Some of humanity’s most ancient instincts are to argue, blame-shift, and fight. We read about this a mere three chapters into the Bible. Even Paul, illustrious missionary, had a falling-out with Barnabas (Acts 15:37–38). Conflict happens. But how do we face conflict head-on?
Decide if the conflict is worth having. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Is this a petty squabble that a good night’s sleep and some nourishing food would erase?
Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers over all offenses.” Both James and Peter incorporate this proverb as they exhort believers to cover a “multitude of sins” in the manner in which they love their fellow Christians (James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8). But what does it mean to “cover”? Does it mean sweeping sin under the rug or pretending the sin doesn’t exist?
Derek Kidner compares the term “covers” by contrasting the word with other Proverbs passages: “Its meaning is clear from its antitheses: stirs up, ‘reveals secrets’ (Proverbs 11:13), ‘harps on a matter’ (Proverbs 17:9, RV). This stress on reconciliation is balanced by other passages warning us against hushing up our own sins (28:13).” To “cover” is a metaphor for reconciliation—the active seeking of peace and resolution.
A New Testament spin on the proverbs of conflict resolution is this: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27). Not letting the sun go down on your anger isn’t advice to consult your watch or the window for the maximum time allotted to being mad. Rather, it’s an exhortation to speedy conflict resolution. Problems that are not discussed will not be solved with the mere passage of time. Holding on to the past mistakes of other people— especially the people you claim to love most—is in direct opposition to the way of Jesus. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul restates his point in the affirmative: Be kind. Be tenderhearted. Forgive. You’ve been forgiven. In Luke 7:36–50, a woman washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, while other diners at the dinner labeled the woman as a sinner. In their self-importance, they were blind to their own sin and unworthiness. Jesus, however, accepted her worship, covered her with dignity, and regaled her with forgiveness: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47).
Remember: we have been forgiven so much. When we look at our sin through the lens of God’s holiness instead of in comparison to other people, we’re instantly humbled by the sacrificial love of Jesus. This humble realization builds a forgiveness reflex within us; we can forgive because of how much we have been forgiven. We can seek to resolve conflict because we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).