So, we are continuing our series on Peacemaking and we are acknowledging that making peace and keeping peace is work, but it is God-honoring work, worthy work, and is needed work in our culture today. Peacemaking doesn’t result from just avoiding difficult situations, but it results from seeking to glorify God in our relationships with others, appropriately evaluating ourselves, praying ahead of the process of peacemaking and relying on the Lord in humility when we enter into those conversations.
Philippians 4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 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 and sisters, 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. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul finished this section of Philippians 4 by saying, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice.” One thing that could easily be learned and received from the life of the Apostle Paul is that he didn’t shy away from conflict. In Galatians 2:11 he says that he opposed Peter to his face. His letters stand as examples of ways he offered constructive criticism to the churches he founded. Not only did he encourage them and instruct them with his letters, but he also sought to correct them when it was needed. In every letter he wrote, Paul instructed people to be gentle, loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving. If we are a Bible-reading believer, we cannot say we have not been instructed regarding our attitude or how we should treat people when we have a conflict with them.
Here in Philippians 4, Paul is addressing the fact that there is a conflict in the church. There are two women who are at odds with each other. It hadn’t always that way. Something happened between them. Paul was intentional in his letter to deal with the conflict. It must have been significant if word had reached him. He wanted them to be reminded that at one time they were a unified force. At one time they were working alongside Paul to advance the Gospel, but something happened, and they had a disagreement. Apparently, it was a disagreement that led to distance and discord and a disconnect from the mission, and so Paul says, “I’m pleading with these women to reconcile, and I’m asking the rest of you to help them accomplish it.”
I don’t know what efforts had been made prior to Paul’s writing, but whatever they were, they hadn’t been successful because Paul took the whole matter before the church which isn’t step one or step two, so things were obviously escalating. I simply share that to say that Paul wasn’t afraid to address conflict, and he wasn’t afraid to expose it when it hindered the work of the Gospel. Listen, we do not have time to be at odds with one another. The sharing of the Gospel must not be hindered by a lack of unity between brothers and sisters in Christ. So, Paul was about addressing situations that could hurt the cause of Christ.
I became the Pastor of this church over thirteen years ago in 2007. When we came, we promised the Search Committee and the Board that we would always address conflict. We wouldn’t let things fester. Unity in the Body was of the utmost importance to us. A few months after we began, we attended what was then our National Convention or Campmeeting in Anderson, IN in June. When we came back home and I keyed into what was the former church building, I quickly spotted an article that had been posted on a lobby bulletin board. The article was a commentary on how some churches were able to get by with having a bi-vocational pastor, how in many instances a church didn’t have to have a full-time pastor with a full-time salary in order to keep the church doors open.
Well, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I wasn’t born yesterday thirteen years ago. Someone obviously took an opportunity, while I was out of town, to present their thoughts about me being hired to serve full-time. Knowing that I was new to my post here and knowing that leadership sets the tone for how we would operate as a church body, I simply took the news article with me into the pulpit that Sunday and said: “This article about how churches could save money by having a bi-vocational pastor was posted on the bulletin board while I was gone this week. I want whoever posted it to know that my door is always open to you, and our Trustee meetings are open for anyone who wants to come and present something. And I also just want to say that this is not how we are going to communicate. We will not anonymously express opinions or express them in a public way that is open for all kinds of random interpretation.” Do you know there has never been another random article posted on any bulletin board since?
Obviously, I was pretty bold. I couldn’t confront an individual privately because I didn’t know who was responsible. In that moment, I knew I had to lead in order to prevent chaos and further unhealthy communication.
I share that story simply to say that dealing with conflict appropriately and quickly can prevent roots of bitterness, can prevent situations where anger simmers until it boils over, can prevent gossip from spreading through a church body, can prevent division where people start to take sides, and can prevent future misunderstandings which eventually hurt relationships. So, when it is necessary, we must step into the role of peacemaking by seeking to resolve conflict and to lay the foundation for peaceful relationships and peaceful communication.
It takes maturity to reach out to someone for the purpose of settling a conflict. I am urging you now, BE THE MATURE ONE. Whether it is something you did that you shouldn’t have done or wished you wouldn’t have done or wished you would have done differently or something that someone else did that created hurt feelings, you BE THE MATURE ONE. Don’t try to avoid people. Don’t look for ways to distance yourself from them. Don’t avoid going to a gathering because you think they might be there. Don’t talk about them behind their back. Don’t quit your ministry. Don’t leave the church. Don’t vaguebook on Facebook. You know what that is, right? Vaguebooking? Here is the definition: Vaguebooking is the practice of making a post on social media, primarily Facebook, that is intentionally vague but highly personal and emotional. It is where you say just enough to let people know you are ticked about something or someone that starts drama and causes people to take sides. It’s about someone or something specific, but you try to make it sound general as if you were just having a conversation. That is not mature.
I’m saying, you BE THE MATURE ONE. You be the person to reach out personally to anyone with whom you have a conflict. You be the one to suggest the meeting. You be the one to get the ball rolling.
