Study Notes from Philippians by Dr. David Nelson

Philippians 4:2-9: Resolving Conflict in a Godly Way

By Dr. David Nelson

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.

2I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3Yes, 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.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, 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. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.[1]

 

In 3:17-4:1, Paul exhorted the Philippian church to stand firm in the Lord by focusing on godly examples and by focusing on their heavenly citizenship. We live in the now, but not yet. Christ is king, seated on His throne in heaven, but in the future, Christ will rule here on earth. Since Christ is coming again and will give us resurrected bodies like his, we are to focus our minds on our heavenly citizenship. Above all earthly kingdoms, we are citizens of heaven, and our heavenly citizenship should impact how we live every day – how we spend our time, resources, how we relate to one another, to other believers and to the world.

Because we are citizens of heaven, we should learn how to get along with one another here on earth, especially with other believers.

In this next section (4:2-9), we’ll see that conflict is a reality of life here on earth. The question is not whether we will face conflict, but rather how will we deal with conflict. Since the beginning of this letter, we have seen the lack of unity and gospel focus in the Philippian church. Paul now deals with the issue head on by confronting the two ladies that are having conflict with one another. Their conflict affected the whole body by causing division. Thus, Paul needed to confront the issue on a church wide level. In this section, Paul instructed the church how to solve their conflict in a godly way in order to be a good witness for Christ and glorify God. As this passage teaches, let us commit ourselves to working out our interpersonal conflict in a godly way. There are three ways that we can follow to work out our interpersonal conflict.

First, when facing conflict, we should find a good mediator (4:2-3). Paul exhorts Euodia and he exhorts Syntyche to agree with one another in the Lord. He addresses each of them by name. The imperative verb “urge” (Greek parakaleō) means to exhort, to ask someone to do something. He repeats the verb for emphasis. He singles out these two ladies because their conflict had divided the church. His use of shame was meant to bring their conduct in line with the gospel. He urges them to agree with one another in the Lord. “To agree” is from the Greek word phroneō, used 10 times in Philippians. Phroneō means to “think, form an opinion, set one’s mind on, or form an attitude.” It is also used in 1:7; 2:2, 5; 3:15, 19; and 4:10. Conflict resolution begins in our minds and is a conscious choice we make. Both ladies had labored together with Paul. They were not ordinary church attendees. The word for labor is sunathleō, a military word for fighting together in battle. They had served together with Paul in the gospel ministry. Second, he says that he is confident that they are genuine believers because their names are written in the book of life. The book of life is God’s record of all true believers. In Rev. 20:12, God will open the book of life to see if the names of those who He judges are written in this book. Finally, Paul addressed his true companion to help these women. “True companion” is from the Greek gnēsie syzygos, true comrade. Syzygos was used of gladiators. He or she is to come to the aid of these women. He does not name this person, but this person had come to Paul’s aid before and now he’s asking him to help again with this situation.

The reality is that people serving in ministry will sometimes face conflict. Paul and Barnabas faced conflict. Jesus’ disciples faced conflict. The question is how we are going to respond when facing conflict. Pastors, missionaries, church workers serve and some times have different opinions about ministry strategy and beliefs. What does Paul say to these workers? Agree in the Lord. We want to have a positive witness in the world and disagreement only fuels the fire of disbelief. We can agree on the essentials and decide to work together for the glory of God. The truth is most churches do not split over doctrinal issues, but over other issues. This could be avoided if we decide to work together for the glory of God.

Second, when facing conflict, we should meet and follow God’s instructions for resolving our conflict. First, when facing conflict, we should choose to rejoice in the Lord. The focus of our joy is the Lord. Instead of focusing on our problems, we should focus on the Lord. Many believers stumble because their focus is on the problems and not on the Lord. For emphasis, Paul repeats the exhortation. In 1 Peter 1:7, we read that God tests the genuineness of our faith like gold is tested by fire. God can use conflict in our lives to reveal areas of needed growth. In James 1:2, we are to consider it pure joy when we face various kinds of trials. Second, when facing conflict, we should be reasonable with one another. When facing conflict, people are least reasonable with others. They think of all the bad things about the other person. Sometimes when facing conflict, our minds are consumed with the other person’s faults. Third, we are to remember that the Lord is near, and He is ready to help us through this situation for His glory. Finally, we should pray together for God to intervene. We are not to be anxious and consumed by the conflict. But we are to pray and ask God (“supplication”) to intervene and solve the problem. Instead of making our situation known to everyone else, we are to make our requests be know to the Lord. He already knows about our situation and He can intervene in our situation. The promise that God makes is that He will intervene and give peace. The peace of God will umpire (the meaning of the word “guard”) our hearts (emotions) and our minds (thoughts). This is another way of saying that God will intervene and bring about a resolution and bring a peaceful relationship. Many in the Western world read these verses from an individual perspective. However, we must remember that this was written to the church and that Paul uses plural pronouns and verbs in this passage. “Let your requests be made known” is in the plural as well as “your hearts” and “your minds.” Many interpret peace as peace of mind, but a primary meaning of “peace” is “harmony in personal relationships” (Bauer).

Third, when facing conflict, instead of focusing on all the negative traits of the other person, we are to remember the good things about them. Paul concludes this section (“Finally”) by appealing to them personally (“brothers”) to think about the good things in others’ lives. This is not a command for our thought lives per se, but what we think about other people. “Think” is from Greek logizomai, a mathematical term meaning to calculate and to “give careful thought to a matter” (Bauer). We naturally remember the things people say and do, usually bad things they say and do. Instead, we are to focus on whatever is true (as opposed to false), honorable (instead of dishonorable), just (instead of unrighteous things), pure (instead of crude), lovely (instead of hateful), commendable, anything that is excellent or praise worthy. Instead of focusing on the negative actions and words of other people, we should look for the good things they are doing. Paul is encouraging the church to develop a culture of acceptance, encouragement, and honor, instead of a culture of shame and criticism. Finally, Paul encouraged them to put into practice what they had learned, received, heard, and seen from him. All that he had taught them in instruction and by his example they were to put into practice. Believers are not only to learn from their leaders, but they are to practice what they learn. Evangelical churches are known for their great Bible teaching. Many times, however, believers do not practice what they learn.

Let’s recap what we’ve learned in this passage. Believers are to resolve their conflict in a godly way. Conflict is a reality of life. When facing conflict, we should look for a godly mediator. We should meet, rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable with each other, and pray for God’s intervention. Finally, we should focus on all the good things others are doing instead of all the negative things they do or say. If we practice these things, the God of peace will be with us and give us harmony and a good working relationship with one another for the glory of God.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 4:2–9.

 

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