Mick’s Memo – The Path to Peace
Conflict seems dominant in human history. Wars mar the passage of time century after century. Human relationships between spouses, between siblings (like Cain and Abel), between neighbors (Hatfields and McCoys), between people groups (Arabs and Israelis), between races, between corporations, between political or religious ideologies, between Jesus’ followers (Euodia and Syntyche), between…I could go on, but you get the idea. With all this conflict, peace is an elusive hope, even though beauty pageant contestants have been strategizing to achieve it for so long!
The Apostle Paul addressed it with the two Jesus followers mentioned above—Euodia and Syntyche. We are told nothing about their conflict. We only know that they both “contended at my (Paul’s) side in the cause of the gospel” (Phil. 4:3) We don’t know who was right or wrong, nor does Paul seem concerned about that. Fortunately, their conflict was used by the Holy Spirit to inspire Paul’s advice to them (and us!) about finding a path to peace…
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)
Many Jesus followers have memorized these verses or portions of them and we tend to use them as mood medicine. While they are edifying in any circumstance, I think it’s important to remember the context—the loss of inner peace because of relational conflict. Paul’s advice is simple, clear and yet demands intentional choices that are often contrary to our natural bent.
He says we should pursue joy “in the Lord”. That means if we are discontent, discouraged or depressed we should seek resolution of it in the perfections of God’s person and the blessings of His grace. If we link our joy to others or they to us, we will all experienced limited and intermittent joy and the possibility of resenting the other we expected to provide it for us.
He tells us to combat anxiety through prayer—prayer that is specific, comprehensive and accompanied by thanksgiving. Thank God for the very people we may see as a source of our anxiety. Thank God for the other blessings in our life that provide us with the emotional stability to respond to conflict with grace and forgiveness.
He instructs them to focus and spend time actively meditating or reflecting on the good things around them. When he wrote this, Paul was unjustly incarcerated. He knew it worked, though I think he probably knew it was not easy. I find it challenging, even believing it to be true and having experienced the benefits it provides in the past. I find it more natural to see problems that need solving, shortcomings people may have, and offenses or injustices I see or have experienced. I think there is a bit of Eeyore in us all that makes us subscribe more to “Murphy’s Law” than Paul’s godly advice. Tragically it robs us of this elusive peace and puts a gray tint on life.
Paul then concludes this advice by urging them to follow his example by putting this advice into practice. To him this was not just theory or platitudes—these were survival techniques that he had employed and he had every confidence would work for them.
Conflict is an incendiary reality around us. We feel it in personal relationships and we see it in our polarized culture—in current the political debate, on the campus at Syracuse University and in countless other venues we could cite. As we take the next week or so to participate in “Thanksgiving”, may we truly put it in the context of seeking peace with God within, and seeking peace with others around us. Paul’s instructions are a great starting point!
Looking forward to seeing you at the Harvest Celebration Saturday, for our concluding message on “The Irresistible Church” from the book of Acts Sunday morning and for the community Thanksgiving Service at St. Patrick’s church Sunday night.