EVANGELICAL MENNONITE CONFERENCE
There is a town in Arizona that gives the number residents on a sign entering the town: “790 residents and seven soreheads.” I think we have all seen some soreheads in every church! How does a church deal with “soreheads?”
A great deal of loss of life and property can be directly attributed to personality conflict which results in antagonism. This is costly in the field of church life.
I. DISSENSION IN CHURCH, 4:1
A. EXHORTATION TO STABILITY, 4:1
Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
The Church in Philippi came upon evil days. Two women in the church at Philippi entered into a personality conflict and it threatened the church’s existence because they would not deal with their hostility toward each other. Their solution was kill or be killed. An argument developed into a feud. This resulted in vicious retaliatory cycles–each punishing the other for her misdeeds. They had a need to get one up on the other. This divided the church–all talk centered around the conflict: “Who do you think is right?” “Who are you for?”
People took sides on “my friend, right or wrong” principle. They saw the problem as residing almost exclusively with the other person. Both were blind to their part in the problem. The chances of us knowing all the facts are very slim.
“Stand fast” carries the idea not to be stampeded by conflict. “Do not take sides. Don’t add fuel to the fire.” The church is split and about to go separate ways. They moved into a sphere of instability. Some of us tend to get swept along with every spiritual disease that comes along.
B. A PUBLIC SHOWDOWN, 4:2.
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche
Negative attitudes need decisive action. It is important to isolate the problem. Paul singles out the two women before the whole congregation. He isolated the culprits. They were flanked by their respective supporters on either side of the church. Imagine the original setting for the original reading to the congregation!
They were about to split the church and they didn’t care so long as they were vindicated. They laid down such a smokescreen that people were not interested in missions. As long as we have ill will in our hearts toward other believers we are out of fellowship with the Lord. When we try to carry on spiritual business as usual, we cannot do it. That is why we have lost interest in missions. That is the reason we are so critical. That is why we are sour. We cannot afford to have ill will toward another believer. It costs too much and it hurts too much. Our wife acquires that infection; our husband gets polluted; our children become contaminated. It is too expensive. God will not use us as long as we carry a chip on our shoulder. Life is too short, eternity too long, and there is too much at stake.
In such a church there is little spiritual enthusiasm. No religious pep. No spiritual fire. In football we have pep rallies. When a fellow breaks loose for a 60 yard run, they leap and shout and throw away both their dignity and their hat. Well, the church at Philippi was discouraged, everyone was down in the mouth, everyone was negative.
II. CHALLENGE TO DEVELOP A COUNTER ATTITUDE, 2:2b-3
to be of the same mind in the Lord.
Paul exhorts the Euodia and Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” This is a challenge to stability of attitude centered around the Lord. Since this conflict is attitudinal, the solution lies in the attitude. The conflict starts in our attitude. It does not start with the fact that someone said something about us. It starts with what we think. People can say unkind things about you, they can lie about you, and commit antagonistic and hostile acts toward you, you will never start a conflict with them unless your attitude sets off the spark.
Paul wanted these women “to be of the same mind.” Who was going to take the first step? Their injury was real or imaginary. They, no doubt, exaggerated the problem as they thought about it. They studied it and brooded over it. They thought that they had their rights and that they were justified in making such a commotion in the church. No matter if you are justified, you have no right to split a church. If we had our rights we would be in hell right now. Jesus did not have his rights while he was here. He was not treated justly.
The right attitudinal viewpoint is God’s viewpoint. The only way to have God’s viewpoint on life is to get into the Word of God. It means to expose ourselves to the Word of God constantly so that it becomes an attitude. We need to look at life from the same attitude. We cannot have conflict if we keep thinking God’s thoughts.
These two former great leaders were contentious rather than content. A victorious past does not insure or guarantee a victorious present or future. It takes a strong individual to resolve conflicts. We can’t ride on past victories. Satan is a great counter attacker.
III. PRINCIPLES THAT RESOLVE CONFLICT, 4:4-9
A. PRINCIPLE ONE—ATTITUDE OF CENTERING THINKING ON THE LORD, v4
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 4:4
Antagonism and inner joy cannot co-exist. We cannot have a conflict with another person and have inner animation of soul at the same time. Joy dispels antagonism. Twice Paul encourages these women to “rejoice.” Christ is the One in whom the sphere of rejoicing was to take place. Surely there are many circumstances in which Christians cannot be happy but they can always rejoice in the Lord and delight in Him.
The secret of rejoicing is the location or source. We cannot always rejoice in our health, for sometimes it is not good. We cannot rejoice in circumstances, for sometimes they are adverse. We cannot rejoice in our bank account, for sometimes it is insufficient. However, we can always rejoice in the Lord because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8). He never changes; he never fluctuates. He is never moody, he never varies.
A radiant relationship to God will resolve conflict. Our Christian life can be mouse gray or brilliant red; it can be dull, drab, ugly and repulsive, or it can be brilliant, exciting, useful and attractive.
