by Tara Klena Barthel
The Bible is rich with examples of godly, wise, women. Consider a brief snapshot from the lives of three women of faith:
With personal stories and advice firmly rooted in Scripture, this book offers hope for peace with God, peaceful relationships with others, and genuine peace within.
- Esther – A woman of grace and beauty with an authentic, intuitive, and teachable spirit. She endured hardship, bravely faced adversity, and expressed her thoughts and feelings in such a winsome way that people were drawn to her warmth and affection.
- Hannah – Suffering over her infertility, treated cruelly by Peninnah, and misunderstood by Eli, Hannah demonstrated wise restraint and a calm, gentle spirit. So committed to the Lord and his glory, Hannah, when finally given her only son, rejoiced in the Lord even as she gave him to God. (see 1 Sam. 2).
- Abigail – Married to a foolish and surly man who jeopardized the safety of their entire household, Abigail's intelligence and fear of the Lord empowered her to exercise good judgment in the most harrowing of circumstances. Abigail did what was right before God despite the personal cost, and her appeal to David as recorded in 1 Samuel 25 demonstrates wise, interest-based negotiation at its finest.
What did these women have in common? Unshakeable faith in the Lord and strong gifts in biblical peacemaking. Specifically, they knew when to overlook and when to confront, how to make a respectful appeal, and when to remain silent. Though obviously intelligent and gifted, they did not promote their own agendas but were firmly fixed on the Lord's purposes. Esther, Hannah, and Abigail provide lovely examples of true beauty, courage, and spiritual maturity.
As you consider your own life, or the life of your wife, daughter, mother, or friend—you may wonder how the Christian women of today can relate to women such as Esther, Hannah, and Abigail. After all, most women will not be called upon to save an entire nation, give birth to a great prophet, or negotiate with a king bent on destroying her family. However, just like these biblical heroines, all women of God are called to be peacemakers (see Matt. 5:9).
The Role of Women in Peacemaking
"My friend Anne is the embodiment of a relational person. Everywhere she goes, she brings peace and hope. She always encourages and is quick to share her heart and be vulnerable. I've never heard Anne gossip. She forgives even when people intentionally set out to hurt her. I want to be like Anne, because she shows people Jesus."
Women enjoy a special role in biblical peacemaking due to their strong relational and verbal skills. Their vast network of intimate relationships provides women with God-ordained opportunities for kingdom ministry. Many women also have a particularly relational role in their ministries of childrearing and homemaking, where opportunities for peacemaking abound.
Since Christianity is at its core relational (Jesus died for us so that we might be in relationship with God, and Jesus came to build the Church—his bride and God's covenant people), the deep and abundant relationships developed by women clearly reflect the kingdom of God:
- As Jesus prayed in his High Priestly Prayer, the world will know that he was sent from God when Christian relationships are marked by unity:
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
- As they overlook, forebear, and forgive one another, women also show Christ to unbelievers through their abiding love:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-36
- In addition, when their words meet God's standard for speech, the strong verbal gifts of women bring healing as they build up others and minister mercy, grace, compassion, and hope:
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
Women and Conflicts
Sadly, many women today do not know how to enjoy thriving, intimate relationships. What could be an area of great strength is instead an area of weakness. Christian women often feel isolated, misunderstood, belittled, and rejected. Friendships and family relationships are frequently marked by ongoing conflicts and a flight mentality that avoids vulnerability and true, abiding love. Many women struggle with judgmental, harsh, and bitter feelings towards the people in their lives.
"You just don't understand how much she hurt me! No one should have to put up with this kind of treatment. I'm sure that God doesn't want me to stay in her Bible study ... maybe we can all pray that she will repent of her meanness."
Though they may have great wisdom and understanding in many areas of ministry—missions, worship, and mercy ministries, as well as justice issues—many Christian women are ignorant as to how to work through personal conflict and persevere in relationships. They do not know how to make an adequate confession, grant true forgiveness, or even negotiate in a biblically faithful manner. For wives and mothers, these weaknesses have a particularly negative effect. Their marriages suffer, and their children often develop the poor relational skills and deficient peacemaking abilities demonstrated by their mothers.
The reality is that where there is relationship, there will be conflict—guaranteed. But instead of living as peacemakers (and showing themselves to be daughters of God), many Christian women speak with and relate to others just like unbelievers:
- Instead of faithfully "blessing and never cursing" (see Rom. 12) or "doing good even when treated unjustly" (see 1 Pet. 2), Christian women often attack through vicious words (such as gossip couched as "prayer requests" or "sharing") and spiteful actions (such as emotion-laden emails, and letters carelessly written to confront and rebuke).
- Failing to heed the biblical admonition that "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar." (1 John 4:19), women often struggle with bitterness and hatred towards the people in their lives who have rejected, abandoned, or attacked them.
- Not reflecting the truth that "love always perseveres" (1 Cor. 13:7), women easily give up on people when wrongs occur and relationships become rocky. Instead of showing grace through loving confrontation and forgiveness, women regularly "move on" to new relationships.
