The Joy of Resolved Conflict in Philippians 4:2-8
I continue the practicalities of joy in my posts from Philippians today in Philippians 4:2-8, looking at the joy of resolved conflict. Consider the following organization of this passage:
- How to resolve conflict (vv. 2-8)
- “agree in the Lord” (v. 2)
- listen to mature Christians (v. 3)
- “rejoice in the Lord” (v. 4)
- be reasonable (v. 5)
- “do not be anxious” (v. 6a)
- thankfully pray (v. 6b)
- think godly thoughts (v. 8)
These verses in Philippians, then, deal with biblical conflict resolution. From these verses, we learn that to rejoice in the Lord means, in part, to resolve conflicts with other believers.
In Philippi, two women are embroiled in conflict: Euodia and Syntyche (v. 2). And Paul urges his “true companion,” who may be the “loyal Syzygus,” to “help these women” to resolve their conflict (v. 3). The ESV for verse 3 reads as follows: “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” I believe that Silva’s comments are correct:
The striking emphasis of this letter on corporate responsibility reaches a dramatic high point in the exhortation of verse 3. The discord between Euodia and Syntyche cannot be viewed by the congregation as a personal matter. These courageous women … needed the assistance of the whole church to resolve their differences; brothers and sisters must not avoid intervening in the dispute simply because they are afraid of “meddling.” (193)
But how are these women to overcome their differences? How are they to “agree in the Lord” by “being of the same mind” (different translation of the same Greek phrase used in Phil. 2:2)? The other members of the church are to help them resolve their conflict. The other Christians are not to choose one side over the other; rather, they are to remind the offending party to ask forgiveness from the offended; they are to remind the offended to grant forgiveness to the offending party. Euodia and Syntyche are not embroiled in dispute over doctrinal essentials; they are in what amounts to a cat-fight in the church. And the church is responsible to help end the fight and resolve the combatants.
Euodia and Syntyche, specifically need to be reminded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. 4). And complete joy results from unity and humility (Phil. 2:2-4). Euodia and Syntyche also need to be reasonable. Indeed, the whole Philippian church needs to “let [their] reasonableness be known to everyone” (Phil. 4:5). They are to be famous for being reasonable, in other words! The church needs to be reasonable in not choosing sides in the conflict, and those in conflict need to be reasonable in asking for and giving forgiveness. The process of conflict resolution sometimes is not merely a process for the conflicting parties; sometimes, conflict resolution must involve other members of the church to help the combatants to remember to rejoice in the Lord and be reasonable.
Because the Lord is at hand, Christians should “not be anxious about anything” (vv. 5b-6a). If Christians are worrying about others in the church, they can become judgmental and lose sight of the log in their own eye while seeing the speck in their neighbor’s eye (Matt. 7:4-5). Knowing that the Lord is returning and could be back at any moment, Christians are free to hope in his reign to come to earth physically and eternally. And this hope helps to resolve conflict.
Not only should Christians “not be anxious about anything,” but they should also pray with thanksgiving “in everything.” And as with lack of anxiety, thankful prayer helps combat conflict. If Christians are grateful for their salvation and other blessings from God, they will take offense at others less easily than if they were not so thankful in their prayers to God. To go further: if Christians are thankful for the other Christians in the church, they are less likely to be embroiled in conflict with them. It’s hard to have conflict with someone you’re thankful for!
Finally, Christians who think godly thoughts (v. 8) guard against conflict. If Christians situate their minds on “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellen[t], [or] worthy of praise,” they, again, would be less likely to take up a conflict with fellow believers. Too much emphasis has been put on the power of positive thinking in the past few decades, but Paul’s point in this verse is clear: Christians are to think godly thoughts. And as I have written in an earlier blog post:
We are, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, what we do. And we do what we think.
What that means in the context of these verses is that if we want to be godly, if we want to handle conflicts with other believers in a godly manner, we have to think godly things. If we want to do godly deeds, we must first think godly thoughts. Can we be sinfully angry if we’re thinking godly thoughts? Not nearly as easily as if we aren’t.
Conflict is inevitable. But conflict can be resolved in a godly manner. Godly conflict resolution involves agreeing in the Lord, listening to the counsel of mature believers, rejoicing in the Lord, being reasonable, not being anxious but praying with thanksgiving, and thinking godly thoughts. Sound like a lot of things to do? “Rejoice in the Lord always” sums it all up! And the greatest comfort that we Christians have is that even when we are the one who is at wrong in a particular conflict, “If we confess our sins” to God “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Ultimately, the reason we can handle conflict in a godly way is because God has already resolved our most dire conflict: our conflict against him in our sin. Because God has forgiven us much in Christ Jesus, we can forgive others. Because God has sought us out when wronged against, we can seek out and try to restore relationships with those who have wronged us by careless words and deeds. The gospel not only redeems us, but it can redeem our conflicts, too! Soli Deo Gloria!