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James 4:1-9

Conflict IS - -

The IS Series, #4
Presenting unchanging and life-giving truths of God's Word
to help His people live free and fruitful lives that draw others to Him.


Last revised 3/26/13
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Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you. James 4:1, ncv

  To Start With . . .
All conflict is the result of unfulfilled expectation. It doesn’t matter if it’s Arabs and Jews or you and me, that is the source.
James 4:1 tells us why unfulfilled expectation can lead to a level of conflict that produces separation in relationships, and 4:2-9 goes deeper.
  The Basics
Others frequently don't know our expectation or we don't know theirs, and a little communication could help a lot. Sometimes we don't really know our own expectations, but maybe we do and are unwilling to acknowledge them. And possibly we do know their expectations but are unwilling to fulfill them.
Expectations may lay more in what is not said then in what is said. It helps to try to learn another's expectations so we can understand why they act as they do, and why we respond/react as we do.
In varying degrees from one person to another, sources of expectation include gender, culture, race, religion, education, physical stature, social standing, life experience, birth order, wealth, the car we drive, pecking order in various settings, personality, world view, and countless other factors, some more honorable than others.
Our expectations of others can apply to how they walk, talk, eat, drink, dress, drive, lead, follow - - or look at us, for example. Our own expectations define what we think is right or best or proper or wise, or other criterion including “my rights.” Family relationships are expectation-driven.
Some people are forward about their expectations and that can be helpful or unhelpful, depending on how it is given and received. Others just “stuff” them, where they simmer and eventually come out but rarely in a healthy way.
It is possible for conflict to arise when two equally good ideas are presented and neither presenter is willing to yield. It can then shift to a battle of the wills, which is based on James 4:1.
The sense of entitlement from America’s newfound socialism is creating expectation that is in direct tension with historic American expectations and will produce unprecedented conflict.

Shameful but True

Almost without exception, conflict in Christian institutions (“ministries,” missions, churches) is the result of a power struggle. It is probably 95% safe to set aside the reasons people give, and look for the real reason. It’s rarely about “the songs,” the color of the carpet, “style” or even theological/doctrinal issues. It’s about power, and women are increasingly free to play the game.
“Personality conflicts” are simply power struggles between two strong-willed people who each have (often unspoken) expectations of the other. In church conflict it is likely one who has power from one of several possible sources, versus a pastor who is strong enough to resist the attempted control of one who is thwarting what God has called him to.
  Personal Stuff
It is important that we know our own expectations; understand how they shape our thoughts and actions; and accept responsibility for how they affect relationships.
I have expectations about “tailgating” on the highway. I don’t expect others to tailgate me but I have advanced from hitting my brakes to scare the offender, to touching them only enough to put my taillights on to remind them. Then, if I need to I’ll slow down to encourage them to pass me and if they can’t/won’t, I’ll find a wide spot and pull off so they pass, and then come back on the road. Please don’t tailgate when I’m riding with you - - I’ll probably have to say something!
I also have expectations about the “safe space” between me and the vehicle ahead of me. If my situational awareness is alert enough, the aggressive driver who thinks he's going to sneak around me and take that space will soon learn that he needs to find another option for getting to the front.
I expect those in law enforcement, government and the Church to use authority for the benefit of those they serve. It is especially odious to me when church leaders use the power of position to protect themselves or others from scrutiny.
  The Choice is Ours
If we are willing to search our hearts and to acknowledge our expectations, we can often modify them and resolve conflict without a word, but that requires courage and humility. As we lower our fists it can disarm the other person and they will often lower theirs too. For men that is typically unspoken or in only a few words, but for women it may need to be talked about more.
At times I choose to submit myself to the unreasonable expectations of others because I value the relationship enough to pay that price. Or because “the fight isn’t worth it.” Or  for expediency sake - - it’s the only smart thing to do because of some benefit to me or others.
For reasons that were more important than preserving my pride, I once chose to allow the unreasonable expectations and ungodly actions of one I was accountable to in a mission, to prevail over me. Others wanted to defend me but I determined to let God do that. Regardless of the cost I would be a “Psalm 37 man.” “Stayin On the High Road” and “God Will Vindicate the Just” came out of that. I was humiliated. I resigned. I was the victor!
Sometimes I chose not to do that. There are some pretty vain people out there who intimidate others, or who expect to be honored in certain ways, or who expect to control us for some reason, and sometimes I just go on and leave it to them to figure out what they are going to do with me.
There are times when I will pay the price to stand up to the expectations of others, especially if they are hurtful to those around me. That can be done openly and firmly but without unrighteous anger, and the spirit in which it is done has a lot to do with the outcome. And sometimes it can occur strictly between me and God without becoming a public thing.
Sadly, there are times when, even after following a Biblical process, it just doesn’t seem possible to reach a peaceful understanding with another. Creating some distance may be the best for all but it is crucial that those who claim to be followers of Jesus judge their own attitudes and actions by the standard of Romans 12:9-21.

The Final Solution


Choosing godliness will prevent many situations from evolving into conflict! Consider the effect of:

  • Taking up our cross daily and following Christ (Luke 9:23-24)
  • Lives that are marked by “the fruit of the Spirit” instead of “the works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:13-22)
Further, to love each other as Jesus commands in John 13:34-35 means that we will act in the best interests of others. And get this - - that will convince “the world” that we are His disciples because it will be obvious to them that only some greater power could make it happen! Some will see it as being desirable and will want Him too!
  A Question
Does this help you identify “expectations” and the stuff they can produce inside us and between us? Can you feel how they can lead to conflict? What are yours, and how do they affect your relationships, and what are you doing about them?

This is #4 in “The IS Series” and is one of many short articles that can be found at  ©2013, Ken Stoltzfus, P.O. Box 228, Kidron, OH 44636 USA. May be printed for personal use and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes without further permission if proper acknowledgment is given. Posted March 26, 2013

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