In my estimation, most sibling rivalry is over two things. One is the desire to have more attention from parents than your siblings do, and the other is the desire to have what someone else has. This turns into envy, jealousy, and a plethora of other destructive attitudes.
Now if you have children, you may have observed this already and probably agree with me. Children are needy for our affection. They are impatient to get it and easily get their feelings hurt if they think one child is getting more attention than they are receiving. This can lead to tantrums or fights between siblings.
People overlook this kind of behavior in children. “They’ll grow out of it someday,” they say. Most of the time children finally realize they are stuck with their siblings for life, and try to make the most of it as they get older. Then again sometimes one child never grows up and sees the need for asking for forgiveness. That can be a disaster to the whole family. What happens when conflict hits the children of God; the biggest family of all?
Think back to Cain and Abel. What was the fight over? Cain didn’t like that God blessed Abel’s sacrifice and not his. He was envious of his brother. He felt he was being overlooked by God and decided to even the playing field by killing his brother. God talked to Cain and tried to encourage him to do right and he would be accepted. But that old adversary, Satan, surely lied to Cain just like he had to Cain’s mother, Eve. It was not fair that his sacrifice was not accepted. Surely God would love him more if Abel were not there to get all of God’s attention. Unfortunately, killing Abel backfired on Cain. God had to discipline him and sent him away for the remainder of his life. Cain learned that disobeying God can cause a lifetime of pain and regret.
When conflict happens in the church it is not the same as at your home. Church members are not your siblings. You are to love them, but you don’t have to like them all. When someone in the church hurts your feelings, you have a couple of choices. You can work it out and forgive them, you can leave and go to another church, or you can stay and have bitterness take up permanent residence in your heart.
I have been in the same church for over 40 years. The people in this church are my brothers and sisters in Christ, but sometimes they get their feelings hurt. Sometimes they act like children. Sometimes I do the same. Thankfully the Bible gives us a game plan for times when the family of God doesn’t get along. You can go to the offending party and tell them how you are hurt by their actions. That gives them the opportunity to tell you they are sorry and ask for your forgiveness. If that doesn’t work, you can take someone else with you and tell them again how they have hurt you in front of a witness who can mediate the problem. If that doesn’t work, you can involve the Ministers or Elders. Hopefully, it never gets that far.
But nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to tell everyone else how that person has offended us, to slander them, or to gossip about that person to others. What it does say to do is to forgive, even if the person who hurt you doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about absolving that other person. It is about deciding to let God take care of the problem. Likewise, withholding forgiveness, when someone asks to be forgiven, hurts both of you. The one who asked to be forgiven is desperate to know everything will be alright between the two of you, yet you continue to hold it against them, filling your own heart with bitterness.
Conflict in the Church is not healthy. Jesus tells us to seek peace. He tells us to love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us. Forgiveness is the ultimate good when you feel offended. People in church sometimes hurt us without even knowing they have injured us. Put on a tougher skin. Don’t be looking for someone to upset you. Be the bigger brother who can forgive an offence and still love his/her brother/sister in Christ. Most of all, seek peace and value others above yourself. This is called humility, and it takes the pain out of conflict.