Conflict is going to occur in churches and families. It is inevitable. How should we navigate conflict? Can we do a better job stopping it before it begins? How do we work through it once it starts?
This is the actual manuscript I used for this message on November 19, 2017. Normally, I would only want to post background info on this page, but this sermon was a sensitive subject, so here is the whole thing. After the introduction, the message was simply a reading of Philippians as if it were written to Bishop Branch Baptist Church. If you open your Bible to Philippians, you can follow along section by section as you work through this manuscript. You can also download the manuscript and print it.
We have embarked on a series of messages about church membership. When we decide to be members of a local church, it means we've made a commitment. First, our commitment is to our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. And it's a commitment to our brothers and sisters in Christ. As I have already said, it's not commitment unless our comfort and convenience is compromised. When we are truly committed, at some point it will be inconvenient and uncomfortable. When that happens, it is not uncommon for conflict to arise. We often cause a problem because we are uncomfortable or inconvenienced.
There is a problem in the church. There is someone here that would like to divide the church. They're in the room today. They have been slinging mud and spreading gossip. They have bent the ears of many people in the congregation, even among the leadership, and this has taken a toll. There are families at odds with one another. There are misperceptions about certain individuals in our church that are being spread, and it has to stop. We cannot ignore this and expect it to go away. If we are going to truly solve this problem, then we need to know who is causing it. Normally, I would not name names from the pulpit, but this is the only way we can truly address the problem. That person is here today. That person is here most Sundays, most Wednesdays, and often throughout the week. The person who was doing this is… Satan.
Before you let out a sigh of relief that I did not say your name, do not forget that Satan cannot make us do anything we don't want to do. Satan can entice us or pour fuel on the fire, but if we do anything wrong, it was us ultimately chose to do so. So we have to address the problem, and the best way to do that is to remember who we are, why we are here, and what we're called to do. So to our church family, our staff, and our deacons, let me say this:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making my prayer with joy because of our partnership in the Gospel from January until now. And I am sure this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for we are partakers of the same grace, both in my ministry and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, I care for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
I want you to know brothers and sisters, that even when we have a problem in the church, it can still serve to advance the gospel. Struggles in the church can be used by Satan to divide us, or by God to unite us. When we let God unite us, the gospel becomes real and known throughout these pews, these Sunday school classrooms, this campus, this community, and to the ends of the earth. God can use this to empower us to speak the word in boldness and without fear.
The Big Picture
Churches are full of people who do not do everything perfectly, and we do not always have perfect motives. But our ultimate concern is that Christ is proclaimed, and in that we can rejoice. When we proclaim Christ, we remember the big picture. We remember that our Savior has given us eternal life that can never be taken away. We remember that even if we died today, if we are in Christ, we will be with him forever. We remember that if we live today, it is to be like Christ. It is to have fruitful labor for the kingdom of God, for to live is Christ and to die is gain!
This means our manner of life should be worthy of the gospel of Christ. This means our thoughts about each other, our words about each other, and our actions toward each other should be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that no matter what happens we are standing firm in one spirit with one mind striving side-by-side for the faith of the gospel, not frightened by anything from Satan and his schemes. When we do this, it is a clear sign to Satan and the world of our salvation from God. We also remember that we not only believe in him, but we may suffer with him for the sake of the kingdom. If your expectation is that being part of a church will be free of conflict, then your expectation is neither biblical nor realistic. We are not free from conflict, but, by the power of Christ and His gospel, we are free to not sin in that conflict.
The Mindset of Christ
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mindset, having the same love, having a united spirit and one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others. Have this mindset among yourselves, which also was Jesus’ mindset, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. We have a hard time staying obedient to the point of inconvenience, but he was obedient to the point of death. We must humble ourselves and serve one another. Because of Christ's obedience, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Because of this, obey what God has called you to do, even when no one else is around. It does not matter if the pastor is nearby or not. It does not matter if it's at church, or at home, or at work, or at school, or on the golf course, or on the fishing boat, or in Target, or at the 7-11, or on Facebook, or at the football stadium, obey what God has called you to do and be who God has called you to be! This is how you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Your salvation is a work of God in which you have responsibility. So do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Do not let grumbling snuff out that light. Do not let disputes snuff out that light. Do not let pride snuff out that light. Let your light shine! Let it shine! The only way we can do this, is by holding fast to the Word of life.
