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RECONCILING FRIENDSHIPS, RESTORING UNITY Philippians 4:2-3 February 14, 2010 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction It’s Valentine’s Day and I ought to have a sermon on love or marriage or romance or something. But I don’t, although I do have this story. It’s about an elderly couple who lived together in a nursing home. They had been married for 60 years, but their relationship was filled with constant arguments, and shouting contests. The fights didn't stop even in the nursing home. In fact, the couple argued and squabbled from the time they got up in the morning until they fell in bed at night. It became so bad that the nursing home threatened to throw them out if they didn't start working out their problems agreeably. Even then, the couple couldn't agree on what to do. Finally, the wife said to her husband: "I'll tell you what, Joe, let's just pray that one of us dies. And after the funeral is over, I'll go live with my sister.” Disagreements don’t just happen in marriages, you know, they are everywhere imperfect human beings are, trying to coexist alongside other imperfect human beings. Even in church. Church squabbles have long been a favorite topic for skeptics and cynics. Here’s an example of an inter-church argument that may or may not have actually occurred. Show slides of church signs. Today’s text deals not with an inter-church fight, but with an intra-church fight. Actually one that was limited to just two members in the church at Philippi, but that, nevertheless, brought grief to others in its wake. Two women, evidently leaders in that local church, came into disagreement. Because it had not been handled properly, it has now escalated to the point of getting the attention of not only the rest of the church, but of Paul. I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. We don’t know the nature of the problem between these two, but in the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter. Anything we allow to become an issue and grows to the point of disturbing relation- ships needs prescriptive attention. And this issue has apparently begun to affect not only the two women, but the entire congregation. Some would say, “Big deal, so there’s a little disagreement. Why drag it out in front of others? Let it go--it will work itself out.” That’s true, if the problem does not grow to the point of troubling the unity of the church. When does the problem of one or two people become YOUR problem? As soon as you hear about it. The Importance of Unity Unity in the church is a critically important concept in the New Testament. Unity is the purpose of God. This is magnificently stated in Ephesians 1 – He has made known to us the mystery of his will which he purposed in Christ . . . to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. Ephesians 2 explains the reason for the cross was to bring disparate men together in Christ. Chapter 3 of Ephesians says this mystery all happens as the church publishes the manifold wisdom of God through the preaching and living out of the gospel. In chapter four Paul urges the saints: Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are to teach, equip and serve together until we all attain UNITY in the faith. Chapters 4-5 tell us that unity in Christ is manifested in how we live, how we treat one another, how we speak, how we carry on in our homes, marriages, jobs, and relationships. Anything that does not reflect unity in and through the church is at cross purposes with God. One of the worst things a believer can be involved in when it come to the Lord’s church is division. God’s Word is dead serious when it comes to unity, and He will not countenance divisiveness in any form. And when disunity arises, as it always will with a church full of sinners trying to grow into their adulthood as saints of God, it is the express will of God that they fix it—now. This is the theological framework of the issue in Philippians. Here, what appears to be just a little hubbub between two women suddenly gets the sober attention of the corresponding apostle, who says, in essence, you two women get this problem fixed. Fix it. Get help from Syzygus, get Clement to help you, call on anyone you can in the body of Christ, but get this thing fixed. As he deals with the issue he draws on terminology he has already used in this letter. In 1:27 he spoke of them standing firm in one spirit, contending as one man (united) for the faith of the gospel. In chapter two he pushed harder: complete my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition…look to the interests of others. Later in chapter 2: Do everything without complaining or arguing. You almost want to say, Hey brother Paul, is it really that big a deal? Just a couple of ladies disagreeing… But Paul knew that it is in these little issues, when they are not resolved, that major divisions develop. It’s why he stressed truth and love so much. When people are hurt, if they don’t tend to the healing, bitterness and strife ensue. Pretty soon each side is looking for sympathy from others; next, they’re looking for sympathizers who will stand on their side. Then, full scale division in the church. People get hurt, the devil laughs with glee, the church looks pathetic, the world scorns, Jesus weeps, the Spirit is grieved. You simply cannot overstate the importance of unity in the church. And for that reason, you cannot overstate the danger of strife. Euodia and Syntyche So, who are these two women, and what’s their problem? We don’t know the problem. And apparently it is not important that we do know. What is important is that we see how Paul took charge in the matter and, at the risk of embarrassing the ladies in front of the rest of the church, he called them out. Why? Is Paul just mean? No, he loves the church! He must come after any cancer with a sharp scalpel. It is the nature of a mama bear to protect her cubs, and you never want to get between them. It is the nature of a Christian leader to protect the flock of God from disunity, and if he is worth his salt, you don’t want to even look like you’re divisive. These two women were leaders in the church. They were not busy-bodies or trouble-makers. We’re told they worked side by side with Paul in ministry, along with other leaders in the Philippian church. It’s one thing for a couple of immature Christians to get into a scrape and not be able to work it out without some coaching/help. It’s quite another when leaders, who presumably are mature in terms of character and relational skills, can’t come to terms with each other. You know, everyone is vulnerable to having disagreements and run-ins with others. It happened to these two. The problem wasn’t that there was disagreement. The problem was that they let it get under their skin, and they didn’t take care of the problem when it was little. Pride, selfishness and