Scripture Text: Philippians 4:1-9
Let me begin with a story of two people. This story could easily be about two friends, two family members, or even about a husband and a wife. But we will stick to two members in the same church. Each of these individuals come to church regularly. Each one gives our their time, their talents and their treasure to the ministry. Each one serves the church in a specific way. Things go well until one day something happens. One of them does something horrible — she changes the time of the women’s weekly meeting. This angers the other member who liked it just the way it was. Change is not good, right? Eventually, the two members become distant, feelings are hurt, and they stop fellowshipping with one another. They still come to the worship service on Sunday, but they do not really talk to one another. They are strangers in the same church family. They even have a group of people to side with each of them, which creates division in the church. What has happened here? What should have happened differently?
That story is unfortunately all to common in church life. But, it could easily be true for a marriage, a family, or a friendship. Something happens which leads to a rift between people. How many remember me saying that a house divided will stand forever? You should not remember that, because I have not said it. Jesus told us the exact opposite. If a house is divided, it will fall. (Mark 3:25) If a church is divided, it also will fail. That is Satan’s weapon against the church. He seeks to divide God’s people, sometimes over things that are good, but oftentimes, over things that are not. If Satan can drive a wedge between members of a church, he can destroy it. It happens all the time. If we are divided, we are already conquered. That is what I would like to speak about today: how we can be a people who are not conquered — how we can resolve conflict well.
Four Ways to Not Handle Conflict
Gena and I recently attended a conference on marriage in which we learned some very helpful things. I learned that I am not nearly as charming and reasonable as I thought I was. I am sure that is as much as surprise to you as it was to me. We also learned about ways to handle — or maybe more importantly — not handle conflict. I do not know about you but I do not like conflict. I try to avoid it every chance I get. Some people, though, live for conflict. They love it, and they are called lawyers. I am still learning, however, that conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of us think it is bad, but it can actually reveal the truth. Conflict brings to light a problem, or as I am fond of saying, an opportunity. However, conflict almost always overrides anything good. We tend to focus on the problem and not on how to resolve the problem. This leads me to four ways in which we should not handle conflict.
- Withdrawal — In a marriage, the husband probably does this the most. Trouble happens, or a disagreement occurs, and the husband just wants to retreat. That is what I typically want to do. I want to be a million miles away from a problem. However, we cannot resolve conflict if we withdraw from it or try to ignore it.
- Escalation — This happens when we use words like “always” or “never”. A particular situation or point of disagreement becomes an example of habit or the way things generally are. You may hear statements like, “You never listen to me,” or “you always say or do that.” This, too, does not help the situation.
- Invalidation — This happens when the conflict evolves into calling someone names or putting someone down. The conflict moves from the issue to the person. You may hear statements like, “You are stupid. You do not know what you are doing.” Of course, you cannot resolve conflict if you attack the person instead of the problem.
- Negative Interpretation — This happens when one knows what the other is thinking or doing before asking. Something happens and you already know why. You may think, “She did this just to spite me. He did that just to annoy me.” If you think this way, you may not attempt to resolve the conflict, but instead punish the person for the wrong you assume he or she did.
If you do any of these things, you are not helping to resolve conflict. If you do any of these things, you are actually making things worse. So what should we do? One truth we need to remember is that there are no perfect ______. You can fill in the blank with people, job, marriage, and yes, church. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. If you find a perfect church, then do not join it. You will just ruin it. There are only imperfect churches full of imperfect people striving to glorify a perfect Savior. Conflict can be opportunities to better understand another person, to get a different perspective on something, or to work together as God’s people for the glory of Christ.
In this passage, Paul wrote about a conflict that had occurred between two women in the church. We do not know what the problem was, but it was apparently so bad that Paul needed to address it. Paul implored these women to work out their issues, even with the assistance of other church members. Paul did not ask for others to take a side, but for them to help these women resolve their conflict. Paul acknowledged that these women had helped him in the work of ministry. He did not want their conflict to become a hindrance to the church’s mission, which unfortunately happens. People become focused on something other than the Gospel, and the mission of the church suffers. There are four things in this passage about how we can resolve conflicts.
Rejoice in the Lord Always
The most important thing Paul mentioned in this passage was about our joy. In fact, joy is a prominent them throughout the letter. Look at verse four in this passage:
Philippians 4:4 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Notice that this is a command. Paul did not say, “You should be joyful, but rejoice.” So important is this in how we respond to difficulties, that Paul wrote it twice. Just in case you missed it the first time, he wrote it again in the same sentence. The object of our joy is also important. Did Paul say to rejoice in our circumstances? Did he say rejoice in our spouse? Did he say rejoice in the church? No! He wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Jesus Christ is the source of our joy. If your joy is not in Christ, then you do not have real joy. Some of you are miserable because you focus on your circumstances as the measure of your joy. If something you perceive good happens, then you are happy. If something you perceive bad happens, then you are sad. Wouldn’t it be better for us to focus on the one unchangeable God as the source of our joy? Anything else is subject to change.
Lastly, so important is this command to rejoice, that we are to do it only at a specific time and place. Is that right? No! We are told to rejoice always. It is not for some of the time. It is not for when things are going well. It is not for when everyone is in agreement. We are to rejoice always! The reason we can rejoice even in conflict or when things are not so good is because Jesus Christ is the source of our joy and He is with us. Jesus has not left us or forsaken us. No matter what happens to you, you can rejoice in the Lord because He is with you. Therefore, do not let problems or conflict steal your joy. Do not let your circumstances define your attitude. Rejoice in the Lord always!