Rejoice and Press On
We must rejoice in the Lord who gave us that word, and the life that comes with it. We must look out for our selfishness and pride that causes us to lose sight of our Lord and what he has called us to do and who he is called us to be. We have to stop putting our confidence in ourselves and put it in Christ Jesus alone. We cannot let our insecurity, our pride, or drama hinder the work of the kingdom of God, either in us or others. None of us are superior to others. Jesus did not die on the cross for us to have petty competitions for our egos. Any righteousness among us comes from him. He died to give it to us; he was buried, and he rose again so that we could experience the power of his resurrection and eventually eternal life. None of us are perfect, but we must press on in obedience to experience his divine power in our lives. We must press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We must measure our maturity in Christ by Gods word, not by popularity. We are not called to sit around on our Blessed assurance. We are called to be going and growing!
We must look, then, as to how we walk. We must not live like the enemies of the cross of Christ. They're end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Are you surrendered and subjected to Him? Are you are standing firm in the Lord, ready to live for his kingdom and not your own.
Some of you may be wondering why I have not read from the Scriptures yet. We actually have just read through the entire book of Philippians and applied it to our church. We are now at chapter 4, verse 2. Here we see where Paul has to address a conflict. I encourage you to spend this week in Philippians, and I will also post the manuscript of this sermon on our website in case you missed anything or misunderstood anything.
Solve the Conflict and Get Back to Work!
It would be biblical for me to name names from a pulpit. In Philippians 4:2, the apostle Paul called out by name two women in Philippi who were causing the problem in the church. Euodia and Syntyche where apparently fighting. Paul never tells us what they were fighting about. Perhaps we might take sides if he had... and then gossip about it. Paul never tells us because it does not matter. If it were some doctrinal issue, he would have corrected it. We’d still like to know the juicy details. Perhaps they were fighting over the color of carpet in the church. Perhaps they were fighting over the style of music played during worship. Perhaps they were fighting over policies and procedures. Perhaps Euodia did not acknowledge Syntyche’s hard work around the church. In the end, it does not matter, and Paul makes that abundantly clear. He simply charges them, and us, to agree in the Lord. Because the Lord is who counts! The gospel he died to give us is what counts! The eternal life that unites us is what counts! Paul calls these women out by name, and their names are forever in the word of God as troublemakers in the church! Is that what we want to be remembered for in the body of Christ?
Instead of focusing on the controversy, Paul focused on bringing brothers and sisters together by reminding us that we are companions and fellow workers in the gospel. We are called to labor side by side in the gospel with others. When there is a disagreement between us, we need other believers to come along side and help us to resolve the issue and to remind us that we have a common mission. We must solve the issue so that we can get our focus back on the task at hand, proclaiming and living the gospel. These women’s names were written into Scripture, and we may be tempted to forever remember them as troublemakers. Yet, Paul reminds us that their names are forever written in the book of life. Their names are recorded in the book of life because they received the great gift of forgiveness that only comes through receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Is your name in the book of life? Is your name forever recorded in the book because you surrendered to Christ as Lord and Savior? If He is Lord, He is boss. Has our Lord told us to wallow in controversy and division? No! Instead, He has called us to something greater.
He has called us to rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Reason helps us with all conflict and controversy. The Lord is at hand. And since he is at hand, we do not have to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In humble prayer and thanksgiving for our God and for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be able to think clearly and navigate any struggles in our own lives in the life of the church.
We can even stop conflict before it begins. We must focus on 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, we must focus on these things. We must practice these things, and the peace of God will be with us. And when we have His peace, how can we wallow in conflict?!
Our church is NOT in serious jeopardy, at least not yet. However, the seeds of conflict are sown, and quite frankly, we have habits and tendencies that water and fertilize those seeds. When something happens that we do not fully understand, we tend to talk about it with others in the church before we ever talk to the ones we need to. We can jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. We may not listen well and fill in the blanks with wrong information. Unfortunately, we tend to fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenario instead of giving our brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt. We need to think about how we control our tongues. If I hear of something in the youth group from my children that doesn't sound right, I don’t need to jump to conclusions. I do not need to talk to six other parents in the Youth group first. I just simply need to go to the youth pastor and ask, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is doing the best he can to bless my children and this church. If you don't understand a financial policy in the church, you don't need to talk about it with 10 other families. You can simply ask me, your pastor. If a fellow church member is acting in a strange way, you don't need to go talk to other people about it, but go asked that person what's happening in their life with the intent and heart to help them in any way they need.