retaliation are why we don’t apologize, forgive and reconcile right away. They didn’t. And it got worse each day as the hurt deepened, the felt need to commiserate with others grew. Here is a big problem. In an effort to justify ourselves we will gravitate to friends to talk about the problem. WRONG! Talk to the individual you are in conflict with! Never talk with those who are unable to fix the problem. You’re just looking for sympathy, company and division. And that is exactly when it starts infecting the community of the church. Listen. Not going directly to the person with whom you have an offense (either as offender or offended) is a sin. And it is a compound sin when you take the problem to someone else. You must fix the problem; and you can’t without confronting. Dealing with Conflict 1. Go first to the other party alone You simply must not avoid this step. It is crucial. It is your obligation. Don’t do an end-run around this responsibility because it seems hard. If he doesn’t, he did you wrong. Don’t flirt with division in the church by bypassing your responsibility to reconcile one-on-one. Once you have attempted reconciliation with the individual, and if it did not work, you are free to seek help from others you’re your friends and sympathizers, though. 99 percent of the time, if you go in love and prayerfully, you will effect reconciliation and you won’t need to bring anyone else into the picture. But if you don’t, prayerfully go to one or two others whom you respect for their maturity in Christ and preferably someone who knows the other individual and has demonstrated love for that person. I would recommend an elder or two—that’s just seems to be the natural choice. Go to the individual together, having prayed in advance, and go in love and truth. I would recommend you meet in a neutral location, that you all pray together first and that you maintain respect and love in all you say. I’m guessing Euodia and Syntyche didn’t do this right. If they had they probably would have circumvented the difficulty that the apostle now has to address. Another good reason to take care of it early and properly: it’s a lot less embarrassing in the long run. 2. You must go in truth and love In the whole process, you must approach the matter in truth and love. By that I mean, every word you say must be true and every thought word and deed must be motivated by love for the other person. Paul Coughlin offered a helpful analogy a couple years ago in an article in Focus on the Family magazine. Three major personality types are found among the judges of the popular reality TV show American Idol. Paula Abdul is gracious but not always truthful. Aggressive Simon Cowell is truthful but rarely gracious. Randy Jackson is often truthful and gracious. Be like Randy. Humility always befits the Christian. Always be willing to let God show you where you might be wrong. Even though you’re sure you’re right, admit the possibility of error and stay open. Try to look at the other person as someone whom God may be using to get to you about something He wants to correct in your life. Josemaria Escriva wrote these insightful words: Don’t say “that person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.” We Christians are called to be peacemakers, and just as the job of the firefighter is to fight fires, not start them, we are to resolve conflict, not perpetuate it. A married couple had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their mute argument, the man realized he needed his wife's help. He needed to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, and he had to get up at 5 a.m. Not wanting to be the first to break the bitter silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5 a.m." and laid it on her bedside table. The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed, it was 9 a.m., and his flight had long since departed. Angered he was about to find his wife and read her the riot act, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. He picked it up and read these words, "It's 5 a.m. Wake up." 3. Carefront redemptively When you need to confront an individual, think of it as “care”-fronting. By that I mean, pray into your heart and mind Godly love for the other person. See everything you do and say in the matter as motivated by redemption. Keep telling yourself, “For the sake of Christ, I want this thing to work out for the best for the this person and for myself and for the Lord’s church. Lord, teach me to love him.” I have done this, and I know it works. You see, too often, we send up prayers to the effect that God ought to change that person, punish that person and in general straighten him out. But we forget to ask for the love and grace we need. 4. Persevere until there is reconciliation Are you willing, even if it takes years, to do what it takes to redeem this relationship, and to experience God’s sanctifying work in both your lives? If you are, you will get there. If not, it means you are telling God that if this thing is not cleared up in a week then I will once again take up nursing my hurt and disliking the other person. That is not godliness. Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche. He begs them: Agree with each other! Notice the encouragement Paul gives to the rest of the church: help these women. We ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to help one another reconcile when there are misunderstandings and disagreements. And we ought to be willing to do all that we can for the body of Christ to walk in love and grow in our ability to forgive and move on in the grace of the Lord Jesus. Loving actions can do much more than change your feelings; they can also communicate in unmistakable terms the reality of your forgiveness and your commitment to reconciliation. Thomas Edison apparently understood this principle. When he and his staff were developing the incandescent light bulb, it took hundreds of hours to manufacture a single bulb. One day, after finishing a bulb, he handed it to a young errand boy and asked him to take it upstairs to the testing room. As the boy turned and started up the stairs, he stumbled and fell, and the bulb shattered on the steps. Instead of rebuking the boy, Edison reassured him and then turned to his staff and told them to start working on another bulb. When it was completed several days later, Edison demonstrated the reality of his forgiveness in the most powerful way possible. He walked over to the same boy, handed him the bulb, and said, “Please take this up to the testing room.” Imagine how that boy must have felt. He knew that he didn't deserve to be trusted with this responsibility again. Yet, here it was, being offered to him again as though nothing had ever happened. Nothing could have restored this boy to the team more clearly, more quickly, or more fully.       [ Back to Top]          
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