Resolving Conflict, part 1 (Philippians 4:1-2)

We are starting the final chapter of Philippians today, Philippians 4.  Many preachers believe the focus here is on worry and how to give our worries to God.  But I believe that the first nine verses have to do with conflict, and how to resolve conflict. 

What Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9 is pretty relevant.  When we have conflict with others, our minds naturally gripe and complain and get anxious and worried.

A man had taken his secretary home early because she had a headache.  Realizing that it might not go over so well with his wife, he didn’t mention it to her.  That night, as he was taking his wife out to eat, he noticed a high-heeled shoe in the car on the floorboard.  Panicking, he got his wife to look out the window and quickly picked the shoe up and threw it out his window.  Whew!  But when they got to the restaurant and started to get out of the car, his wife asked, “Honey, where’s my shoe?”  UH OH!  TROUBLE!

Conflict happens.  It happens in families, among friends…even in churches.  It can happen in the best of families.

Perhaps trite but true,

To live above with the saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
But to live below with the saints we know,
Well, that’s another story.

William Barclay writes:

“It is significant that when there was a quarrel at Philippia, Paul mobilized the whole resources of the Church to mend it.  He thought no effort too great to maintain the peace of the church.  (Unity is a precious gift of God that we are called to “maintain” in Ephesians 4:2-3.)  A quarrelling church is no church at all, for it is one from which Christ has been shut out.  No man can be at peace with God and at variance with his fellow-men.”

Disunity “stinks.”  Sometimes we in the church can’t smell the stink, but others can.  Dee Duke, in a series of messages on prayer, illustrated this reality by recounting how a church in a dairy community would meet, everyone having taken care of milking their cows that morning and cleaning up best they could before they came to church.  They, being used to the smell, thought everything was normal, but a newcomer entering the church would still think, “What is that smell?”

And that’s the way it is with conflict.  We might think we have it under wraps, treating one another civilly, but newcomers can tell that something is wrong.

When Christians are in conflict, God’s reputation is harmed, the church’s ministries are hampered and, of course, people’s personal peace is affected.

Again, Barclay strikes this warning: “It is a grim thought that all we know about Yoda (Euodia) and Syntyche is that they were two women who had quarreled!  It makes us think: Suppose our lives were to be summed up in one sentence, what would that sentence be?  Hopefully not that we were quarrelling.

We don’t know much about these women, or even the particular issue they were fighting about.  We know their names and we know that it was a serious issue to Paul.

Gordon Fee states:

“For the Pauline letters, this is a remarkable moment indeed, since Paul does here what he seldom does elsewhere in ‘conflict’ settings—he names names!”

I’m sure that everyone was aroused from their drowsiness and sat up when they heard names.

I like to call these two women “You’re Odious” and “Soon Touchy.”

“You’re Odious” is the person who deals with anger by exploding, getting verbally aggressive and putting down the other person by calling them names or exaggerating their offense.

“Soon Touchy” is the overly sensitive, moody person.  Everything bothers them, but instead of getting mad, they just pout.  This person uses the silent treatment and just grows bitter.  They internalize their anger.

When it comes to conflict, some people are like Teflon—nothing sticks—they can easily overlook minor offenses.

And the Bible does encourage that.  For example, Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Other people are like Velcro—everything sticks.  Even little things get under their skin and bother them.

By the way, the name Euodia actually means “prosperous journey” and Syntyche means “pleasant acquaintance.”  They had great names, they just weren’t living up to them.  They should both have been a pleasure to be around, but they weren’t talking to each other…and everyone knew it!

Here is what Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9…

1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So how does this passage help us resolve conflicts?

First, conflict must be addressed, and that is what Paul does here.

You can’t just ignore conflict and hope it goes away, although many of us try to do that.

You may have heard of the philosophy professor who, on the day of the final exam, set a chair up on his desk and said, “Using all that you’ve learned about philosophy this year, I want you to write an essay proving that this chair does not exist.”

His students went right for it, writing furiously, scratching their heads, filling page after page.

All except for one student.  He wrote one sentence down, closed his blue book and turned it in.

A week later, the grades came out and there was one “A,” given to the student with the one-line answer.  Everyone wanted to know what he had written……… you?

His answer: “What chair?”

Unfortunately, while that might pass a philosophy exam, it doesn’t work with conflict.

What conflict?

When we ignore conflict it just goes underground and rears its ugly head again later, just adding another issue and morphing into something more complex to deal with.

It’s like the couple who went for marital counseling.  The counselor asked the husband what the problem was, and he said, “My wife gets upset with me and just gets historical.”  “You mean hysterical,” said the counselor.  “No, historical, she brings up every mistake I’ve ever made.”

One reason we need to address conflict is so that we can stay current.  Another reason is that it won’t morph into something more complex and harder to deal with.

Apparently the issue had gone on for some time at Philippi without being dealt with, so Paul takes the initiative to bring about reconciliation between these two women.

