Proverbs 18:17-19 – Counsel on conflict resolution

Where there is movement“Where there is movement there is friction” is a scientific fact and the same is true for human relationships. Engaging with family members, neighbors, co-workers or acquaintances will inevitably produce friction and conflict. Because oriental kings acted as judge, jury and law—it was important for Solomon to convey to his son the gravity of addressing conflicts judiciously.  Today’s proverbs, Proverbs 18:17-19, offer “uncommon common sense” in conflict resolution.

Proverbs 18:17 – “He that is first [first in rank; chief; i.e. speaking of one’s priority] in his own cause [strife; controversy; dispute; quarrel] seemeth just [righteous; lawful]; but his neighbour [companion; friend; confidant] cometh [come in; enter] and searcheth [examine; seeks out; try; investigate] him.”Mediator

Because it is human nature to argue one’s rightness in a dispute and fail to see another’s point of view, Solomon suggests to his son a Mediator–one who will hear both sides of a conflict and propose a resolution.  It is prudent for a man to humble himself and invite a wise counselor to examine a matter and try his heart [motives and attitudes] (18:17b). Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Proverbs 18:18 is a reminder that some disagreements are inconsequential enough that keeping peace should be of greater value than winning an argument.

Proverbs 18:18 – “The lot [small stone throne to determine a choice] causeth contentions [strife; brawling] to cease [rest; desist], and parteth [separate; divide] between the mighty [strong; great].”

lots“Flipping a coin” and choosing “heads or tails” is often used in our day to propose the settlement of a matter between friends or opposing sports teams [i.e. a kickoff in football].   In a similar mode, “lots” were cast in ancient times as a means of settling disputes between two contentious parties.  A “lot” was a small stone or stones that was marked and then cast to determine the outcome of a matter [somewhat like “drawing straws” or reaching into a bag to pull out a token].

Solomon suggests in Proverbs 16:33 that some matters can be settled by casting a lot and leaving the outcome to the Lord.  There are instances of casting lots in the Bible. Roman soldiers cast lots at the foot of the cross to determine who would take Jesus’ tunic [outer garment] (John 19:24; Psalm 22:18).  The disciples, following the death of Judas the betrayer, chose Matthias as an apostle by casting lots (Acts 1:26).

Is casting lots a valid method of resolving an issue for the 21st century Christian?  Yes, if a matter is trivial between friends and the issue is not one of principle or “right vs. wrong” and it matters little the outcome.  However, in matters of principle where a resolution is needed to amicably resolve a dispute, Proverbs 18:17 is the spiritual means of conflict resolution.

Proverbs 18:19  proffers the motivation for addressing conflicts responsibly and judiciously with a brother.resolutions

Proverbs 18:19 – “A brother [relative; countryman; friend] offended [transgressed; a breach in relationship] is harder to be won than a strong [mighty; secure] city [stronghold; castle]: and their contentions [strife; discord] are like the bars [gates] of a castle.”

In summary, it is easier to conquer a fortified walled city than resolve a conflict with a loved one or friend determined to bear an offense.

I close with a word from our Lord in the matter of addressing conflicts.

Matthew 5:23-25 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

Copyright 2014 – Travis D. Smith