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Ephesians 4:1-6, Matthew 18:15-22, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, Philippians 4:2-7, Proverbs

This bible study is all about conflict, especially in the context of conflict with fellow Christians. This might be a very difficult topic to talk about - but it is a very important one.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, yet conflict amongst Jesus' followers has never been uncommon (e.g. Acts 15:36-40). Conflict itself is not necessarily a problem in itself, so much as what we do with it and how we respond to it can cause real problems. We can either respond with the heart of Jesus, seeking peacemaking and healing, or with our sinful hearts, producing peace-breaking and harm to ourselves and others. For some excellent resources on this complex topic, I recommend you explore the Peacewise website.

This study will give help us to explore some of what the bible says about conflict.

  • How do you feel when you are in a conflict situation?

    • Do you feel stressed or anxious? If so, where in your body do you feel it?

    • How does it make you want to act?

    • Would you describe yourself as a bottler, an avoider, a placater, or a fighter (or something else)? Or does it depend on the situation?

  • What would you like to improve about your responses to conflict as a follower of the Prince of Peace?

Read Ephesians 4:1-6

  • According to these verses, what does it look like for Christians to live 'worthy of the calling we have received'?

  • How does our disunity as Christians take us away from our calling? What is the connection here?

  • Not everything must be identical for us to be unified. What are the things we have in common, and how do we keep those things central and foundational? [1]

There are a number of passages in the bible that give us practical advice on how to foster peace and unity in the face of conflict and disunity. We are going to explore a few of them now.

Read Matthew 18:15-22

  • Here Jesus teaches his followers a step-by-step process for dealing with conflict amongst Christians. What stands out to you about his advice?

  • What would you find most difficult to do here?

  • Do you have any experience of following this process (if you do want to share an anecdote, make sure to keep all the who/when/where details anonymous!)

  • How do we balance the need to 'go and point out their fault' with the need to forgive 'not seven times, but seventy-seven times'? What happens if we only attempt one of these and not the other? [2]

Read 2 Timothy 2:22-26

  • Here Paul outlines the sort of leader Timothy should be, with particular attention on the leader's approach to conflict. What stands out to you?

  • Why should Timothy avoid getting into 'foolish and stupid arguments'? How hard is it to do this? How does our ability to avoid these things require spiritual maturity?

  • Look again at verses 24-25. How should Timothy interact with those who disagree with him (even those who actively oppose him)?

  • These words are addressed to Timothy as the church pastor. To what degree are they applicable to all of us?

Read Philippians 4:2-7

  • We don't know why Euodia and Syntyche are in conflict... but what is Paul's instruction to them and to 'my true companion'?

  • What (if anything) should we do when our brothers and sisters are in conflict with one another?

  • How do Paul's next instructions in verses 4-7 relate to this situation of conflict? (Especially, how do we receive God's peace in our conflicts?)

Divide up the following five proverbs amongst your group members. Have each person (or pair) share their proverb and answers to the following questions:

Proverbs 11:17, 11:27, 18:13, 19:11, 28:13

  1. What wisdom does this proverb provide for us as we deal with conflict in our relationships with others?

  2. What 'limits' would you put on this proverb - that is, in what contexts would it be wiser to follow some other principle?

  3. How does this proverb interact with the other passages we've read together in this bible study?

  • Do you currently have a situation in your life where you need to apply these things? Who do you need to make time to pray for, to speak to, to confront, to apologise, and to reconcile with this week?

Spend some time praying for one another, that the Holy Spirit would give us the right words to say and the right hearts in the situations of conflict we're currently facing - that we might be wise about the right ways to respond and work through conflict as peacemakers.

[1] Francis Foulkes helps to put verses 4-6 in context:

The apostle is aware of the endless variety of temperaments amongst his readers and the diverse racial and social backgrounds from which they have come into the Christian church; but he would have them even more aware of the spiritual realities that now unite them and that should completely transcend differences of background. Already, in 1:13–14, he has spoken of the spiritual blessings that are now shared between Jews and Gentiles, and in 2:11–22 of the barriers between them that have been broken down in Christ. All, he says, now have equal shares in the privileges of grace (3:6). Here, as in a credal summary, perhaps a fragment of an early Christian hymn, he names what they have in common, a unity by the Spirit in the church, a unity in Christ acknowledged and confessed as Lord, a unity ultimately in God the Father and source of all.

- Francis Foulkes, Tyndale Commentary Volume10: Ephesians, p. 118.

[2] N.T. Wright explains how confronting someone is compatible with forgiveness (and even necessary!):

Many Christians have taken the paper-over-the-cracks option, believing that this is what ‘forgiveness’ means — pretending that everything is all right, that the other person hasn’t really done anything wrong. That simply won’t do. If someone else — another Christian in particular! — has been offensive, aggressive, bullying, dishonest, or immoral, nothing whatever is gained by trying to create ‘reconciliation’ without confronting the real evil that’s been done. Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying ‘it didn’t really happen’ or ‘it didn’t really matter’. In either of those cases, you don’t need forgiveness, you just need to clear up a misunderstanding. Forgiveness is when it did happen, and it did matter, and you’re going to deal with it and end up loving and accepting one another again anyway. That’s why the sequence recommended here is vital...

Together with this hard and high challenge, there go dramatic promises. We aren’t left on our own as we struggle to become the sort of communities, families and churches that Jesus is describing. God’s presence is with us; our actions on earth have an extra, hidden dimension, the heavenly counterpart of what we do here. And, when we pray together in Christian fellowship, we are therefore assured of being heard and answered. Because, in a promise that remains central to everything that Christians ever do together, ‘where two or three’ (or two hundred or three hundred, for that matter, but it’s often the small groups that need this encouragement most) ‘gather in Jesus’ name, he is there in the midst of them’. That’s not just a promise that we will sense his presence. It’s a promise — and a warning! — that he will see and know the innermost truth of everyone’s heart. If we take that seriously, engaging in reconciliation will still be costly. But it will always be done in real hope, with joy waiting round the corner for those who persevere.

N.T. Wright, Matthew For Everyone: Part 2, p.36-7.


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