Summary: How can we address conflict in a Christ honoring way?
Relationships are what make life worth living. After all, as we have pointed out in this series, it's through our relationship with God that we learn how to live life to the fullest. Since God is the author of all life, it's right to conclude if I'm going to live life as I ought, I need to have a personal connection with the One who is the designer of all life.
In the Bible, we find God's guidance for how to live life as He designed it. One thing we're told is if life is to be lived to the fullest, we must endeavor to maintain right relationships - with both God and man.
We've focused on maintaining a right relationship with God. I want to turn our attention to what's involved in maintaining a right relationship with our fellow man. God calls upon His people to be peacemakers.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." - Matthew 5:9 (NIV)
But, "Who is it that will recognize us as 'The children of God' if we are relating to others as we should?" This couldn't refer to God. God knows His own, whether anyone else does or not. No, the person who needs to know I'm a child of God, that I have a connection with God that's made a difference in my life, one that can be made in their life, too, is the person who has yet to give their life to Christ.
Jesus said the world will know we truly have a connection with Him, is by how we who claim to be Christians relate to one another.
"All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other." - John 13:35 (Easy to Read)
Paul knew it is impossible for our WALK with God or our WITNESS to the world to be what it should if we cannot WORK in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That's why he emphasizes the value of God's people working in harmony through-out Philippians (1:27; 2:1-2; 2:14-16a).
Over and over, the Scriptures teach it is impossible for our WALK with God or our WITNESS to the world to be what it should if we can't WORK in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This brings us to chapter 4, verses 2 & 3. Paul goes from "preaching" to "meddling," as he addresses two ladies who were having difficulty working in harmony. (Read Text)
There are two things in this passage on how to maintain right relationships in the body of Christ.
1. Our method for doing so -
A. Accept personal responsibility -
Note the double use of the word, "plead" in verse 2. Paul was saying there was enough blame to go around. That each party needed to admit fault and do their part if the conflict was to be resolved.
When it comes to conflict, two common mistakes are made - 1) I take all the blame on myself; or 2) I place all the blame on the other person. Rarely is either of these the true. Each party bears a level of responsibility in the conflict and needs to honestly own up to it.
"It's a mighty flat pancake that has only one side." - Adrian Rogers
Two men in a small village got into a dispute they couldn't resolve. So they decided to talk to the town sage. The first man went to the sage's home and told his version of what happened. When finished, the sage said, "You're absolutely right." The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side. The sage responded, "You're absolutely right." Afterward, the sage's wife scolded her husband. "Those men told two different stories and you said they were absolutely right. They can't both be absolutely right." The sage turned to his wife and said, "You're absolutely right."
B. Follow proper procedures -
Apparently the conflict between these ladies had grown to where the church was taking sides. Otherwise, Paul would not have addressed their conflict in a letter that was to be read to the entire congregation.
Apparently, these women found their differences too difficult for them to overlook them. They'd tried to discuss the problem, and to negotiate an agreement, all to no avail. It was time to get help; to be assisted through mediation. Paul addresses the mediator as "loyal yokefellow." Some suggest this should be translated as a proper name - "Syzygus." At any rate, Paul had an individual in mind to mediate their dispute.
"But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'" - Matthew 18:16 (NIV)
Jesus didn't say to get some friends and go back and "gang up" on the person with whom we have a disagreement. He says to get help from one or two objective third parties to help mediate the conflict.