Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #16: What have you gained?
That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:9 NIV
Conflict is distracting emotionally and spiritually. Mentally, it pulls our attention from what is truly worth it all to strategizing about how we will prove we are right and expose our opponent’s pigheadedness. We go round and round in our heads how they have missed the point, how they have misinterpreted the facts, how they have mangled the truth. We who get caught up in such a maelstrom often lose sight of what following Jesus is all about.
Righteousness. Not just what puts us in right standing with God. A righteousness that empowers us to live life like Jesus did. A righteousness that displays the glory of God. A righteousness that continues to free us from the power of sin, making us want Christ more and realizing that his life is our life.
Paul exposes his heart with his confession that his focus is on a righteousness that comes from Christ through faith. He had gained all the ‘right’ credentials—the right education, the right pedigree, the right kind of lifestyle—but none of them really mattered. He speaks of them in terms of eternity. Those credentials were garbage—worse than garbage in comparison to gaining Christ and knowing the power of his resurrection.
Paul previously counseled that the Philippian believers continue to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13 NIV) Now he is bringing it home in a practical sense. It is Christ. It is his righteousness. This has to matter more to each of us than even winning against our opponents.
You and I know plenty of stories about Christians who have been beaten up by other believers. They are often abused by people who want power over the finances, future, and functions of the church. Many of their abusers were once friends, part of their church family. Now they want to control the worship time or the pastor’s time and won’t be happy until they either do that or upend the congregation itself in an all-out Level Five conflict (“I and those with me will destroy you!”).
The temptation in the face of such an onslaught is to respond in one of four ways.
- You can become defensive and explain to anyone who will listen why you are the wronged party…continually. This is what I call ‘bleeding out loud.’
- You can become passive, all the while looking for the quickest escape hatch out of your church. This strategy will cause you to become a nomad, wandering away from one church to another in search of the elusive oasis from conflict. You will never find this mythical place.
- You can become evasive and not talk about the pain being inflicted on you, or how you personally are jarred by such a war. This is the ‘I’m Okay.’ approach.
- You can become aggressive and go for the jugular of your opponent, naming names from the pulpit and calling them out through sermons to fight back. Or, if you are not a pastor, you might go after them in a (figurative) shootout at the OK Corral.
All of these approaches are a sign of our brokenness. None of them are healing. None of them reflect the glory of God. None of them will actually allow you to win the conflict.
We ‘win’ when we humble ourselves before Jesus. Put the conflict into his hands. Avoid scarring ourselves further than we already have in our attempts to control the conflict since its ultimate outcome is in Jesus’ hands. It may be that he will not deal with it until the judgment.
Paul is saying that his soul matters more than the conflict itself. More than his credentials, His soul matters. He wants a soul that is whole. He wants a life that is righteous. He is showing us again that Jesus is enough. In fact, having Jesus and this righteousness by faith is worth more than a chest full of victory medals.
By implication, he it’s inviting the Philippians to have the same pursuit. After all, why is he writing this? Just to say that he has a good devotional life? No! He’s speaking into the context of their lives as well. No matter what’s going on between Syntache and Euodia, it’s the wrong pursuit. Jesus is what they—and we—should be pursuing. Pursuing his righteousness that comes by faith. That is what makes the Christian life worth it all. Not winning some fleeting victory over our opponent that will not be the last word anyway.
Jesus is enough. His righteousness is all I want. I cannot wait until I get to the finish line and find myself whole because of all Jesus did for me.