5. How Godly Leaders Resolve ConflictRelated Media
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others…
How do godly leaders resolve conflict?
Conflict is a result of the fall. After Adam sinned, he blamed God and his wife. He said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Gen 3:12). The woman then blamed the serpent. The blame game began when sin entered into the world. But also God prophesied that sin would have a terrible effect on the relationship of the man and the woman. The woman would desire her husband and the husband would rule over her (Gen 3:16). In the Hebrew the word “desire” has to do with control or seeking to master something (cf. Gen 4:7). She would seek to control the husband, and the husband would rule her by force. From this relationship, we have conflict in our homes, in our friendships, and in our work relationships. We have conflict between nations. The world has known no years without war. In fact, Paul taught that the acts of the flesh are hatred, discord, fits of rage, and factions (Gal 5:20). To be in discord is to be human.
However, in the midst of this world of discord, Christ said this: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). In describing those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, he said that they would be known for working for peace and resolving discord.
How do godly leaders resolve conflict? How do we become the peacemakers that we have been called to be? Many people think being a peacemaker means never “ruffling feathers” or causing conflict; however, this is not true. Because there can be no true peace where there is sin, often the peacemaker will need to confront people in sin, so that there can be true peace. We see this with Nehemiah and how he responded to the conflict in Israel.
How can we best respond to conflict in order to bring true peace?
We can learn a lot from Nehemiah, as we consider how he resolved the conflict in Israel. In chapter 4, Nehemiah had conflict from without as the Samaritans persecuted him, but in chapter 5, he had conflict from within which threatened the completion of the wall. The nobles were mistreating the poor and instead of brushing it aside to focus on the wall, he addressed the issues and brought peace and righteousness. In this study, we will consider ten leadership principles on how to resolve conflict.
Big Question: What can we learn about conflict resolution from Nehemiah’s response to the conflict in Israel and how can we apply these principles?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Not Ignore Problems
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.
Observation Question: What were the internal problems threatening the completion of the wall?
First, they were running out of food because of a famine (v. 2). Secondly, because of this famine, people were selling their fields and vineyards (v.3). Third, people were borrowing money from Jewish nobles and going into tremendous debt as they sought to pay taxes to King Artaxerxes (v.4). As we will see later in the text, the Jewish lenders were charging exorbitant interest rates. Finally, the debt was becoming so high that many of Israel’s children had to be sold into slavery to pay the debt (v.5). This is where the conflict was; it was between the poor and the nobles.
What can we learn from Nehemiah’s response about resolving conflict?
In order to resolve conflicts, we must choose to not ignore problems. Now this principle seems simple enough but the reality is that it’s very easy to know about problems and, yet, give no attention to them. Nehemiah had many reasons for not getting involved. He had a great project going on. Why should he focus on the conflict when they hadn’t built the wall yet? The conflict arose because of the nobles and officials. To challenge them would have brought tremendous pressure on him because they were the leaders of Israel. Many reasons can be found to not get involved. However, Nehemiah chose to not ignore the conflict but instead to address it.
It’s the same for us. We are often tempted to ignore or to overlook conflict. However, good leadership understands the importance of not only getting involved but also resolving the conflict. Conflict has a tendency to spread. First, it is only two people fighting and then others begin taking sides. We can’t ignore the conflict because it will spread like leaven and can eventually lead to destruction (cf. 1 Cor 5:6). Nehemiah doesn’t ignore it, he immediately addresses it.
Similarly, we see a good example of not neglecting conflict in the early church. In Acts 6:1-6, the Greek widows were being neglected in the distribution of food, and when the apostles heard about it, even though they were busy, they responded by selecting the first seven deacons to care for the widows.
Sadly, many leaders simply choose to ignore conflict and focus on the bottom line. However, conflict always negatively affects the corporate climate and productivity. And from a spiritual standpoint, it removes the blessing of God (cf. Psalm 133). God is not a God of disorder but of peace (cf. 1 Cor 14:33)—he can’t bless a community that’s in discord. For that reason, godly leaders must not ignore or neglect conflict. They must get involved and seek to resolve it.
What problems or conflicts does God want you to pay attention to and get involved in?
