Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #21: Why Bother to Intervene?
Therefore…stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 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. Philippians 4:2-3 NIV
One of my heroes of the faith is Bob Childress, a pastor who took the gospel to the mountaineers of Virginia from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. One story told about how he learned that two old friends had fallen into conflict and had stopped talking to each other for nearly forty years. He immediately went to work to bring them back together, effecting a true reconciliation between them in the presence of one of his 17 congregations. When the moment came, everyone wondered what these old timers would say to each other as they reached out to shake hands. “Careful,” said the one, “my hand is a mite sore from where I mashed it.” Soon after, it was reported, the two were happily back to spending time with each other.
I love these kinds of stories. They remind me that godly intervention is worth the challenge. That broken relationships can be restored. This is the responsibility of belonging to Christ.
Paul has finished his pastoral explanation of standing firm in the Lord, not striving against each other, but “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” But sadly, it is not the case for all the members of the Philippi church. Their conflict is apparently so disruptive to the gospel that Paul has barely gotten his instructions out of his mouth when he brings up their names.
Let us be clear. Paul valued his women coworkers. Names like Lydia, Pricilla, Phoebe pop up as partners in the story of his ministry life. He comments on their contributions in furthering the gospel, such as when he speaks about Tryphena and Tryphosa (whose names actually translate ‘Dainty’ and ‘Delicate’), who work like Trojans for the Lord. (Romans 16:12) Paul is not putting down Euodia and Syntyche. Their conflict must have caused Paul much anguish for him to write such a letter.
His plead is out of love for these two. His is not a stern demand that they get their act together under the threat of church discipline. He does not attack their character nor seek to embarrass them into submission. Instead, he does the one thing that someone who has spent his life furthering Jesus’ church would do. He asks their home church to step in to help them be reconciled. This is the reason for the whole letter, which, according to the custom of the early church, would be read publicly to the congregation. In a real sense, Paul is telling the congregation they would not be whole if they let these two women, whose names are in God’s book of life, continue to careen down into the pit of unforgiveness.
This is the gospel applied. The gospel is not just about personal salvation and going to heaven someday. It is about the people Christ is restoring, the church Christ is building. We have become one people through the blood of Christ. We belong to each other in a familial relationship that is tighter, fuller, more eternal than the one into which we were born. We are responsible for each other, to love, serve, encourage, warn and restore each other, spurring each other on to good deeds.
How do churches let Level 1 conflicts (‘We have a problem’) grow to Level 5 conflicts (‘I and those with me will destroy you’)? One of the biggest contributing factors is our failure as believers to help one another when we notice that a conflict is starting. What we cannot do, but often allow to happen among us, is to let family members tear each other apart. And the result is that the church itself is wounded.
If you are going to be the church, you have been commissioned to intervene, both biblically here and as a result of the great love God showed you when He sent Jesus to settle the ‘dispute’ between you and Him. Accept this role. And lose the following sentences out of your repertoire:
“I don’t know what to say.” Now is the time to figure that out—before you have to intervene in the next conflict. Start with the practical content of the gospel. What would Jesus say?
“I don’t want to get between them.” Sure they are angry now and you don’t want to be their mutual target. But you can speak to each person privately without displaying anger yourself. Let the Spirit guide you in this.
“I am not the right person to intervene.” So who is the right person—someone outside the church? Paul, when addressing the lawsuits between members of the Corinth congregation, suggested that the Lord’s people should give judgment over disputes instead. Intervening and judging disputed matters is our proper work since we belong to each other.
If this were easy, everyone would be clamoring to do it. But do it out of love for Jesus; out of love for your church family members; out of love for the gospel that saved you.