What can you do when you’re dealing with a Christian who consistently rubs you the wrong way? Maybe you work together, live together, study together, or share a group of friends. Due to circumstances largely outside your control, you’re stuck together . . . and you’re going crazy.
You can’t change someone else’s heart or actions, but you may ease the strain of a tense relationship by cultivating compassion.
While we aren’t required to be close friends with all believers, God does ask us to do whatever we can to live “peaceably” with each other (Rom. 12:18). You can’t change someone else’s heart or actions, but it may be possible to ease the strain of a tense relationship on your end by cultivating these three habits of compassion.
These aren’t bulletproof guarantees that your relationship will improve, but they are guards against bitterness in your own heart. Practicing these three things will change your own perspective, drawing you closer to your heavenly Father. They will help you defuse conflict with grace by refusing to return evil for evil. At the very least, the person you’re experiencing conflict with will see the love of Christ in you. And what is more powerful than His love?
1) Prayerfully look for evidences of grace.
What is an evidence of grace? It’s a tangible proof that God is working in a Christian’s life. The apostle Paul models this life-generating habit for us. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was talking to a church that was chock-full of dangerous sin, including (but not limited to): arrogance, backbiting, fighting, favoritism, immoral sexual practices that elicited the disapproval of unbelievers, abuse of spiritual gifts . . . and much more.
In light of all that, check out his opening statement to them in this letter. You can read the full thing in 1 Corinthians 1:2–9:
“I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
“I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.
“This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Do you see what Paul did there? He lovingly reminds them who they are at the core: holy, God’s own people. He tells them that he thanks God for them— and he means it! Then he thanks God for the “gracious gifts” he’s given to them, how he’s “enriched them in every way.” But remember, this is not a godly church he’s talking to. This is a seriously sin-filled church, in need of heavy duty correction. And he does give correction—but he starts out with gospel-centered encouragement.
If the person you’re experiencing conflict with is a believer, guess what? No matter how messed up their actions may be, evidence of God’s work will be detectable.
Even if all you can find is a glimmer of fruit, highlight that glimmer. Take a magnifying glass to it. Thank God for it, and tell the person you’ve noticed. Be specific; “you’re awesome” is not going to build someone up, and we are aiming for honesty, not flattery.
As you prayerfully ask for God’s perspective on this individual and thank Him, you’ll be amazed at the love that starts to grow in your heart.
2) Choose a posture of humility.
You will never meet someone difficult to get along with who isn’t hurting deeply. That doesn’t justify their actions, but it does prompt compassion.
In Matthew 7:3, Jesus offers us words of wisdom to douse pride: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”
You aren’t responsible for anyone’s actions except your own.
You aren’t responsible for anyone’s actions except your own. Are you aware of your own weaknesses and sins? If you are, you know how much grace God has extended to you in Christ, and you won’t be quick to view others with a harsh and critical spirit.
Instead of reminding yourself how much better you are, think of your own weaknesses and your own capacity to sin. When you’re viewing yourself in this light, don’t be surprised when you start to experience empathy for the very same person who is causing you so much grief.
3) Outlaw all gossip.
When someone offends you, where do you turn? Do you want someone to hear your side and then join you in commiserating about how unreasonable and immature so-and-so is?
Gossip damages relationships, while love forgives.
There’s a place for confiding in someone safe to express your hurt and seek wisdom, but the practice of “repeating” offenses will only hurt you (and the strained relationship) further. Why? Venting to friends is supposed to relieve our stress, but it actually has the reverse effect; it pulls us back into the moment of hurt or anger all over again. When we repeat an offense through gossip, we’re growing that offense in our minds. We’re building a “narrative,” entrenching a certain person in our minds in a negative light—and denying the gospel through our actions.
Proverbs 17:9 puts it like this in the NIV: “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” In the NLT, it reads like this: “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”
The meaning of all translations is clear: gossip damages relationships, while love forgives.
Now it’s your turn. What do you practice to pursue peace? Share your own strategies with us in the comments!