(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 29, 2004
Resolving Conflict in the Church
How do you deal with conflict? People handle it all sorts of different ways. Some seek to just avoid it by either running away from it or by appeasing their enemies. Some go to the opposite extreme and almost seem to welcome it if not instigate it themselves. Then there are those who will not back down from their core issues of belief, yet will also seek to find common ground in which compromise can be made and the issues resolved. While that introduction could be a good introduction to a political speech since the major political parties and candidates differ so much on the issues related to dealing with those that hate America and seek our harm, our interest this morning is dealing with conflict in the church.
Turn to Philippians 4 where we will learn how to deal with interpersonal conflict with fellow believers from Paul’s correction of two women in that church that were hostile to each other.
4:1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long [to see], my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in [the cause of] the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Recall from last week that Paul followed his command to “stand firm in the Lord” with specific ways in which we are to stand firm. We are to work through problems and live in harmony (2,3). We are to maintain a joyful spirit through proper prayer (4-7). We are to keep their minds focused on what is godly (8,9), and we are to learn to be content in their circumstances by trusting in the Lord (10-19). We will study each of these areas in depth in the next couple of months, but today we will focus on learning to work through problems and live in harmony.
Even though Christians share common beliefs and values, it is not easy to live in harmony because there is so much both within and without that seeks to disrupt our fellowship. There is our own selfishness. The selfishness of others. The is the pressure from the world to conform us to its standards instead of God’s. And there is the attack by our adversary, the devil, that seeks to get us to believe lies about God and His desires for us, and about other people. That is why Paul prefaces his urging of these to women by commanding everyone to “stand firm in the Lord.” Hold your position and do not let sin push you back into unrighteousness which is at the heart of every conflict.
It is important to emphasize again that this is standing firm “in the Lord” and not in your own strength and abilities. You must be cultivating your walk with the Lord so that you are becoming more like Him and more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life. You cannot resist temptation on your own, but must rely on God’s faithfulness to provide the way of escape and then take it that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). You are not going to be able to stand against the devil unless you are first submitting to God. You are not more powerful or wiser than the devil, but the Holy Spirit in you is and as you follow His commands, then you can resist the devil and he will flee you (James 4:7; 1 John 4:4). You will not be able to live in harmony with other Christians if you are not wearing the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).
Are you girding yourself daily with the belt of truth, or are you letting Satan’s slanders and the lies of others control what you think and thereby also what you do? It is truth that sets you free from the bondage of sin and Satan. Are you wearing the belt of truth.
Do you have on the breastplate of righteousness? If not, then do not be surprised when your will and emotions lead you off in ungodly pursuits?
What about your feet? Do you have a firm grip on the ground by having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace? When we are at peace in our relationship with God, there is no cause of fear that can disturb us from without for His perfect love, which was proven when Jesus died in our place for our sins, casts out all fear ( 1 John 4:18).
There is also the shield of faith by which we extinguish the fiery darts of the devil. It is our faith that enables us to rest on God’s character in the midst of our uncertainty even when Satan is seeking to exploit it. It is not enough to say that you have faith, you have to pick up this shield and keep it between you and the devil.
There is also the helmet of salvation which protects your brain and how you perceive the world. This defensive armor is our confident assurance in our eternal future with God which protects us when Satan has smashed through our other lines of defense. We can stand firm even when the circumstances of our lives seem to be crumbling around us. When I do not know anything else, I can always go back to Romans 5 and know that God loves me because Jesus Christ died in my place to save me from my sins. What controls your mind?
Finally, there is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. With the Bible we both defend ourselves from attacks and go on the offense to win others to the Lord. But the sword will do you no good if you do not pick it up and practice with it so that you know how to use it. To use the AWANA theme verse of 2 Tim. 2:15, you need to be a workman approved unto God can who handle accurately the word of truth and need not be ashamed.
Do you have your armor on? Are you standing firm in the Lord. If you are not, then you are an open target. You will not only be in conflicts that disrupt the harmony of the church, but you will also be the source of such conflicts. Therefore, stand firm in the Lord.
Euodia and Syntyche
There is not a lot written here about Euodia and Syntyche, but there is enough to come to some conclusions about them. First, these two women are believers that have been very active in the church. Notice in verse 3 that Paul specifically cites that they have shared in his struggle in the cause of the gospel. The actual Greek word here means that they were “fellow athletes” with Paul. This is an idea that all of us should easily understand if you have every been on or been a fan of a sports team. Every team member must work together in order to accomplish the goals and win. Paul recognized Euodia and Syntyche as fellow athletes on his gospel team. Included in this team are “Clement also and the rest of his fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.” These women are workers within the church, not troublemakers from without. They have a lot of relationships in the church as part of this Paul’s team of fellow workers, so they are also influential.
