Last week, we looked at how integrating God’s influence results in healthy relationships. The four steps contained in Philippians 3:15-4:1 were "ask God for clear thinking, live what we know from God, pattern after godly people and make room for a biblical future." If we could do this perfectly in every situation of every relationship, the Apostle Paul would not have to write what we will be studying this morning.
Obviously, we are still people filled with selfish ambition, prejudices, cultural influence, worldly attitudes and pride. This morning, we will look at what happens when conflict arises in Christian community, because conflicts will arise, even in Christian community.
Before we look at this morning’s passage and discuss the three truths in the midst of Christian conflict, I want to point out that not all disagreement is bad, only disagreement that leads to discord or mutiny on a team or within the church. Disagreement is necessary for us who seek to do things right and to do the right things. Since no one of us is always right, not even your pastor, we need to be open to ideas different from our own.
This week, Connie and I discussed a major aspect of the church, and we disagreed. We both wanted to hear why the other thought a certain way and what the Bible had to say about the issue. We wanted God’s way, not our own. And Connie reminded me to live what I know, and that is pray for clear thinking. So, we prayed.
Later on in the week, I met with Jonah and Mel to discuss some administrative matters of the church. They were very gracious to let me share my ideas, being my administrative plans sometimes look like Jericho after the trumpets have blown. At the end of my presentation, I told them, "Look, guys, we all have the same purpose and desired outcome. If you know of a better way to carry this out, don’t hesitate to share that." I wasn’t looking for my way; I was looking for the best way.
In both cases, I prepared myself for disagreement by mentally welcoming disagreement, and I braced myself for what could come. I was uncomfortable, and almost pleading in my mind that they would like my idea and not hurt my ego by coming up with a better idea. It takes discipline and a willingness to sacrifice one’s ego for God’s best. Disagreement can be the channel from which God’s gift comes, if we are willing to sacrifice our pride.
By the way, in my messages and conversations, I never share other’s faults and failures and name their names unless I have first gotten permission, but I do name names without permission when you model for us what is helpful and healthy interaction. Now, let’s move into the text for this morning. I will read Philippians 4:2-3 for us.
If you’ll notice, Paul did not specify what the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche was, but he did specify that agreement was possible when the business of the Lord was involved. We don’t know if their conflict was due to style. Maybe Euodia was more analytical while Syntyche was more intuitive. When you differ in the level of planning but serve in the same team, misunderstanding can occur.
Another possibility is that they differ in value. Maybe Euodia spends more time with her family, believing that God calls her to minister to her family and mentor young mothers, while Syntyche spends more time at church, believing that God calls her to lead worship and Bible studies. When you differ in priority but serve in the same team, misunderstanding can occur.
There can be many reasons and causes for disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche. They could have disagreed because of differing prejudices, because of damaged self-esteem, because of words spoken without much consideration, or because of anything else. But Paul didn’t call their attention to the reason or the content of their disagreement. Paul called them and the Philippi Community Church to remember three truths when conflicts arise in Christian community.
Paul FIRST calls them to remember the truth that a big vision makes for little argument. We read this in verses 2 and 3. Paul is calling Euodia and Syntyche to focus on what is important. In verse 3 Paul uses the word, "contended," which is a military term, to give us a mental picture of their important joint service to God.
Christians are described as soldiers for Christ and the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, with these words, "No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer." Our Commanding Officer is Jesus Christ. When we agree with Jesus Christ, we agree with those who agree with Jesus Christ. All else is insignificant.
In a world where evil and rebellion against God and His ways are the norm, Christians are soldiers who bring good news of forgiveness, transformation, purpose and salvation. Despite all of today’s advancements, scientists tell us we have only scratched the surface of the earth and psychologists tell us we have used only a small percentage of our brain, and we know our soul is generally entirely neglected. Transformation of the soul is in tremendous demand, and God has called Christians to bring good news to redeem and transform the souls in a lost world.
Is there help for Susan Smith, if you remember, who heartlessly drowned her two young children, so she could continue her love affair? Is there help for the Menendez brothers, who cold-heartedly murdered their parents? What is the solution for the brutal beating and killing of a little two-year-old boy at the hands of a ten-year-old and a twelve-year-old in Liverpool, England? What can we offer to the daughter and her father, who numerous times stabbed his daughter, a student of Terra Linda High School, for whatever reason? What is the solution to the broken families and the scarred children in our country where 50% of the marriages end in divorce?
Some say tougher crime legislation. Others say better parenting skills. Still others point to counseling. We are covering cancer with band aide. We’re treating brain tumors with Tylenol. We are trying to heal the souls of people without God.
The goodness of God and the wickedness of the human heart are at war. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can bring forgiveness, transformation, purpose and salvation. We who received God’s solution through Jesus Christ on the cross have a new heart under the control of God’s Holy Spirit. We are given a new agenda for life. We no longer serve me, myself and I, but God the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Christian missionary work is not about westernizing the world, domination of cultures or humanistic compassion in action. Christian outreach is not about putting together attractive events or increasing church membership. The soldiers of Christ are partners in God’s work to redeem a lost and wicked people, whom we were, before we received Christ. The battle is not against flesh and blood, as many holy wars have tragically mistaken, but the battle is to free human beings from spiritual decay, and to restore the soul to a right relationship with God.
