What is it about conflict that scares us? Or about difficult things that we want to hide. Seems like when we mess up or failed or made a bad judgement call, instead of coming clean we want to sweep it under the rug. We do this with conflict as well. Rather than talking about it or bringing up in a mature manor, we avoid it and hope that it just goes away.
Paul starts Philippians 4 by highlighting a conflict. We’ve seen that with every sentence and paragraph in this letter, another layer of what it means to be community is being peeled away. Some say that Paul has been leading to this moment where he could deal with the elephant in the room, a conflict between two women. Check it out…
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.
Up until this point in the letter, Paul doesn’t call out anyone by name. Here however, he feels it’s necessary to point out these two woman who are obviously at odds with each other. A few things to consider:
– This letter was read aloud, publicly, for the whole community to hear at once. Imagine what that might feel like?
– Paul calls these two women colleagues. Where else in a first century context are men calling women colleagues. How refreshing is the gospel that in a male dominated world, Jesus invites woman to fully participate.
– Two reasons why dealing with this conflict is so important: for the sake of community and for the the sake of the gospel.
With this in mind, Paul continues with some teaching on how to react and respond to other difficult circumstances in our lives. One of the main characteristics of being a follower of Jesus is that we would respond differently than others do when things go wrong or times are tough. After addressing conflict, Paul says…
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.
How are we to be different or unique in how we live as followers of Jesus? Paul gives us 4 ways.
Paul doesn’t mention this once, but twice. This is a big deal. This is the kind of joy that pushes through difficult times. Joy that doesn’t make sense, but is so evident and life changing.
Paul then says that our gentleness should be evident to all. This is a characteristic that replaces retaliation. Gentleness comes as a surprise to most people. Why? Because it’s shown in a situation that could’ve easily gone the other way? This is also something Paul thinks everyone should see – when they see it, they see something different in us, they see Jesus.
Both Joy and Gentleness are refreshing. Why? Because they’re not common, not expected, but so welcomed and appreciated. Christ-like, you could say.
don’t be ANXIOUS, but PRAY
How about this third thought from Paul. So many use this verse as a friendly reminder not to worry. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Paul says…matter-of-factly…do not be anxious about anything!!! This means of course what we read it as…not being unduly concerned about anything…but…it was also often used in contexts where persecution was an issue. However, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about what we care about. Actually, he is concerned about all the things that we are concerned about. NT Wright puts it like this, “…ask God about everything. If it matters to you, it matters to God.”
But how? This may sound simplistic, but Paul’s answer to that is ‘prayer’. You can pray about anything and everything. It’s not about how God answers, but how much he listens.
let God’s PEACE guard you
Finally, we reach the sum of all this – God’s peace. This is a unique take on peace. It’s described as a guard, a protector, a boundary. What does this mean? That it’s not my job to guard my heart, it’s God’s. Of course, we do our part, but if we discover JOY, exhibit GENTLENESS, give up our worries, struggles & fears to God, his Peace will guard our hearts.
Proverbs 4:23 says, ‘above all else guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life’. Paul outlines how we are to actually do that right hear in Philippians.
So…in light of this text, ask yourself these questions…
Are we going to be people who run away from conflict or … deal with it in an honest, open, and loving way?
When it doesn’t make sense, will Joy & Gentleness be evident in my life? And will those things, along with humility, point people to Jesus.
Will we be people who pray, at least as much, but hopefully more than we worry? Will our praying remind us that God cares about it all?
Will we be those kinds of people who have (God’s) peace as our protection, as our guard?