Summary: Conflict is a part of our human existence. This sermon looks at the way Paul handled a conflict between two women in the church of Philippi and hightlights concepts that we can use today to live at peace with each other.
A Fork in the Hand…
When I was in junior high school, I witnessed a fight that I will never forget. Two girls were arguing in the cafeteria and a crowd gathered to watch. One girl sat calmly, another towered over her with both hands on the table. As the one girl ranted, the other one seated at the table quickly grabbed a fork and slammed it into her hand. I will never forget the sight of that fourteen year old girl running around the cafeteria with the fork sticking out of her hand, screaming like a wild animal. As an eighth grade boy, I found this very entertaining. As an adult and a parent, the memory disturbs me and makes me sad.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!
From the hurried halls of our junior high schools to the hallowed halls of the United Nations, from the floor of Senate to the floor of the preschool, from the boardroom to the bedroom, from the highway to the subway, conflict is a part of our human existence. Nations fight over land and boys fight over girls. Husbands and wives fight over money and brothers and sisters fight over toys. Cain killed Abel. Oswald killed Kennedy. Churches fight over the color of the carpet, the nature of their worship, and whether to have real coffee or decaf. Television shows like COPS and the Jerry Springer Show celebrate our propensity to pummel each other. When two professional basketball teams became involved in a melee this past fall that resulted in the injury of fans, a team owner actually said he thought the fight was “great” and would raise ratings. As Rodney King cried out nearly twenty years ago, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
The answer to that haunting question is found in the book of James:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. (James 4:1-3)
Conflict happens when we allow our sin nature to rule. When we let selfishness, personal preferences and our own opinions take priority, chaos and conflict are inevitable. We want to do things our way and our motives are often suspiciously self-centered. We are quick to point out other’s faults and ignore the “log in our own eye.” We quarrel and fight and often we enjoy it!
Chuck Swindoll pointedly states, “If a disagreement should be resolved and could be resolved, but is not, then our stubbornness and selfishness are at the core of the failure.”
Maybe you feel like someone has stuck a fork in you lately and you really do not know how to handle it. This morning we will learn together from God’s Word how to handle conflict in a Biblical way.
Three Ways to Handle Conflict
Ken Sande, who wrote the book “Peacemakers,” proposes three different ways that we handle conflict. You may remember this from the Peacemakers Seminar we hosted last year. Much of the material I will be presenting today comes from his book.
First, we can be “peace-fakers.” We can deny that there is conflict or actually run away to avoid dealing with the problem. Second, we can be “peace-breakers.” These are people who are more interested in winning the argument than saving a friendship. They can be rude, physically abusive, and even violent. These people seem to thrive on conflict and will create problems, even in the midst of peace.
We often learn our conflict resolution skills from our parents. What happens when one parent is a peace-faker and another is a peace-breaker? That’s the house I grew up in. I was frightened of my mother’s temper and frustrated by my dad’s passiveness. I was afraid of conflict and felt paralyzed in the face of problems. May I ask a personal question? Are in of you in the same boat? Are you unsure of yourself when it comes to handling conflict?
There is another way, a middle ground in the continuum of conflict resolution. Jesus calls us to be “peace-makers,” proactively seeking peace in order to preserve unity:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God…” (Matthew 5:9)
There are consequences for such actions. Listen to James, the brother of Jesus:
“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)
Peace is to personify God’s people. As disciples, we are to known as peace-makers. It is to permeate every interaction and ultimately leads to unity.
The United Way
Turn with me to our text for this morning Philippians 4:2-3. Before we dive into our discussion, let’s look at some Scriptures that give us a glimpse of God’s heart on the subject of unity. Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, which was racked by divisions and disagreement: