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Colossians 3:5-14 Study Guide: How to Handle Conflict

Community Group Study Guide — How To Handle Conflict
Colossians 3:5-14

Study Information:
Times of conflict with others is inevitable because we’re people who still have a sin nature living in close relationship with other people who still sin. There are even some famous examples of conflict in the New Testament like Barnabas and Paul separating over a disagreement and Euodia and Syntyche who Paul called out in Philippians to agree in the Lord. Think of it, we only have Euodia and Syntyche’s names because they had a conflict! We still sin against each other but what gives us hope is that God has made us new in Christ and is at work to help us to be more and more holy. For followers of Christ, the gospel empowers us to handle conflict differently than if we were not walking with Jesus. The gospel shows us an example in Jesus who died for us while we were enemies; and God has equipped us with his word to guide us, his Spirit to lead us and a command to pray for unity. 

Let’s look at Colossians 3:5-14 to see how the gospel transforms the way we handle sin and conflict as Paul instructs us to put off, put on and put up (with one another). 

Put Off Your Old Self
Colossians 3:5-11
One of the ways we grow in grace is by putting to death sin in our lives. Paul connected sin to our old nature and sees it as something that no longer has to characterize how we live (Col 3:7). The sins listed out are a good sample of sins we may find lingering in our lives like sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness (idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and lying. The command to put the old self to death is rooted and grounded in who we are as new creation in Christ. It is not a matter of self discipline and determination; being able to put these sinful practices to death is fueled by our awareness of who we really are. As we put off the old self and put on the new self we are being renewed in the image of Christ (Col 3:10-11). 

Putting off the old self requires effort and grace. Recognizing that we are recipients of God’s grace allows us to remember who we are in Christ as we hold our tongue instead of lashing out, control our bodies instead of giving in to passion and to be people who speak the truth in love. 

What happens next? Is it just about what we avoid? Paul shifts his focus from putting off our old nature to putting on Christ. Theologians call this aspect of our sanctification and growing in holiness “replacement.” We do not just avoid certain things but also pursuing practicing certain virtues. Putting sin to death creates a hole that needs to be filled with something and pursuing godliness allows that old habit to be replaced with something holy instead. Let’s explore. 

Put On Love
Colossians 3:12, 14
Paul used the image of getting dressed to talk about how followers of Jesus pursue holiness. The words “put on” invoke the image of putting on a coat or cloak to wrap yourself in. For some of us getting dressed involves just grabbing whatever is closest in the closet but for others it is a detailed and thorough process. Paul wants us to be more in the latter category as we think through what kinds of virtues we are to be adorned with as people being renewed in the image of Christ. That is why he started out with reminding his readers who they are:  God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved (Col 3:12). As God’s beloved and hold children, clothe yourselves with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience; and finally love which binds them all together. The attribute of love acts as a belt holding all the other articles of clothing on. Having genuine love for one another goes a long way in preventing conflict and seeking holiness in how we relate to each other. 

So it is not enough just to fight sin, followers of Jesus also pursue right action from a heart of love. As we shed our old habits and sinful practices we get to participate in sort of a divine makeover and get clothed in righteousness that highlights the image of Christ in us. 

How does this put off/put on practice relate to our interactions with others who are close to us? We get to “put up” with one another. 

Put Up (With One Another)
Colossians 3:13-15
To be fair, Paul says it in a much nicer way than “put up with;” but the again Paul was not prioritizing being catchy and wanting you to remember the three points. As we live in close relationships with other followers of Jesus we get to practice the “one another’s” of the faith, specifically bearing with and forgiving one another. To bear with one another means to share the load. We’re going to bring baggage into relationships and Christ would have us bear that load together. That means that if we have a complaint against one another we forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. Practically speaking, forgiveness is not optional. It is a choice we make and something we are commanded to do as followers of Christ because of how much we have been forgiven by God in Christ. This does not mean putting ourselves in harms way or being a doormat, but we cannot hold a debt against someone else in conflict because that prevents any possibility of unity and peace. 

As we put off our sin nature, put on Christ and put up with/bear with one another we get a chance to handle conflict in a godlier and more helpful way than if we were outside of Christ. 

During times of conflict with other followers of Christ you can use Colossians 3:12-15 as a great checklist.
  • Am I compassionate? To be compassionate is literally in the Greek to have your “gut wrenched.” Compassion would be sharing in their suffering. This can happen as you listen and try to understand what their complaint might be.
  • Am I kind? Kindness does not mean being stepped on, but it does mean helpful word choice, a desire to build up the other person and not being overly forceful.
  • Am I humble? Humble people do not try to “win” the argument, rather they consider the other more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4)
  • Am I meek? Meekness is a good synonym for gentleness. It was one of the attributes that Jesus used to describe himself. To be meek is to have your strength under control. Meet people are not bullies. 
  • Am I patient? Patient people take the time to work through a problem and come to some sort of understanding about how they may have sinned, how they’ve been sinned against and how godly resolution might be achieved. Impatient people are quick to want their side heard and usually do not take the time to seek resolution and often settle for quick but temporary fixes.
  • Am I loving? To love someone is to be committed to seeking the other person’s good. You can see how love is a foundation for being able to do everything else in this checklist.

If you find yourself in the middle of a conflict right now, pray and ask God to show you what sin you need to put off, what godly attribute you should pursue and how you can bear with and forgive the other person. Allow the peace of God to rule in your heart so that Christ can be honored and you can grow in grace. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Paul calls the sinful habits “what is earthly in you?” (Colossians 3:5)

What are some reasons Paul doesn’t just give us a list of sin to avoid but goes a step further with godly attributes we should pursue? 

How is forgiveness not optional for a Christian? What are some barriers to being able to forgive? Does forgiveness mean a relationship is fully restored to what it was before the sin happened, why or why not?

When it comes to growing in how you handle conflict, what next steps do you have based on the sermon, study guide and scripture passage?