Conflict in the Congregation

Photo by Afif Kusuma 

When I was younger, I wondered why Jesus included “Blessed are the Peacemakers” among the Beatitudes. I could understand “poor in spirit (humble),” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and the others, but peacemakers? Then, as I grew older, I began to understand how peacemakers especially need God’s blessings and protection. When you step into the middle of a fight, both sides are likely to turn on you. I have great respect for Queen Elizabeth stepping into the middle of a dog fight between her Corgis!

I believe the church at Philippi was Paul’s favorite congregation. They supported him on his missionary journeys and while he was in prison in Rome. He loved them, and they loved him. Just think about the members there: Lydia, the first convert in Asia, the Jailer and his family, Epaphroditus the Messenger, Clement, and even Dr. Luke ministered there for a decade. There were many more members, including Euodia and Syntyche. Paul says those two women “labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (4:3).

However, there was a problem. Those two faithful women turned on each other. We’re not told exactly what happened, but it’s not hard to imagine. Strong individuals have a way of butting heads. Someone says something, and the other person hears something different. Misunderstandings are at the base of most conflicts, and when feelings are hurt, the wounds tend to fester. Now Paul asks a favor of Syzygus (Your Bible may say “Loyal Yokefellow,” which is what his name, Syzygus, means): “Yes, I ask you also, Syzygus, help these women” (4:3).

Paul is asking Syzygus to become a peacemaker. What advice would you give Syzygus? We don’t talk about the work of peacemaking, perhaps because we don’t like to admit sometimes, Christians can’t get along. My old friend Gordon Gower sent me this little ditty:

To live above
With saints we love,
That will be glory

To live below
With saints, we know,
That’s another story!

Conflict shouldn’t surprise us. Even Paul and Barnabas had such an issue that they couldn’t work with each other on the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36 – 41). This week I’d like to take on this challenging topic, but for today we need to understand: conflicts in congregations are normal. It is how we deal with them that defines our faith.

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