Do we have a vision this big? Or are we playing church with little vision or no vision at all? Do we come on Sunday thinking we’ve done God a favor, or worse yet, do we come out of routine without purpose or expectation anymore? Soldiers who share Christ’s big vision of restoring broken relationships to God and to one another don’t have time to argue over civilian concerns such as style, color, food or any other preferences. Christians and churches that argue over these things have too small a vision. Jesus calls us to worship in spirit and in truth, not in style and in comfort.
Paul FIRST calls them to remember the truth that a big vision makes for little argument, and he SECONDLY calls them to remember the truth that there is no private leak in a boat. We read this in verse 3. Paul calls one of his true teammates, his loyal yokefellow, to help mediate and resolve the disagreement.
When disagreement or conflict between two Christians in this church occurs, we do not have the freedom of disinterest or the freedom of a spectator. We cannot look on without concern for restoring the relationship and to bring harmony back into the church, the body of Christ.
The principle of "no private leak in a boat" reminds us that we are in this together. If all of us were in a boat, and you discovered a leak at the foot of where I was sitting, would you think, "I’m not going to mention the leak to Dana, because he might ask me to help in the repair, and I’m busy enough already." Or would you think, "I’m going to let Dana know what I see, and try to help before this boat fills up with water."
The Bible gives us clear teaching on restoring one another. First of all, we begin with those who are involved. We do not bring everybody into the conflict. Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 gives us the progression for dealing with sins that are like leaks in a boat, sins that will drown everyone in the church if not dealt with.
When you become aware of the sin or conflict that may lead to division in the church or destruction of church harmony and health, start with the one or ones who are involved already. If those involved are not responding to your mediation, involve two more people to witness this situation. If the conflict is not resolved, involve the Elders and Pastor, and maybe eventually the whole church.
If you tell me I have a leak below where I’m sitting in the boat, and I refuse to acknowledge the leak, fix the leak or allow you to help fix the leak, then it’s time to involve those sitting to my right and to my left. If I still won’t budge, then everyone in the boat needs to get involved, since my leak will affect everyone eventually.
I do have one precaution for us who try to restore others who are in disagreement. Make sure that we are right with God and with others, or else our involvement may make the situation worse, and Satan can use an immature mediator to create a bigger leak. You’ll find Jesus warning us of this in Matthew chapter 7 and Paul warning us of this in Galatians chapter 6. There is a right and helpful way to handle a leak, but there is no private leak in a boat.
Paul FIRST calls them to remember the truth that a big vision makes for little argument, and he SECONDLY calls them to remember the truth that there is no private leak in a boat. FINALLY, Paul calls them to remember the truth that we must never confuse our ally with the enemy. We see this in verse 3. Paul reminded Euodia, Syntyche, the loyal yokefellow and other Christians that they are on the same team, redeemed workers for Christ, whose names are in the book of life.
The book of life is further described in Revelation as the list of people who have inherited eternal life in heaven through trusting in Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Lamb needed for salvation from our sins. I don’t know whether there will be a hardbound book or whether the book of life is a metaphor for those who have an eternal inheritance. Revelations 20:15 does tell us, "If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he will be thrown into the lake of fire."
In contrast, Paul reminds us that those who are listed in the book of life are eternal allies in a heavenly kingdom. Therefore, we must never confuse our ally with the enemy. Jesus reminded us, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." When conflicts arise in Christian community, we must remember we are allies who disagree and not enemies who war against one another.
About seven years ago, I prepared for full-time ministry by reading one book on Christian ministry each week. One of the books I read was titled, "Well-intentioned Dragons," which taught church leaders how to handle difficult people in the church. As I read, God convicted me that I was one of those difficult people to my youth pastor.
I had always criticized him and complained about how he was not doing all that he could to grow the ministry. Every time I called him, I told him of another problem in the ministry and how he was not available to help. He was the only youth pastor for both the English and Cantonese congregations, but I didn’t understand that one could only do so much and take care of family as well.
When I called him about reading the book, I was almost in tears, asking for his forgiveness and explaining that God convicted me of the hardship and conflict I’ve brought into his life. He forgave me. When Susan and I married, he gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard for married couples.
He told me to always remember that my wife and I are on the same team. We are allies, not enemies. When we disagree, we are still on the same team. If we ever get to the point of disagreement where I have to win and where she has to lose, we have confused our ally with the enemy. The true Enemy will then come in and destroy our marriage. Treating our ally as our enemy is like committing suicide and taking our best friend with us.
Paul pleaded with Euodia and with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord, because God’s common call on our lives as soldiers in His army is far greater than any disagreement we may have. Paul asked another, the loyal yokefellow, to step in to help because there is no private leak in a boat or in a church. He finally reminded Euodia and Syntyche that they are on the same team, and to make sure that eternal allies don’t treat each other like earthly enemies.
This is ours to take home.