PLEASE CLICK HERE TO VIEW IMMANUEL'S COVID RESTRICTIONS/POLICY

Philippians Part 10: Dealing with Church Conflict

September 20, 2020 Series: Philippians

Passage: Philippians 4:2–4:9

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntche to agree in the Lord. 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.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

 

 

 

This morning we are going to be walking through the culture that comes from a cross-shaped Christianity, a Jesus-imaged way of dealing with conflict and division. Paul, through an apparent scattershot of verses, seems to be addressing things that surround the idea of a culture – a culture among the church, its negative side, and its restoration in what is true, good and beautiful in Christ.

Conflict is one of the first signs that culture is breaking down. Two opposing parties have found something irreconcilable, and thus enter into conflict and division. Disagreement is human and normal – but is conflict?

When something is insurmountable, the idea between two parties becomes this: one is correct, another is not. More than likely each feel the same about themselves and one another. The divisions are so strong that relationships are broken. Within families this occurs, among churches this occurs, among nations this occurs.

Whenever you see division, more than likely you will find a trail of other issues at hand. This is because of division becomes something so sharp, sharp enough to actually divide people, somewhere you are going to find some messiness, sin – and more than likely, arrogance and pride will be lurking somewhere that has left a trail of wreckage.

 

Here is the over-arching narrative that will guide our time today: two women, prominent members of the church, and more than likely two of its prominent leaders as we will see – are divided. Their names are Euodia and Synthche. What are they fighting over? We do not know. But their division became well known, apparently, and it damage apparently reached deep and wide. So much so that from a distance here is Paul, at the back end of the letter, taking time to publicly address the situation.

Division in churches is nasty business. As the new pastor here at Immanuel, as we address any potential issues that lie within this church and the issues that have placed it in the position we are in today – that of a revitalization, in need of fresh direction, new foundations and new life – like most churches, divisions are a part of Immanuel’s story to varying degrees.

Various issues, reaching all of the way back around 50 years ago to even more recent years, have created over time a handful of divisions that have led this group of people or that group of people to leave this church body. This is not an Immanuel problem – for any church that exists for longer than a decade will find in itself division as well. This is because disagreement is a human problem. This is because even as individuals our hearts are divided. To divide is to be human.

Yet what surrounds division is the culture available to guide someone through division. Conflicts come – ALWAYS – everyone here has been in conflict before, dating relationships, co-workers, family, parents, siblings, friends. But the question is not so much the division or diagreement – as that will happen – the question is, WHAT CULTURE GUIDES THE DISAGREEMENT? How will it be addressed? When you enter into conflict with others – what culture have you developed to guide you through that? I believe how one deals with conflict is one of the first markers of where someone is at on their spiritual journey.

Division is human. Paul’s addressing a church that had two of its leaders in sharp division, and what follows is I believe the culture that had surrounded their divisions. Paul seeks to heal this culture by pointing them backwards and forwards – backwards to things of Christ in order that they move forward to living in Christ through his Spirit now.

 

So here is a little road map for the day:

 

1) The conflict between Euodia and Syntche

2) Moving forward in the reality of the Lord’s presence

3) Embracing what is true, good and beautiful

 

 

THE CONFLICT AND THE MEDIATOR

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntche to agree in the Lord. 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.

 

What are they fighting about? No one knows. Yet I am going to go out on an educated-guess limb and say that, since the letter has largely dealt with pride in the forms of status, pride in citizenship, encircling around the Jesus master story of him giving up his status for the sake of others – and also how other Scriptures seem to repeat themes of anxiety after addressing pride (as in James 4) – this conflict had some sort of pride in it. Who knows to what degree.

But I think I’m safe in saying that it was a result of some sort of pride, because all division has some element of pride, does it not? One side thinks its right, while the other thinks they are wrong and the other is right. And so forth.

As a side note, for anyone who may struggle with women in prominent roles in ministry – Paul refers to these two women as “co-workers” or according to the greek construction of the sentence, his equals in Gospel ministry. These were visible ministers of the Gospel, and Paul addresses their division. He entreats someone, most translations don’t know what to do with the awkwardness of Paul’s words, but he speaks to someone literally called “Yoke-Fellow” – ESV says true companion, the name in the Greek sounds like SYZGUS. He’s addressing someone to be the mediator, to kind of jump in there with eyes closed and stick his arms out and say “woa!! Hey let’s stop and lets walk through this conflict.

