Resolving Conflict, part 2 (Philippians 4:2-3)

Last week we began looking at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 where he is helping two women in the church at Philippi to resolve their conflict and be reconciled.  That is found 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.

As we looked at this passage we found three principles about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Today we will continue with the fourth step. 

Fourth, seek common ground with the other person.

Generally, when we are disagreeing about some issue, it is possible to find common ground to work from and find a mutually agreeable solution.

Paul encouraged both women to “agree in the Lord.”  He asks that they literally “think the same thing in the Lord.”

It refers to more than merely being “like minded.”  Is speaks of sharing like thoughts and feelings for each other.

The word “harmony” is a good one because it reminds us that, as in music, we don’t have to be playing the same note, just playing ones that correspond to the other, producing harmony.

Peter, in 1 Peter 3:8 puts it like this:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

And Paul had already told them back in chapter 2…

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Now, the only way we can do this is to “agree in the Lord.”  This little phrase makes all the difference.  Because we are united together into the body of Christ because we are united with Christ through the Spirit’s baptism.

This little phrase indicates that no matter what might be our circumstances in the world, being “in the Lord” gives us a strength and wisdom that are not our own.

In verse 4 Paul will command them to “rejoice in the Lord,” which can be done no matter how bad one’s struggles might be.

We “agree in the Lord” by living out of our union with Christ and submitting to Him and His will moment-by-moment.

Whatever the dispute was about, Euodia and Syntyche had forgotten that they have a greater common ground in Jesus Christ.  They forgot that everything else was less important than that common ground.

You’ve seen the illustration of the triangle before, where when people move up the sides, drawing closer to Jesus Christ at the apex of the triangle, they also grow closer to one another.

That means that generally speaking, the presence of conflict in a marriage, or a church, shows that one or both are not spending much time with God.

So, when you’re arguing over something, stop and ask, “On what can we agree?”  “How does our common relationship with Jesus give us things to agree on?”  “Where is the common ground?”

If you can’t find any, then you’re probably too attached to your own agenda and need to stop and pray and ask God to help you see and seek His will, instead of your own.

Fifth, seek outside help, or intervention.

Ideally, we should be able to resolve our own problems; realistically we need help more often than we would like to admit.

Paul, in verse 3, says…

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.

Paul calls on his “true companion” (“loyal yokefellow,” NIV) to help these women.  Again, Paul is referring to someone who has worked alongside him in the ministry. 

We don’t know who this is.  Some suggest Syzygus, which is simply a transliteration of the Greek word “companion.”  Others suggest that maybe it was Epaphroditus.  But whoever it was, we can learn that it sometimes it is necessary for an outside party to help two factions resolve a conflict.

What kind of person is needed to intervene and help others resolve conflict?

First of all, that person needs to be spiritually minded.  In Galatians 6:1 Paul identifies this quality when he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Secondly, that person must be objective.  Paul’s objectivity is hinted at in his double use of the verb, “I urge … I urge.”  He doesn’t take sides or imply that one person is right and the other is wrong.  The outside party needs to hear both sides before he makes any judgments about who is most at fault.

Proverbs 18:17 reveals this bit of wisdom: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” So, don’t jump to hasty conclusions.  Listen to both sides of the story.

Third, that person must be direct and honest.  Beating around the bush doesn’t accomplish anything.

Can you imagine how these two women felt when this letter was read in the assembly?  Here they are, known in church history for one thing, the quarrel they had!  But Paul didn’t beat around the bush.  He named names.

In several other places he corrects people by name or directly names his source of information: “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Col. 4:17).

“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). (See also 1 Tim. 1:202 Tim. 2:17; 4:10, 14).

Sometimes we are so careful to tiptoe around so as not to offend anyone that we end up being vague and confusing.  Paul didn’t drop hints.  He was direct, specific, and truthful.

By the way, the word “help” here in verse 3 is actually a more aggressive word.  I think he is urging his co-worker in Philippi to “take hold of” these women and to “put a stop” to their unfruitful bickering.  The help for which Paul is calling is aggressive, because the sin seems to be affecting the entire church (see 1 Corinthians 5:6).

Fourth, the outside party should be affirming and positive whenever possible.

Paul didn’t scold or berate these women.  He affirms them by mentioning how they had shared in his struggle in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and others not named (we know nothing more about Clement).  He acknowledges that the names of all these dear people are known to God, written in the book of life, that book in heaven that contains the names of all of God’s elect (see Exod. 32:32Ps. 69:28Dan. 12:1Luke 10:20Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).

He does this so that the person who will intervene to help carries a positive attitude towards each of the women.

Sixth, get back to the work of the gospel side by side.

When Paul says that these women have shared his struggle in the gospel, the word he uses means to be on the same team in an athletic contest.  Team members have to work together; if they start fighting each other, the other team will make easy work of them.

Lord Nelson once came on deck and found two of his officers quarreling.  He whirled them about, pointed to the enemy ships, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, there are your enemies!” 

We’ve got to remember that our struggle is “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Maybe you’ve heard this story, and it emphasizes just how tragically easy it is for us to find something to fight over.

I was walking across a bridge recently.  I spied this fellow who looked like he was ready to jump off.  So, I thought I’d try to stall him until the authorities showed up.  “Don’t jump!” I said.  “Why not?” he said.  “Nobody loves me.”

“God loves you,” I said.  “You believe in God, don’t you?”

“Yes, I believe in God,” he said.

“Good,” I said. “Are you Christian or Jewish?”

“Christian,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Protestant or Catholic?”

“Neither,” he said.

“What then?” I said.

“Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Independent Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

“Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “New Evangelical/Moderate Independent Baptist or Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Lose-Your-Salvation Armenian Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Historical Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or For Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Strict Separation of Church and State Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Anti-Disney Boycott Pro-Choice Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “KJV Only Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Modern Versions Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“MODERN VERSIONS Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist” he said.

“Auugghh!!!  You heretic!” I said.  And I pushed him over.

No doubt most of you have read or heard this story, and hopefully you laughed.  And yet as I laugh, I realize that this fictional conversation and its outcome is repeated time after time in churches across our land and around the world.  Christians seem more inclined to attack their fellow-saints than they do to evangelize the lost. 

Paul wanted these ladies to get back to the mission, to the main reason that God has left us here on earth—to evangelize and disciple our neighbors and friends and the people we do business with.

Paul had expressed this back in the theme verses in chapter 1, verse 27:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

We will get to vv. 4 and 5 next week.  Although many preachers use these verses to preach against worry (which vv. 6 and 7 definitely bring up), I think that they are still addressing the attitudes of people in conflict.

These people should stay positive and practice gentleness towards one another.

So I hope you will join me again next week.  Until then, soak yourself in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

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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