This sermon is part of the sermon series "Harmony and Humility in the Church". See series.
When I was a pastor in Arizona, there were two men in the church who were greatly admired. They were both successful businessmen who desired to see people come to Christ.
One of these men, Harvey, owned several steak house restaurants in the area. In the early years, Harvey had some partners who turned out to be crooked, and he had to go to court to prevent them from stealing the businesses from him. During those tough years, he walked faithfully with God and left a good testimony in the courts and the community. He was also very generous. He once treated my entire family—all 15 of us—to an expensive outdoor steak dinner at one of his restaurants. The second man, Tom, had sold a successful business in the Midwest to move to Arizona and lead a nationwide Campus Crusade campaign. When I met him, I was impressed—he had sold everything and moved across the country to serve Christ for free. Thousands of people came to Christ during that campaign.
When the campaign was over, Tom was ready to get back into business and start earning income again. Harvey was building some additional restaurants, and he hired Tom to oversee construction. In the process, something happened that drove the construction costs dramatically beyond what was expected. Harvey was disturbed at how much the project was costing, and he made some questioning comments about the way Tom was handling things. Tom felt he was being criticized for mismanagement, so he started making comments about Harvey's "poking his nose in when he didn't know what he was talking about."
The whole situation got a bit edgy, and people in the church began to pick up on the tension. Harvey and Tom avoided each other at church. The Sunday school class that Tom was teaching grew uncomfortable. None of us had enough information to know the facts; all we knew was that it was awkward for us to see them acting that way toward each other. Eventually they worked things out and restored some peace between them, but that meant Tom quit working for Harvey. Even though both were godly men who were well respected in the church, something caused a tension between them.
There are many situations in which godly, committed Christians can "be on the outs" with each other. For example, maybe two couples' children date each other for a period of time. When one of them breaks up with the other, the other family may feel slighted and think, Oh, my kid wasn't good enough for you?
Or perhaps a man teaching a Sunday school class says it's all right to have a glass of wine with a meal. Another man in the class is terribly disturbed at hearing this said to others, because he grew up in an alcoholic home. To him there's nothing more dangerous or damaging than to tell people they can drink. When he brings up his objection in the class, the teacher defends his viewpoint. The second man gets upset and calls the teacher irresponsible. The teacher retorts, calling the student legalistic. Suddenly the men find themselves in a tense relationship.
Or maybe a woman has planned the Christmas decorations for the church every year for the past ten years. She starts her planning in October every year—thinking up a theme, involving people in creating banners and decorations to fit the theme, and going into the mountains with her husband to cut a fresh tree. The woman feels this ministry is her way of serving and blessing the church. When illness strikes her family one year, so that she is unable to organize the Christmas decorations, another woman volunteers to handle it, and it turns out fine. The following year, the woman who's been doing it for ten years discovers that the other woman has started early to plan the decorations again and clearly assumes she'll be doing so from now on. The misunderstanding causes tension in their relationship.
Sometimes even godly, committed Christians are on the outs with each other. When this happens, the rest of the church is affected. A big elephant enters the church, and nobody knows quite what to do with it. It isn't necessarily anybody's fault, but it's there in the room. Instead of there being a deep peace in the church, everyone is walking on eggshells. When this happens, what can be done to bring peace back into the church?
Paul found himself faced with just such a situation in the church in Philippi. He loved that church more than any other. They had responded to his ministry when he was in their city and supported him financially when he left. They sent people and funds to take care of him when he was arrested. They were doing their best to stand firm in their faith in the face of a hostile culture.
But the church didn't have peace, because two godly ladies in the church let something get between them. So near the end of his letter, Paul tells them what they can do to allow the peace of God back into their hearts and into the church. What Paul writes will help us, too, when we find that we are on the outs with another dear brother or sister.
Paul's instruction for restoring peace
As he draws his letter to a close, Paul reminds the Philippians how much he loves them. Then in 4:1-3, he brings up the elephant in the room—his two dear friends who have some issue between them.
Euodia and Syntyche were giants in the church who had worked hard with Paul to spread the gospel, but some issue had entered their relationship. He doesn't mention specifically what it is, but obviously everybody in the church knew what it was. Paul appeals to his two friends to resolve the issue between them. He pleads with them in the strongest terms to come to some harmony on the matter. He even asks another respected leader in the church—a "loyal yokefellow"—to help them work it out.
