Resolving Conflict, part 4 (Philippians 4:6-8)

Over last four weeks, as we’ve been looking at the opening section of Philippians 4, we’ve noticed that Paul is trying to help two women (and possibly others) to resolve whatever was dividing them and be reconciled.

As we looked at this passage we found seven 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.

The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude.  We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”  When you have an issue with someone, when they have hurt you, take your minds off of them and focus upon Jesus Christ.  Feast upon Him and find your joy in Him.

Spurgeon says…

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. 

Then, eighth, practice gentleness.  This word meant to not press our rights.  Usually we get angry at someone because they are violating our rights—our right to privacy, to quiet, to punctuality, to a pay raise, to unburnt toast.

Whenever we get angry, we need to ask ourselves, “What did I expect to happen?”  Then I can query whether my expectations were selfish.

Today we’re going to look at two more principles, found in vv. 6-8.

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.

Did you see them?  The two principles in these verses are (1) refuse to worry and (2) control your thinking.

So the eighth principle for defusing conflict is “don’t worry about it.”  Don’t fret.

When you have gotten into an argument, or someone has hurt you, betrayed you, it is so easy to play that event over and over in your mind.  As you do, you might imagine how you should have responded to them (usually in aggressiveness and anger) or you might be anxious about what they might be doing or saying to further undermine you or hurt you.  You might imagine that they are infecting everyone else with “their side of the story.”

I had this happen to me.  While walking and praying, all of a sudden my mind would be bombarded by thoughts of an event which had happened months before, when I had been fired by a jealous senior pastor. 

I was tempted to replay that event and those conversations in my mind, imagining how I would come back with a choice retort, or how I should have defended myself.

But I would quickly catch myself, and remind myself that I had forgiven that person.  I had chosen to forgive this man and I would then consciously refuse to keep thinking about those things.

Conflict does cause anxieties.

That is why Paul says “do not be anxious about anything.”  Now, this command extends beyond interpersonal conflict into every area of life, but this week I want to focus on how worry and interpersonal conflict often go together.

You see, worry can be both a cause and a result of conflict.  Insecurities can cause conflict, especially among women.  It causes on to be on edge and very sensitive, thus increasing the likelihood of conflict.

But if we are rejoicing in the Lord, staying focused on Him and receiving His gifts to us, we will feel less anxious and insecure.

On the other hand, worry and anxiety are also a result of conflict.  We worry about whether we are going to be able to mend the relationship.  We worry over what they might be thinking or saying about us behind our backs.

Ray Ortlund speaks to this issue in a blog post entitled “And a Time to Turn Away.”

Where once there was trust, with joy, honesty and spontaneity, now there might be aloofness, guardedness, even resentment.  To make matters worse, attempts at reconciliation can be ignored or even refused.  That is when, it seems to me, it is time to turn away.  Turning away is not our first response, of course.  But it must be a valid, if undesirable, option.  After all, we can’t force people to be open, to talk, to reconsider.  Until the Holy Spirit changes hearts — I have reluctantly concluded that there really is a time to turn away.  Yes, it is a defeat for the gospel.  But what else can one do?  All that’s left is trusting the Lord, referring the matter to the judgment seat of Christ, who alone sees all things perfectly… Sometimes all one can do is not make a situation worse.  That’s hard.  But the Lord can do amazing things with brokenhearted people who have nothing left but a longing for His glory in this messy world.

If we’ve attempted to resolve a problem through gentleness, by being willing to yield our rights, we might be worried about being trampled over, or wondering, “Who’s going to look after me (and my rights)?”

Well again, if we are rejoicing in the Lord, then we will be receiving from Him all we need.

Paul is encouraging Euodia and Synteche to relax and give all their concerns to God.  Gaining that peace from God would help them relax, be willing to surrender their personal rights, and be reconciled.

Experiencing God’s peace will enable us then to extend peace to the person we are quarreling with.

Now, we will dive deeper into these verses about worry and peace next week.  I just wanted to connect it to the conflict between Euodia and Synteche and help us to see how it is connected to conflict resolution.

Instead of worrying, relax.  Let God’s peace guide you to make peace with one another.  As both of you “settle down,” you can resolve the issue more quickly and reconcile the relationship.

By the way, I think it is important to distinguish the issue from the relationship.  We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, that we fight because we value an issue (or a right) more than the relationship.

So when we fight, to become friends again, we must do two things: (1) resolve the issue, and (2) reconcile the relationship.

We resolve the issue by defining it, discussing our attempts at solving it, finding some common ground, and then accepting a resolution that is mutually agreeable.

But if, in the process of disagreeing, we say or do something that wounds the other person, we have to go a step beyond merely resolving the issue, we have to ask for and grant forgiveness.

