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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #10: Do You See Yourself?

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13 NIV

The last thing any of us want is a helicopter parent, hovering over us to make sure we are minding our P’s & Q’s. Most adults hate the idea of someone trying to micromanage their lives. Adulting suggests that we are mature enough to handle ourselves—that we have mastered enough life skills to make our own way in the world and figure out how to make relationships work.

And this is how Paul sees it too. He was not interested in being the ‘parent’ others need to tattle to about the failures of others. Refereeing conflict was not his desired ongoing role with this group of believers at Philippi. They have reached a level of maturity in the faith to be responsive to their Father without him having to always to remind them.

And so, in a memorable sentence that is still compelling to us today, he directs them to grow up some more. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

How do you and I come to grips with our responsibility for causing conflict? It is not through being shamed by someone above in the hierarchy, speaking down to us who are in conflict as if we are little children in need of a good tongue lashing. Responsibility comes from looking into the twin mirrors of the Fall and the Resurrection.

The Fall shows us what we became. We see that, by Adam and Eve choosing to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we have an inherent belief that we know what is right. It is our innate habit of practicing our personal godhood choices that brings us into conflict with each other. (“I know what is right and you’re wrong, wrong, wrong!”) But when we look into the mirror of the Fall, we can be reminded that each of us are broken. That we need to humble ourselves because we have thought that we reign over our lives and others lives in God’s place. We can be reminded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Becoming mature means a deeper surrender to God’s reign over us.

The mirror of resurrection assures us of what we will be. God is at work in us. God is progressively transforming us into the likeness of Jesus—which is His good purpose. We become what we are to become because He wills it—because He makes it happen. The resurrection reminds us that we were bought with a price and now God is directing our steps.

And what does this do for us? Paul points to three outcomes he wants for his beloved Philippian church. And these outcomes still matter for us today.

  1. You will become what you were called to be in Jesus. (Verse 15a) You are God’s child. Put aside all the petty pride that drives you to position and push for personal prerogatives. Allow the wholesome person God created you to be to progressively mark the way you live and are seen by others.
  2. Your life will be a witness to everyone who sees you. (Verse 15b-16) So many non-believers have commented over the centuries how difficult it is to have faith in Jesus because of the way believers fail to live godly lives. Perhaps you have read comments like that and thought to yourself you will be different. That your life will be a glowing witness of the truth of the gospel. If so, then let Paul’s point challenge you. You need to resolve your conflicts with other believers. Otherwise, you are not shining the life of Jesus out to those who need to see it in the flesh.
  3. Your reconciliation will make those who disciple you in the faith rejoice. (Verse 16b-18) I think we all have strong opinions about how Jesus’ church should be led and what believers should or should not do in light of the gospel. I probably would find few among you who would question that believers should be reconciled following Jesus’ directives in Mathew 18:15-17. But even fewer believers actually practice reconciliation than those who reject it. I have been disappointed by several people I love who have sidestepped my counsel to obey Jesus by making peace between themselves and other believers.

Yet others in whom I have invested the gospel have gotten it. They went to the people they wounded in conflict and reconciled. As someone God used to speak into their lives, I understand exactly what Paul means when he says “then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Seeing a believer grow up some more in the Lord, acting on the truth he or she has learned and truly being a peacemaker has made my heart rejoice.

This is what the gospel is all about. We get to live the God-willed life of Christ. And when we pursue this with fear and trembling, our lives can be amazingly adult.