Application Question: Why do people in leadership tend to ignore problems and conflict? What problems or conflicts is God calling you to get involved with in order to restore peace and righteousness?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Develop a Righteous Anger
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
Many leaders just bypass problems and never address them. They may do this, in part, because they are apathetic towards the situation. Therefore, they never develop a righteous anger which leads to fixing the problem.
Again, Nehemiah is not apathetic and does not brush the problems aside. He actually becomes passionate about the situation. It says that he became “very angry” (v. 6). Often, we, as the church, lack this righteous anger which keeps us from ever becoming part of God’s solution.
Do you realize that anger is an aspect of being made in the “image of God”? Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.”
Some people think it is always wrong to be angry; but this is not true. Sometimes, it is sinful to not be angry. The righteous anger of God should be within every believer.
Jesus was angry when he went into the temple. He made a whip and turned over the tables of the money changers (John 2:14-16). To some this might seem strange of Christ, even unChrist-like, but this was actually an example of righteous anger. He was angry at sin and therefore sought to bring righteousness.
We need a righteous anger in order to correct sin in our lives, our churches, and our nations. We need it to fight injustices like abortion, trafficking, and racism in society. We should have a righteous anger about sin, not to cause problems, but in order to help bring righteousness.
Interpretation Question: How do we discern if our anger is righteous like Nehemiah’s?
1. Righteous anger should be motivated and confirmed by Scripture.
In this case, the charging of interest and treating their Israelite brothers as slaves was clearly against Scripture. We see this in Exodus and Leviticus.
If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
“‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you… “‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee.
Leviticus 25:35-36, 39-40
In this case, no doubt, Nehemiah’s anger was spurred on by the knowledge of God’s Word and the nobles disregard for it. Our anger should be something that is motivated and confirmed through Scripture as well.
2. Righteous anger should be motivated by injustice towards God or others.
This is clearly seen in Jesus’ example. When it caused offense towards God or others, he became like a lion (John 2:14-16). In the temple, he made a whip and turned over tables. He demonstrated a righteous anger. We should do the same. However, when considering personal offense, righteous anger should respond differently.
3. Righteous anger should be gentle in response to personal offense.
Consider what Jesus taught in regards to personal offense:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Most anger that men struggle with is selfish anger instead of righteous anger. It is not anger about offense towards God or others; it is anger because our pride has been hurt or we have been treated unjustly. It says, “I deserve better than this.” Listen to what Peter said about Christ in describing his example for us as we go through suffering:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
1 Peter 2:22-23
Application Question: How do we develop a righteous anger towards sin against God and others? How do we start to practice gentleness when personally offended?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Be Patient and Self-controlled
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials.
One of the reasons that conflicts often do not get resolved in an amicable way is because people react too quickly. We see in this passage that Nehemiah took time to think about the situation. He pondered it in his mind. I have no doubt that he was testing whether his anger was right before God and what would be the best course of action.
Most people’s anger and response is not this calculated. Instead of being patient and self-controlled, we tend to automatically respond with a harsh word or a witty comment. There is wisdom in being patient; there is wisdom in waiting. Sometimes, it may even be wise to wait because the situation might work itself out.
Listen to what Scripture says: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).
A wise person controls his anger and waits, and certainly, we see this with Nehemiah. What else do we see in Scripture?
Proverbs 17:27 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”
A wise person controls his tongue; he is always restraining it. Also, consider Proverbs 25:15 says, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.”
As mentioned previously in our study of chapter 2, sometimes we need patience in changing the hearts of others, especially leaders. Nehemiah demonstrates all these things. He is patient, self-controlled, and calculated in his response to injustice.
How do you respond when there is conflict? Are you quick to speak and quick to vent your anger? Are you impatient with God and others? Scripture says this is not wise. We must be patient and self-controlled
Application Question: Why is waiting and being patient before responding to a conflict important? Share a time when you practiced this while in a conflict or helping somebody in one.
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Get Counsel
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials.
I believe there is another principle we can take from this passage. The NIV says he “pondered them” in his mind, but it can also be translated another way. The KJV says, “Then I consulted with myself,” and the ESV translates it, “I took counsel with myself.”
