Resolving Conflict (Philippians 4:2–9)
Paul asks the Philippians to help two women among them, Euodia and Syntyche, come to peace with each other (Phil. 4:2–9). Although our instinctive reflex is to suppress and deny conflict, Paul lovingly brings it into the open where it can be resolved. The women’s conflict is not specified, but they are both believers who Paul says “have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel” (Phil. 4:3). Conflict occurs even between the most faithful Christians, as we all know. Stop nurturing resentment, he tells them, and think about what is honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy in the other person (Phil. 4:8). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) seems to begin with appreciating the good points of those around us, even (or especially) when we are in conflict with them. After all, they are people for whom Christ died. We should also look carefully at ourselves and find God’s reserves of gentleness, prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and letting go of worry (Phil. 4:6) inside ourselves.
The application to today’s workplace is clear, though seldom easy. When our urge is to ignore and hide conflict with others at work, we must instead acknowledge and talk (not gossip) about it. When we would rather keep it to ourselves, we should ask people of wisdom for help—in humility, not in hopes of gaining an upper hand. When we would rather build a case against our rivals, we should instead build a case for them, at least doing them the justice of acknowledging whatever their good points are. And when we think we don’t have the energy to engage the other person, but would rather just write off the relationship, we must let God’s power and patience substitute for our own. In this we seek to imitate our Lord, who “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7) of personal agendas and so received the power of God (Phil. 2:9) to live out God’s will in the world. If we do these things, then our conflict can be resolved in terms of what the true issues are, rather than our projections, fears, and resentments. Usually this leads to a restored working relationship and a kind of mutual respect, if not friendship. Even in the unusual cases where no reconciliation is possible, we can expect a surprising “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). It is God’s sign that even a broken relationship is not beyond the hope of God’s goodness.