Over the last two weeks we have been 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.
We all know that relationships can fall apart, either through neglect or through conflict. Even in churches people can get on one another’s nerves and start bickering.
As we looked at this passage we found five principles so far 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.
Fourth, we have to seek common ground with the other person. As Christians, we have a great advantage. Since both of us are “in Christ” and can have “the mind of Christ” we have a great opportunity to lay aside our own ideas to entertain the ideas of the person we disagree with. Because we are both “in Christ” as believers, it makes it possible for us to “agree in the Lord.” Notice that Paul used the word “Lord” to re-emphasize their submission to Him even in the midst of interpersonal conflict.
Fifth, we saw the importance of recruiting outside help to guide us in negotiating conflict and pursuing reconciliation. Paul asked others to get involved because he knew that the conflict had grown to the point that it was affecting others in the congregation and just not getting anywhere.
Sixth, and this is the goal, we have to get back to the ministry of the gospel, working side by side. These women had done so before, but right now they were letting their personal rights and feelings get in the way of what was of utmost importance—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers.
Sadly, it is often conflicts in churches that drive people away from Jesus Christ.
Today we want to look at some more principles for resolving conflicts in verses 4 and 5.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude. We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”
I don’t know about you, but when I’m fighting with someone, it is hard for me to rejoice. I naturally want to gripe and complain, or just feel grumpy.
Paul emphasizes how important this command is by repeating it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” There is possibly no other attitude that has greater capacity to alter our lives and our relationships than this one.
Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81). He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404).
The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143). Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5).
And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).
Rejoicing in the Lord is both curative to relationships and it maintains healthy relationships.
“Rejoicing is the Lord” is an action. It involves our hearts and minds and voices. It means to speak aloud our joy in the Lord, our delight in Him.
You know the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is dependent upon what happens, on whether circumstances turn out by my favor. That is unlikely to happen when you are fighting. You will naturally identify those statements and actions that are not in your favor, and complain.
Joy doesn’t depend upon changing circumstances, but upon unchanging realities—the love and grace and presence of God through Christ to us.
Joy then depends upon staying focused on Jesus Christ, not on ourselves and our situation.
The fact that Paul is commanding it shows that it is not dependent upon our circumstances. We can rejoice always, even if we are not happy. We keep our eyes on Christ and rejoice in Him, in all He has done and all He is.
And Paul is not innovating here. There are numerous other places in Scripture where God’s people are commanded to rejoice.
- Psalm 33:1 – “Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones.”
- Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD…”
- Psalm 97:12 – “Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
- In Matthew 5:12, the Lord Jesus Himself commands us to “Rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
- And in a very similar fashion, the Apostle Peter commands the churches under his care, “…to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” (1 Pet 4:13).
I love the comment Spurgeon makes on this:
“Do you not think that this [repetition] was intended also to impress upon them the importance of the duty? ‘Again I say, Rejoice.’ Some of you will go and say, ‘I do not think that it matters much whether I am happy or not, I shall get to heaven, however gloomy I am, if I am sincere.’ ‘No,’ says Paul, ‘that kind of talk will not do; I cannot have you speak like that. Come, I must have you rejoice, I do really conceive it to be a Christian’s bounden duty, and so, ‘Again, I say, Rejoice!’”
I love what John MacArthur says about this. He says, “Christian joy is not an emotion on top of an emotion. It is not a feeling on top of a feeling. It is a feeling on top of a fact. It is an emotional response to what I know to be true about my God.” That’s so helpful. Joy is not an emotion driven by a flurry of emotions. That would be emotionalism. But joy is indeed an emotion; it is an emotion on top of a fact—an emotion experienced in response to the truth of God beheld by the eyes of faith.
Joy is the affection that is produced in the soul when one finds delight, pleasure, or satisfaction in God Himself or the truth about Him, and then responds in gladness.
Spurgeon takes us home with these words:
“Come, brothers and sisters, I am inviting you now to no distasteful duty when, in the name of my Master, I say to you, as Paul said to the Philippians under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!’”
It is that joy which celebrates the gospel that changes our attitudes towards one another.
Karl Barth, in a brief survey of the commands to rejoice in the book of Philippians, noted that we meet the command first in 2:18 where Paul tells the Philippians that they “should be glad and rejoice” with him, and then again in 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” And, lastly, here in 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
From the force of these three commands, Barth concludes that “‘joy’ in Philippians is a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’” — nevertheless “Rejoice.” Paul’s unqualified “Rejoice” certainly does defy the thankless, complaining nature of humanity and human custom through all of history.