Not only was Nehemiah patient and self-controlled, but he also got counsel. He talked to himself and got counsel. Do you ever talk to yourself?
I think there is biblical wisdom in this practice. Nehemiah talked to himself and discerned how to respond. He probably thought about the Mosaic laws that the nobles were breaking and some of the Proverbs that Solomon wrote about on how to handle anger so that he could respond wisely. He considered the wisest course of action.
Certainly, we should do the same. We should not only be patient, but also we should get counsel. Now obviously, Nehemiah felt confirmation about how to respond to this situation because he didn’t seek anybody else’s opinion. However, I think that many times it will be wise to get counsel from others.
Listen to what Solomon says:
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 11:14 KJV
For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.
Proverbs 11:14 NIV
Where there is no counsel people fall, people have more problems, more difficulties and this is certainly true with conflict resolution. People who don’t get counsel often make their situation worse.
There is safety and victory in the multitude of counselors. This is a general principle; people make a lot of wrong decisions in life for a lack of good counsel.
Who do you have in your life to get wise counsel from? Do you have a mentor or mentors? Scripture says there is safety in the multitude of them.
Application Question: Who are your wise counselors that you communicate with, especially in a potential conflict? How have they helped guide you in the past?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Practice a Biblical Method of Confrontation
I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
Observation Question: What was Nehemiah’s process of confronting the nobles, as seen in Nehemiah 5:7-9?
Another way, we resolve conflict is by using a biblical method of confrontation. We see this clearly taught in Matthew 18:15-17. Even though this revelation had not yet been clearly spelled out in Scripture, Nehemiah followed these directives. Let’s see what Christ taught about confrontation:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Here, Jesus said that we should approach people one on one. This is very important because this is where conflict often gets worse. Instead of speaking to the person in sin, people commonly tell everybody else about the sin without bringing it first before him or her. Then, we should take one or two others. If they still will not respond, we should bring it to the church. If they still won’t respond, they should be disciplined by the church.
Observation Question: How does Nehemiah demonstrate these steps of biblical confrontation?
1. First, Nehemiah challenged the leaders privately.
Application Question: Why is first approaching the person(s) privately important?
- It is important because there could be a misunderstanding.
- It is important because sometimes the people are struggling with sin and really want help.
- It is important because if they hear about the rumors or the fact that you were talking behind their back, you could possibly lose a friend and an opportunity for ministry. Scripture says a “whisperer separates friends” (Prov 16:28).
2. Second, Nehemiah challenged the leaders publicly.
It is clear that the leaders did not respond to Nehemiah when he challenged them privately so he challenged them publicly. This is where one might say Nehemiah departed from the pattern given by Christ. Instead of bringing one or two people, he immediately calls an assembly. Christ taught that it should be taken to the assembly after bringing one or two people for a second confrontation. Matthew 18:16 says this: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
However, the principles applied by Nehemiah are still practically the same. Jesus taught that the second confrontation was to confirm the sin—essentially to gain more evidence that the sin was happening. Two or three witnesses was the minimum amount of witnesses needed to convict anyone of a crime according to Deuteronomy 19:15. It said, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
But, in Nehemiah’s situation the leaders’ sin was public; everybody knew about it, and therefore, it did not need to be established by the testimony of two or three. Thus, Nehemiah was still following the heart of Christ’s teaching. After confronting them one on one, he publicly challenged them to repent.
This is something that we rarely see happen in our churches. Someone is living in sin, getting drunk on the weekends and then leading worship on Sunday. However, nobody wants to rock the boat so they say nothing. But Paul said, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6). Sin spreads rapidly, and that’s why it must be confronted.
We must confront in love with wisdom and discernment, and if they don’t respond, then it should be done again with one or two more witnesses to confirm. And if they still don’t respond, then it becomes a matter for the church. If they still don’t respond after it has been confronted publicly, they should be shunned and removed from the congregation until they repent. This public confrontation will help others to fear God and turn from their sin. Paul said something similar to Timothy about rebuking an elder in sin, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Tim 5:19-20).
