The Ethics of Conflict (Luke 6:27-36; 17:3-4)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Ethics of conflict

Do Good to Those Who Hate You (Luke 6:27-36)

All workplaces experience conflict. In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus addresses situations of conflict. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Luke leaves no doubt that this is a teaching for the economic world, for he specifically relates it to lending money. “Lend [to your enemies], expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). This doesn’t seem like a viable commercial lending strategy, but perhaps we can understand it at a more abstract level. Christians must not use their power to crush people with whom they are in conflict. Instead, they must actively work for their good. This can apply to the workplace at two levels.

At the individual level, it means that we must work for the good of those with whom we are in conflict. This does not mean avoiding conflict or withdrawing from competition. But it does mean, for example, that if you are competing with a co-worker for promotion, you must help your co-worker/opponent do their work as well as they can, while trying to do yours even better.

At the corporate level, it means not crushing your competition, suppliers or customers, especially with unfair or unproductive actions such as frivolous lawsuits, monopolization, false rumors, stock manipulation, and the like. Every occupation has its own circumstances, and it would be foolish to draw a one-size-fits-all application from this passage in Luke. Competing hard in business via intentional fraud might be different from competing hard in basketball via an intentional foul. Therefore, an essential element of believers’ participation in an occupation is to try to work out what the proper modes of conflict and competition are in light of Jesus’ teaching.

Rebuke - Repent - Forgive (Luke 17:3-4)

Later, Jesus again addresses interpersonal conflict. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3, NIV). We shouldn’t take this as family therapy only, because Jesus applies the term “brother” to all those who follow him (Mark 3:35). It is good organizational behavior to confront people directly and to restore good relationships when the conflict is resolved. But the next verse breaks the bounds of common sense. “If the same person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4). In fact, Jesus not only commands forgiveness, but the absence of judgment in the first place. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). “Why do you see the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41).

Would it be wise to be so nonjudgmental at work? Isn’t sound judgment a requirement for good organizational governance and performance? Perhaps Jesus is talking about giving up not good judgment but judgmentalism and condemnation—the hypocritical attitude that the problems around us are entirely someone else’s fault. Perhaps Jesus doesn’t so much mean “Ignore repeated moral lapses or incompetence,” so much as, “Ask yourself how your actions may have contributed to the problem.” Perhaps he doesn’t mean, “Don’t assess others’ performance,” so much as, “Figure out what you can do to help those around you succeed.” Perhaps Jesus’ point is not leniency but mercy. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).