Rejoicing Over Conflict

February 16, 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the third in a series of posts from Philippians 4 on dealing with church conflict).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil. 4:4

So be honest.  How many times did you use that verse before you realized that its context is church conflict?

This verse begins Paul’s prescription for dealing with conflict.  In the case of the Philippians, it was the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche.  In my church it would be a different issue.  In your church, a different one yet.  But in any case, Paul’s first word of advice is “rejoice!”

How is it that Paul can say that about a church fight?  What is it that he understood about church conflict that we are inclined to miss?

wavesFirst, Paul understood that conflict is inevitable in church.  If there are people in your church, there will be conflict.  It is a part of the human condition.  Issues are to the church what waves are to the seashore.  No matter what issue we are dealing with today, there will be another one tomorrow, and another one after that.  How naive would it be to be standing in the surf, get knocked over by a wave, and then stand up and say, “Well, I’m glad that’s over…we won’t have to worry about that happening again.”  Paul understood this.

Second, Paul understood that there will never be a church conflict that sneaks up on God.  Whatever conflict your church may be facing right now, God saw it coming a long, long time ago.  He could have prevented it.  He did not.  He permitted it to come.  How you deal with it will either bring Him glory or shame.  How you respond to the conflict will either make it a very good thing for your church or a very bad thing.  When I work with a conflicted congregation, I often have young families come to me to say they will be moving their membership to another church, because they don’t want their teenagers exposed to the bad behavior in the church.  I always think to myself: so you’re teaching them to run from conflict... what do you suppose will happen when they get married and have their first big conflict?  That’s right, they will run from it and from the marriage.  And when they come to you wanting to get a divorce and you need a lawyer, please don’t call me…I didn’t teach them how to run from conflict.  You did. We don’t want to teach our children “fight” responses to conflict, but we don’t want to teach them “flight” responses either.  What we want our children to learn is how to work through conflict in a God-honoring way.

Third, Paul understood that, with every conflict God permits to visit a church, there is a new opportunity to bring glory to God.  There is a new opportunity to show a watching community that God’s Word really does have answers to life’s problems, including conflict.  Paul understood that and says, “rejoice!”  Paul says, “I’ve heard about your conflict.  Isn’t it awesome!”

So, if you have conflict right now in your church, rejoice!  And if you don’t, rejoice!  But in the future, when you do, rejoice!  Gotta love Paul…

© Blake Coffee

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