Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life ~ #16 “Right Choices #1 – Choose to Defuse Disharmony” – Philippians 4:2-4:5

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Right Choices #1, Choose to Defuse Disharmony

Philippians 4:2-5

Well if you would, please take out your Bibles now and turn in them, in the New Testament, to the book of Philippians, chapter 4. If you don’t have a Bible with you, you can find one under a chair in front of you, and you can turn in that Bible, in the back portion, to page 156, and you would find yourself at Philippians, chapter 4.

We’ve been studying the book of Philippians, which we have subtitled…Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life. How many people want to have a joy-full life? We all do. Well the spiritual essentials for that are laid out for us in this book. We’ve come to chapter 4. I believe the theme of chapter 4 is this…maintaining right choices is vital in the spiritual life. The choices you make, make you. Your life experience, my life experience, is really the sum of the choices we make. So, we’re going to talk about choices this week and in the coming weeks. I’m going to share with you some interesting quotes around the theme of choices.

The first one is from Joanne Kathleen Rowling. She says this, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” You see you can have great ability and add to that poor choices and you have an adverse outcome. So he is going to talk about, in this chapter, right choices. The first right choice we come to is this…choose to diffuse disharmony. Choose to diffuse disharmony.

Warren Wiersbe tells us a story of what happened with his family one time. His daughter had come home from school, jumped off the school bus, came in through the front door, and slammed the front door. Then she went angrily up the stairs into her room, and again slammed the door.

All the time, as she came in the house, went up the stairs, and into her room, she was muttering under her breath, “People, people, people…people!” So he said, “I need to talk with her.” So, he went up to her door, and he knocked softly, and said, “May I come in?” Her reply, “No!” He said, “Again I tried, but she was even more belligerent.” “No!” Then he said to her, “Why can’t I come in?” Her answer was, “Because you’re a people.”

People…people frustrate us. We frustrate ourselves. Wherever you have people, you are going to have disagreement and you’re going to have conflict. With people, conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional. We have a conflict that is behind the verses we’re going to examine today in chapter 4, verses 2-5. I want to read through these verses. Just think about what conflict is happening here. Then I would invite you to follow along as I read what Paul writes.

He says in verse 2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

Now before we dive into these verses, I want you to bow with me in just a short word of prayer, and as you’re bowing, I want to ask you to do something that is a little bit different. I want you, with your head bowed, to just open up your hands palm upward. So we’re going to pray with our palms upward. The idea here is this is just going to be signaling to the Holy Spirit that we’re going to be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in these next few moments…not what He wants to teach somebody else who comes to our mind, but what He wants to teach us.

So let’s pray: Father in heaven, we want to now open our hearts to You. We can trust You, and we ask that as we go into the Word of God that is living and powerful, that You would teach us what we need to hear and learn. We’ll give all the glory and honor to Jesus Christ, and we pray these things in His name, Amen.

Now when you look at chapter 4, verses 2-5, I think the theme here is we are to live in peace with one another. We are to make peacefulness a priority. We are to choose to diffuse disharmony in our lives. Now one of the first things we realize is…What is actually going on here? We think about that. What could be the issue? What is the current conflict?

Before we even get there, I want us to pause again for a moment, and I want you to think about a current conflict in your life. It if helps you to close your eyes to do this, fine. I want you to think about a current conflict or a recent conflict. As you do that, I want you to picture a face that would come to mind who would be your partner in this conflict. While you’re thinking about that conflict, I want you to ask yourself this question, “Did I handle this conflict in God’s way? Did I handle it in God’s way?” I think Paul is going to lay out for us some principles, some elements, in how we can handle it God’s way.

We’re going to see four things. I’m going to show you four elements that come out of these verses in how to choose to diffuse disharmony. The first one is going to be…we need to make it a priority. The second one is…utilize help. The third one is…keep perspective. That’s going to be a very important one. Then the fourth one is…be considerate. If we’re going to choose to diffuse disharmony, we need to follow these four elements that Paul brings out. So let’s look at them with our own conflict in mind.

If we’re going to choose to diffuse disharmony we need to…

1. Make it a priority. We see that, I think, in verse 2. We know there are some people involved in this conflict. They’re named Euodia and Syntyche. Who are these people, and what is really going on in this conflict that Paul is addressing? Well, the who we simply know by two people, two women who are named here. One is called Euodia. Those of us who have come along in English and thought maybe there is another way to name these women that might be more reflective of their attitude, they would say, “Euodia ought to be called Odious, which really means hateful and Syntyche…well, we could call her Soon-touchy.” She was a touchy kind of a person.

