Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Making Peace

In an earlier post, I talked about how my pastoral calling sometimes necessitates being the "responsible adult" who acts to call people back to reconciliation and peace. Not that this always works, but it does come with the territory. In fact, Paul's letters deal with church problems and conflicts virtually exclusively, teaching correct theology largely in response to the errors being spread rather than as an end in itself.

As I have preached my way through Philippians, I was certainly not unaware of these things, but I was somewhat surprised to find both a great example of pastoral peace making and good principles for peace maintaining, all wrapped up in the little section that has to do with Euodia and Syntyche (v. 4:2-7). These two ladies were engaged in a very public fight. It had become so bad that the church had exhausted itself and appealed to Paul, who was several hundred miles away and imprisoned besides, for relief and counsel. Here's the wisdom of Paul in response:

For Peacemakers:
  • Address the combatants tactfully. Paul is very kind and diplomatic as he addresses these ladies. He doesn't claim his apostolic authority, though he obviously could. He doesn't order. Instead he writes, "I plead with..."
  • Encourage reconciliation privately. In his pleading, Paul tells them "agree with one another in the Lord." Even though the situation has become public, he still encourages private peacemaking.
  • Affirm commonalities as more important. In 4:3, Paul mentions their past partnership with him (literally, "fighting alongside me") in spreading the Gospel and the fact that both of them are "in the book of life." He is reminding them of the eternal things that bind them together, and the fact that the both belong to Christ and ought to act like it.
  • Involve others if necessary. Paul asks for someone he calls "loyal yokefellow" (possibly a name, but more likely an elder or the pastor of the church) to assist these two ladies in making peace. Sometimes, a mediator has to step in. Peace in the church is more important than worship (cf. Matthew 5:23-24), so peacemaking is an essential part of church leader's task when necessary.
For Maintaining Peace:
  • Rejoice in the Lord. Generally speaking, when we're in conflict, it's not only evidence that we're failing to rejoice in the Lord, rejoicing in the Lord is the last thing on our minds! We're thinking about winning, not about how we can glorify Christ as Lord. We've got our defenses and emotions up, and we're sure of our own righteousness. But if we are rejoicing in the Lord always, it's just possible we would be in conflict less isn't it?
  • Let your gentleness be evident to all. The word that's rendered "gentleness" (Greek epieikes) is often translated "meekness" and has to do with keeping one's power under good control. Here in context it means keeping a rein on your emotions, your temper, your reactions (and even your body language), so that you deal kindly with others, even those with whom you have strong disagreements.
  • Remember that the Lord is near. I believe that is a reminder that the Lord is personally (as opposed to eschatologically) near to us. This is a healthy reminder, since when we're in the midst of a fight, we forget that God is near. And his nearness means that he is both still sovereign over our situation (meaning we neither need to win or worry) and that our conduct is happening in full view of the Lord (which ought to temper it a bit).
  • Don't worry. Instead pray and thank God. It's easy to forget at times that we don't need to worry about anything, but in everything to pray and go to God with our needs and then to thank him for his answers. It seems like Christianity 101, but it's still hard to do when we are in the center of the storm.
  • Let God's peace descend upon you. When we pray and trust God, he promises to give us his peace. It's amazing, but it is still wonderfully true.

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