Quarrels And Conflict

yelling-932983-mI know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

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Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. Interesting….for sure. Makes me think. …and will probably make me study now.

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    • Well, that’s a good thing, for sure, Wally. Any time we’re prompted to study God’s word more is excellent! 😀

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sure is!

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  2. I think the verses about thinking about good and righteous things work well on their own, too. Because on the flip side, I’ve seen Christians get so consumed by politics, walking with the broken, and the degradation of Western society that it seems like they don’t really have any joy from the Lord anymore, any praise, any hope. And when you’re thinking about good things (not necessarily happy, warm fuzzy things, just about love and hope and sacrifice), you will do a lot of good for the people you’re trying to reach.

    That’s just my two cents. God bless!

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    • LLAG, I’d never say it is wrong to think of things true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute—especially if God convicts us of what we’re putting our minds to. So I think your two cents is worth a lot! 😀

      But I’ve seen the verse used often as a guide for what we should or should not read or watch on TV or at the movies—as if it was God’s rating system for pop culture and the arts. But there are some books I’ve read that changed my life, and they certainly wouldn’t qualify if held up to a Phil. 4:8 check list. I’m thinking of To Kill A Mockingbird, and Gone with the Wind, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Grapes of Wrath, and many more. These were books that made me think deeply, that helped me assess my values and form my worldview. But they weren’t lovely. They revealed racism, greed and corruption, selfishness, the reality of the sin nature, the results of power unchecked, the plight of the poor and the hopeless . . . so much.

      And as tired as it is (because people say it so often), the Bible itself clearly delves into things that would not fit with this list. So my question, or at least one of them, that led me to my current belief about this passage was, How can this verse be true in light of the rest of Scripture?

      When viewed within the context of this section of Paul’s letter, it makes perfect sense. If viewed in context of the entire Bible as a guide for what we’re do think, it doesn’t work.

      Plus, Paul didn’t write the rest of Philippians as a kind of Proverbs style collection of things to do—not in what he wrote before, in the first three chapters, and not in what he wrote after, in the final sections of chapter four. So why would he have done so here in vv 4-9? I don’t think he did.

      Becky

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  3. Hmmm, nothing too quirky in there that I can find. 😉

    Something that bothers me about people is our rush to judgment. We’re often quick to assign malevolent intent to other people’s behavior. Christians can be especially appalling with the instant condemnation. Unity requires us to perceive people more as their higher selves, and grace certainly demands that of us. That said, conflict too can serve a useful purpose. Some disagreement can be a good thing.

    LOL, actually if I encountered a group of people all blissfully wrapped in the peace of the Lord and existing perfectly harmonious with each other at all times, I’d be a bit creeped out.

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    • Hmmm, nothing too quirky in there that I can find.

      That from a woman identifying as InsanityBytes! 😆 I’m taking that as confirmation of the quirkiness! 😉

      I love your point, though, IB. If we did extend grace and mercy as opposed to insta-condemnation, our relationships would be affected in a positive direction. Add in if we rejoiced in the Lord; if we stopped the anxiety in favor of bringing requests to God, with thanksgiving—well, the package these verses presents seems like a recipe for harmony.

      But I don’t think the God-given harmony will be like the creepy kind, which, I’m guessing, seems to plaster over problems rather than acknowledging and confronting them. I guess that’s why I like the anxiety verse. It doesn’t deny problems. It gives us the right way to deal with them.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person


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