If we have hurt someone, reconciliation involves one of two actions, or both.  That is, we must confront the other person with their sin, and then grant them forgiveness.  Or, we must examine our own hearts and ask for forgiveness when we know we have hurt them.

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago how, it doesn’t really matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, BOTH sides are responsible to initiate reconciliation.  That comes from Matthew 5:21-26 and 18:15-18.

Jay Adams has said:

Jesus won’t allow the unreconciled condition to continue among believers.  In Matthew 5, if another considers you to have wronged him, Jesus says that you must go.   In Matthew 18, He says that if the other person has done something wrong to you, you must go.  There is never a time when you can sit and wait for your brother to come to you.  Jesus doesn’t allow for that.  He gives no opportunity for that.   It is always your obligation to go.

So if you are aware, if the Holy Spirit makes you aware, that you have wounded someone, or the sting of being wounded is smarting, either way you need to take the first step and go to that person to start the process of reconciliation.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas have written a book called The 5 Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships.  I think what they say is instructive.  Of course, they are saying that one or two of these is your own personal language of apology, but I think all five of them are necessary to make a whole reconciliation.

His five languages are:

  • Expressing regret.  This is expressing how sorry we are that we hurt them.  You might say something like, “I’m sorry that I forgot to call to tell you I would be late.”
  • Second is accepting responsibility.  This is where you say, “I was wrong.”  In what you said or what you did, you admit that you were at fault.
  • The third language is requesting forgiveness.  You need to ask, “Will you forgive me?”  It’s not enough just to say, “I’m sorry.”  An interpersonal transaction has to take place where the other person makes the decision to forgive.
  • Fourth is genuinely repenting.  Here you say, “I’ll try not to do that again.”  You make an about-face with regard to your behavior or your language and encourage that person that you intend to change.
  • Finally, is making restitution.  Ask, “How can I make it up to you?  What can I do to make it right?”

As you can see, these are practical ways to break down the interaction that needs to take place in order to restore the relationship.

Conversation can resolve the issue, but it takes confrontation and confession to reconcile the relationship.

Now let me also say that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.  Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, but it doesn’t guarantee it.  You see, it takes two to reconcile.  One must ask forgiveness and the other grant it.

So, if someone hurts you, forgive them, whether or not they ask for it.  You cannot cancel their sin.  Only God can do that, and He will only do that if they repent.  But what you can do is to set aside your own anger, bitterness and resentment towards them.

That is often the first step towards reconciliation, that you have already forgiven them in your heart and you are waiting for them to ask forgiveness so reconciliation can be accomplished.

The reason this distinction is important is that we can get stuck in a cycle of bitterness and resentment that is never healthy and often leaves a person in a spiritual rut.  It is important to forgive others for what they have done.

But it is also important to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation because in some cases you do need to forgive, but you should not be reconciled.  A person who is in an abusive relationship can and should forgive, but it may be unwise to be reconciled.

The ninth principle that Paul mentions in this passage is to control your thinking.

It is so important to control our thinking both in the midst of a conflict and in the aftermath of a conflict.

In the midst of a conflict we may not be thinking, just reacting, and in the aftermath of a conflict we may be thinking too much, but the wrong things.

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.

“Think about these things,” Paul says.  Concentrate on this.

More than likely, when we are fighting with someone, we are playing lightly with the truth.  We believe things about our opponent that aren’t true, sometimes fed by the gossip of others.  We also believe things about ourselves that aren’t true.

Are your thoughts about your mate honorable when you are having a conflict.  More than likely they are not if you are calling them names or making claims about their character or motives.

Alex Kendrick, producer and actor in Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous . . . and author of The Love Dare, spoke recently on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” Cruise and shared this story.

He had been feeling unloved by his wife because she hadn’t been adequately meeting his love language.  Kendrick says…

“Four months ago, I’m studying and getting ready to do our ramp up and do our next movie and stuff—as I’m with the Lord, and I remember I’m in His Word—and it was like He just kick-boxed me in the head: ‘Alex, you are running your wife down in your mind. She is not your enemy. The enemy wants to distract you, deceive you, and divide you. Your wife and you are one unit. Both of you are sinners, and both of you are in need of My grace.”

Feeling the Lord leading him to remember that his wife, Christina, is God’s gift to him and designed by God to have strengths which he lacked . . . Kendrick began to make a list of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—about Christina!

He knew that list was what he should dwell on about Christina. He said, “The list for her—the positive list—was very long. Guys—don’t run your spouse down, in your mind. . . If you are in Christ, what do you do? Follow Philippians 4:8. Your spouse is a sinner, but they are not your enemy.”

Hopefully she will be thinking the same things about you.  As both of you do, it will be a lot easier to resolve your conflicts and reconcile your relationship.

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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