Every conflict brings about a host of issues. Conflict can only truly be dealt with in a healthy relational culture. On a national level right now, we don’t know how to deal with conflict because we have had a collapse of culture in many ways. Our modern culture is one of poison and hostility, as most of our national conversation is now done behind little Twitter avatars, and no longer face to face. Basic social cues are missing, people feel courageous behind their keyboard as they puke all sorts of awful things out there publicly to certain people or individuals – people or individuals that if they were actually face to face with, they would never be so bold to do it. Keyboards and screens have made us in essence courageous cowards lacking empathy towards one another.

All of the studies show that social media legitimately creates the opposite of community, and all the experts know it. Everything about it is only encircled around conflict. Think about it: hundreds of news headlines fill our phones and screens. For you to be drawn to one in the sea of headlines, you must see one that is eye grabbing. Thus news companies compete with making more extreme headlines to stick out.

On top of the ever increasing extreme-worded click bait headlines, algorithms only provide you with items to click on that match up to things you’ve clicked on in the past, causing your clicking habits to be nothing but leading to an echo chamber of reinforcement concerning the things you already believe. Even our Google search results are shaped towards what they think you’ll click on. So now, rather than the internet becoming a place of learning and idea sharing and information transfer, it’s become a place of reinforcing the things you already believe while villianizing those who do not agree with you over and over and over again – and they cash in on the advertisement money through our clicks.

Give it a decade now of all of this, throw it in a blender of a pandemic and social unrest, and you have 2020. The year of continual unresolved conflict and anger. The year of chaos that no one knows how to deal with except to buckle down and fight back against the other.

You and I are left with the lack of skills to even deal with conflict as individuals, or even as a church. What do you do when someone disagrees with you? What if I told you that I don’t exactly fully identify as a republican? (Also I don’t really identify as a democrat either). One of two things just happened: You might think that I must endorse abortion, cultural marxism and critical race theory, which I don’t. You might think I endorse nationalism and the harsh treatment of immigrants at the borders – which I do not. You see how our current American culture has literally created boxes of identity to shove into one of only two boxes that are pitted up against one another in constant conflict?

Let’s take this on a church level. Immanuel, in this time of revitalization, we must realize that our 160 year history of ministry has amazing legacy stories of ministry in downtown Wilmington. You should see some of the pictures if you have not of ministry here in the old facility on Delaware Ave and West street. Baptisms right and left. The church lifted their heel and the front page of the city’s newspaper documented it. The building was so packed that you couldn’t move.

Then in the 70s there was some turmoil – in the movement that became known as the Jesus People movement, there was a charismatic renewal hitting various denominations – even the catholics were affected – as was Immanuel.

The result was a church split, giving birth to Brandywine Baptist in North Wilmington, whose pastor I spent time with last week. Over throughout the years our church has experienced seasons of growth and struggle like any other, and a handful of years ago was once again shaken to our core through trauma, leaving us with a bit of a blank slate of revitalization and a new chapter of an almost re-start in Immanuel’s history. Many historic churches go through these sorts of things, and yes, many of them find life and blessing and new vitality afterwards.

But, why do I mention all of this history? Because if we are to move forward, some of you here who have been here for a long time may still be carrying unresolved conflict from some of these events. Even recently someone in the city told me how important Immanuel has been to the city of Wilmington in past times – and maybe we don’t want to accept the full reality that Immanuel has been humbled to our core in a way that has never happened before in its 160 year history. Maybe all of this has built a wall in your heart against others, trying to guard Immanuel’s legacy in our hearts at all costs, and its there for so, so long that it is just a part of how you think about Immanuel and other churches. Maybe feelings are still fresh, and you still have angst in your heart that you’ve tried to deal with but have not. Or maybe you are new here, and you’re thinking, “I have no idea of anything he’s talking about.”

I think all of the above is here, and I think we can take a text like this and use it not to right now begin some sort of resolution of it all – but we need to ask – how is one to deal biblicly deal with conflict? Here’s a phrase you’ll here me say continually: if we don’t humble ourselves as Christians, especially in the realm of conflict, or as a church, and if we do not continually remain in a humble spot forever knowing that there will always be some imperfection at Immanuel that irritates you or does not fully satisfy you and maybe leaves you with conflict internally – we cannot expect to receive blessing, as God exalts the humble, God gives grace to the humble, but he is against those in pride. Yes, I say pride – because in conflicts there are always two parts to the story, and uncomfortably, maybe a part of that story is YOU, and you need to be humble enough to accept it.