Again, it is implied that this elder had not repented, and therefore, it would need to become public. The public rebuke is so that they will feel ashamed and be led to repentance, but it’s also meant to warn the church. This is something that needs to be restored to the church so we can be holy and have the power and effectiveness God desires for us.
When we choose to not confront and rebuke, then not only are we hurting the person in sin, but we are hurting the church as well. Sin will start to spread in the church and slowly destroy it (cf. Gal 5:9).
Now, this particularly applies to the church and its members; however, the principles can be applied at a school, a work place, or simply with friends and family. Meet with the person privately, then with one or two others for further accountability, and then it may be wise to bring the parties in conflict together or to bring it before the community. If they still don’t respond, there will be a need for separation or some type of discipline if possible (cf. 1 Cor 5:11-13). The purpose of this is to help the erring person become convicted of their sin, to protect them from further consequences of sin (cf. James 1:14-15, Heb 12:5-12), to turn them back to God, and it is also to protect the community.
Conflict in churches and communities often escalate because people don’t follow a biblical method of confrontation. Instead of meeting privately, rumors develop, creating anger and separating friends. Instead of confronting publicly those who are unrepentant, it is swept under the carpet and because of that, sin spreads.
Another example of church discipline is seen in Acts 5. In this chapter, God disciplined Ananias and Sapphira for their public sin. In the story, God killed them for lying in front of the whole church about selling their land and how they used the profit. What’s interesting is that after this account, we have two seemingly conflicting statements. Look at what the text says:
No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
No one wanted to join the church because of fear (v. 13). However, God kept saving and adding to their number (v. 14). This was church growth through church discipline. God adds people to a healthy church. Why add people to a church that is unhealthy? Why send people to a church where there is a cancer that is affecting everybody, and nobody is willing to cut it out?
God wants to send people to a healthy church. This is a wonderful truth that godly leaders must practice in order to protect and to restore their communities.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen disorder in a church, a community, or other relationships for lack of using a biblical method of confrontation? In what ways have you seen or experienced church discipline? If you have, what was the process and result?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Encourage the Fear of the Lord
So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
One of the ways that Nehemiah challenged the nobles to repent was by the fear of the Lord. The nation of Israel had previously been punished and kicked out of the land of Israel. They had already become a laughing stock to the nations surrounding them in their humble return. These were all part of God’s discipline on the nation for their sin (cf. Deut 28:32, 37). Therefore, he warned them, “Don’t you fear God? Do you want God’s judgment to fall on us again?”
This also is a very effective tool for us to use in conflict resolution. In Matthew 18:23-35, Peter approached Jesus and asked how many times he should forgive someone. “Seven times?” he asked. Jesus replied, “No, seventy times seven” (KJV). Jesus then gives a story of a master who punished a servant for not forgiving another servant.
In the story, a master forgave his servant a great deal of money, but the servant imprisoned his own servant for a far less debt. When the master heard about this, he became angry and put this servant in prison and had him tortured. Look at what Christ says in Matthew 18:33-35:
Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Christ told his own disciples that they would be turned over to the torturers if they didn’t forgive from the heart. Now, because we know these disciples were saved, we do not believe this discipline had anything to do with hell. Christ’s sacrifice paid the eternal penalty for our times of unrighteous conflict, just as it did our other sins. But, if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matt 6:14). In fact, like Christ taught, he will often hand us over to torturers, in order to bring us to repentance.
These torturers seem to be the devil and his demons, sent to discipline a believer. We see Paul command the Corinthian church to hand an unrepentant man over to Satan (1 Cor 5:5). We also see God discipline King Saul through a tormenting demon (1 Sam 16:14). Christ motivated the disciples to forgive by the discipline of God, the fear of God. He promised to send them to the torturers if they would not repent.
Often in counseling others in conflict, I commonly challenge them, as Nehemiah and Christ did, with the “fear of God,” and specifically the promise of discipline in Matthew 18 for lack of forgiving from the heart. He disciplines everyone he loves (Heb 12:6), and therefore, we should have a healthy fear of God’s discipline, especially in the area of conflict. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Application Question: How do we develop a healthy fear of the Lord? Have you ever tried to motivate someone through fear of God’s discipline? If so, how did you do it, and how did the person respond?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Consider Evangelism
So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
Interpretation Question: Why does Nehemiah mention avoiding “the reproach of our Gentile enemies”? In what way was this meant to motivate them towards repentance and reconciliation?