The word “rejoice” is a command, not a suggestion. Commands govern the quality of the Christian life. Rejoicing is not optional; it is not merely good advice; these are divine directives. “Rejoice” occurs18 times in Philippians, and that, mind you, by a man in jail. Joy is a dominate theme in Scripture (Ne 8:10; Ps 5:11; Ps 16:11; Ps 32:11; Ps 51:12; Hab 3:18; Jn 15:11; Jn 16:24; Ro 14:17; Ro 15:13; Ga 5:22; He 12:2-4; Jas 1:2; 1 Pe 1:6-8; 1 Pe 4:12-13).
Note the word “always.” All of us rejoice occasionally–when we have our own way or when we have health, money. “Always” is a disconcerting word in the Bible.
B. SECOND PRINCIPLE–LEARN TO BE FLEXIBLE, v5
Let your gentleness be known to all men.
“Gentleness” suggests a forbearing, non retaliatory spirit. Rigidity provokes difficulties. The word “gentleness” carries the ideas of flexibility, pliability, sweet reasonableness. This is a gracious mental attitude. We do not treat people for what they earn or deserve.
The word involves the willingness to yield our personal rights. This word connotes the willingness to show consideration to others. This person is reasonable when they look at the facts of a case. It is the opposite of self-seeking and contention.
They were two different people. Each person wanted the other to be like them. They tried to put the round peg in a square hole. The issue was personal preference or personal taste, not principle.
When a baby comes into the family, this interrupts our program. Our time is not our own. We have to become flexible. The more children we have the most flexible we become! Do we have the capacity to give, to bend? Are we hard to get along with? Do we drive a hard bargain?
When we take things the wrong way, we are too sensitive, too touchy. There are people in our places of work like that; they are quick to take offense. Soon we get so we don’t dare open our mouth to them because they misinterpret everything; they can’t take a joke. You avoid them and they wonder why.
God expects us to lovingly put up with one another. Love gives others latitude. That is how husbands and wives get along together. For human beings to live together there must be latitude. What produces latitude? Love. We would not put up with such behavior with someone else but love enables us to bear with it–we lovingly forebear. There is no forbearance when there is no love. Where people are rigid and do not give an inch there is no love.
We lovingly put up with idiosyncrasies and with peculiarities. We all have some quirks and peculiarities. But we are so close to our own peculiarities that they do not seem peculiar. We despise in other people the same peculiarities that we have ourselves. We can recognize peculiarities in others, but we have a blind spot to them in ourselves. Love enables the wife to overlook the fact that her husband has two left feet. Love will enable us to overlook the shortcomings of others.
Be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
It is one thing to have an attitude of grace but that is not enough; we must make it known. Don’t hide it; let it out; advertise it. Let everyone know. Live as though the Lord could come back at any moment. Live in the light of his presence. His coming is imminent. The Lord may come while you are giving a piece of your mind! He may come at any minute. We wait for a Savior. He may come and you may get caught red-handed!
C. THIRD PRINCIPLE–PRESENT YOUR ANXIOUS ATTITUDES ABOUT PEOPLE TO GOD, vv6-7
Be anxious for nothing
This is the third principle for dealing with broken churches. Anxiety is the source of much conflict in our lives. If we feel insecure about ourselves, we warp our relationships with others. All of us retain vulnerable areas about which we like to worry. If someone steps into that area, a strong possibility of conflict exists.
Anxiety is a form of fear. It is the fear of being placed in suspension between two points. Anxiety is apprehension whether the good or bad may happen. We hang in uncertainty as we suspend between the two points of uncertainty. This is the fear of uncertainty.
Anxiety is a sin because it demonstrates a lack of confidence in the sovereignty of God to deal with our concerns. This is a besetting sin to some Christians. Anxiety enfeebles the soul; it ruffles the temper. It is a manifestation of mistrust and distracts us from communion with God.
Worry is a sin that assaults a proper view of the person and work of God. We worry due to a sense of inadequacy. So we try to bring circumstances under our control. We ultimately come to the conclusion we cannot bring life under our control. When we realize that we cannot bring circumstances under our control, we try to control the situation by worry. If we do not have the funds to pay our bills, we worry. When someone asks us to do something beyond what we feel is our capacity, we worry. A student will worry about exams when he is not prepared. Some students will worry about exams even if they are prepared.
Worry is the attempt to predict the future. It is an attempt to control circumstances. It plays the role of God. Worry is futile because it never changes anything. However, trust in God’s sovereignty will change us. It will free us from anxiety. The issue is no longer our adequacy but God’s adequacy.
But in everything by prayer
“But”–strong contrast. In strong counter distinction to worry, pray about it. ” Pray about everything. Be anxious about nothing. Bring every single thing to the Lord in prayer: Little things, big things, medium-sized things, trivial things, gigantic things. Nothing is too large to pray about; nothing is too small to pray about. So “everything” is a corollary to “nothing” in the phrase “Be anxious for nothing.”
