Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee (John 4:1–3, esv).
At first glance, this passage appears to be simply a travel note explaining a journey Jesus made from Jerusalem to Galilee. But a second look reveals clues about why He decided to make it. He learned “that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.” Scripture is telling us a conflict arose, and Jesus responded by removing Himself.
Relational conflict is a common struggle and frequent source of heartache. If you’re not dealing with discord now, there’s a high likelihood you will be in the near future.
On this occasion, Jesus demonstrated that sometimes the best response to conflict is to flee. Word got out that He had moved ahead of John the Baptist in popularity, and the Pharisees couldn’t decide which ministry they resented the most. Rather than escalate the conflict by staying, Jesus left.
There are situations you have to deal with and situations you have to run from. Wisdom is needed to discern what to avoid and what to face; when to go and when to stay. A lot of the heartaches, struggles, and burdens people encounter are because we run when we should face conflict, or we face it when we should run.
Jesus’ actions indicate five circumstances when you should distance yourself from a conflict:
1. When the opposition is longstanding. A pattern has been established, even though efforts have been made at reconciliation. The battle lines are drawn, and every contact tends to resume hostilities.
2. When the opposition is stubborn—and you’re not the stubborn part of the equation. The issue is no longer a conflict over an idea; it’s a contest of wills. Your argument will not help this issue.
3. When the opposition is personal. When you are being attacked, maybe that’s the time for you to be silent and let God defend you. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7).
4. When the opposition is unfair, untrue, or inaccurate. Fair criticism is to be heeded and learned from. Malicious criticism must be endured.
5. When the opposition is toward God. When the opposition is over you and something you did, it’s probably better to face it. But when the opposition is over something you did for God? That’s not something to respond to.
All five of these conflict characteristics can be found in Jesus’ situation. The Pharisees’ antagonism toward Him was longstanding, stubborn, and personal. Repeatedly their accusations against Him were unfair and distorted. They absolutely refused to see God at work in His Son. So Jesus didn’t hesitate to withdraw and deal with the Pharisees in His timing rather than theirs. Fully aware the conflict would be waiting for Him when He returned, He had other priorities to pursue and refused to be distracted by opposition.
Have you been throwing yourself at a discord that would be better left alone? Sometimes we get so involved in trying to fix things we fail to give God room to work. Evaluate the tension points you are currently facing in light of these five characteristics. Give your situation to God, and ask Him for wisdom and guidance on whether you should disengage or deal with it.
Lord, Your Son made it clear in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” So I expect conflicts and know none of them occur without Your awareness and permission. Help me to learn from my clashes with people. Give me wisdom to know when to turn away and when to turn toward. Guide me in both facing or fleeing, depending on the conflict at hand. Help me live a life that pleases You, even in this world of tribulation. In Jesus’ name, amen.