Spirit & Truth # 192
“Conflict Resolution – Pagans and Tax Collectors”
By Rev. Greg Smith
Someone once told me, “You can’t have growth without change, and you can’t have change without conflict.” This means that if you’re having growth, change, and blessing in any area of your life, there is at least the potential for conflict. You’re probably thinking of one area of conflict in your life right now. Is there a biblical prescription for conflict resolution?
In Philippians 4:1-3, Paul writes to a church in conflict. Two beloved women, Euodia and Syntyche, are squabbling, but we are not given the details of their fight. It could have been a personality conflict, theological disagreement, or an argument about different ways of doing ministry.
What we do know is that they were both good workers in the church. They had probably both helped to assist the poor, visit the sick, care for the bereaved, and give counsel to the searching. Paul valued both of them individually (note that he speaks to one, and then the other, but does not use their names in the same phrase). Both are Christian women, and both of their names are written in the Book of Life (which means they’re of equal value to God). They actually have more in common than they have difference, and Paul wants to see this conflict resolved.
Paul entreats his companion (possibly Epaphroditus, who is supposed to have been one of the pastors of the church of the Philippians) to help settle this dispute. This shows that a mediator is sometimes necessary when a conflict can’t be settled between two people. He also says that it may be necessary to bring Clement and the other fellow workers in on this reconciliation as well, if peace cannot be achieved in any other way.
Jesus gives us a method for this kind of reconciliation in Matthew 18:16-17:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”.
Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone, you shouldn’t gossip about them behind their back. You should go directly to them and try to settle the matter. Only if this is unsuccessful should you bring anyone else into it. Then, take one or two others along, not to gang up on the other person and show them that you’re right and they’re wrong, but so the conversation will have impartial witnesses. This avoids a “he-said, she-said” scenario. Only if your disagreement can still not be settled should you take the matter before the church. If there still cannot be reconciliation, then Jesus said to treat an offender like a pagan or tax collector. How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? Not with disgust and disgrace, but with love and compassion.
Are you in the middle of a conflict right now? Why not try Jesus’ method of conflict resolution? Next week, we’ll talk about Paul’s continued advice for Euodia and Syntyche. When you bring the truth of God’s word into the middle of your struggle, I guarantee you’ll find peace.