I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These dear friends had labored with us in Bible study, outreach, prayer, and church planting. They had financially supported our collegiate ministry for years, and they had commended our work to others. And now this couple was maligning us with accusations not based in fact—at least insofar as I understood the facts—and picked up from people they had recently met. We never had a chance to defend ourselves.
Things escalated, and people chose sides. A few tried unsuccessfully to mediate the conflict. In the eyes of the primary couple, everything we did was now tainted with suspicion. In our eyes, they couldn’t do much that was right, either. My heart knew little but fear, anger, and self-justifying self-protection.
What can you do in such situations? When two or more sinful people draw near to each other, disagreements will surface. From time to time, these disagreements can lead to hurt feelings, tension, backbiting, and all-out opposition. If you’re not prepared, these situations will blindside you, and your heart’s vileness will only fuel the eruption.
But the Lord gave us detailed advice on how to handle explosive disagreements; it’s found in Philippians 4:2-9.
Euodia and Syntyche
Two prominent women—Euodia and Syntyche—had a disagreement so severe and public the entire church knew about it, and word reached the Apostle Paul (Phil. 4:2). These women had once been ministry partners, but now they sat on opposite sides of the table. They couldn’t resolve their concerns on their own, so Paul employed a third party—his “true companion”—to lend aid (Phil. 4:3).
Far from changing the subject, Paul coached his true companion over the next few verses on the process of mediation and reconciliation, providing steps to resolution.
Seven Steps to Resolution
- Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). This counterintuitive step warranted repeating, so Paul said it again. When the floor drops out from under you, your best friend hates you, rumors multiply, people misunderstand, and the public mixes up the facts—you’re probably not having much fun. How can anyone rejoice while suffering such pain? Only by remembering that joy is primarily about what God has done for you (Phil. 2:1-11). Joy is the byproduct of a belief that difficult situations have a good purpose (Phil. 1:18-21). So rejoice in the Lord. Again I will say: Rejoice.
- Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (Phil. 4:5a). You should be the most open and teachable party. Publicly amputate your own optical log before attempting any speck-removal surgery (Matt. 7:3). Keep your cool; don’t play the part of the wounded critter by rushing into public announcements, blog posts, or back-alley conversations that slam your rivals.
- Remember the Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:5b). You are not alone. You will not go undefended forever. The Lord bottles every tear you shed, and he will avenge you. False accusations won’t survive eternity. In addition, your master sees everything you say and do. He won’t condone any actions you take to defame others whose names are written in the book of life, even if you think they deserve it. Praise the ever-present one who never returns evil for evil and who will never repay you as you deserve.
- Don’t be anxious about the conflict, but ask God to resolve it (Phil. 4:6). I fear conflict and confrontation. My heart rate quickens, and my body trembles. I’m quick to seek human counsel and clarify my side of the story. But I must be quicker to seek the Lord’s counsel. I should cast my anxiety on him, ask him to do the impossible, and thank him for his marvelous, redemptive work in my relationships.
- Guard your heart and mind with the peace of God, even when it does not make sense to do so (Phil. 4:7). My perspective always makes sense; my antagonist’s perspective doesn’t. I often speak of a conflict in a way that markets my interpretation. But what might happen if I framed the conflict in a way my rival would agree with—that is, in a manner the other person agrees is a fair summary of key issues? Every bone in my body abhors the injustice of it, but the peace of God surpasses all understanding and demands such respect for the brethren.
- Find something—anything—praiseworthy to focus on in your antagonists (Phil. 4:8). If you stew on what your antagonists did wrong, replaying the memories to yourself and recounting your hurt feelings to others, you are sinning against God, who told you what to think about. Find something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, and set your mind there.
- Find good role models and continue practicing these things (Phil. 4:9). Paul endured plenty of opposition from fellow believers (Phil. 1:12-20). He knew what it’s like to be mistreated, maligned, and envied by those who are supposed to be on the same team. He learned how to rejoice in the Lord and his gospel through difficult conflicts. He’s shown us how one behaves when the God of peace is with him.
Euodia and Syntyche’s volatile situation provoked Paul to pen a beautiful portion of Scripture saturated with both the peace of God (Phil. 4:7) and the God of peace (Phil. 4:9). Of course, we can’t resolve every conflict. Some opponents truly are “dogs” and “evildoers” (Phil. 3:2), “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). There are times we must stand firm in the Lord and not budge against such opponents (Phil. 4:1).
But Christians must not treat other Christians as opponents. We’ll be together with the Lord for eternity, so Jesus would have us get a head start on learning to live in his peace.