Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #4: His Love’s the only thing that really works.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 NIV
I don’t know of anyone who responds well to being micro-managed into reconciliation. You might see this occasionally in the movies—such as the pub scene in “The Quiet Man” where the local priest commands the two combatants—played by John Wayne and Victor McLaglen—to shake hands. Grudgingly they grip hands, but the looks they give each other foreshadow the outbreak of renewed hostilities in a future scene. Peace has not been made just because the people at odds were ordered to make peace. Their hearts and minds have not been changed toward each other.
This unfortunately is true to life—maybe your own life. Your pastor can tell you to forgive. Your friends can point to Scripture where you must forgive. You know what God wants you to do! But you don’t have to like it. And numerous people probably do not really mean it. At best, they will respond in “fingers crossed” reconciliation.
I find that fighting among believers is a much greater problem than any cultural war people think is going on against USA churches. This is taking place at both the individual level as well as within divided congregations. Marital wars are being fought in our midst. Pastors are dismissed unkindly. Believers are hurt and hurting others, confused by the upheaval or belligerent
How we should live out our faith does matter. The prayer found in verses 9-11 is not just kindly thoughts that Paul sticks in to open his letter. This is the powerful reality he desires God to produce in the Philippian believers. What Paul says here is a road sign for how they need to be transformed. And it is in this prayer Paul reveals the power for ending every conflict. We need to grow up some more in love that will bring us greater knowledge and insight. Our inner person has to be deeply changed by God if we are to live at peace with all people, particularly with those who are part of God’s family.
It is always a challenge to translate a word from the first century into our modern lingo. Love, in this case ‘agape’ is a tough one. Our word ‘love’ is used for several Greek words, causing us to forget that ‘agape’ is more than how we feel about someone. Agape is a covenant making word, akin to hesed in the Old Testament. God makes covenants with the people He created—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, David—and now with us. Covenant is about making an unbreakable relationship, sealed by sacrifice, accompanied with an oath and a meal. When God makes covenant, he declares His love for those who enter into it with Him.
Agape, like the Hebrew word hesed, is about love. But it is more than loving. It means that God is choosing to love based on His will to love rather than the value and desirability of the person He loves. When we did not love Him, He loved us and sent Jesus to die in our place. We are, as Paul would observe in Ephesians 3:17, rooted and established in agape. He follows this covenantal observation with a prayer that we would grasp how wide, long, high and deep is this love so we might be totally filled “to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 NIV)
So here is the underlying point of this prayer. His hearers—and we—need a love that is agape which abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. A love that is like the agape God displays through His covenant making. An agape for our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). An agape that leads us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Agape that comes from Jesus himself working through us.
Paul prays that the Philippians will grow in this agape so they will be “able to discern what is best.” Discern what? Recognize that he is addressing the underlying conflict going on in the Philippi church, discerning how to best bring an end to it. When we are in conflict with other believers, we can be so unreasonable and pigheaded because our emotions are engaged. We emotionally feel the offense. We emotionally feel we are right to fight back. We emotionally do not plan to stop until our opponent is defeated in the dust and confesses they are wrong.
Instead, Paul is praying that they would let agape be their guide. In so doing, they will “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” This is what displays the glory of God in us to the world and to each other.
I have learned a lot about conflict resolution. How to listen to everyone’s point of view. How to summarize and give good feedback. How to get people to communicate better. But nothing takes the air out of conflict like people abounding in the kind of agape steeped in knowledge and depth of insight. That kind of love comes from surrendering to Jesus’s life at work within us.