions to her own intentions – “I am busy serving out of a love for Jesus and for people so that they can listen to Jesus’ teaching.” Isn’t this exactly why Martha was busying herself with much serving? So that people could listen to Jesus! So, if that was really the intention of her heart then she would rejoice at giving Mary the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Pride is so deceptive! It even fools us into believing our intentions are good and pure when they often are not. Martha’s true motives and heart were quite prideful in that moment. She wasn’t concerned at all for her sister’s well-being. If she truly thought Mary was in sin she could have quietly confronted her on it or humbly asked for help. Yet, Martha doesn’t approach Mary at all! Why? Because Martha in her pride was only thinking about herself. Instead, she interrupts Jesus’ teaching (the very thing she was busy serving for, right?!?). She also assumed Jesus’ motives – that he doesn’t care because he hasn’t confronted Mary in her “sin” of selfish laziness. So, Martha confidently declares, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Pride is so deceptive! It causes us to misread so many situations, conflicts, and even our own intentions!

Well, if you are familiar with the story, you already know the shocking conclusion. Jesus responds to Martha by gently exposing her prideful heart and praising Mary’s quiet soul humbly resting in her Lord, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Do you see how arrogant it is to judge others by a different standard than ourselves? Yet, in conflict we do it all the time! It is pride to assume that other peoples’ words and actions fully communicated their intentions while our words and actions simply miscommunicated the good intentions of our hearts. This is why Jesus warns us in any conflict to first remove the plank from our own eye before we go after the speck in our brother’s eye!

So, what are some principles that might help us stay humble in conflict?

1) Inspect and Suspect Yourself First! Why? Because the heart is so easily deceived by pride.
2) Assume the best of others! Why? Because you don’t have access to their motives and intentions.
3) Ask, don’t Accuse! Why? Because you don’t know everything so try to learn others’ perspective.

This is what humbleness looks like in the midst of conflict. This doesn’t mean we never confront sin in others, but we do so knowing that we are bringing our conceited hearts into the equation. So, we need to account for our own heart before we confront others to ensure that we are doing so in truth and out of love for that person.

Thankfully, we have a Savior who forgives prideful sinners. That is the foundation for any conflict, especially those within the church! We have been forgiven much! Human pride wrongfully accused Jesus. Human pride misinterpreted Jesus’ intentions. Human pride was deceived into thinking its intentions were good and for God by sending God’s own Son to the cross. How differently things might have looked had humans followed the principles of humbleness above in their conflict with Jesus! Yet, Jesus had compassion and prayed even amid great anguish, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Which bring us to perhaps the most important principle in any conflict – forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:12–14

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