Controlling Our Words
We must consider how our words affect others. We may think we are simply venting about the way someone frustrated us to a friend. But when we vent and trash talk about someone, this will inevitably jade that person's view of the one you're talking about. If Nathan is doing something I don't like, and I go vent to Jeff about it, it can negatively impact Jeff's view of Nathan. What I am called to do is to go and talk to Nathan directly. This way I don't hurt the relationship between Jeff and Nathan and I repair the relationship between me and Nathan. When I start slinging mud in all directions, everyone gets dirty.
All too often, we are looking for the drama. All too often, we are looking for the scandal. All too often, we're looking for the failure. Yet, God and his word commands us to look for what ever it 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.
To Be Like Christ, You Must Know Christ
If you were here this morning, and know that you have slung some mud, clean it up before the day is out. Go to the people that you slung mud toward and apologize to them. Then go to the person that you slung mud about and apologize to them. Then start looking at your brothers and sisters in Christ the way Jesus has commanded us. Let us be like Christ. But we cannot be like Him if we do not know Him. Do you know Him? Do you know Him like the Philippians knew Him? Do you know…
He is the Christ and Lord (1:1-2). - Do you know Him? He brings to completion the good work He starts in us (1:6). He empowers our affection for others (1:8). He fills us with the fruit of righteousness (1:11). He can use any circumstance to advance the gospel (1:12-14). - Do you know Him? He gives us boldness and removes fear (1:14). When He is proclaimed, we can rejoice (1:18). He is our deliverer (1:19). He is our life, and therefore our death is gain (1:20-21). - Do you know Him? He gives us fruitful labor (1:22). To die is to be with Him, but to remain is to serve Him (1:21-24). His gospel defines our lives (1:25). He unites and empowers His people to strive together (1:25-27). He demonstrates our salvation through our unity (1:28). - Do you know Him? He was in the form of God, but emptied Himself; He took the form of a servant, in the likeness of man; He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (2:5-9) - Do you know Him? He has been exalted by the Father (2:9). His name is above every name (2:9). At His name, every knee will bow (2:10). At His name, every tongue will confess (2:11). He is the Lord to the glory of God the Father (2:11). - Do you know Him? He works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:13). He removes our grumbling (2:14). He removes our disputing (2:14). He removes our blame, guilt, and blemishes (2:15). He sets His people apart in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (2:15). He helps His people shine as lights in the world (2:15). His is the word of life (2:16). - Do you know Him? because… His day is coming (2:16). He gives our work purpose and meaning (2:16). His interests are above all others (2:21). He is merciful (2:27). He is worth risking our lives for (2:30). He is the One in whom we rejoice (3:1). - Do you know Him? He is our confidence (3:3). He is our gain (3:8). He is our righteousness (3:9). He is our power (3:10). He is our resurrection (3:11). He has made us His own (3:12). He is our purpose (3:13-14). He is our prize (3:14). He reveals our thoughts (3:15). His kingdom is our home (3:20). He is our Savior (3:20). He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (3:21). - Do you know Him? He is power; He will subject all things to Himself (3:21). He is the One in whom we can agree (4:2). He writes our names in the book of Life (4:3). He is the One in who we rejoice, again I will say, rejoice! (4:4). - Do you know Him? He is reasonable (4:5). He is at hand (4:5). He cast out anxiousness (4:6). He hears our prayers (4:6). He deserves our thanksgiving (4:6). He gives peace that surpasses understanding (4:7). His peace guards our hearts and minds (4:7). - Do you know Him? Finally, brothers… He is true; He is honorable; He is just; He is pure; He is lovely; He is commendable; He is excellent; He is worthy of praise; He is who we should think on! (4:8). He is the God of peace who is with us (4:9). He is our contentment in any circumstance (4:10-12). Through His strength we can do all things (4:13). He supplies every need according His glorious riches (4:14-19). - Do you know Him? If not, get out of that pew and come down here and meet Him!