- Women are quick to be catty, petty, and competitive. Instead of accepting one another "just as Christ accepted them" (see Rom. 15:7), women are often trapped in adolescent games of competition and gossip.
Of course, men frequently experience these same weaknesses and sins. But these things can be particular areas of struggle for women in which opportunities for frequent and deep conflicts abound.
Do Relationships Matter?
Perhaps you agree that Christian women can sometimes excel in their relationships—and sometimes fail miserably. The question remains: Why does it matter? When there are countless ministry needs in the world, why should women of faith apply themselves to growing in wisdom and understanding concerning God-honoring relationships?
Apart from God himself, there will only be two things in eternity: God's Word and God's people.
Simply stated, apart from God himself, there will only be two things in eternity: God's Word and God's people, living in relationship with him. This reality should serve as a wake-up call to every Christian—we must strive diligently and faithfully to have God-honoring relationships in this life. Instead of looking forward to Heaven to "get away from certain people" (often in our own churches), we must soberly reflect on the fact that the very person we are longing to escape from will be with us for eternity. God shows himself in the relationships of his people. (John 17:23)
Furthermore, God frequently brings redemptive, lasting change to our lives through relationships—especially relationships within the body of Christ. Scripture frequently addresses our relationships with other Christians. Over fifty times in the New Testament alone, God's people are commanded to relate to one another in certain ways. Consider just a few exhortations:
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
- Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
- Stop passing judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13)
- Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
- Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Encourage one another (Heb. 3:13)
- Spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
By taking these exhortations to heart and learning to nurture covenantal, faithful, merciful, and purposeful relationships in the body of Christ, we learn how to "put off" our old ways of thinking and living. Then we can be "made new" in the truth of God's Word and "put on" our new selves (see Eph. 4:22-24), clothed in "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Col. 3:12). This process of putting off sin and putting on godly character qualities marks true change in our lives and is the evidence that God is conforming us to the likeness of his Son.
Do you prayerfully strive to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29)? Do you hope to raise a "harvest of righteousness" as you grow in biblical wisdom that is "pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere" (James 4:17)? Quite often, God uses challenging, difficult relationships to develop these qualities and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us (Gal. 5:22).
For example, we grow in
- Patience—as we slow down and gently serve a frustrating coworker who thinks differently than us and whose personality grates on us
- Self-control—when we do not retaliate as our ideas for the missions program are rudely rejected and our efforts go completely unrecognized
- Faithfulness—by not treating our daughter-in-law as she treats us or giving up on a relationship with her, but instead praying regularly for her, speaking well of her, and doing only good to her
- Gentleness—as we gain understanding and discernment in how different people relate, and then purposefully work to temper our natural tendencies and relational styles in order to love them well
- Kindness—when an unpleasant, needy person asks for our help and we do not hoard the good gifts God has granted us or look for an earthly reward of gratitude, but instead share generously
Assuming you agree that this is how we ought to grow and live as children of God, you may still find it difficult to practically carry out these biblical truths in real life. You may feel overwhelmed and powerless to change as you reflect on the many broken relationships in your life.
As you know, this entire website is dedicated to helping people to respond to conflict biblically. But before you even begin to work on the practical "how-to's" of growing your peacemaking skills, it is important that you remember this truth: God is at work in you. He is conforming you to Christ and calling you to be a peacemaker.
And the good news is that God is faithful! He never calls you to do something unless he provides you with the way to do it:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Cor. 9:8
Take heart! God is doing this work in your heart and life, and "the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (1 Thess. 5:24).
Growing as a Woman Peacemaker
As you cast yourself fully on Jesus through faith and trust in the steadfast grace of God, you will be able to reject anything contrary to Scripture and grow in sanctification and wisdom concerning your relationships. The Bible describes this as being conformed to Christ (Rom. 8:29) and it means that we will grow as peacemakers because we experience true heart change.
For many of us, our tendency may be to look for the law. We say, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it. I'll add it to my to-do list and get right on it." If we approach peacemaking like this, we may be tempted to deal only with the surface. We may look for "the three rules of good communication" or "ten steps for avoiding conflict at work."
But Jesus' intention to is change us on a much deeper level—the heart. As He taught in Luke 6:45:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
It is not enough to merely deal with our outward actions and our inappropriate words. We could say all the "right" things and do every "peacemaking action"—and still be as unloving as a clanging cymbal. What we need is a Savior who will not only save us from Hell in eternity to come, but will also save us from our sin in this life.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:56-57
As you seek to grow as a peacemaker, always remember that this change is a gift of God's grace and a work of the Holy Spirit. And then respond to this gracious gift by striving to grow in wisdom, understanding, and Christlikeness. Grow in these areas through the teaching of the church, the sacraments, worship, discipleship, and relationships within the body of Christ.