Then in verses 4-9, Paul tells the Philippians what they can do so that peace can return to their church. First of all, Paul tells them to turn their thoughts to the fact that the Lord is returning for them. As that thought fills their minds, the issue between them won't matter so much. At any moment Christ's going to call you upward, and then you'll be like him for all eternity. That's what's ahead for you. In light of that, this issue isn't such a big deal.
The first step to having peace come into your heart is to preoccupy yourself with the Lord's coming and let that thought produce a softer spirit in you. The second step, according to verses 6-7, is to turn over to the Lord whatever concern you still have about the issue. Tell him what bothers you about it; lay the issue out before him. Focusing on the Lord's coming causes your spirit to become more gentle and accepting, but you will still have concerns for how the incident might affect you or the church. So put the matter in the Lord's hands, and ask him to resolve it.
Paul tells them not to be anxious about anything. In other words, don't fret and stew over the issue. Don't worry about whether someone acted insensitively during the breakup with your child, whether the Sunday school teacher was off base, or whether you could do the Christmas decorations better than somebody else. Don't let your concern lead to frustration or anxiety. Instead, lay the issue out before God.
Paul uses four words to describe bringing our problems before the Lord: prayer, petition, request, and thanksgiving. Prayer is coming to God. Petition is admitting you need his help. Requesting specific intervention identifies how you need God to help. Finally, each of these things must be done with thanksgiving. That is, we should be thankful that God knows best and is in control.
It might sound something like this: God, my child is hurting because their daughter broke up with him. Lord, I don't know if the other parents put pressure on their daughter because they didn't think my son was good enough. But that's how it feels. Lord, help me not to fret or get upset about this. Help me to think rightly about this. Maybe you're protecting our children from an unwise decision. Maybe you have someone very specific in mind for our children, and you need them available and looking. God, I thank you for your love to our family in the past.
God, Bill attacked me in Sunday school over this alcohol issue. His hostility seemed out of proportion. Have I offended him in some way? Is he looking for some excuse just to butt heads with me and get back at me for something I may have done to him? Lord, I don't want to impugn wrong motives to him. Help me not to overreact or obsess over this. Was I insensitive to his background, to his family history? Was I arrogant and prideful in my teaching? Do I need to be more gentle and humble? Is this a situation in which I need to go to Bill and ask for his forgiveness for the way I spoke to him? God, I thank you that you're a God who probes our hearts, and you continually draw us to become more like your Son. I thank you for showing me my pride, and I thank you for all the good things Bill does in this church.
God, nobody said anything about my doing the Christmas decorations this year. Everybody seems to assume that this other woman is going to do them from now. Lord, I've been doing them for 10 years, and I love doing it. I feel unappreciated. Did they not like what I was doing? Is this their way of easing me out? Lord, I don't want to get anxious or upset over this. Help me to look at this clearly. Do you have another major task you want me to give my energy to that I would never see if I still had that other responsibility? Are you doing something in this other woman's life? Is this the first time she's been excited about what she's doing for you? Does she need this in her life more than I do? God, I thank you that you're a God who can draw all hearts to you. I thank you that you're a God who provides for his church and that in each new generation you raise up others to bless your people.
When you find yourself on the outs with another believer, preoccupy yourself with the thought that the Lord is coming, and let that form a gentleness and forbearance in you toward them. Then talk to the Lord about it. Lay the matter out before him and ask him for what you need as you thank him for who he is. You will find that God's unexplainable peace will simply overwhelm you and penetrate deep within. That's how the peace of God comes to you.
The peace of God permeates every area of the church when its members live at peace with one another. Then the church can give itself to whatever is good and right and pure. The church can turn itself to all the excellent things God has for us. Paul concludes with a call to concentrate on those things that are worthy of praise. When the peace of God enters our hearts, the God of peace descends upon the church.
There's a little poem I heard a long time ago that goes like this:
To live above, with saints we love,
O, that will be glory.
But to live below with saints we know,
Well, that's another story.
If I were writing that poem, I think I'd write it this way:
To live above, with saints we love,
Yes, that will be glory.
To live below with saints we know.
That, too, is a wonderful story.
Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.