Lessons from Philippians on conflict

In teaching students this past month, I am using the book of Philippians to teach students some basic principles of handling conflicting. The metaphor we are using is to fight clean (build a person up) instead of fighting dirty (putting a person down. Students, and all of us really, shy away from conflict. Here are some tools to help you fight clean so we can have true peace.

Be patient, don’t lose your cool

The first lesson focused on remaining calm in conflict. This often goes against our nature. In teaching this principle we looked at two key aspects. First, we looked at the story of how the church started with Paul and Silas worshiping Jesus…in jail. The second aspect was Paul’s instruction on what remaining calm means to others. We conduct ourselves differently today when we are in Jesus. When we lose our cool, we lose.

Others first, don’t complain

We often hear the proverb “seek to understand before being understood.” This is critical to fighting clean in conflict. The key, according to Paul, is to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. This is how we, in Christ, can put others before ourselves, because that is what Jesus did. When we complain, we are focused on ourselves and not blessing others. Hence, we do everything without complaining or grumbling.

Focus forward, don’t get stuck in the past

My friend Joe put’s this idea best: Stick to today’s news. Piling all past issues into a current conflict damages a relationship. The students in the room flat out said it’s mean and being a jerk. Fighting clean means fighting FOR the relationship, not just addressing the issue. To help, it is best to stick with today’s news. Paul’s wisdom to forget what is behind and strive for what is ahead helps. In chapter three Paul shows he can win the “who is better game,” but that is all rubbish. Paul sees being more like Christ as the win. Especially when Jesus forgets our past, covered by what He did on the Cross. 

As a side note, but also important, we discussed treating or speaking to ourselves like we do others. We can get stuck on failures or things we did wrong, but Jesus covered it. Whether good or bad, we need to focus forward at being more like Jesus. Learn from it, then move on.

Get help, don’t always go it alone

Chapter four gives us a peek at how conflict was handled in the early church. Paul asks people to help people who were in conflict. Soon after there are three key things he teaches on: First, an attitude of gratitude will give us peace. Second, a focus on what’s good and seeing that in others gives us peace. Third, the power of being content allows us to do all things. Conflicts can start from ingratitude, assuming the worse, or lack of contentment. Gratitude, positive focus, and contentment help us to resolve the issue while also building the other person up. These powerful tools are best seen and done in community. A key way Christians love one another is by helping people walk through conflict using these tools.

The bottom line:

Conflict is a reality of life, and its absence does not mean there is peace. Students often get scared with conflict because too often they do not see it modeled well for them. The book of Philippians, among others things, gives us some tools in how to manage conflict well… to fight clean. Learning to handle conflict well with family and friends sets you up to be more successful in reaching people for Jesus. A key aspect to being a mature Christian is handling conflict in such a way that it builds the other person up, even when you’re frustrated.

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