Prayer is always a faith exercise. The remedy for worry is prayer. People who worry the most pray the least. “In everything” means in every circumstance of life. There is nothing that we face in life we cannot take to God. Prayer is the mechanic of placing our needs in God’s hands. When we believe God’s Word that he meets us in our need, we pray.
The word “everything” suggests that there is no situation that we face not open to God’s interest. “Everything” is a term of panacea. Prayer is a panacea for anything we face. People say there are no panaceas anymore. God teaches us that there is a panacea in prayer.
There is nothing about which we cannot pray. God concerns himself with every detail of our lives. God cares about everything we face. He cares about our relationships. There is nothing about which we need to reserve an attitude of worry. It is difficult to maintain an attitude of hostility toward someone if we are at peace. We realize that life is too short. Others may malign us. They may gossip about us. It makes no difference what they do because we are at peace within ourselves. We have put the whole situation in the Lord’s hands. They are upset; we are relaxed.
Prayer is the means to alleviate worry. At the point we put the problem in the Lord’s hands we remove ourselves from the loop of anxiety. We no longer worry about it. At times the Lord will remove the problem immediately. Other times he may chose to let us ride with it until we come to the place of strong faith. He wants to put us to the test of utilizing his provisions. He has given certain divine operating assets. The more we are aware of those assets and appropriate them, the more we trust God. The problem remains but we have given it to the Lord. If we do this we will have peace (v.7).
D. FOURTH PRINCIPLE–CHANGE THE CONTENT OF YOUR THOUGHT PATTERNS, vv8, 9
In this verse we find a catalogue of thinking for developing a proper attitude. This is the fourth and last principle for the correction of personality conflict. “Finally” points to the last principle for the resolution of discord. By displacing unworthy thoughts with God thinking, a person disengages from strife. As we think on worthy objects, our attitude changes into God honoring orientation.
Six “whatevers” follow. These six things and anything else within their categories are what God wants us to think about. The principle of displacement means that we fight fire with fire. It is not enough to cast out wrong thinking from our minds. If we simply reject a thought by sheer will it will come back when we stop exercising our will. The mind cannot stand a vacuum. It will always draw something into it, good or evil. If we do not structure God’s thoughts into our thinking, thoughts counter to God will direct our thinking. If we displace the world’s thoughts with God’s thoughts, we take on a new orientation. That new orientation is an attitude. We form God’s frame of reference or bearing about things.
The principle of displacement means that we replace our thinking with God’s thinking and are thereby controlled by God’s viewpoint. What volume of thought do you give to God’s viewpoint on life? Is your mind controlled with God’s thinking and values?
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” If the Christian is to control the thought life, he must place God’s thought structure into his mind. Paul lists nine areas around which the Christian should focus his thinking. Euodia and Syntyche thoughts shred each other with hatred and bitterness. They held those thoughts so long that resentment became a part of their thinking. Resentment became an attitude.
Meditate on these things
The nine objects of thought in verse eight form the attitude. If we yield to constant negative thinking our attitude will form a direction different from God’s will. If we “meditate” on these nine areas they will displace negative thinking.
The word “mediate” means to reckon, rightly estimate and take account in a practical way. The idea is to give structure to the thought life. “Give continuous attention to the things listed above. Occupy your mind with the above catalogue. Focus your attention on the charter of thought God sanctions.” God wants us to account for our thought life.
2 Corinthians 10:5 is a verse I have used more than any other to deal with wrong thoughts, “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Meditate on our wonderful Lord.
We need to ride herd on our head. We dare not think anything we please. We dare not put our minds in neutral and let the world push it around. Evil thoughts waste our spiritual energies but so do wool-gathering and daydreaming. We might dream about winning the lottery. We may dream that we will marry at tall, dark and handsome man with money and mussels. We will probably marry a short, skinny man with warts who will grow up to be fat, bald with ulcers!! Lasso every thought unto the obedience of Christ. The more we store the Word of God in our hearts the less room there is for the useless and vulgar.
If we put a drop of arsenic into a glass of water, the water will not dilute the arsenic. The arsenic poisons the water. Resentment poisons the spiritual life. The Word of God will displace the bitterness.
God wants us to sit in judgment on every thought that comes into our mind. If it does not pass the test of verse eight, we should reject it. Do you have trouble with your thoughts? There are six legitimate categories about which the child of God can think. The mind will always fix itself on something. The real issue is what we will set on mind upon. If we think negatively about someone long enough, we will reach the point where we develop a sinful attitude. An attitude is harder to control than a single thought. God wants us to develop godly attitudes by habitual meditation upon God’s Word.
A successful past is no guarantee of the future. We cannot ride on past victories.
Life is too short and eternity too long and there is too much at stake to allow a church to fracture.