How long has it been since your last conflict? Many of us could count the hours—maybe even minutes. We are sandpaper people in a sandpaper world. Friction is a part of life.
A needy child interrupts your morning devotions. A co-worker unjustly blames you for a failed project. The church critic wants to speak with you about yesterday’s sermon. Your spouse makes plans without consulting the calendar. There are innumerable scenarios in life and ministry where conflict erupts.
Though Eliphaz wasn’t right about much, he was right about man when he said, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). This saying is trustworthy: whenever two sinners interact, there is a high likelihood of sparks.
In order to handle conflict in a way that glorifies God and promotes reconciliation with others, we must first understand the heart of the issue.
The Source of All Things: A Biblical View of the Heart
Conflict is not primarily the result of personality differences, miscommunication, nor unfortunate circumstances. Those may play a role in escalating or complicating a conflict, but they are not the source. The true source of conflict is the same as the source of all things in life—the heart.
In Scripture, God has revealed the nature of humanity. That is a more significant reality than most people realize. The corollary reality is that the nature of humanity—who we really are—cannot be discovered through secular anthropology, philosophy, medicine, or psychology. In other words, it is impossible for mankind to discover his nature through natural means.
What has God revealed? All of life—thoughts, desires, intentions, words, actions—arises from the heart (Prov. 4:23). The heart has intentions and purposes (Gen. 6:5; Heb. 4:12). The heart makes plans (Prov. 20:5), offers thanksgiving (Ps. 111:1), speaks (Luke 6:46), hates (Lev. 19:17), forgives (Matt. 18:35), and loves God and others (Matt. 22:34–40). All of life—sin and righteousness—flows from the heart (Prov. 15:28; Mark 7:20–23).
In this context, the heart is not the blood-pumping organ. The heart is the immaterial part of a man or woman synonymous with their spirit or soul (Prov. 2:10; 17:22). It is the inner man (Rom. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:16) which is either being renewed by the Spirit or corrupted by sin (Eph. 4:22–23). The heart is the deepest part of man, the very control center of life. A person is no more or less than the nature of his heart (Prov. 23:7).
This is why God is concerned first and foremost with the heart (Jer. 17:9–10), and why a new heart is a critical component of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:26). When God looks for worshippers, He looks for those who worship from the heart, because the heart alone manifests one’s true devotion (Isa. 29:13; John 4:23).
The Primary Occupation of the Heart
As the control center of life, the heart is busy doing a lot of things. But there is one occupation that rises above the rest by design—the heart worships.
Worship is what happens when we ascribe to a person or object the ability to control the world, meet needs, provide protection, bring happiness, and satisfy desires. This is why the world is full of function-specific gods and idols—gods of fertility, war, love, weather, and so on. Humans worship and serve the particular god they truly believe can meet their needs.
No wonder the first and second commandments are at the top of the list (Exod. 20:1–6). We are to have no other gods than the Lord our God, and we are not to look to any created thing as representative of God. We are not to worship or serve anything other than God because there is no other god like our God who can do what God alone can do. Indeed, all other gods are nothing and can do nothing (Deut. 4:28; Ps. 115:4–8).
As the One who searches men’s hearts, the Lord knows when our worship is genuine or false—when it is from the heart or merely on the lips (Isa. 29:13). No matter what we profess, we worship false gods when our heart turns away from the Lord (Deut. 11:16). Those who serve false gods and worship them refuse to listen to truth because they are committed to following their own heart (Jer. 13:10).