Handling Relational Conflict: Lessons From Winemaking

By Jonathan Moseley

Winemaking can be complex and varies in time and technique. But no matter what method you choose, there are a few common steps: you first pick the grapes and then crush them. Next, these crushed grapes are fermented into wine. As it ages, the wine savors and becomes ready to drink. 

When it comes to building healthy friendships, we sometimes miss out on all God designed them for. Why? Because at the first taste of conflict, we give up on that person.  But conflict is what tests relationships. Conflict is the crushing experience that prepares a friendship to reach its God-given potential. It is only a matter of time before someone is wronged when two sinners become friends. Do we neglect community then to avoid relational tension and emotional harm?  No, we embrace conflict knowing God is working through it for our good and theirs. In fact, God allows conflict as an opportunity to grow in godliness. It’s one of his many methods he uses to make us like Jesus. Friends surrender to God’s methods by undergoing a process of grace and repentance, or the fermentation to the friendship, that prepares these friends to enjoy all that God intends through their relationship. As this process of grace and repentance continues through the years, or as the friendship ages, God builds an unbreakable bond between these parties producing a sweetness, profundity, and a kind of joy only he can create.  

So, how exactly can we get to this kind of joy God wants for our friendships? How can we honor God and one another in conflict?

1. Consider the conflict an urgent matter. Jesus tells us: So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison” (Matthew 5:23-25).

Why does Jesus say first go to your bother before offering your gift at the altar? Because loving God involves caring for our brothers or sisters, and it’s not very loving to let a wrong go unnoticed. We’re not really worshiping God when we don’t seek reconciliation, because that’s at the very heart of God.

But it’s also a matter of urgency because ignoring a wrong can cause great and lasting harm. The author of Hebrews exhorts Christians to  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (12:14-15).

Poisonous roots produce poisonous fruits. And the root of bitterness is lethal and can grow deep in the heart in a matter of seconds. Therefore, it’s vital that we seek peace with those we’ve wronged.

2. See your own sin. We typically see the sins of others clearer than we see ours. So, we naturally point the finger and place 100% of the blame on the person. Jesus says, First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus’ comparison is intentional. We typically think our sin is small—but Jesus draws attention to their speck and our log. Jesus turns it around and draws attention to the fact that we are more sinful that we would like to think. So, whenever there is conflict, take time to reflect on the part your sin may have played in it. Reflection of your sin first will humble you to respond to their sin in grace.

3. Initiate Peace. This is one of the hardest instructions the Bible gives us. Why apologize if we haven’t done anything wrong? Why reach out when they are the ones with the problem? Because we remember the initiative God took with us. God did nothing wrong in the relationship he offered us, yet he makes the first move to win us back: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8).

4. Go to them alone first. If necessary, get others involved. Jesus instructs us how to approach someone that is in the wrong.  Sadly, we often bring too many people into relational conflicts. Jesus instructs us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:15-17). When two people are in conflict, it’s not everyone’s business to know. This should be worked out between the one wronged and the one who did the wronging. If the one at fault does not listen, then others should get involved. We should heed Jesus’ wise counsel.

5. Finally, pray about the situation. Prayer during times of relational tension is a safeguard for your heart from growing angry or bitter. It keeps your heart aimed at restoration with your brother or sister.  When you’ve done all you can do, prayer is your acknowledgement that ultimately this situation belongs to the Lord.

Jonathan Moseley is the Director of Community and Operations at Renewal Church.