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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #22: Afterthought

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. Philippians 4:8 NIV

After Paul finished his guidance for the Philippi church for how to handle conflict, he goes on to rejoicing and thanksgiving. He not only encourages them to be thankful themselves, he thanks them for their generosity towards him. It is a great pastoral wrap up to a congregation he so obviously loves.

But before he signs off, he adds what I consider a pertinent afterthought to the subject of conflict. It is about going forward in a way that would help them avoid more episodes like this one. It is about how they should think.

I am sure you have heard this verse discussed before. A number of teachers approach it like it is a pithy saying, a virtue axiom along the vein of “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The point they make is that Paul is adding value to the letter by teaching them how Christians should think good and noble thoughts which will help shape their character.

I am not so sure they are right. In fact, I see this afterthought as a final point to his instructions about conflict—note the “Finally.” His teaching is not meant to be a general idea on how to think, but a targeted point of instruction about lessening the potential of conflict in the future.

A number of years ago I served on a leadership team for my family of churches. The team was made up of both national and regional leaders who had a history. By history, I meant that conflict had dotted its timeline over the decades. There were periods when one group of leaders would not even meet with the other group.

But a lot of healing had taken place. New leaders worked to bring about reconciliation. It was during this period that I was included on a small team to write a leadership covenant that we not only would sign, but would read aloud at the start of every meeting. That document was divided into several sections, reminding us that we were not only missionally driven, but also relationally devoted. The first point under this latter section states:

We will assume the positive in all our conversations and actions and when in doubt, will ask one another for clarification.

Behind this sentence was something that we wanted to stamp out from among ourselves. It was the tendency to be suspicious of other leaders’ motives, to think that they had some ulterior motive to take advantage of the others. One person on our team said we needed to believe the best about our co-workers, that each of us was operating out of a desire to please Jesus and not just to stick it to the rest.

This was on our minds because it had been wrong thinking that had created the adversarial culture that plagued this team in the past. Motives were doubted—even one’s walk with God was questioned. How the members thought about each other mattered if we were going forward together in peace.

Did we have conflict after this? You bet. Having a written covenant on paper did not mean we had it written on our hearts. But guess what? On the day of the blow-up, we pulled the covenant out and talked over this very statement. Were we going to keep covenant and think the best of each other or were we going to disintegrate into factions? God humbled us that day and we renewed our covenant to think differently going forward.

Here is the purpose of Paul’s afterthought. If you listen to my instructions, you will resolve this conflict within the church family. But going forward, you need to commit yourself to think differently about things. To think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy—about your brothers and sisters in your church family.

If I can make some suggestions here, think about:

  • The glory of God
  • The beauty of the gospel
  • The transformational work of the Spirit in believers
  • The empowering nature of God
  • The future glory we will share when His Kingdom fully comes
  • The truth that we are having our minds renewed
  • The truth that broken and bent people are being restored
  • The truth that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Remember that:

  • The Lord is near
  • God hears your requests
  • Your hearts and minds are guarded by God’s peace.

Rejoice as you think about:

  • The gift of having a church family
  • Co-workers in whom Jesus lives, whom he is conforming into his image
  • A chance to serve, even suffer together for the sake of his name
  • The dividing wall of hostility Jesus broke down, making us one
  • The truth that Jesus is our peace.

We will be better served to think good things about our faith and about standing shoulder to shoulder with co-workers than to negatively attribute to them the kind of double-dealing found in so much of our culture. We would definitely be a stronger church by abandoning the lies of the enemy about each other for the truth of God. Will we still have moments of conflict? Yes. But because we think true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy thoughts about each other, we will also have a way to return to harmony among ourselves. And that is a really great afterthought.