Euodia and Syntche probably were not feeling very blessed in their conflict. The Scripture is clear that God exalts the humble, James 4:10. When we decrease, he increases – John 2. Dealing well with conflict as Christians is really learning how to be honest with your own shortcomings, to be gracious towards the other party, while still being open and honest in your communication to them. Even with parties just disagree, and probably wont be able to ever agree – it happened to Paul even – I think we can argue that unbeknown to our current world, it is available to us to walk in unity even in disagreement or separation. DISAGREEMENT DOES NOT HAVE TO MEAN CONFLICT. So if you can relate to anything I just said, I would absolutely love to have all of my nights and days FULL of sitting with you all, dealing with whatever conflict may still lie in your hearts because I want God to bust open the floodgates of blessing there for his glory, for the sake of the Good News of Jesus – and I do not want you or I to be a hindrance in that work that Jesus wants to do here.

As we proceed, let’s example what Paul had to say as he continued that will help us in dealing with conflict:

 

CELEBRATE!
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

I find it amazing that Paul doesn’t go into details about the conflict. Rather, he goes right to one of the ways in which we find the ability to face it: CELEBRATE! We don’t really use the word rejoice outside of bible verses, celebrate seems to be the most used. CELEBRATE! Remember, Paul was sitting in prison writing this. While these two women were fighting outside of prison, Paul was sitting in probably horrendous conditions, writing “CELEBRATE! REJOICE!” Immanuel, do you know we have A LOT to celebrate and be thankful for? Did you know that one of the quickest ways to resolve bitterness is to find things to be thankful for? Did you know that even in a pandemic, there is much to be thankful for? We’ll see more of that next week.

Secondly, he mentions gentleness. Be reasonable and gentle; in fact, be KNOWN as someone who is gentle. There is nothing more humbling than being gentle towards someone who doesn’t deserve it, learning to bite your tongue, learning to speak the truth in love. Thankfully Jesus was gentle and reasonable to us when we did not deserve it – can I get an amen?

 

Then Paul reminds them of our closeness with God: HE IS AT HAND. He’s here, right now! He then tackles anxiety.

At this point, it seems scattered. “OK, so deal with conflict, celebrate, be reasonable, God is here! So don’t have anxiety.” Almost looks like another A.D.D. buckshot towards the church at Philippi.

But consider this: with people in conflict, do you often see thanksgiving? Do you often see people being reasonable? Are arguments often opened up with prayer, saying “hey before we start arguing and engaging this conflict and yelling at each other, let’s stop and recognize the Lord’s presence right now before we proceed to yell at each other.” Do you often see conflict dealt without either party carrying anxiety afterwards? I’ve never fought with anyone and walked away feeling blessed, even if I quote/unquote “won” and the other was in error. You don’t walk away thinking, “well that was a blessed time.” No – you walk away with anxiety, thinking “man I think I said this or said that, and I hope they don’t really think I meant this or meant that. I probably was too strong in my words or too weak.”

You see how these verses are addressing the culture that can surround conflict, and how these things can aide in creating a Jesus-centered culture and environment that can help deal with conflict when it comes?

I’ll say it again: conflict is an enemy, but it is an inevitable part of living in this fallen world. Your spiritual journey and your maturity in Christ will show in how you deal with that conflict. Find things to be thankful for in conflict. Be reasonable and gentle within it. Feel your CLOSENESS to the Lord, because he is CLOSE to you – and be fearful, yet happy that he is near. And if you have anxiety within you, look deep and ask – why?

 

Anxiety is a major symptom of pride. Did you know that? Anxiety is one of the first signs of pride – pride that whatever conflict you are facing is solely up to you to resolve. Pride that says “I must fix this on my own” – and anxiety is the offspring of insecurities that you may have screwed up, and anxiety reveals a fear that you’re losing control of the desired outcome. Often times the only way to avoid the anxiety is to avoid the conflict all together.

Paul directs the church to make requests to God, supplication in prayer, with a promise of peace to follow.

Don’t just read by these coffee-cup verses. These are bumper sticker verses, these are verses that you can slap on a t shirt and magnet on your refrigerator. They are beautiful words and yes, you want to be surrounded by them a lot. They are indeed comforting, and are some of the most quoted verses in the entire bible.