Let me give you some steps you could consider when conflict arises, and action needs to take place. First, ASSESS the situation. Quite frankly, not every comment someone makes needs to create offense. Some comments, some brushes with someone who might be short with their words or curt or an experience with someone who isn’t super smiley as they pass you–those may just be things you need to learn to overlook. And it takes maturity to overlook an offense. There are times when your spiritual and emotional maturity ought to enable you to move on without getting tangled in the weeds with someone.
Proverbs 19:11 say, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
That’s pretty powerful. Did you know that was in the Word of God? It is to your glory to overlook an offense. So, we need to assess the situation and say, “Is this something I can overlook?” Maybe the person was having a bad day. Maybe they weren’t feeling well. Maybe they had just received bad news. Perhaps they were raised in an environment where people processed their feelings in a loud or demonstrative way that wasn’t meant to harm or upset you, but it is part of who they are. Maybe you weren’t recognized for some hard work you had put in, but it wasn’t intentional. Just overlook it.
I know I have forgotten to invite someone to an event that absolutely should have been included. I forgot to show up to sing at a Gideon’s Banquet that hundreds of people had been invited to. I was the only entertainment. I wasn’t trying to make the program coordinator look bad or incompetent for having no entertainment. The Coordinator of the Event was so gracious and simply said, “I figured something had happened because I knew you wouldn’t just not show up.” I forgot someone’s surgery after promising to be there. I was mortified. She was just as gracious as the Gideon event planner. I am often a woman on a mission, especially on Sunday mornings, and I could be walking quickly from the platform to the sound cart because I have three minutes before the start of the service to tell our media techs something, and I could absolutely brush past you and not speak or smile or pre-Covid, shake your hand. I hope we have a generous enough community that anyone who has been here for any length of time would know my heart and know that I would never intentionally not do something I promised or snub someone by walking past them without speaking to them. I would hope you could put that in the “I can overlook it” category. I surely hope I would do the same for you.
If grace should show up and flourish anywhere it should be in the heart, mind, and mouth of a Christian. If the steak was medium instead of medium rare when the server brought it out, can you overlook it? If your neighbor goes a little longer between grass cuttings than you would appreciate, can you overlook it? If the young person walks into the church wearing something you don’t think is church attire, can you overlook it? If someone sits where you have always been used to sitting, can you just get over it? Like, some things just need to be let go right when they happen.
So, assess the situation and ask yourself if you can overlook whatever it is that has upset you. If you cannot, ASK for a meeting. We covered this last week. Texting or emailing with people when you are in conflict will prolong peace. Just reach out and say, “I have some things on my heart I want to share with you,” or “Can we meet to talk about how things have been between us?” I would encourage you to find a neutral and friendly spot, even a restaurant, in which to meet. A restaurant setting assures the other person you intend for the meeting to be friendly and to go well. You’re obviously not going to yell and scream at a restaurant, right? Right? And if you think you need more privacy or that the length of time will be longer than a meal would allow, maybe invite them to your home or meet at a park. You are welcome to use the church for meetings like this as well.
When the meeting takes place, have prayer together and then ADDRESS THE FACTS of the situation. This is where you explain why you have called the meeting. “I’ve noticed that we seem to have drifted apart.” “Things feel awkward between us.” “I know we had a disagreement awhile back, and I don’t feel we resolved the tension that resulted, so I wanted to get together to clear the air.” “Have you also felt tension between us?” Or maybe you would say something like, “There were some things said that felt personal to me.” “I was hurt when someone told me you shared something that I shared with you in confidence” or whatever the facts are from your perception. Starting with the facts will avoid the encounter being dominated by feelings, at least from the start. Feelings are important, and sharing your feelings are important, but I think establishing the facts by discussing what happened is a helpful way to start.
I think from there it is helpful to go into ASK MODE instead of ATTACK MODE. “Is that what you meant to say?” is a good way to get to the bottom of a situation. “Did I mishear you?” “Did I get false information from the person who said you were talking about me?” “Have I done something to hurt or frustrate you?” Too often we assign motives to people’s hearts that aren’t fair. Asking for clarification can help us avoid the assumptions that often lead to misunderstandings. When you ask questions of the other person, you have a better opportunity to hear their side and learn what led to the conflict. I don’t know about you, but I think all of us could become more skilled in understanding what leads to conflicts so that we can work to avoid them in the future. James 1:19-Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. I think James is telling us to be quick to understand, to be quick to seek to understand. Being quick to listen gives us an opportunity to learn and understand.
If someone confronts you and says, “You make me feel inferior,” or “You are always judging me” or “I feel like you have been giving me dirty looks” or whatever, seek to understand what they are saying. Ask for specific examples of words or behavior from you so you can lean into what they are saying.
I think you move from asking questions to ACKNOWLEDGE your part in any conflict. “Now that you say that, I was short-tempered that day.” “You are right, I did say things I shouldn’t have.” “I did repeat something you shared in confidence.” “I was jealous and lashed out.” “I was mad, and I l said things out of anger.” OR whatever it is you need to acknowledge. By this time, you might even be able to say, “I see that I misunderstood everything and allowed my emotions to get the best of me.”