You will grow as a peacemaker as you embrace the Gospel and apply it to every area of your life. Perhaps this three-step summary will help you practically live out the Gospel in your day-to-day relationships and conflicts:
First of all, we must remember the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we gaze on the holiness and awesomeness of the triune God, we become more aware of the depth of our sin and our desperate need for a Savior. For those of us who are saved through grace by faith in Christ Jesus, we have been changed from enemies of God (Rom. 5:10) to beloved children (1 John 3:1)—not because of anything we have done, and not because we deserve such a lavish gift, but because God in his mercy has saved us and given us new life. We all need to be reminded of who we are in Christ, but this is especially true for women who are struggling in painful or difficult relationships.
"Why should I persevere in showing kindness to my estranged mother? Because she deserves it? Of course not! I am called to love my mother even when she attacks and belittles me because God showed me His loving kindness when I was still an enemy of His."
Whenever we are called upon to show forebearance to an annoying person or minister mercy to someone who is unlovable, we do well to remember that the God of glory and perfection loved us when we were dead in our sins. When our trust is betrayed and suddenly we must forgive horrendous wrongs done to us (or to those we love), God's grace enables us to be merciful and forgiving like Christ—especially as we remember the Gospel and the great debt that we have been forgiven (see the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matt. 18:21-35).
Second, we must identify and repent of our sinful demands—especially those concerning other people. Because we love deeply, women often have unrealistic and unreasonable desires concerning relationships. Movies, television, novels, and commercials portray perfect relationships without struggle or failure. Often, women expect the people in their lives to "know the script," do the right thing, meet all their needs, and never let them down. When those expectations grow to be demands on relationships, and the demands go unmet, conflict erupts (see James 4:1 and Getting to the Heart of Conflict).
The reality is that no one is perfect, except for the Lord. Non-Christians do not have the Holy Spirit of God in them, and they are not yet born again. Christians are fully justified before the Holy God, but we are all at different levels of spiritual maturity. We are growing in sanctification to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, but we are not perfect in this life. Until we reach heaven, we will continue to sin and fail the people around us. Mature women of God understand that people are human and in need of grace. Instead of placing unrealistic demands on one another, they show patience and mercy as they spur one another on in the faith.
"I just don't get it! I try so hard to be a good friend, but people tell me that they feel like I talk circles around them, box them into corners, and make them feel stupid. One co-worker told me recently, 'Janet, because you are better with words than me, you are going to win this argument. But you are not right.' I was devastated. But I don't know how to change!"
Third, we must identify our relational weaknesses and strive to improve. We do this to please God—not to impress others or "look good." We pray for God's help as we grow in maturity, because we cannot grow by relying on our own strength. We pray, study, and seek wise counsel to identify the areas in our lives that are in need of further sanctification. For instance: Do you know how to listen well and draw people out—or do you talk so much that you do not give others a chance to be heard? Are you struggling with gossip? Do you like the feeling of being "in the know" and having people pay attention to you—or are you trustworthy and discrete? Have you learned about different personalities and learning styles, so that you can rejoice in the diversity in the people around you—or do you show preference to only "certain" people that act the way you want them to?
If we want people to be vulnerable with us and confide their hearts in us, we must show ourselves to be trustworthy, godly, gracious women by turning away from any sinful, immature ways of relating and becoming more Christlike. We must understand and memorize Scripture so that our theology will be sound and we will be able to take every thought captive to Christ. Instead of acting rashly, we must learn to pause and discern whether our words and actions will be wise and promote love, health, and godliness. Where we are lacking, we must ask God to help us to grow in grace and wisdom.
And remember—Scripture is clear that all of our good works and ministry accomplishments are as nothing, if we have not love (see 1 Cor. 13). For women and men alike, our only hope is in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for his steadfast love toward us.
Further Resources and Training
If you would like to gain even greater understanding of God's Word as you strengthen your skills as a woman of God and as a biblical peacemaker, we encourage you to explore this website and delve into the various resources and training opportunities provided.
In addition, our adjunct instructor team offers live training on a variety of topics that may be of interest to you, your church/denomination, or your women's ministry, including
- Bringing Healing to Mother-Daughter Conflicts
- The Theological Foundation for our Relationships as Women
- Learning to Work with People We Don't Like
- Women of Peace Amid Holiday Strife
- Raising Children to be Peacemakers
- Oceans of Emotions: Effectively Ministering Peace to Women
- Women of God with Strong Personalities
- Forgiving Those Who Reject and Abandon Us
- Women Leaders and Conflict
- ... and more
NOTE: Peacemaker Ministries does not have audio tapes or further resources on the "un-linked" topics above—they are only available as live seminars or directly from the author, Tara Klena Barthel (see contact information below).
We hope that you will help the women in your church or ministry grow in Christian maturity and biblical peacemaking by contacting our Events Department (406-256-1583) today for information on how you can bring custom training in biblical peacemaking to your women's ministry retreat, conference, or seminar.
Adapted from a teaching by Tara Klena Barthel: A Journey of Grace—Women and Peacemaking. Tara is the co-author of Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict. You may contact Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tarabarthel.com for more information on her teaching or speaking availability.