2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.
In Philippians four Paul reminds us that Christians are not immune to conflict. Paul experienced external conflict and was imprisoned for preaching the gospel and now the persecution is starting to affect the Christians in Philippi. Today many are experiencing conflict in their marriage, or with their children, siblings or parents. Some have conflict with coworkers or customers, friends and neighbors and the longer the conflict goes on the more you long to find peace. One of the hardest conflicts to handle is that between fellow Christians but we have to remember that conflict in the church is not a new problem. Paul starts out chapter four by addressing a dispute between two women in the church. This is more than just a social spat, this is a struggle of opinions that seems to have gone on for a while. One that has gone from private to the public, to the point where Paul has received news of it even while under house arrest in Rome. What the fight is about we do not know but it does not seem to be foundational because Paul does not take sides. It makes me wonder whether was a typical petty problem that seems to plague many churches today. How many conflicts have there been in the church over the color of the carpet or any other inconsequential issue? Their dispute has now begun to break the peace in the church to the point where they are fracturing fellowship. Paul shows us the seriousness of the situation in that he chooses to call them out by name. Remember that this letter would probably have been read out loud before the entire congregation and these two women would have been held accountable in front of the entire church. Imagine what would happen if we did that today in our culture where we considered privacy to be paramount. Paul places the importance of protecting peace over protecting the privacy of these two ladies. The truth is that conflict between Christians that destroys the fellowship is not a private matter. The world is watching and it doesn’t need to see one more war, or another dysfunctional family. This world sees enough of that and what they need to see is how to deal with disputes and resolve conflict. A peace filled fellowship is not a problem free one but a purposed and focused one. Paul calls them to pursue peace and he does this by points them to the single purpose, of “be of the same mind in the Lord”. Paul starts by calling them to see what they have in common instead of focusing on the conflict and their differences. When we come back to what we have in common as Christians we come back to Christ. Paul is reminding us to refocus on what is important. What we discover is that Christ is far too important for any conflict in the church to continue. When Christ is our focus we are reminded that our foundation is found in forgiveness and its purpose is fellowship not fracturing. When we come back to a focus on Christ we start to see people not the problem, we begin to value relationship more than being right. When Christ is the center we should have more in common than in conflict. So what do you cherish, what you have in common or continuing the conflict? What would happen if we evaluated every disagreement we had through the importance of Jesus? It’s not that life is too short to quarrel, it’s that Jesus is too important to continue to break the peace. Paul also called other Christians to come alongside and help these women work through their disagreement. Sometimes a neutral outside party is needed to help people see common ground because peace can be hard to find on our own. Notice Paul doesn’t call other Christians to chastise them but to help them. He doesn’t leave them there in the conflict but calls others to come alongside. Unfortunately today many Christians would rather just avoid coming alongside and helping to heal the conflict because they value their comfort more than Christ. As Paul urges them to pursue peace he also praises them for their past participation, “they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel” As he does this he is reminding them that they have a past of working together toward the same goal and that that they have a future together as well. Sometimes we forget to praise people because we get so wrapped up in the present problems. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but “peacemakers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end and when we work at preventing contention and strife we are doing Gods Will. Paul didn’t just preach peace he practiced it and he called those who partnered with him in the gospel to participate in peace. When relationships are out of sync, we need to take action to make them right and productive, whether we are the offender, the offended, or the innocent bystander. In the tiny book of Philemon Paul gives us some very practical ways that we can live at peace with others. It is here that we have a biblical model of three people at work to bring about peace. One is the offender, another is the offended, and the third tries to reconcile them. This letter addressed to Philemon was also written while Paul was in prison. Paul’s purpose is to bring peace between Philemon and his escaped slave Onesimus, who had fled to Rome where he had been converted under Paul’s ministry. Paul the Reconciler goes out of his way to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. He could have just stayed out of it, but he chose to be a peacemaker. Verse 13 mentions that Onesimus was assisting Paul in ministry but Paul wanted him to go back and make things right with Philemon. I’m sure that Onesimus was a great help to Paul and sending him back to reconciliation cost Paul a partner and helper in the ministry. But Paul placed the importance on right relationships and restoration not on self, even if it meant sacrificing. Do you know of people who aren’t talking to each other? Are you aware of broken relationships that need healing? Are you a wrecker or a reconciler? Next we see Onesimus the Repenter. Peacemaking in the body requires not only one person who is willing to take the initiative, but also people who are willing to be reconciled. When Onesimus escaped from Philemon’s household he evidently stole something. Now, that he has come to Christ he wants to make things right, so he was making the 1,000 mile journey back to his master. Paul was sending this letter with him to encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Have you wronged anyone, then you need to take the necessary steps, no matter how long the journey, to be reconciled. As repenters, we must be willing to acknowledge our sins and go to those we have offended. Where Paul is the reconciler and Onesimus the repenter, Philemon is the Receiver. For many of us who live without the reality of slavery it’s hard for us to realize the magnitude of Paul’s request. Philemon was asked to receive his runaway, thieving slave, not as a piece of property but as “a dear brother in the Lord.” Do you need to forgive and restore someone today? The need for “receivers” in the body of Christ is paramount. More than ever we need radical receivers willing to reconcile and the offer forgiveness and mercy that people desperately need so that we can live in peace with each other once again. The sad reality is that there is more conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ than we care to admit. The church has become callused, no longer convicted over conflict. Instead of doing battle against the bitterness we justify our unbiblical behavior based on the betrayal. We nurse our bitterness and grow our grudges, while we wallow in our wounds. But what about you are you going to whine or are we willing to do the hard work of being a peace maker? If we want to experience the fruit of peace we must be vigilant about keeping our relationships with each other healthy. Paul isn’t just calling us to reconciliation he is calling us to relationship, where we get real and admit our faults, forgive and find our foundation in Jesus. Satan loves to divide and create conflict but through Christ we can enjoy peace with people. What practical steps to peace are you being called to pursue right now?