SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
November 16, 2008
God is with Us despite the Conflicts within the Church
Key Verse: The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7
Euodia and Syntyche are members of every church. They represent the conflict that exists even among dedicated Christians. These two women had been partners in the gospel with Paul. They loved God. They worked hard to reach people for Christ. Their names were written in the book of life. But, alas, they were not of the same mind.
We do not know why they disagreed. Perhaps Euodia wanted to serve beans and rice when the church body gathered. Syntyche may have felt strongly that the menu should consist of chicken and potatoes. Each thought she was right. Neither would yield to the other.
If they had not been so stubborn, they could have compromised. Chicken and rice would have made a wonderful meal. But they refused to resolve their conflict and make peace with each other. They chose to argue rather than try to “be of the same mind in the Lord.”
The tension between them grieved Paul. He loved them both but he realized they needed help. So he appealed to his “loyal companion” to help them reconcile their differences. Paul knew that sometimes an unbiased third party can help two good people work through their differences and begin to work together.
In every congregation Satan finds ways to get Christians to be at odds with one another. Usually people disagree about things that have no eternal significance. One person insists the new choir robes must be green; another contends the robes should be blue. One asserts that the new carpet should be red while another adamantly calls for tan.
When such disputes arise, people quickly take sides. So churches are often divided over nothing of importance while the business of the kingdom is ignored. Satan rejoices and Christ weeps.
While conflicts discourage us we should recognize that God is with us even in the midst of our struggles within the church. God refuses to give up on us despite our weaknesses. He continues to call upon us to follow the example of Paul by focusing on Christ instead of earthly things. When we use our energy to “imitate” Christ, as Paul did, we have little time or energy left for squabbling with one another.
We may learn much from Paul. He devoted little attention to earthly things. He focused on things of the spirit – spiritual gifts and the fruit of the spirit, and knowing Christ more intimately. He urged his fellow Christians to share the good news about Jesus, to become more disciplined in prayer and the other holy habits, and to “stand firm in the Lord” in the face of persecution.
Paul invites us to “rejoice in the Lord” rather than create discord by debating about our differences. We are imperfect human beings. We will have different opinions. But by striving to imitate Christ we can leap over our differences and humbly seek harmony in our fellowship. Paul would have us stop trying to have our way about everything and to demonstrate a spirit of gentleness.
Sometimes we become too absorbed by our conflicts, to the degree that all we think about are our disputes. That is when we need to listen to Paul and “think” on things that are “worthy of praise,” things that are true, pure, just, honorable, and commendable.
When we do this we give God a chance to pour his peace into our hearts, the blessed peace that can “guard” our hearts and our minds “in Christ Jesus.” Ultimately we need that peace far more than we need to win our silly arguments with fellow Christians.
The good news is that even when we are mired in conflict and struggle, God is still Emmanuel. He is with us – because He is determined to replace our discord with his peace. Though we cannot understand God’s peace, we cannot live well without it.
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