Handling Disputes – Genesis 31:17-55


There is really no way to avoid it. Through out life we find ourselves in the middle of one dispute after another. No two people are exactly alike. If you put any two random people in a room and have them discuss anything they desire, you will soon discover that there is something that they disagree on. This is a reality in every relationship: in marriage, in work, in politics, and even in the church. There is not a day that goes by when there is not some-type of dispute or argument. Understanding that disputes are a reality of life and that there is no way to get around them, we must learn the proper way to handle disputes.

Jacob and Laban were engaged in many disputes over the years. They were both very conniving and deceiving. They both had a selfish streak in them. Ultimately, everything came to a head. It is in this final dispute between Jacob and Laban that we learn some valuable lessons.

Running from a problem is never a good option. Jacob was simply obeying the Lord by leaving and going back to his homeland. However, obedience must be done in the proper way. I do not believe that it was the Lord’s intention for Jacob to leave secretly without resolving his conflict with Laban. The only option was for Jacob to leave; however, it would have been better if Jacob left in good terms rather than just abruptly running away. When we are dealing with a dispute, it will never be resolved by running from the problem. It is not easy to deal with disputes, but, running from it will often bring even more harm. Sometimes leaving is necessary, as in the case of Jacob. However, there is a right and a wrong way to leave. I think of that when it comes to the ministry of a pastor. Churches will sometimes have disputes that are difficult to resolve. In order to keep unity in the church and help the church move forward, there are times when the pastor has to make the very difficult decision to leave. However, the pastor should never leave in the middle of a dispute. The issue should be dealt with and resolved. In the case of a marriage, the couple should work things out no matter what. Leaving is never an option in marriage. Therefore, continual and consistent efforts must be made to resolve whatever disputes there may be. If you run from every little problem that you have, it will only lead to greater problems.

Handling disputes can be messy. When Laban heard of Jacob abruptly leaving, he pursued Jacob. It took a while for Laban to catch up with Jacob, but when he did, things really got heated. Laban began by confronting Jacob for leaving secretly. He then continued to accuse Jacob of stealing from him. Laban had his men search the entire camp of Jacob. Little did Jacob know, his wife Rachael was guilty of stealing from her father and she covered it up. Jacob became furious with Laban for accusing him and for searching through his stuff. He then let into Laban and spoke very harshly to him. This whole account in the life of Jacob shows us how disputes can be very messy. It is never an enjoyable thing to be involved in a dispute. There are things said that aren’t meant to be said and there is unwarranted hurt that is caused. The messiness of disputes is often what causes people to run away. When dealing with people, things can get very messy. Disputes in marriage can be messy. Disputes between employers and employees can be messy. Disputes in government can be messy. Disputes in the church can be messy. No matter how you slice it, disputes are messy. The only way to clean up the mess is to deal with it. If your house is messy it will never get clean if you ignore it. The more you ignore it, the messier it will become. Eventually, your house will get so messy that it is no longer a safe place to live. It will ultimately destroy you. The same is true in life. If we do not face life’s messes and work to clean it up, it will only get worse and what started out as a small dispute will build and build into an all-out war. My friend, don’t ignore your messes. Face it. Attack it. Deal with it.

There must be an agreement. Notice I did not say there must be a resolution. Some disputes can only be solved by agreeing to disagree. Sometimes the only option, as in the case of Jacob and Laban, is to separate. Jacob and Laban did make mends and they even agreed to set up boundaries in order to avoid future conflict. Sometimes, boundaries are needed or rules need to be agreed to in order to avoid more disputes. This is often the case in organizations such as churches. As in any organization, a local church needs to have policies and procedures so that everyone is on the same page as far as how things operate and how to handle issues when they arise. I have always been of the belief that the more you put in writing the better off you will be. This will not solve all disputes, but it does help lay the ground work for handling disputes in way that would honor the Lord.

What disputes have you found yourself in? What are some things you can do to bring about an agreement? Remember: running from the problem is never a good idea. Also, when handling disputes, the goal is not to win, it is to come to an agreement and pursue peace, if at all possible.

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