Another conclusion we can come to is from what Paul does not say. There is no correction of a doctrinal error, so we can conclude that the source of the conflict was not a doctrinal dispute, otherwise Paul would have corrected it. None of Paul’s letters show any hesitation to correct even a doctrinal aberration. Paul also does not cite either one of them as being in some great sin. Paul letters frequently contain correction of such things, so we can also conclude that their conflict was not over some specific sin. At the same time, we can also conclude that this is a significant conflict since Paul heard about it though he was in Rome and addresses them specifically.
Why was this so important to Paul that he would write about it in this letter? Paul addressed the issue of unity earlier in Philippians 1:27 in his call for them to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul expanded on this same theme in 2:2. Why not just address the issue in this general manner, or deal with just some of its manifestations such as Paul did in 2:14 when commanded them to “do all things without grumbling or disputing”? Why specifically bring up the conflict between these two women?
The reason is simply that the manner in which those in the church get along with one another is a reflection of Christ to the world. Jesus was direct in telling the disciples that they were to love one another as He loved them, and that it would be this love that would demonstrate to others that they were indeed His disciples (John 13:34,35). The conflict between these two women was a serious threat to that church’s testimony. The Philippian church was sound in doctrine (Paul does not make any doctrinal corrections in the book), but that would do them little good if disunity disrupted them from serving Christ, or even worse, cause them to faction as had occurred in the Corinthian church. Such division can destroy the church. These two women were important workers in the church and their conflict threatened to spill over into the rest of the church.
Sources of Conflict
So why were these women in conflict? It could have been for any of a wide variety and number of reasons, but all of them common to the same reasons Christians today get into conflict. This is the tragedy of their conflict and those that occur between Christians today. Major conflicts usually rise up and grow from very minor disagreements. What are some of the sources of these conflicts?
Some have referred to these women as “odious” and “soon touchy” insinuating that they may have just had a personality conflict. One was abrasive and the other overly sensitive. Many of us have been involved in these types of clashes because the people around us have different personalities that we do. They are type “A,” and you are type “Z” – as in so laid back that your nearly asleep. They get upset that you are not more visibly concerned about things, and you get irritated that they won’t slow down enough to smell the roses and enjoy the blessings God has granted. Even a small irritation can become a major sore if not treated properly. We need to appreciate and learn from those with different personalities. Type “A” people need to learn to relax, and type “Z” people need to get up and move.
Just as a quick side note here about personality profiling. While I do not find anything inherently wrong with trying to figure out your personality type according to whatever rating system you use, I do need to issue a strong warning about boxing yourself in with a personality type. God has given the same standard for holiness and righteous living to all Christians. Your personality is a reflection of what has been built so far and perhaps some of the outward decorative features of the house, but God’s word is the blueprint that defines the purpose and design of the structure that is being built. Your personality will make some things easier than for someone with a different personality, but for the same reason, they will have an easy time with things that cause you to struggle.
Again, the bottom line of this is that we need each other and our differences in personality can be used by the Lord to help each of us grow to be more like Him. We need to learn to appreciate our differences and make our personalities mesh like two gears working together rather than clash like two cars colliding.
Lack of love is often a source of conflict. We overreact to the failings in a brother or sister and forget about being gracious and merciful. 1 Peter 4:8 states, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” We all will overlook the idiosyncrasies and minor sins of those we love because love is humble, gentle, patient and longsuffering (Eph. 4:2) (which is a good thing because we often will treat those we love more harshly than strangers). This does not mean in anyway that we compromise on holiness, but rather that we extend grace and mercy. Love is the grease that smooths out the friction that naturally occurs when people work or live together since we are all imperfect. Where love lacks, that friction can quickly spark the fire of open conflict.
I need to also point out that it is this same love that also causes us to properly admonish one another for our sin. Love does not mean we ignore sin, but rather we speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) which describes the patience, grace and mercy we extend as we speak. The motive is not just to bring about a needed correction, but more importantly, it is to strive to restore the relationship that is strained or broken because of sin (Matt. 18:15f). Those who correct but lack love become the pharisaical keepers of the law, spiritual policeman if you will, waiting to pounce on any infraction of the rules they have set up. That only aggravates and increases conflict, whereas love calms.
