Facing Church Conflict
In the many letters the apostle Paul wrote to churches in Europe and Asia and to three different individuals, Paul requested “help” just one time. When Paul learned of a conflict in the church in Philippi between two women—each of whom Paul affirmed as individuals who had “struggled beside me in the work of the gospel”—Paul asked his “loyal companion” to “help these women.”
What were Euodia and Syntyche fighting about?
I wish I knew the juicy tidbits about their conflict. I would have enjoyed hearing the gossip that was going around about these two women. But Paul does not dangle any juicy tidbits in front of us. He doesn’t tell us any of the gossip because it is none of our business.
Here is the first lesson we can learn about how to deal with conflict in the church: Avoid gossip. Speak the truth in love to the appropriate persons. Dr. A.B. Simpson warns, “I would rather play with forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery currents, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others, to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.”
Paul urges Euodia and he urges Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” Paul does not try to persuade them to agree on the particulars of the issue they are in conflict over. They might always disagree over those matters. But Paul urges them to find their common ground in the Lord. In essence, he calls upon both of them to remember that they are both sinners who are in need of Christ’s forgiveness, that Christ died upon the cross for both of them, that the Holy Spirit has come to indwell the soul of each of them, and that each of them is now a precious daughter of the heavenly Father.
Here is the second lesson we can learn about how to deal with conflict in the church: Focus more of our time, attention and energy on our common ground (what we share together in Christ) than on what divides us. In any conflict we encounter with a fellow believer, remember this: We both owe our lives to the same Savior, and we are both loved by the same Savior. We may disagree about other things but we can be united in this: our bond in Christ.
After urging Euodia and Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” Paul calls upon his “loyal companion” to “help these women.” Biblical scholars make guesses as to who this “loyal companion” may have been, but Paul does not tell us. What we do know is this: Wherever there is conflict, there are hurting people, and hurting people need persons who will care for their wounds. Paul wants to make sure that these hurting women are cared for, so he recruits the right person to meet the need. And I find it significant that Paul does not just ask this “loyal companion” to help straighten out the mess in Philippi. Paul cares about the individuals, so Paul asks his companion to “help these women.”
Here is the third lesson we can learn about how to deal with conflict in the church: Find help for those who are hurting. In the midst of conflict, let’s remember that people get hurt, and let’s keep an eye out for those who need care. If, for whatever reason, we cannot provide that care, let’s do what we can to recruit the right person to care for those who are hurting.