Now when Nehemiah motivated the nobles by fearing God, he also mentioned “the reproach of the Gentiles.” This could mean that God would use the Gentiles to discipline Israel as he did through Babylon, Assyria and many other nations. I’m sure it did mean that, but it was probably so much more. God had called Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. They were to be conduits of God’s grace, leading many to faith. However, when they were walking in sin and under God’s discipline, they forfeited their witness to the world.
It has often been said the “greatest cause of atheism is Christians.” A lifestyle that does not match up to Jesus will often push people away from God. In the same way, Nehemiah is probably motivating the nobles to reconcile and do right because of their witness to the nations around them.
Remember Christ’s prayer in John 17:20-23:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
He said that the church needed to be unified to let the world know that God sent the Son. Unity affects evangelism! Therefore, when churches are splitting, when Christians are divorcing, fighting over doctrine, and separating, the world says, “No, I really have no reason to believe in Jesus or to want what you claim to have.”
Therefore, we should also encourage people to reconcile not only out of the fear of God, but also because of our witness to the world around us. It is sobering to consider that many times the greatest hindrance to world evangelism is probably church unity. And also, from a personal basis, somebody’s eternal salvation or condemnation could depend on my reconciliation of a relationship in conflict.
Have you ever considered that Christian unity is an important aspect of evangelism? The world is always watching believers and what they see may affect their lives eternally. Evangelism is a serious motivation for conflict resolution.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen Christian discord and division push people away from Christ?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Set the Example
I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop!
Interpretation Question: Why does Nehemiah share that he and his brothers are also lending the people grain (Neh 5:10)?
While challenging the leaders of Israel about their taxation and slavery of the poor, he told them about how he and his men were also lending money and grain. Why did he share this?
I think he shared this in order to show them how bad their sin was. Nehemiah and his brothers were also lending money, but they were not trying to get rich by taxing and enslaving the disadvantaged Jews.
Another practical principle can be seen in this section about resolving conflict. If we are going to resolve conflict we must practice what we preach. It is hard for a person to challenge someone in sin while, at the same time, walking in blatant rebellion in his own life.
In fact, when we have sin in our life, we will be less prone to challenge people at all. As a result, “prophetic preaching” is largely absent in the house of God today. It is hard to speak the oracles of God (cf. 1 Peter 4:11) when our own conscience condemns us. Not only will it dull a preacher’s sword, but it will also remove the trust and respect of the people.
If we are going to be ones who “work hard to preserve the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3), we cannot do it without a holy life. Listen to what Paul told Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).
Paul said that it is not just what you say (orthodoxy), but it’s also how you live (orthopraxy) that will save the hearers. If Nehemiah preached a good sermon but did not live it, he would have been ineffective.
Similarly, we must practice what we preach if we are going to resolve conflict. We cannot talk about others behind their backs and, yet, try to help them restore their relationships or get out of sin. In fact, we cannot have any willful sin in our lives, if we hope to be truly heard by others. We must have both a righteous life and right doctrine if we are going to save our hearers. Reconcilers must practice holiness.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen a compromised life take away from the effectiveness of a person’s words or doctrine?
To Resolve Conflict, Godly Leaders Must Encourage Proper Restitution
Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.
Next, it is clear that when Nehemiah was helping bring reconciliation, he also established proper restitution. It would have been unjust for the nobles to only give back the land or let go of the slaves. They had to give everything back that was illegal including the “usury” (interest) that was against the Jewish law. They had to make full restitution.
In the Old Testament, God wrote many laws on restitution. Exodus 22:1 says, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”
If a person had stolen an ox, he was to give a restitution of five oxen; if he had stolen one sheep, he was to give a restitution of four sheep. In the OT law, restitution was anywhere from 100% up to 500%.
Why would a person sometimes have to give back more than 100% restitution?
It seems to be based on equity or what was fair. If a person’s ox was stolen, days of work and profit would be lost. If a person was cheated, not only would there be a loss of money but also pain and suffering. Often, we see this type of restitution in our penal system.