Paul’s willingness to call out two women when he knew the letter would be read to the whole congregation demonstrates the fact that he cared more about the unity of the church than about the church having a superficial, “everything is going to be alright” sentimental warmth.

Second, to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships, we must value the other person.

Notice how Paul speaks positively of everyone involved.  He calls them “beloved brothers” in verse 1, “my joy and crown.”  While he may be referring only to the men in the church, it expresses his love for them all, not just some.

He wants them to “stand firm in the Lord.”  He doesn’t want them to fall away like those he mentioned back in 3:18-19 who had become “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

As for the women, he noted that they “have labored side by side with me.”  He valued them for working alongside him in the ministry of the gospel.  And this merely shows that conflict can happen for anyone, even those who have been involved in significant ministry.

This term is a gladiatorial term, more accurately translated “fought alongside me.”  They had been in “the same conflict” as Paul (1:30) in the battle for the gospel, which placed them amidst the fellowship of the gospel (cf. 1:5) —gospel comradeship in the quest to proclaim the good news to the pagan world. 

Sometimes being involved in an important mission can keep us together, but there are always obstacles.

It’s like the story Max Lucado relates in his book In the Eye of the Storm.  He talks about a time when he and his buddies were going on a fishing trip.  However, the weather didn’t cooperate and for several days they were holed up in the cabin, playing cards and watching the weather.  They grew grumpy and started getting angry with one another.  His conclusion: “when those who are called to fish, don’t fish, they fight.”

Likewise, when we don’t involve ourselves in a mission that matters, like evangelism and discipleship, we can allow little things to make us angry with one another.

Paul doesn’t take sides in this conflict, but encourages both Euodia and Synteche to “agree in the Lord.”

He doesn’t doubt their relationship to Jesus Christ.  He acknowledges that they are both believers, submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  They are both “in the Lord” positionally, and they need to act like it.

It is important to place a high value in the other person when you are in conflict.  Generally, we start to fight when some “issue” comes up that aggravates us.  It might be small or serious, but we starting fighting because that “issue” has importance to us.

One question we must ask ourselves is: am I placing a higher value on the issue than the person?

Sometimes the issue is very important.  Jude tells us that we must “contend for the faith.”  Paul reproved Peter to his face for acting out of sync with the gospel of grace.  Like Jesus, we must balance grace and truth in our relationships.

However, even if the issue is highly important, we still should value relationships.  As believers in Christ, we are to love even our enemies.

These two women, along with a certain Clement and other fellow workers, all had their names in the “book of life” — the great book that will be opened on the Day of Judgment, when only those found in its pages will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Revelation 21:27).  Euodia and Syntyche were elect warriors. 

Thirdly, we must take personal responsibility for reconciliation.

We can’t say, “It’s his fault.  He has to come to me.”

Notice that Paul addresses and urges both women to “agree in the Lord.”  Paul addresses the principle women involved in the conflict and encourages them both to pursue reconciliation.

Although Paul is asking others to get involved, he is not encouraging “triangling.”  Triangling occurs when person A has a problem with person B but instead of going to person B and talking about the issue with them, they take it to person C (and possibly D and E).  We also call this gossip.

Basically, it is trying to relieve the stress I feel because of the conflict by talking to someone about it, but it would be harder to go to the person I am in conflict with and instead go to someone else, usually someone I know with be sympathetic to my side of the story.

Triangling is the easy thing to do, it passes some of the tension from me to you.  However, it does nothing to resolve the problem.  In fact, it merely increases and complicates the problem.  Now person C has to take sides, likely mine.

Triangling is a big problem in churches.  It is so easy to go to people I know will sympathize with me, instead of those who would challenge me to see my own faults or encourage me to go directly to the person I have conflict with.

By the way, if someone comes to you, telling you how upset they are with someone, instead of listening and automatically sympathizing, encourage them (no, plead with them, like Paul did) to meet face-to-face with the person they are upset with.

The Scriptures are clear that no matter whether you are the offender or the victim, you are responsible to take the first step towards reconciliation.

In both of these passages it is Jesus that is speaking.

In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus says…

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Notice in verse 23 that Jesus is saying that when we are worshipping and we remember that our “brother has something against” us, that is, we have done something to offend or wound him, that we are to immediately go and “be reconciled” to that brother.

We aren’t to wait until they come to us.  Hopefully our conscience and God’s Spirit will convict our hearts that we need to go and be reconciled to someone.

Then, in Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus says…

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In this case, we are not the one who committed the offense or wound, but sin has happened against us.

And what are we to do?  Again, we are to “go” with the objective of seeking reconciliation.  We do this by “telling him his fault” privately, so that possibly we might gain our brother, we might be reconciled.

It’s easy to say, “No, she started it,” Or, “she’s the one who hurt me.”  We might expect them to take the first step towards reconciliation, but as soon as God’s Spirit nudges you to take that step, whether you are the victim or the offender, you are responsible to take that first step towards reconciliation.

Taking that first step does not guarantee reconciliation, but it does make that option possible.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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