The Perils of Conflict Resolution

In Galatians 6:1, Paul says this:

Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in a trespass, those of you who are spiritual ought to restore that person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

This isn’t a general exhortation.  Paul has in mind the specific problem in Galatia.  Those who hold to Paul’s original teaching in the Galatian churches ought to restore anyone who has fallen prey to the teaching of “the agitators.”

But what does Paul mean by his exhortation to watchfulness?  What temptation does he have in mind?  Does he mean that those who are spiritual may be tempted to adopt the Judaizing teaching of the outsiders?

I don’t think so.  They’ve already decided which teaching to adopt.

Paul is referring to watchfulness about their mode of restoration.

The temptation here is to attempt to heal the communal rifts in such ways that exacerbate the division.

As Paul said in Gal. 5:16-17, the Flesh and the Spirit are at war with each other, and the Flesh’s desire is to destroy the communities that the Spirit is building.

The visiting teachers have opened a rift and it would be tempting to “solve the problem” through fleshly means—perhaps by humiliating those who gave in to false teaching, or by harsh denunciation.  The temptation to “make them pay” won’t be easy to overcome.

Seeking restoration in anything but a spirit of gentleness is a “work of the flesh,” not a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:19-26).

Communal threats are subtle, demanding watchfulness.

The teaching of the agitators presented a multi-faceted problem.  Not only must the Galatians deal with the false teaching itself; they need to heal the divisions in ways that foster community flourishing and avoid further breakdown.

This is a serious challenge when resolving conflicts.

We may be tempted to punish the one who is at fault.  We may want to play the blame game from a desire for vengeance.  We may want to put all the pressure on one party to do the heavy lifting to bring about restoration.

Such strategies arise from the Flesh, the cosmic power subtly seeking to undermine God’s renewing work among his people.

And such strategies run against the grain of Paul’s next statement:

Carry each other’s burdens.  In this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2).

Everyone—even those who are wronged—must fully participate in the process of restoration in a community.  Anything less than that sets a community on a trajectory of eventual destruction.

Restoration isn’t straightforward or easy.  There are countless temptations in such processes and many ways in which to foster destruction rather than furthering God’s restorative power.

Maintaining a spirit of gentleness, however, is the hopeful way forward.


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