As a former school teacher and counselor, I have witnessed countless disputes in the classroom, on the playground, and in my students' homes. I have also seen the effectiveness of God's peacemaking principles in each setting.
One student confessed to stealing from a teacher and offered double restitution. Another student took responsibility for assaulting a principal and willingly accepted the resulting discipline. A third appealed successfully to her divorced parents to change a painful custody arrangement. Like dozens of others, these students had learned to respond to conflict in a biblical manner.
We need to have some basic convictions as teachers in order to guide our students down the path of the peacemaker.
First, God's Word is totally reliable and amazingly practical. The Bible not only commands us to live at peace with others, but also provides detailed guidance on how to carry out that sometimes difficult task.
Second, conflict is not necessarily wrong or destructive. If we teach children to respond to conflict biblically, it can become an opportunity for them to please and honor God, to serve others, and to grow to be like Christ.
Third, many of the conflicts students experience are caused or aggravated by sin. Like adults, children wrestle with strong desires that can get out of hand. We must use appropriate discipline to help them learn self-control and proper outward behavior. But it is even more important to help children understand the root causes of conflict (pride, selfishness, greed, unforgiveness, etc.) and encourage them to ask God to free them from these attitudes. Since Christ alone can offer such freedom, the gospel is an essential part of true peacemaking.
Fourth, the most important skills of a peacemaker are repentance, confession, and forgiveness. As important as communication and problem-solving skills are, they cannot heal relationships that have been damaged by conflict. True reconciliation comes only when students take responsibility for their wrongs, express sorrow for hurting others and commit themselves to forgive one another as God has forgiven them.
The Bible teaches that we should "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32; emphasis added).
Ask your class, "What do you think it means to forgive just as God forgave you?" Point out that God's forgiveness does not depend on feelings, or on forgetting or excusing the other person's sin. Help children understand:
The Lord wants you to forgive others in the same way he forgives you. This means you must choose to give the gift of forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is a choice to make four promises to people who hurt or offend you:
This is a very important promise, because what you think affects how you feel about people. Thinking good thoughts, especially about people who have hurt you, can help build bridges instead of walls in your relationshipsand that glorifies the Lord.
God doesn't want you to stop with good thoughts. He wants you to also do good for that person. "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). Speak well about and to the person who hurt you. Begin to think of things that would help himand then do them. That is evidence of real forgiveness. When you do these things, you will usually have better feelings about the person.
Do you ever remind others about what they have done to hurt you? Do others ever remind you about your bad choices? This is the opposite of forgiveness. When God forgives you, he promises never to bring up your sin to use against you. In other words, you won't hear about those sinful attitudes and actions from God again. Love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor. 13:5).
If you are like most people, you will be tempted to tell others what someone has done to hurt you. You may want people to feel sorry for you and side with you instead of with the person who mistreated you. This, too, is the opposite of forgiveness. Gossip usually causes more problems between you and others. God teaches us, "Without gossip a quarrel dies down" (Prov. 26:20).
If you are having a hard time dealing with a problem, it is appropriate to ask someone you trust to help you. In that case, you will need to explain the facts and express your feelings about the conflict. This should not be done to gossip, but to get help to solve the problem and save your friendship.
Here is strong evidence of your forgiving attitude toward the person who has asked for forgiveness. This promise means you will treat the person who hurt you with respect, kindness, and courtesy. It means you will treat him the way God treats you when you have asked for his forgiveness. It means that when you pray the Lord's Prayer, you can honestly say: "Forgive me my sins, as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me" (Matt. 6:12, paraphrased).
When you forgive by making these four promises, you are forgiving as the Lord forgives you.
Remember that forgiveness is a choice to make these promisesno matter how you feel. Whenever you forgive those who have hurt you, you show God how much you appreciate his gift of forgiveness to you.
This article appeared in the May-June 2002 issue of Evangelizing Today's Child magazine (Child Evangelism Fellowship, Inc., P.O. Box 348, Warrenton, MO 63383) and is reprinted by permission. It is condensed from The Young Peacemaker, by Corlette Sande (Shepherd Press, 1997). © 2002 Peacemaker ® Ministries. Used by permission. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2002.