Who are these ladies? Well this is the only mention of them in the New Testament. Before you start thinking, Well, you know those were some rather shallow, unspiritual women. Or maybe some of us who are out there thinking, Well, you know women. They have these kinds of conflicts. They’re overly sensitive. I want you to know something about these gals. These gals were key leaders in the Church. In fact, sometimes I think we dismiss how much, which was a contrast to the day in Judaism, Paul utilized women in his ministry.

I want you to keep your finger here and go with me to the book of Romans, to the left several books, chapter 16. I simply want to underscore the fact that Paul utilized women in key ways in his ministry. We learn of this in Romans, chapter 16, verses 1 and 2. He mentions, by name, a gal by the name of Phoebe who had key roles she played in the ministry she had with Paul. Then in verse 3, we see Pricilla or Prisca (the same person) mentioned who were fellow workers with him in Jesus Christ. Then in verse 6, he mentions Mary who worked hard in the ministry. Then in verse 12, of chapter 16, he mentions Tryphaena, and Tryphosa, and Persis, all of whom were women who were involved in leadership roles, key leadership roles, in his ministry.

Paul utilized women. In fact, if you remember the story if you go back to the book of Philippians, of how the church in Philippi was started, it was started with a Christian…a leading Christian businesswoman by the name of Lydia who had the gospel shared. She responded, then she actually opened up her home to be the central meeting place of this newly formed church in Philippi.

So, we have here not just two women who are unspiritual. We have two women who are spiritual leaders…Euodia and Syntyche. I want you to notice what he says about them in verse 3. He talks about these women, he says, “Who shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel.” Very colorful language here. That phrase struggle is a phrase right out of the gladiator arena. He’s saying, “These women were spiritual warriors with me in the ministry of the gospel.”

They are significant leaders, and these significant leaders had a conflict. They had a disagreement. So he says to them in verse 2, it’s very interesting the way he phrases this, he says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche…” It’s almost like he’s reaching through time and space and he’s talking to each one individually. “Euodia, Syntyche, please listen to what I have to say.” By the way, I think the very fact that he addresses them in this way implies they had likely stopped talking to one another. They had a conflict. They had some sort of a squabble. They had some sort of a clash, and they were unwilling to budge. They were in the middle of a stubborn standoff.

By the way, even leaders can find themselves in the midst of that. So he says, “Euodia, Syntyche, I urge you each to live in harmony in the Lord.” “Live in harmony,” he says to them. If I could translate it into the vernacular of today, “Settle your disagreement. Euodia, Syntyche, settle your disagreement.”

Keep your finger here. Go back with me to the book of Romans. We were just there, so you should be able to find it relatively easily…back to Romans chapter 12, verse 18. We find out that this idea is a high priority. These themes keep coming up in the New Testament. Look at chapter 12, verse 18. He says there, “If possible…” I mean sometimes it’s impossible to settle your disagreement if the other person totally refuses to cooperate. He says, “If it’s possible so far as it depends on you, be at peace with half the people you know.” It doesn’t say that. “Be at peace with all people.”

Look at chapter 14, verse 19, of Romans, he says, “So then we pursue [we chase after, we run after] the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Now I understand that at times there may be an eternal principle at stake. Let’s say, for example, I believe the Bible is inspired and, in its original content, is without error. Well what if I have somebody else who has a disagreement with me and they want to say, “Oh no, the Bible is full of mistakes and errors. Let me just start to talk about all of that.” We’re having a disagreement. Well, if that’s an eternal principle that is at stake, I’m not budging on that. You’re not going to get me to back off because that is an eternal principle.

But you see, most of our conflict is not like that. Most of our conflict is around personal preferences…different perspectives we have about things. I want us to understand when he says here, “Settle your disagreement. Live in harmony.” It’s not a call to uniformity that we’re to be totally identical in every way, it’s a call to unity. It’s not a call to agree about everything, it’s a call to be agreeable with one another. I want you to notice if you go back and look at that verse, he says, “I urge Euodia and urge Syntyche to live in harmony.” Then there is a key phrase added on, “…in the Lord.”

