I’m amused at the humorous translation glitches that some major corporations had while trying to globalize their brand. Here are a few of my favorites: Coors translated its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it is a colloquial term for having diarrhea. Colgate launched toothpaste in France named “Cue” without realizing that it’s also the name of a French pornographic magazine. Pepsi’s slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” was debuted in China as “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave.” The American Dairy Association replicated its “Got Milk?” campaign in Spanish-speaking countries where it was translated into “Are You Lactating?”[i]
Such good intentions, so horribly received. It’s funny when it’s a corporate story, but much less funny when it us and our relationships. How many relationships and even entire churches are decimated by a simple misunderstanding?
In the early days of the Israelites in the Promised Land a simple misunderstanding threatened to start a civil war. As the enemies of Israel were finally dealt with, they weren’t prepared for what happened in Joshua 22 . They had peace on the outside but now they had disunity within the Promised Land. Thankfully, clear communication won the day and civil war did not happen. We must acknowledge that misunderstandings happen and we do well to give a gracious ear to both parties.
Here’s a summary of what happened: The tribe of Reuben and Gad wanted to set up a memorial to show their solidarity with the people of Israel. But this was seen as an idolatrous act by the other tribes. Thankfully, no blood was shed because everyone explained their story and moved on from this conflict. In doing so they give us a good path to travel when we find our own conflicts. Here are three steps to handle conflict.
- When in conflict the offended party should lovingly confront. Joshua 22:11-19
Though I don’t believe they quite modeled “lovingly confront” the people of Israel did have the guts to actually confront the ones who had offended them instead of cutting their heads off! The biblical response would have been for them to assume the best of their brothers and to have perhaps taken a listening ear instead of a sharpened spear. Yet, they did have the grace to hear out their brothers before engaging in civil war.
As a pastor I’ve had to mediate between fighting couples and fighting friends. Almost without exception the problem comes down to a lack of communication. Rather than actually talk about what has offended them the offended party simply sulks and/or wages war. When things get out in the open there is usually a simple misunderstanding and things are resolved. This same thing happens in churches. Leaders might be guilty of assuming they understand what is going on, but in reality there is much more to a story. Likewise, those being led might assume some nefarious plans on the part of the leader. Much of this could be dealt with if believers would do as the people of Israel here and confront those who have offended them.
Are there relationships that are broken in our lives because of a lack of communication? Are there people who have offended us and do not know it? Perhaps we should do the hard thing and clear the air?
2. When in conflict the offended party should graciously listen. Joshua 22:21-28
Can you imagine the people of Israel in a counseling session, explaining their beef with the two offending tribes? Their story seemed so right. They had every right to be angry at the idolatry and treacherous act of their brothers. How could they do such a thing? An inexperienced leader would have maybe even counseled them to take up arms against their brothers.
But if we really wisely pause and realize there is usually another side to the story. In the case presented in Joshua 22 there was a legitimate explanation for this altar. It wasn’t for idolatry it was a sign of peace and unity between all the tribes of Israel. How terrible that what was intended to be a sign of peace became a source of division.
Thankfully the Israelites graciously listened to the explanation of their brothers. We would do well as leaders to listen to both sides of every story. And even as individual believers we should always remember there are probably two sides to every story—even if we are the ones in conflict.
Are there ways that we can be more intentional in listening to someone else’s story? How we respond to an explanation is often telling of our hearts. If we respond in anger and distrust that is telling us that something is lopsided. But if we are quick to forgive and quick to listen to an explanation it tells us that we’ve likely experienced grace.
3. When in conflict work through it in a way that honors the Lord. Joshua 22:29-34
All of the tribes involved in this conflict wanted the same thing—to honor the Lord and to live in peace. Even today if warring parties share this desire then you can feel confident that a conflict will be resolved. That does not mean that both parties (or either) will get their way. But what it does mean is that they’ll be able to live in unity. In the story in Joshua 22 both parties were satisfied and both worshipped God. This is what happens when conflict is brought out into the open and biblically dealt with—it ends in praise to God.
Ultimately our peace and unity with one another has already been purchased by Christ. Because He has drawn us to Himself, He has also drawn us to one another. We are united with one another because we are united to Him. But we must be “eager to maintain” this unity. We do this, not by being focused on unity but by being focused on Christ. Ultimately, our display of unity is a display of how much we value Christ. Someday every conflict will be over and everything will be out in the open. No more misunderstandings. No more fractured relationships. Instead we will live in perfect peace with one another. This is what Christ has purchased for us. And we are invited to live this out even today.