Selfishness is another cause, perhaps the greatest cause, of conflict. James 4:1-4 states, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
There are times when conflict is good and necessary, such in Galatians 2:11 when Paul speaks about how he had to oppose Peter to his face because Peter had been carried away by the hypocrisy of the Judaizers and compromised the unity and fellowship of that church, and even threatened the gospel message. It is necessary to stand firmly against apostates, heretics and those that threaten the church. Paul and John both speak about having to do this in their letters. 2 John 10 says to not receive or even give a greeting to those that come with doctrine contrary to the Scriptures. Paul said that those who brought a different gospel were accursed (Gal. 1:8). Paul said in Titus 3:10 that we are to “reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Remember as well that Jesus often opposed the Scribes and Pharisees, and He cast out the money changers from the temple (John 2).
There are many issues in which we must enter into conflict with those that compromise God’s word or bring shame upon His name. Churches have properly split over issues of doctrine for 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 makes it clear that we must come out from the midst of and be separate from unbelievers, apostates and the lawless. However, most conflicts in churches are not over such issues. They are over minor issues of personal preferences including silly issues such as what color the new carpet will be.
How can these things be in the church? Because it is too easy to succumb to the pressures of the world to conform us to its image instead of the image of Christ. When that happens, what is important to us reflects worldly concerns rather than godly ones. Our personal preferences become more important than our relationships with others. Making sure the church decor pleases your own eye is more important than the thoughts and feelings of others or even the functionality of it. Could the source of conflict between Euodia and Syntyche have been differences of opinion in how the table was to be decorated or what meal would be served at the fellowship dinner?
In our society, musical preferences are a huge source of conflict in churches, and I am talking about what music is played in the church, not just what music is listened to by church people. There are stacks of magazine articles and books written on the subject, and tragically, many of them are written simply in the effort to convince others that their style is what should be used. However, the real source of music conflict and war in the church is not the music, but the heart attitude behind the demands. Instead of being filled with the Spirit resulting in speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19), the Holy Spirit is quenched as people demand that the melody satisfies the emotional desires of their own heart. The focus of the music actually becomes inward for personal pleasure and satisfaction instead of outward and upward for the pleasure and satisfaction of God. What underlies this conflict is that too many Christians equate worship by how they feel, and because music is so powerful at moving our emotions, the end result is people judging the worship by how the music affected them. But worship is not about how you feel or what you receive. True worship must be done in spirit and truth (John 4:24) which means it is about willfully giving God the honor and praise due Him. True worship includes the scripture reading, prayers, praises, reports, special presentations, and sermon as well as the music. Some of these take a lot of work and may not be very emotionally pleasing. Perhaps our personal and corporate worship will improve if we will all keep in mind that God looks at our hearts and knows whether we are focusing on worshiping Him or are disgruntled because our personal preferences are not being met. Do you sing to the Lord, or for your own pleasure?
Jealousy: As James 4 also points out, selfishness also reveals itself in jealousy. Other people have things we do not have. It might be some material thing, or it might be an ability. Instead of being content with what God has given to us (1 Tim. 6:8) and praising Him for what He has given to others (1 Cor. 13:26), it becomes a source of envy and resentment which results in fighting and quarreling. Related to this is another source of conflict, pride.
Pride is the opposite of the character quality that is necessary for unity in the church, humility. Humility regards other people as more important than self and so seeks out the best interest of the other person even at the cost of personal sacrifice. That is exactly what Jesus did for us when He became a man and then died in our place. He placed our interests above His own. Pride regards other people as less important than self and so seeks to fulfill personal interests even at the cost of the sacrifice of others. That is the way of the world.
Pride is usually a component, to at least some degree, in most conflicts. Pride demands its own way in issues of personal preference because pride believes its preferences are superior to those of all others, therefore it demands people to change to meet its desires. Pride is hurt when someone else has something it does not, so it is envious of others. Pride is arrogant, so it is also damaging to the normal structure of relationships in any group including the church.
When a proud man is in a position of leadership, he will be like the rulers in the world and will lord himself over those under him. Jesus said “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25,26). At the same time, a proud man will resist those who are in authority over him. Sometimes that resistance will be in open rebellion, other times it will be in the murmuring, grumbling and gossip against what the leadership does or the leaders themselves. Within the church, the leaders are shepherds who have to meet specific spiritual qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3) including being godly examples to the flock. That is why Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey your leaders, and submit [to them]; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” This does not mean you cannot disagree with church leaders, but it does mean that you respectfully and humbly follow them unless they are clearly in violation of God’s word. If you have disagreements with a church leader, then you tell them, not everyone else. In addition you need to humbly and carefully listen to their answers to your questions or concerns and compare them to Scripture, not your own opinions or those of others. Pride, whether it is in the leader or the people can quickly disrupt the unity and fellowship of a church. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). We need to make sure that we are people who humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God regardless of our position.