However – don’t let the familiarity with them keep you from their impact. PRAYER and SUPPLICATION. When you ask God for something, if you really, really mean it – prayer can be the most HUMBLING activity available to us. Prayer is intended to relinquish control, and to hand it over to God. Prayer is saying “God I’m thankful that you are all sovereign and I am not because here is something that I need help with.” Prayer is the opposite of anxiety. Anxiety is almost as if you are praying to yourself – Prayer to Jesus relieves us of anxiety, casting it all on his sovereignty and his outcome and not your own. Prayer, my friends, is one of the ultimate acts of humility.

Maybe it’s just me because I am such a sinner, but I have often found myself not wanting to pray about a particular situation because I simply was not ready to release my grip from it. And 100% of the time, when I get defensive about something and my back straightens up and I start to buck up and defend myself – I avoid praying for that particular situation. Prayer often can make you feel downright silly, and like a fool before God – in the godly way that causes repentance, in the godly way that brings about a peace that you simply cannot bring about yourself.

The peace of God that follows – the PEACE of God that follows is not a guaranteed peace that whatever conflict you’re wrapped up in, or conflict you’re facing, or bitterness that dwells within you will magically be resolved. No – it is a peace that says, “living this human life is messy, and there is providence of God at hand that I must trust in and cast myself on, and release myself to.”

One of the most amazing stories in our Scriptures is when Jesus, after receiving the cat of nine tails in flogging, and he is standing there with a tattered and bloddied purple robe, flesh ripped open with wounds, with a crown of thorns in mockery of his claim to be King, and he is standing before Pilate, the governor, for judgment. And he stands there, Pilate looks at him and tries to ask some questions – where did you come from? Jesus stands there, no response. Pilate says, “Do you now know that I have the authority to release you or crucify you?” Now remember, if there was a more physically fragile, humiliated man in this world – it was Jesus. But he looks over at Pilate and says, “you would not have this authority you speak of unless it was given to you by a greater authority – from above.” In essence, Jesus did not have anxiety even in that moment of conflict – he knew that God was ultimately in control – really, that HE was in complete control in that moment. He had a peace of God that surpassed understanding and was deeply secure in it. And such peace is available to us in our times of conflict.

As you cast your cares over to God, often times he will ask you to take the humble road, even absorbing some punches and kicks along the way you didn’t deserve, only if it means forgiveness can be extended, even if it makes you look bad as you rely on God to bring healing, and not yourself. Through Isaiah in chapter 48, verse 18, even God says “Oh if you would have just listened to me! Then your peace would have been like a river, ever flowing in a stream of confidence before me in this messy life.” Will you listen to God this morning? Is there anger against someone in your heart, do you carry deep cares and anxiety that you have not released? Peace awaits you as soon as you are willing to stop, and realize that you are not in control in this life. You are not the one running the show. Jesus Christ has carved out the path of access to the God of the universe by his death, burial and resurrection – sending his Spirit to literally dwell inside of us! Church, release the burden of your on grip! And accept the peace of God by casting your anxieties on him.

 

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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

 

As we close, Paul address things that are true, good and beautiful. Things that are truthful, things that are honorable, things of justice and purity. Things that are lovely, commendable and excellent, worthy of praise – these are the things to think about. Paul addresses himself as an example of one who has embraced these things.

All of the things we’ve mentioned thus far have been mostly negative. When conflict arises, especially deep and long lasting conflict, an aura and cloud of oppression and sadness can linger. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. I think what Paul is doing is trying to encourage a culture of positivity among the church that may have been negatively influenced by these two sisters and their conflict. Yes, it may sound like I just said “Paul is sending positive thoughts their way.” Modern psychology is clear that positive thinking, even in the midst of hard situations, can drastically alter someone’s mind and heart as they have to face what is before them, better equipping them to do so.

But Paul is not encouraging us to send positive thoughts to conflict and anxiety as if those alone are what is needed. These are things that are true, good and beautiful – and we know that things that fall into these categories are only reminiscent of heaven. Paul is addressing the culture at the church at Philippi – it’s almost as if he is saying, “guys, there’s been some conflict at the church, it’s had larger impacts on your thanksgiving, on anxiety and prayer. Have you forget to set your mind on things of heaven? Have you forget to ensure you are looking to these beautiful things of justice and purity and excellence and praise worthy things? Did you know that when we practice looking at these things, God will be with you?