Do you remember what it says in chapter 2, verse 2? This subject matter has come up before. He says there in chapter 2, verse 2, “Make my joy complete.” He is appealing to them, “By being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” It’s almost like he is saying to them, “Live in harmony in the Lord. I mean both of you possess the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is great grounds for unity. Christ died for both of you.” It’s almost like he is saying to them, “Get off your high horse [prideful position]. Step down from looking down your nose [contemptuously viewing] at the other person and head over to the foot of the Cross because that is really your basis for unity.”

By the way, I believe the key to dismantling disunity and rebuilding unity is that we need to be like Jesus. Remember we looked at that in chapter 2, verses 3-5. Remember what it says there. Think about this in the context of a conflict. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind…” Remember this other’s first mentality Jesus had and we’re to have? “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in your life which was also in Christ Jesus.” I wonder what would happen in conflicts and disagreements if we had the attitude…the other person first. Their interests are more important than our own.

Real common theme in the New Testament…look over one book here to Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 2 and 3. We see this coming up again and again. This is God’s will that we operate this way. Verse 2, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…” You can just feel the atmosphere of conflict that is there. If we are going to diffuse disharmony, the first thing we need to do, the first element is…make it a priority…very important. This has to become a high priority.

The second element in diffusing disharmony we see back in Philippians, chapter 4, is…

2. Utilize help…utilize help. Look at verse 3, again, “Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers.” You see, men and women, sometimes the truth of the matter is we’re too close to the situation. We’re very subjective. We see things through our own viewpoint. There is a value that can come in a disagreement and a conflict in involving a third party. A third party brings objectivity. There is wisdom in a spiritual counselor helping us solve a disagreement.

Notice he says here in verse 3, “True companion, I ask you also to help these women.” Some translations say, “True yoke-fellow…” And you think, Well, what’s a yoke-fellow? Well it’s just a picture of that yoke where you would have two oxen in it. Someone who is a yoke-fellow is someone who is in the yoke with you. The idea here is, “Hey, teammate, partner in the ministry, someone who is a true partner with us in serving Jesus Christ, I want you to help these women.”

Now who is this actually referring to? Well we really don’t know for sure. Some scholars believe that this true companion, this one who is the partner team member in the ministry was the leader of the church who would receive this letter that Paul was writing. Other scholars believe it’s probably a reference to Epaphroditus. We saw him earlier in the letter. You might remember Epaphroditus is going to physically carry the letter back to the church. So, the appeal would be to Epaphroditus. The key principle is…utilize help…utilize help. Utilize a mediator…someone who is a good listener, who is an honest evaluator.

By the way, do you do know what that means? That means that all of us need to step up in the church family and be willing to assist people in resolving conflicts. What often happens? We are aware of some individuals who are having a conflict and we just sort of look over at them and wonder when they’re going to deal with that. Part of what this is saying is maybe the Holy Spirit wants us to be involved in lending a hand to say, “Listen, let me meet with the two of you, and let’s talk through this, and let’s find some resolution to it.” It also means, I believe, we all need to seek assistance when it’s necessary. Why would we get high-centered when we can’t solve the problem? Don’t let it fester. Utilize help.

If we’re going to choose to diffuse disharmony several elements are involved in that. Number one…we need to make it a priority. Number two…we need to utilize help. Number three… By the way, this is maybe the most important one of all, so you can put several stars by it…

3. Keep perspective. Keep perspective. We see that in verse 4. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Now that is a verse we’ve heard quoted a lot. Some of us maybe have memorized it, but it has been yanked totally out of the context. What is the context here? It’s a context of conflict and disharmony. Here is something very important we need to understand, men and women, an unforgiving, grudge-carrying spirit is a joy-stealer from your life. Trust me, I know. An unforgiving, grudge-carrying spirit is a joy-stealer. What we need is right perspective. So he says very clearly there, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Now here is what he is not saying. He is not saying, “Hey, never have feelings of sadness.” That’s not what he is saying. He is saying, “We need to always consistently have right perspective.” The word rejoice here in the original is a command. You just can’t command feelings. “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Now a skeptic might come along and say, “Yeah, yeah, that’s really going to be a lot of help in the midst of a conflict. How unpractical can anybody get?” Do you know what? It’s very practical. He says that we need to keep perspective. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Then he says as if we would be very skeptical about that, “Again I say rejoice.” He is saying, “Don’t miss this. Don’t miss the importance in a conflict of having right perspective.”