Sometimes when we are reconciling or helping others reconcile, restitution may be needed as well. We see this in the story of Zacchaeus in the New Testament. When he started following Christ, he decided to make restitution for every time he had cheated someone. Look at what he says:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
We see that Zacchaeus promised to restore up to four times what he had cheated people. Therefore, Jesus responded by saying that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house. His repentance was proof that he was born again.
In the same way, sometimes when we hurt somebody, simply saying “I’m sorry” will not be enough. It may be wise to make some sort of restitution, as the nobles in Israel were required to do. They restored everything that was unfair. This restitution would be proof that they were truly repentant and that they were sorry. When there is true repentance, there will always be the corresponding action which proves the repentance is genuine (cf. Matt 3:8).
We should keep this in mind as we minister to others in conflict. Sometimes in order to resolve conflict, we have to discern the proper restitution. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-5, the believers in the church were suing one another in courts before unbelievers. Paul said instead of suing one another, they should have set up wise men in the church to arbitrate between them. Listen to what he said:
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?
1 Corinthians 6:4-5
In cases like this, leaders may have to make wise decisions about restitution. Certainly, one would have to use principles from the Scripture, and they also may need to get wise counsel in order to make an equitable decision.
With that said, sometimes the loss is too great and cannot be fully restored, and when it is this way, surely God knows the hearts and gives his grace. Even in the event of this unfortunate situation, the wronged party must still practice forgiveness as Christ taught. They should remember that the Lord also forgave them a great debt that they could never provide a proper restitution for (cf. Matt 18:23-35).
Application Question: Have you ever seen, given, or received restitution from some injustice or conflict? Please share. What would be some good principles to use in discerning proper restitution?
To Resolve Conflicts, Godly Leaders Must Use Accountability
“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.
Interpretation Question: Why does Nehemiah summon the priests and make the nobles and officials take an oath?
After Nehemiah’s public challenge and call for restitution, the nobles agreed to make their wrongs right. However, in response, Nehemiah called the priest and made the nobles take an oath. Why did he do that?
It is clear that Nehemiah understood a very practical management principle, “People will do a hundred percent of what you check.” If a teacher never checks the students’ homework after telling them to do it, the chances are that most times it won’t get done.
Similarly, Nehemiah established an accountability system amongst the priests and ultimately before God as they took an oath. Setting up an accountability system when doing conflict resolution is one of the best ways to make sure things get truly resolved. This is especially important because conflict often has a strong emotional component. A person forgives, but later on, all the negative thoughts and emotions come back. As these thoughts and emotions come back, they need to forgive again in faith as an act of obedience to God. Often, accountability can help people work through this process.
How can we practice this?
We should seek godly accountability partners and invite them to speak into our lives or in the lives of those we are helping. Nehemiah didn’t invite just anybody for accountability; he invited the priests, the most holy people in the nation. In the same way, we must find people who have integrity and wisdom to counsel and help hold others accountable. We can invite these people to ask intimate questions, for example: “How has your relationship with your wife been?,” “How is your problem with your roommate going?,” and “Are you responding in a Christ-like manner to this conflict?”
In fact, this is a wise principle for battling all sins: lust, idolatry, anger, etc. We should invite trustworthy, wise people to check on us periodically, giving them freedom to ask us hard questions, and also to challenge us. This is a tremendous way to grow spiritually as well as to resolve conflict.
James 5:16 says this: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
James says that confession of sins and prayer is a powerful remedy in the life of a believer. God can bring healing to sickness, depression, or even strongholds. We must make great use of this in our battle against sin and also in the process of reconciliation.
Application Question: Have you ever seen accountability used in a conflict resolution situation? How did the accountability work? Who are your accountability partners, and how do they help you faithfully live for God and stay in right relationship with others?
How can godly leaders be more effective in resolving conflict in their own lives and with others?
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must not ignore problems.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must develop a righteous anger.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must be patient and self-controlled.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must get counsel.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must practice a biblical method of confrontation.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must encourage the fear of the lord.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must consider evangelism.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must set the example.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must seek proper restitution.
- To resolve conflict, godly leaders must use accountability.
Related Topics: Leadership