For healing to take place, I think it is important for both parties to APOLOGIZE and ASK for forgiveness.
What does a good apology look like? I think a good apology is specific. Don’t try to minimize what you did or justify what you did. Just acknowledge what you did, and follow it with “Will you forgive me?” Here are some words to avoid in a good apology: If, But, Maybe. “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” Not a good apology. “I know I talked bad about you to someone, but you talked bad about me first.” Not a good apology. “Maybe I was wrong in my approach. Let’s just agree to forgive and forget.” Not a good apology. State what you did and apologize for what you did that either started the conflict or escalated the conflict. Even if the only thing you have to apologize for is being angry at the person for what they did to you, state it and apologize.
In a good apology you will ACKNOWLEDGE THE HURT you have caused. It doesn’t matter if the person you are in a conflict with is also someone you have done a lot of good for. Maybe you have bent over backwards for someone. Maybe you have poured into their life, but if you also caused hurt or pain, no matter how small you think it was, acknowledge the hurt. “I am sorry that what I said embarrassed you or caused you pain.” “I am sorry I didn’t take time for you when you needed me and that caused you to feel abandoned.” “I am sorry that you have lost sleep over what I did.” “I am sorry that you have been torn up over this rift between us.” Words don’t bring automatic healing to our feelings, but more pain will be caused if we ignore the extent to which our actions have brought pain into someone’s life.
And when someone asks you to forgive them, ACCEPT THEIR APOLOGY. The other person may not have heard this stellar sermon with these steps to peacemaking, and their words may not come out perfect. It’s OK. Accept their apology, and say, “I forgive you.” And when you forgive, don’t dwell on the incident anymore. If you need God’s help to get it out of your mind, ask in prayer for Him to take the sting of the situation from you. Don’t bring it up in the future to use against someone.
I said earlier in the message that you need to be the mature one. I also encourage you to be the generous one. Reassure the person that you can start over. Reassure the person that you love and care for them like a brother or sister in Christ should. Let the person know you appreciate them taking the time to meet with you and to share their heart with you. Let the person know you aren’t going to hold their actions against them. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. God has dealt compassionately and generously with us. I have said many times that we are never more like Christ than when we are suffering or serving. Today I want to add that we are never more like Christ than when we generously forgive.
Ephesians 4:1-3 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
It’s clear here that living worthy of our calling in Christ includes having a spirit of generosity toward one another that enables the unity in the body. We have all needed people to generous with us at different times. I love the way that principle was illustrated in a “Peanuts” cartoon where Lucy says to Snoopy: “There are times when you really bug me, but I must admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a big hug.” Snoopy replied: “That’s the way I am . . . huggable and buggable.” We all can be huggable and buggable, so we all need to be generous with one another.
Notice when Paul addressed Euodia and Syntyche and asked for them to come together in agreement in the Lord, he was talking about how we approach believers. Everything I have shared with you up to this point is just that, the way we need to approach believers in Christ. The principles can also be applied to our approach with unbelievers, but the process should be easier with believers since we share the foundation of Christ and the desire to glorify Him. Paul said in Philippians 4:2, “I plead with these women to be of the same mind in the Lord.” The Lord is a unifier. The Body of Christ is a unifier. We are family and are to pursue peace in the family with fierceness because of our unity in the Lord. Getting to a peaceful place ought to be easier since we have Jesus as a common starting point, and practicing peacemaking ought to get us ready for those moments with unbelievers where we don’t share the aim to glorify God.
With unbelievers, our ultimate goal is to win them over to the Lord. Last week I said you don’t fight fire with fire, but you fight fire with water, IF you truly want to put out the fire. Jesus said we are to bless our enemies and pray for them. Can we bless an unbeliever in the midst of a conflict? Can we ask God to show us how we might be able to do that?
How we handle conflict with an unbeliever should be so drastically different from the world’s way that Jesus is clearly seen in our approach. We never want to intentionally cause hurt or to seek revenge. If pain or revenge is our goal, we have no business confronting anyone. I think appealing to unbelievers on the basis of relationship is helpful. Saying things like, “It’s important to me that we are OK with one another so that we can work well together” or “I value your insight and respect you as a person. I want to be able to work through the differences we have.” Whatever the choice of words, we need to demonstrate respect and show value to anyone with whom we have a conflict. When Jesus came into the world, He came full of grace and truth John 1:14. We ought to be going into the world the same way.
I do know this: Biblical principles work everywhere. If they didn’t, what would be the use of following them? Doing things God’s way isn’t just a preferred or prescribed way of living, but it is the only way to see God’s power move in our relationships. It is the way to see God’s favor poured out on your life. It is the way to open supernatural doors of blessing like the one described in Proverbs 16:7 When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.
This verse tells me that when we do things God’s way, peace will follow. Peacemaking is a process. It’s hard work, but it is possible and worth it and your commitment to doing it will give God extra breathing room and blessing room in your life.