I want to remind you, as Paul is writing this, he is not sitting at Starbucks, lounging in a corner booth, surfing the Net. As he writes these words, he is chained to some soldiers. He is imprisoned. What is the future outcome? He doesn’t know. Is he going to be freed or is he going to stay chained? Is he going to live, or will he be executed? Will he die? With all of that conflict going on in his life, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Key phrase there…see it’s not just rejoice, it’s rejoice in the Lord.

You know when you are in the middle of squabbles, they seem to be so big. But what he is really saying to us is we need to have perspective. Rejoice in the Lord. You see there is nothing as significant as being declared being forgiven by God. There is nothing as significant as being named an heir with the Son of God. There is nothing as significant as the God of all of the universe turning to you and calling you His friend. There is nothing as significant as being guaranteed a future destiny after we take our last breath. There is nothing as significant as having God’s truth actually in our hands. There is nothing as significant as the Holy Spirit being resident inside of your life and the Holy Spirit’s power being available to you and me in our heart.

See that is what he means when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Get some perspective about all of this. You know you begin to get some perspective, and then you think about the conflict and you say, “What’s really the big issue here? What is really the big issue?” We need to have right perspective.

He goes on to talk about how these individuals’ names, in verse 3, are written in the book of life. In other words, Euodia and Syntyche, their names are in heaven’s residency registry. They’re going to be spending eternity together. Get some perspective. Here is a great question. You ought to write this one down. It’s a great question to ask when you’re dealing with a disagreement and a squabble and a conflict. Here is the question…In view of eternity, how critical is this conflict? A great question to ask…In view of eternity, how critical is this conflict? It’s amazing when you just ask that question how your perspective changes. I want you to think about, again, that current conflict or recent conflict. Think about that face that came to your mind. Then think about that question…In view of eternity, how critical is that conflict?

Here is a second question you can ask yourself when you find yourself in the midst of a squabble…Is God’s honor my top priority? Is God’s honor my top priority? You know at the end of verse 5, he makes this little statement, “The Lord is near,” I think pointing to His soon return. That’s a perspective we need to have.

Go with me to the right in your Bible, past the long book of Hebrews to the book of James. I want you to see how this theme (these principles) appears in several locations. James, chapter 5, verse 8 and verse 9… Again, this (I think) is in the context of some conflict that is going on. He says in verse 8, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” Now watch verse 9, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”

We could soon be face to face with the Lord, and we’re involved in this squabble. We’re involved in this conflict. Can you imagine if suddenly the Lord comes back and He says, “Bruce, I just want to ask you a question. I know I came here right in the middle of this little thing that’s happening with you. Can I just ask you the question…Was My honor your top priority in that conflict?

Right about now, some of us are thinking, Wait a second now. I have the conflict in my mind, and I want you to know something. This is not my fault. This is not my fault we’re involved in this. It’s not fair for it just to be resolved. That’s not fair for it to happen that way. Let me just remind you, if that is a response you might have emotionally, just think about one person and that is the person of the Lord Jesus.

Did He operate with that mentality? Well I’m not going to initiate anything for mankind. It’s not My fault that they got themselves in this pickle [problem]. It’s not fair that Me being a righteous person should have to die for unrighteous people. He didn’t go around saying, “It’s not My fault. It’s not fair.” You see He set aside His prerogatives for you and for me. His divine prerogatives He laid aside for us. He was others-oriented. He decided to suffer for you and for me. It was not His fault. It was not fair.

So, it’s very important that we need to remember to keep perspective. Why did Jesus do what He did? Why did He do what He did even though it was not fair, it was not His fault? It’s because He loved. That’s why. We learn from 1 Peter 4:8 that love covers a multitude of sins. Choose to diffuse disharmony. Elements involved in that… Number one… we need to make it a priority. Number two…utilize help. Number three, (Oh, a lot of stars by number three)…keep perspective. Then number four, if we’re going to diffuse disharmony…

4. Be considerate. Be considerate. Notice verse 5, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” This word that is translated here gentle spirit occurs five times in the New Testament. I’ll show you one other place and make a reference to another place it occurs.

Turn with me to the right, past 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Timothy to Titus. In Titus, chapter 3, verse 2, this word occurs. Again, you can just kind of feel the conflict context. He says to us as believers in verse 2, that we are “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle [that’s our same word] showing every consideration for all men.” We are to have a gentle spirit.