While we do not know the exact reason for the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, we do know Paul’s instructions for how they were to resolve it.
First, Paul appealed directly to each of them to “live in harmony in the Lord.” The verb “I urge” (“beseech,” “plead,” “implore”) is repeated twice, once to each woman. The idea of “live in harmony” is literally “to be in the same mind” with the qualifier that this same mind was “in the Lord.” The ecumenical movement strives for unity based on lowest common denominator and an agreement to not talk about anything controversial. True Christian unity is founded on first believing in Christ and then submitting ourselves to believe and follow what He taught. Christian unity can only occur when there is one mind, and that mind is that of Jesus Christ controlling His followers. The Christian develops this unity as they are transformed by the renewing of their mind through the Scriptures and become more like Jesus.
The first action in resolving conflict is to call the parties in contention to seek the mind of the Lord in the matter and submit to that. If we actively did that all the time we would avoid conflict. If we will do it as soon as a conflict starts, we will quickly resolve things.
The second action to take in resolving conflict is to send help. That is what Paul does in verse 3. He asks someone identified as “true comrade” or “companion” or more literally, “yoke-fellow” to help them. The word here is suzugoV / suzugos, which may be the man’s actual name. Paul prefacing it with the adjective “true” becomes a word play. His name is suzugoV / suzugos and he is a true yoke-fellow. Since Paul has worked with him before, he trusts that he would be able to help these women work through their differences.
There are times when all of us need a neutral party to help us work through conflicts we develop with others. In part this is because our own emotions get worked up, or we just get stubborn and we lose sight of the bigger picture. We make a mountain out of a mole hill and respond to a fellow Christian like they were an enemy. The enemy is Satan, not other Christians even if they have done something you do not like or that has hurt you. Having someone else there that is godly can help those in conflict sort through the issues and see them again in a proper Biblical perspective.
As believers, we need to be pro-active in the lives of each other. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God,” he was talking about those that are willing to get into the middle of a conflict in order to stop it and get it resolved. Certainly there can be a lot of risk in doing this because one or both parties could turn on you. That is why it takes a mature believer to do such counseling lest they get sucked in and become a party to the conflict themselves.
If you are in a conflict, be humble and seek to work it out. Jesus even tells us in Matthew 5:23,24 regarding our worship of God that we need to reconcile with our brothers before we can properly worship. We are to strive to be at peace with all men as far as it depends on us (Rom. 12:18). Jesus told us to love our enemies (Mat. 6:44), so no matter how badly they have treated us, we are still to try to resolve it. If we cannot work it out ourselves, then we get help from someone who is godly and not involved in the conflict. When we see others in conflict, we seek to help, or get help, instead of ignoring it. The cause of Jesus Christ is damaged by unresolved conflict. We need to make sure that we are part of the solution instead of the problem, and in that way bring glory to our Savior’s name.
Do you love your fellow Christian? Do you love Jesus Christ? Then “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2,3).
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “conflict” is said. Talk with your parents about how you can resolve conflict you may have with others and how you can keep them from occuring.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How do you deal with conflict? What is the importance of standing firm in the Lord (Phil. 4:1)? How can you “stand firm.” Explain the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-19 and how you daily put on each piece. Are you wearing your armor today? Explain what we know about Euodia and Syntyche? Why does Paul specifically address them in this letter? How can differences in personality cause conflict? Explain by giving your own examples. What caution must you take when you type someone’s personality? How does God want us to express our love to fellow believers? How does this love both resolve and avoid conflicts? Explain James 4:1-4. When is conflict necessary? Give examples. What kinds of issues are the greatest cause of conflicts in the church? Why does this happen? Why is music such a source of contention in the church? Are you ever contentious about the style of music used in worship? Why or why not? What qualities make for music that pleases God? How are selfishness and jealousy related? What damage does jealousy do in the church? Describe pride. Why is God so opposed to it? What damage have you seen pride do – your own, and others? What is the cure for pride? What are some of the ways in which you can resolve conflict? What character quality must be present? When should you seek help from an outside counselor to resolve conflict?
Sermon Notes – August 29, 2004
Resolving Conflicts in the Church – Philippians 4:2,3
Standing Firm – vs. 1 (Review)
Euodia & Syntyche
Sources of Conflict
Lack of Love
For comments, please e-mail Church office