 

 

As we close, I want to address things on the personal level, on the church level and then broader level:

 

1) Personally, is there unresolved conflict in your life? Is there a situation that is full of tension that you carry anxiety about? Are you the one in the way? Be careful, however, as simply praying sometimes can give us false security and false peace. Timothy Keller is quoted as saying, “If God does not have our highest allegiance, we will pray to try and get things that have that designation.” In other words, Jesus must be your first and foremost King. He MUST be your highest Lord. If he is not, you may think God is means to an end to get what you want, things that indeed have your highest allegiance – which is often yourself. Is there unapproached conflict in your lives?

 

 

2) On the Church level: Immanuel, any church can easily embrace the high, mountain peaks of blessing in its story, and Immanuel has plenty of that. But what proves the humility of a church is the ability to look back on not just the good events, but the conflict driven ones, the difficult ones - and say “yes, there has also been hardship and conflict and trauma at Immanuel.” A church cannot fully move forward without a culture of learning to look back – and I see Paul addressing that culture in this passage.

Maybe you feel awkward right now even in talking about it – but Immanuel has past warts and scars that we are NOT to live in as our identity by any means – but I’m not fully convinced that all of you have fully and spiritually dealt with the past just yet because there still remains in the air here an uncomfortability in doing the necessary looking back if we are to move forward. If we can’t ask, “how did we get here?” how can we move on without accidentally winding up in the same spot again that we are in now? A church doesn’t decline in a vacuum, and unless we prayerfully look back and deal with things, especially the necessary structural components that may have contributed to this church’s decline – unresolved conflict and issues – should we really expect God’s blessing?

Paul was trying to be honest with the church at Philippi and this conflict that raged between these two, and some of the greater impacts that had hit the church because of it – and I am trying to do the same, to make you feel comfortable with Immanuel’s story, and comfortable with our current reality. Karl Barth, the famous German theologian, had this to say: “Without graves, there is no resurrection.” But we have to know how to look at the graves and hardships and admit to them if we are to find new life and resurrection.

To speak to the visitors and new people this morning – we need you here. Historic churches across our nation have found themselves in the place of Immanuel – seasons of blessing, but seasons of hardship that leaves them with a blank slate, saying “Jesus, what do you have for us?” We are thankful for you this morning, and Immanuel needs you, needs your newness, your gifts and your spiritual vitality, your work and your prayers, your community and friendship and maybe even for some of you, future leadership at Immanuel. I for one get REALLY excited in the world of church revitalization, because as Barth said, “without graves there is no resurrection” and when a church is humbled, we can rightly assume that Jesus is going to FILL that church with blessing and exaltation, and your presence here is just evidence of that. Immanuel is full of some of the most amazing people I have ever met, and I truly believe the way forward is going to be a season of blessing.

But Immanuel, if you still have unresolved conflict in your hearts somewhere towards anyone here, or towards the church in general, or towards anyone who has left this church – can you please schedule some time with me, to sit down and walk through this? Even this morning – don’t walk out of this room if that is you. We’re about to sing a song, and your elders and myself will be up front here. Please don’t leave here without dealing with any bitterness, anger or conflict in your hearts. Even if your conflict has NOTHING to do with this church and is found in your personal life or family life and you feel enslaved to it – please don’t leave this room without dealing with it. The sooner you face it and humble yourself by releasing it and casting it on Jesus Christ, the sooner you will find peace and grace from God.

I beg and plead with you – WHY NOT? If it is there somewhere in your life, if there is unresolved conflict, why wont you face it? If there is arrogance in your heart in dealing with it, know that God is AGAINST arrogance. He has unleashed GRACE on you, undeserved grace – can you not unleash undeserved grace on others? Jesus took the blame for sin that he did not commit – if the conflict has you in error, can you not humble yourselves to admit so?

I’ll share a brief story with you from Scripture in closing. In Acts 15, we find this story about two best friends – Paul and Barnabas:

 

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

 

In essence, Paul said “I don’t trust Mark. He betrayed and abandoned me when I needed him most.” Barnabas disagreed. They separated, two friends who had done so much ministry together.

What often is not talked about is a little verse in 2 Timothy 4:11. Years later we find Paul, an aged man in prison yet again, alone only with Luke. Writing some last words to Timothy, he says “Hey Timothy, I’m alone, only Luke is with me. But when you come, could you bring Mark with you? He is useful for me in ministry.”

Yes, there was restoration between them. Such things are beautiful, and I pray you can embrace this through Christ. Let us pray.

 

Let us pray.