Summary: It is a human tendency to believe that conflict is always the fualt of someone else. Paul knew better.
“Living A Joy-full Life: Strengthening Your Union:
There’s a classic For Better or For Worse cartoon. Frame 1 – Husband says, “Should I put on some tea, honey?” “Sure.” Frame 2 – “But not in that pot!!” Frame 3 – she’s leaning over the dishwasher – “John, when you’re putting the plates into the dishwasher…they should be turned this way around!” Frame 4 – She says, “When you’re done with the dishes, you could at least wipe off the counter.” Frame 5 – He’s wiping the counter. She says, “But not with that cloth!” Frame 6 – “You wrapped the leftovers in saran wrap. I always put them in these plastic containers.” Frame 7 – He says, “Uh…I think I’d better let you do all this.” Frame 8 – She’s having coffee with a friend, sighs, and states, “You know, Anne, John is the sweetest man on earth…But for some reason, he just hates to help with anything around the house.” Sound at all familiar? It seems to be a human tendency to believe that conflict is always the fault of someone else; certainly we are not to blame.
Paul knew better. The Christians in Philippi were apparently much like Christians today. Where-ever two were gathered together, there were three opinions. Paul refers to threats to unity coming from outside the church through false teachers (3:1-3), and from inside the church through preachers with wrong motives (1:15-18) and from some powerful disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (4:1-3). And the Philippians, much like us, tended to focus on what divided rather than on what united. The truth of the matter is few church splits happen over key, essential doctrinal issues. Rather, they occur over worship styles, music styles, leadership styles, moral issues, or political debates – in other words, over personal preferences and passions.
So Paul starts by stating we need to RECOGNIZE OUR UNITY. (2:1) “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion…” “If you have…” Paul is not asking them ‘if’ they had experienced encouragement, comfort, sharing, or compassion; he is saying ‘If you have – and you know you have – experienced these things…; if your union with Christ has given you any benefit – and you know it has…” The Message sates it: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care…”
If we RECOGNIZE THE BLESSINGS WE SHARE through our mutual fellowship in Christ, if our union with Christ has given us any of these benefits Paul exhorts (3), “… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” Get on the same page, WORK TOGETHER AND SERVE ONE ANOTHER. Paul is not saying we must have agreement and union in all our thoughts and ways of doing things; there’s a difference between union and unity. We can take a dog and a cat, tie their tails together, and hang them over a clothes line. They’ll have union but not unity. As Roger Williams stated, “We find not in the Gospel, that Christ hath anywhere provided for the uniformity of churches, but only for their unity.” (i) So Paul states we must be focused on someone or something other than ourselves and our preferences. “… (be) like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” Think and act with the same mind, with the same motives, following the same example. FOCUS ON JESUS. Concentrate on being Jesus to one another, on sharing Jesus’s love and concern with one another. (1Jn. 4:7-8 NLT) “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Once we recognize our unity, we can work at REALIZING OUR UNITY. Paul begins by exhorting us to (3a) “Do nothing out of selfish ambition…” We are to RELINQUISH COMPETITION. Paul sees one cause of conflict as competing desires, which cause a divisive spirit. Competition is a root cause of church strife - and, by the way, of marital discord. So J. B. Phillips translates these words, “Never act from motives of rivalry.” The Jerusalem Bible says, “There must be no competition among you.”
A good picture of the nature of competition comes from Sharon Osberg who is a two-time world bridge champion. Her partners include high-powered executives Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. She describes the playing styles of the two men as aggressive. Gates approaches bridge scientifically, reasoning through problems. Buffett is more intuitive and computes probabilities on the fly. Osberg says, "Neither of these guys likes to lose. Warren and I were playing against his sister and brother-in-law and we were losing. Warren's sister wanted to frame the score sheet. So Warren ate it." (ii) We chuckle at the picture. Yet when that same spirit of ‘win at all costs’ enters the church arena, it’s divisive and devastating.