The same word is used in 1 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 3, where you have a list of qualifications for an elder, which I believe are all marks of maturity. A mark of a mature person is they are gentle. They have a gentle spirit. It’s a very difficult word to translate into English. It means to be kind. It means to be considerate. It means to be charitable. It means to be gracious.

One scholar put it this way, “Someone who is gentle responds to injustice and maltreatment without malice.” Malice is a desire to do harm or to wish another person to suffer. We are to be gentle. It’s so counter, you see, because when someone has wronged us or we’re having this conflict, deep down inside we want them to suffer. Well this is the opposite of that. Being gentle is the opposite of being harsh. It’s the opposite of being contentious. It’s the opposite of being rude and abrasive.

If I could give you just a little Bruce Hess translation it would probably go something like this, “Be nice, not nasty.” Someone who is gentle and considerate has patience with the faults and failures of others. They’re people who say, “Do you know what? I have my own set of faults, and I have my own set of failures.” Now when we talk about having a gentle spirit, he’s not talking about being spineless. That’s not the idea. He’s talking about being gracious. He’s talking about being selfless. He’s talking about being forbearing with people.

In 400 BC, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. They translated it into Greek. In Psalm 86, verse 5, part of the Hebrew there is translated with this same word…gentle. In this passage, David is talking about God. When it comes to that particular word, the word gentle, here is the way it is translated in Psalm 86:5, “God, You are ready to forgive.” God is like that. He is gentle, considerate, and ready to forgive. We are to be like that. Is that descriptive of you? Is that descriptive of me?

Now I want to share with you very quickly some practical indicators and earmarks of someone who is gentle, someone who is considerate. The first earmark or indicator of someone who is considerate is that they don’t judge motives. Whoa! In 1 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 5, you can turn there if you want. I’m going to read it pretty quickly, but the idea there is we need to not pass judgment on the motives of others because the idea is that’s God’s business. Yet what do we do? We tend to try to determine what their motive was…why they said that, why they did that. Someone who is considerate and gentle doesn’t judge motives.

Someone who is considerate and gentle displays a heart of humility. You know Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” There is a central source, a core cause of most conflicts. I strongly am suspicious that it was involved in the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, very common central source and core cause of most conflicts and that is the P-word…pride. See a lot of times pride is out to win. I’m going to win this. So, you end up with a stubborn standoff when you have two people who are proudly defending their turf. Humility is to permeate our attitudes and our actions even in conflict and even in disagreement.

Remember again, what He says in chapter 2, verse 3-5, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That’s the attitude that Christ had, so should we.

There is a quote that I came across a while back that I really like. It says this, “No one has ever choked on swallowed pride.” It’s so true…never happened ever that anyone choked on swallowed pride. I want you to notice in chapter 4, verse 5, he says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” To all people. In other words, translation, “This is to be our everyday lifestyle that we would be considerate, that we would be gentle.”

Choose to diffuse disharmony…four elements.

1. Make it a priority.

2. Utilize help.

3. Keep perspective.

4. Be considerate.

Now let’s talk about some life response that we can have, having looked at all of this. Some ways we can begin to apply this immediately this next week. First life response I would suggest…

1. Evaluate your own heart. When you’ve had it up to your eyeballs with people, is the best time to look in the mirror. It’s good if you’re in the middle of a conflict to ask that question…In view of eternity, how critical is this conflict? In most cases, it’s going to shrink down in importance. Number one…evaluate your own heart.

2. Take the initiative. Take the initiative. Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go.” Take off. Take the initiative. Romans 12:19, “So far as it depends on you, take the initiative.” I believe…I believe…that the outcome with Euodia and Syntyche would have been very different had either one of them had taken the initiative to deal with the conflict and the disagreement. Evaluate your own heart, take the initiative, and thirdly…

3. Be a peacemaker. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God. They are the ones who are like I am,” says God.

Let’s pray together: Father, we thank You again for the Living Book that we hold in our hands, and for the practicality of it because we all deal with these issues. We all deal with issues of conflict and so forth. May we be men and women who are like You, who are peacemakers in our everyday life in our relationships with those with whom we live, those within the church, yes, even with all people. May Jesus Christ be honored as we do that. We pray things in His name, Amen.

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