Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Walking Through Conflict in the Church

Reading: Philippians 4   
Does the Bible provide practical instruction on how to work out conflicts in the church? Given the reality of conflict in the church, it seems essential that we have a guide spelled out for such conflict. More than, “just get over it!” Or, “just forgive.” It is the word, “just,” that seems to be problematic... it is never quite that easy. Often times people leave churches and their primary reason is conflict. Is that the way the Bible would instruct us to deal with it... just leave?
2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:2-7)
Like churches today, New Testament churches had conflict. Even Paul's co-workers had conflict; evidently, serious conflict. It is in Paul's instructions to these very co-workers that we may find an example of how to “live according to the pattern” Paul gave us (Philippians 3:17). Paul begins by pleading with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Evidently these women had worked with Paul previously in advancing the Gospel, yet were having difficulty getting along. There was conflict and it wasn't resolving quickly or easily. Paul asks for another in the church to get involved in serving them in order to help them reach unity. But I don't think Paul's instruction ends there.
The instructions of Philippians 4:4-7 may well be intended as instruction in how these two conflicting believers were to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) Taken that way we have a very helpful guide in how to overcome the hard-to-get-through conflicts that are bound to arise in church life.
First, Paul reminds Euodia and Syntyche to rejoice in the Lord always—and he doubly emphasizes this (4:4). In the midst of conflict, it is essential to remember our source of joy. Our joy is not contingent upon “being right” or “getting our way.” Our joy is found in the Lord—in the reality of what He has done for us reconciling us with our Creator God. If our enmity with God has been resolved, we have reason for joy while we work through our conflicts with others. If God has done what He has done to redeem us when we were completely unable to resolve our enmity with God, then surely He has provided the grace we need to resolve our conflicts in the church. If we can't rejoice, then we need to go back to understanding who Christ is and what He has done.
Second, Paul reminds them how they should conduct themselves in their conflict and why they should carry themselves that way (4:5). “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Why? Because, “the Lord is near.” The truth of Christ's presence with us in our conflicts ought to guide how we engage one another.
Gentleness, a forbearing attitude, being considerate of the other person as we interact, ought to be easily seen by those observing. Consider what He has done toward us. He was gentle, he has born our sins and the pain of those sins without hurling them back on us. In fact, he hurled them into the heart of the sea! (Micah 7:19) I don't need to throw the pain of another's sin against me back on them. I am to forgive as Christ forgave; I am to bear it myself... forbearing with them.
In light of what Christ has done, we should have forbearance toward those we conflict with. It should be easy to consider that, first, they could be right, and second, even if they are wrong, so what, we have been so wrong before God and forgiven. The Lord is right there present with us as we work through our conflict and watching.
Thirdly, Paul speaks to the driving force behind so many conflicts: our anxiety. If I examine conflicts I've had, it doesn't take long to see that I wasn't trusting the Lord. I was anxious. Thoughts like, “how can I let you think that about me?” or, “how could you possibly say that,” or, “what are others going to think,” and many others may not be plainly stated in my mind, but they are certainly banging on the door of my thoughts.... hiding behind the curtains of my mind. I probably have more “reasonable” sounding ways of putting them, but these thoughts are nothing other than anxiety and a lack of trusting in the Lord who will bring about justice (1 Peter 2:23). We can't hold onto thoughts like, “If I forgive them, then everyone will think I was wrong.” (Or any other version of that.)
In order to resolve conflict we must be a people who presents our requests, our demands, not to the other party, but to God! We have to trust God with our requests; we can't keep holding out for the other party to meet our demands. To walk as Christ did we are going to have to pray and commit our way to God as Christ did to the Father. There we can find the ground for conflict resolution. I wonder if Paul also had in mind that as we brought our requests to God, we might be reminded of Christ's instruction regarding prayer and forgiveness (Matthew 6:12; Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4).
Finally, we are given a promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:7) The three instructions of verses 4-6 tell us how “to agree with each other in the Lord,” and they are a practical outline of what it means to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” When we obey these instructions we have a promise that God's peace, which may well supersede all our expectations, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Doing these things may tempt us to think things will get worse. But the promise says otherwise.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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