For whatever reason, fictional fights are funny. Think about the McAlisters in Home Alone. Early in the movie, we see their dysfunctional antics on full display. Many of us make a holiday tradition out of laughing at their yelling, name-calling, and ostracizing of Kevin.
But when fiction becomes reality, interpersonal conflicts are no longer the stuff of comedy. Sinful conflicts are devastating, not delightful. They’re heartbreaking, not humorous. You don’t laugh when you discover your sister’s husband belittles her to the point of tears. You don’t snicker when a friend or coworker refuses to forgive an unkind comment. You don’t want to rewind and watch when a three-hour argument ends with a door being slammed in your face.
Sinful conflicts are devastating, not delightful. They are heartbreaking, not humorous.
The fictional conflicts we enjoy usually provide us with a happy ending. The characters come to their senses and realize the importance of love and unity. If they could’ve seen the end from the beginning, perhaps they’d have avoided a lot of pain. Our story of conflict ends with joy as well. Revelation provides us a glimpse of eternity, and our understanding of the story’s end matters for how we address interpersonal conflict in the present.
Living in Light of the End
Revelation is a letter of preparation. God wants his people to be aware of what is to come so they can live in faithful obedience (Rev. 1:1–3). In chapters 2–3, Jesus offers encouragement to the seven churches, and he addresses their sin and failure. He wants them to repent so they’ll be positioned and equipped to endure the trials of persecution. When Jesus mentions “the one who conquers” (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26), he gives the churches a glimpse of the reward that awaits their faithfulness—a vision of the glories of heaven. The churches needed this glimpse to encourage them in their fight of faith.
Later, in the vision of Revelation 7:9–17, we see a great multitude worshiping in unity around the throne. Robert Mounce comments, “The second vision is anticipatory of the eternal blessedness of all believers when in the presence of God they realize the rewards of faithful endurance.”
Like those who first read Revelation, we need these anticipatory visions of blessing to capture our hearts and minds and lead us into faithful unity. In fact, I believe there’s a connection between eschatology and conflict resolution. Have you considered that possibility?
What allows this diverse group, too numerous to count, to coexist in perfect peace? What can the unity we see around the throne teach us about conflict resolution? What can the end of days teach us about the end of interpersonal conflict?
1. In the end, Jesus is the center of attention.
Do you focus on Jesus in the midst of conflicts, or are you focused on yourself?
Listening is one of the hardest things to do in a conflict. It’s an unbelievably selfless exercise. Good listening is not simply a product of acknowledging what someone is saying or of not interrupting. It starts with wanting to know and understand the other person. If you’re simply waiting your turn to say what you want to say, then you’re listening for you, not for the person who’s speaking to you.
Look to the multitude around the throne. They aren’t focused on themselves. They’re focused on their King. Making your voice, thoughts, and ideas the priority in your fights won’t bring them to a speedy conclusion. More times than not, it will lead to further hardship and heartache. So, repent of your desire to make yourself the center of attention in your conflicts. Ask Jesus for the desire to please him, love him, and make him the center.
2. In the end, Jesus is the one we serve.
Do you serve Jesus in your conflicts, or do you serve yourself?
One reason parenting is so hard is that it’s a constant exercise in service. Young children are completely dependent. While circumstances can make parenting easier or more difficult, the truth remains that it’s hard to serve because we have a self-serving and self-seeking nature. Our sin nature also makes conflict difficult to navigate. It’s easy to go into self-preservation mode when attacked. Sometimes we’re defensive. Other times we justify ourselves, retreat, or go on the attack. In all these ways, we’re serving our own interests.
What can the unity we see around the throne teach us about our pursuit of relational peace?
But look at the multitude around the throne. They aren’t serving themselves. Their focus is on serving God. When faced with conflict, ask Jesus for the desire and ability to serve others instead of yourself. Ask him to show you how you can listen, seek to understand, and respond in ways that show your love and concern. As you serve others, trust in God’s gracious provision. He promises to protect you with his forever presence.
3. In the end, Jesus satisfies our every need.
Are you satisfied in Jesus during conflicts, or do you satisfy yourself?
Withholding affection and lashing out can be sinfully satisfying. It can feel good to vent your anger, give a cold shoulder, or withdraw from someone who hurts you. Do you ever hunger for vengeance? Do you thirst for retribution? Do you find satisfaction in hurting those who hurt you?
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). The multitude around the throne find their satisfaction in the presence of the Lamb. They drink from springs of living water. In your conflicts, seek the satisfaction that comes only from Christ. Ask him to satisfy you with his righteousness. The end shows us that we won’t be left in want.
Let eternity be your guide in conflict resolution. How big will our fights seem on that day? How important will our unmet desires be when we stand before the Great Shepherd of our souls? Ask yourself: What right do I have to make an enemy out of someone whom God has called my brother or sister?
Revelation reminds us that we shouldn’t settle for festering feuds and relational discord. Jesus didn’t shed his blood so that we would hold grudges. Pursue the relational reality that Jesus bled for. Let a right view of eternity encourage and empower you to resolve your conflicts quickly for the fame and glory of the One who rightly deserves it.