Family conflict is almost as old as humanity. Sibling rivalry existed in the very first family and culminated with Cain killing his brother Abel (Genesis 4:3–8). While other examples may not be that extreme, family conflict is a recurring theme in the Bible. From Athaliah killing all her children and grandchildren so she could seize the throne (2 Kings 11:1) to Jesus’ own mother and brothers becoming embarrassed by His preaching (Mark 3:21), examples of family conflict illustrate what happens when family members treat their flesh and blood as liabilities instead of blessings.
Some family conflicts are inevitable. In our world of sin, some will reject Christ while others accept Him as Lord, and this happens within families. Jesus, the Prince of Peace Himself, warned us of this type of family conflict: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34–36; cf. Micah 7:6). We see evidence of this everywhere: when one family member embraces Christ and another rejects the way of holiness, the result is often family conflict and domestic imbroglios.
Because family relationships have an even greater potential for conflict than other relationships, God gave some clear commands for each family member. When we defy those commands, family conflict will erupt. For husbands and wives, the Bible details specific instructions. Husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25–29). Wives are to respect the leadership position of their husbands (Ephesians 5:22–24). Children are to obey their parents in everything (Ephesians 6:1), and those parents are to bring up their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Grandparents are to delight in grandchildren and share their wisdom with them (Proverbs 17:6). There is to be no sexual contact of any kind between immediate family members (Leviticus 18:6–18; 1 Timothy 5:2). When families align their home and practices with Scripture, the occasions of family conflict diminish.
God compares His church to a family, so the rules to the church on interpersonal relationships also apply to individual families. Every child of God is to respond to other Christians as brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 3:8). The church is to avoid “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20), and so should families. James 4:11 says, “Brothers, do not slander one another.” A rule of thumb is that if we would not treat a highly respected friend a certain way, then don’t treat family members that way.
Healthy families provide a safe place for every member to express his or her feelings, thoughts, opinions, and desires. Families don’t have to agree on everything in order to maintain harmony. The absence of family conflict is not necessarily the sign of a healthy family. Some families are ruled by authoritarian strictness; others refuse to allow any type of discussion. God designed the family to be a place where every member feels loved and valued, where differences can be acknowledged and respected, and where inevitable conflicts are peacefully resolved. Through dealing with family conflict, we can learn humility, kindness, patience, and selfless love (Galatians 5:22), traits that will benefit us as we interact with our brothers and sisters in the family of God.