Worry About Nothing
How many of you worry? I suspect all of us worry about something. One lady I know once said, “Worry is an insult to God.” Why is that? By worrying, what are you doing? You are not trusting God. If you believe God is in control and you trust Him, then why would you ever worry? Of course, this is easier said than done. Something happens that we cannot control, and we worry about it. Worrying is about control. Worrying is also counterproductive. It does not do anything except maybe make a bad situation worse. Can you control what another person does? Can you determine exactly what is going to happen today, tomorrow, or this week? We cannot determine our circumstances, but we can determine how we respond to those circumstances. You can choose to rejoice in all circumstances and you can choose to trust God in all circumstances.
One of the first things Paul wrote in this passage was for the church to “stand firm”. When tough times come, when conflict arises, when someone says something or does something hurtful to you, are you supposed to run from it? Are you supposed to be shaken by it? Are you supposed to worry about it? No! You should stand firm. Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote the following:
Philippians 1:27 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
Not worrying and standing firm does not mean we do nothing, however. When conflict happens or trouble occurs, we need to respond. We just do not need to let it shake our faith. Stand firm in one spirit and one mind. Trust God in all circumstances.
Pray Through Our Troubles
When you have conflict, what is the first thing you typically do? If it is with your spouse and you are like me, you probably will say, “Yes, dear. You are right dear. You are always right.” Actually, I tend to defend myself vigorously, even to the point of going down with the ship. No matter how reasonable the other person is or how right they are, some of us will not concede. What if instead of fighting vigorously for something or refusing to consider another position, we instead pray together about it? How different would things be if we actually seek God’s will for things that we are trying to resolve?
Prayer is a healthy outlet for anxiety. When you are tempted to worry about something, or someone, take it to the Lord in prayer. In fact, you may want to try praying together about whatever the issue is. Say to the other person, “I can see we disagree about this issue, so let us pray about how we should proceed.” Do not be manipulative, but earnestly seek God’s will in the matter. By taking our problems to God, we will receive the peace of God, and God wants us to have peace. The enemy, however, attacks us by depriving us of peace. When we are not at peace, we will act contrary to God’s will. But, when we take our concerns to God and we trust Him to take care of those concerns, we will receive the peace of God. So pray about it!
Think and Practice What is Good
So, it is important to rejoice always, to not worry about our problems, and to pray about them. Paul mentioned in verse eight of this passage the importance of thinking rightly.
Philippians 4:8 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Instead of thinking negatively about issues, we ought to think positively. There were many things listed here, but basically, Paul sums it up by saying we ought to think of anything that is worthy of praise. You could say that we ought to “worry” about these things. Instead of worrying about our circumstances, we should spend mental energy and time thinking about good things, rather than constantly focusing on the negative. Of course, thoughts by themselves will not resolve conflict. You can think good thoughts all day long, but if they do not produce action, you may not get anywhere. We need to practice what God says. In the last verse of this passage, Paul wrote the following:
Philippians 4:9 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you
We need to practice what we believe. We need to practice God’s Word. We will disagree, however, when we disagree, let us disagree lovingly. When we have conflict, let us earnestly seek peace among ourselves. Let us consider each other more important than ourselves. Let us look to Christ as the example for dealing with conflict. He gave His life for us. He forgave us much. He loved us first when we were unlovable. When you are abused or hurt, love the other person. Pray for that person. Seek peace.
One area that we should all practice more is forgiveness. This is hard to do, but it is so important. When someone hurts you, you naturally do not want to forgive. In fact, you probably want to retaliate. Why shouldn’t you retaliate? Surely, God does not approve of someone hurting you. He would want you to pay that person back, right? Well, is that what we want from God for ourselves? Do we want God to give us what we deserve? All of us want God’s grace and mercy, but for some reason, we are not as eager to extend it to others. You ought to forgive others as God has forgiven you. I think Jesus said that somewhere. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Forgiveness does not always feel good for the person forgiving. But think about this: Jesus did not feel good dying on the cross. Jesus’ act of forgiveness was painful and it was costly. In fact, your forgiving others is not based upon the other’s behavior or on whether the other has even asked for your forgiveness. You forgiving others is based on the forgiveness you have already received from God. Practice God’s love and forgiveness. Let His love for you flow through you to others. Be as patient with others as God is with you. Be as forgiving with others as God is with you. Be as loving with others as God is with you. If you think and act in this way, you may find that resolving conflict is much easier than you thought. As you practice love and forgiveness, you will find that it is not simply the peace of God you will have, but the God of peace Himself is with you.
In closing, how we handle conflict says a lot about what we say we believe. If you let conflict determine your attitude, you are saying that your joy is really not in Christ. If you worry about conflict, you are saying God is not in control and you do not trust Him. If you try to resolve conflict by yourself without taking it to God in prayer, you are saying that you do not really need Him. And if you focus on what is negative instead of what is praiseworthy, you are saying you really do not want peace or you think you cannot have it. Conflict is not always bad. How we handle it can be. Remember, rejoice in the Lord always. Do not worry. Cast your cares upon Christ. Think and practice what is good.
Who do you need to reach out to this week? Who are you in conflict with right now? Maybe it is someone in this congregation. Maybe you need to reach out to someone here and resolve some hurt you have. Will you step up and be the man or woman of God and attempt to make peace with someone else? Will you try to love that person as God has first loved you? Jesus wants us to have peace, but He also wants us to make peace. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:
Matthew 5:9 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Be a peacemaker. Resolve conflict and have the peace of God from the God of peace. In doing so, we will prove that we are not a conquered people. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.