Also, remember that Paul wasn’t writing while he lounged in a Roman bath or sipped espresso in Café Roma. We must never forget that Paul delivered his defiant command to rejoice whatever the circumstances when it was unsure whether he would live or die and while he was confined to helplessly watching his competitors and enemies make advances among the churches of Rome and Philippi. As if to answer any question from those who might ask incredulously, “Should we really rejoice during afflictions?” he stated twice, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Get it?
Paul’s imprisonment, Ephaproditus’ illness, opposition of the “enemies of the cross” and now internal fighting, all could make this command seem absurd.
Paul was not urging us to be unrealistic. He was not saying that we should never feel sad. Even Jesus wept (John 11:35). However, he was advocating focusing on the blessings we have in Christ, and being grateful for these regardless of how sad we may feel at any particular time. He had set a good example by singing when he was in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).
Note also that the apostle’s words allow for no loopholes — “always” permits no exceptions regardless of how humiliating or painful things might be. Similarly, the readers are commanded to find their joy “in the Lord” rather than in their circumstances. As such, Christian “joy is a basic and constant orientation of the Christian life, the fruit and evidence of a relationship with the Lord” (Bockmuehl).
It comes from what the Lord has done in the past, from what he is doing now, and from the hope of what he will do in the future.
Nehemiah tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10). Rejoicing in God gives us strength to do what we could never do in the flesh.
So, when you are fighting with someone, take your mind off of them and what they have said or done, and what they might be saying (to others) now, and focus on Jesus Christ. Verbally thank him and bless Him for all that He has done for you. Remind yourself of all the benefits you have in Christ.
People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense.
Such a vital attitude.
Then, eighth, practice gentleness.
Whenever you have your next interaction with the person you are fighting with, practice gentleness in the way you deal with them.
Paul mentions that this attitude and way of behaving should be “known to everyone,” believer and unbeliever alike.
But what does Paul mean?
The ESV translates this “reasonableness.” It is a word that means “willingness to yield.” The forbearing person does not insist on his or her own rights or privileges. This person not only looks for common ground, but is willing to yield to the other person.
We live in a day that emphasizes our personal rights to do or get whatever we want. The most common reason we get angry with someone is that they violated our rights—to privacy, or quiet, or punctuality, or a tasty meal every night, or coming home on time.
Being “gentle” means holding these rights loosely, with the willingness to keep on rejoicing in the Lord even when those rights are violated.
Having this attitude would help us in any conflict. It reminds us of the “soft” and “pleasant” words mentioned in Proverbs.
Aristotle contrasted this word with the concept of akribodikaois, “strict justice.” “For him it meant a generous treatment of others which, wile demanding equity, does not insist upon the letter of the law. Willing to admit limitations, it is prepared to make allowances so that justice does not injure. It is a quality, therefore, that keeps one from insisting on his full right…or from making a rigid and obstinate stand for what is justly due him” (Hawthorne, Philippians, p. ___).
To be gentle means to admit when you’re wrong and not to rub it in when you are right.
In fact, to be gentle means to be willing to lay down your right to be right, even when you are right. As someone has said: “He who stays flexible won’t be bent out of shape.”
Gentleness holds these rights loosely, not because they are wrong to expect, but because we can trust God to make things right.
You see, being gentle is as strong an act of trust in God as “not being anxious about anything” in verse 6.
We can surrender our rights because “the Lord is near.” This statement could mean “nearby” or “about to come.” It was a reference to Paul’s expectation, as ours, that the Rapture could occur at any moment.
With that in mind, we know that He will take care of us and right every wrong.
Jesus was the extreme example of gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) and humility (Phil. 2:6-8). He showed it to the woman caught in adultery.
He was totally righteous and didn’t deserve to be treated as He was, and who, as Lord, had every right to expect total loyalty and love from His creation, yet in 1 Peter 2 we read…
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Jesus was cruelly treated and crucified, but he did not assert His rights. He did not call down 10,000 angels. On the cross He asked His Father to forgive His persecutors.
And He could do this because he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
We don’t have to get what we deserve here and now. We can lay aside our rights because we trust that eventually justice will be served.
Now, when I’ve turned over my rights to God and I stop being demanding and pushy, two temptations surface: one is the tendency to grumble (which we’ve already addressed in v. 4) and the other is to get worried.
What is the other person thinking about us? What are they doing that might bring harm to me? What are they telling others? We have all these anxieties, especially when we are at war with someone.
But again, Paul encourages us to trust in God. Rejoice in Him and trust in Him. I guarantee you that if you do these things, you will thrive in life and you will be able to repair relationships.