Dealing with a Difficult Brother or Sister – Paul’s Seven Step Solution
We have a great deal in common with our shared faith, but we are not identical in personality or outlook. There were 153 great fish in the net, and some were mighty strange fish indeed.
From time to time, we might meet up with a brother or sister who is just plain difficult to deal with.
Maybe we feel they have too much to say; maybe they have some strange ideas that make us uncomfortable. Our personalities might be fundamentally different: one of us is loud and gregarious, the other proper and reserved. One of us is bookish, intellectual and introverted; the other is emotional and extroverted. A brother or sister might have the oddest ideas about what sort of ecclesial activities are best or what sort of preaching efforts we should try.
Deep down, and we hate to admit it, they drive us crazy. Fairness compels us to suggest we consider that maybe we are that difficult brother or sister.
SHARED FAITH, INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITIES
We Christadelphians have a great deal in common with our shared faith, but we are not identical in personality or outlook. There were 153 great fish in the net, and some were mighty strange fish indeed. The Apostle Paul offers some wonderful advice on how to get along. It’s in that well-known passage in Philippians 4:8, about “whatsoever things.”¹ We all know it: whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely—things of good report, of virtue and praiseworthy—these are the things we’re to think about.
Maybe we are that difficult brother or sister.
We have probably used that passage to guide our choice of entertainment: the books we read, the movies we watch, the conversations we engage in. It’s a good screener for the sort of activity we take part in when we acknowledge the presence of our Master and friend.
But Philippians 4:8 has a context that signals its appropriateness for us in dealing with brothers and sisters. In verse 2, Paul says, “I implore Euodia, and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” We know nothing of these two sisters other than what follows in verse 3. They had labored in the gospel with Paul. Their names, along with Paul’s other collaborators, “are in the Book of Life.”
Evidently, they were fine sisters, hard workers, both included in Paul’s sweeping description of “beloved and longed-for brethren,” his “joy and crown,” his “beloved.” (4:1). Yet there was some difference of mind, some friction, that was causing stress—enough that the Apostle had heard of it in his Roman jail.
CONCLUSION OF PHILIPPIANS
So as Paul comes to the conclusion of his letter, he brings together its themes. In 1:27 he urges them to “stand fast in one spirit.” He repeats this in 4:1. In 2:2, he urges them to be “likeminded” and of “one mind,” and echoes this in 4:2.
Then in 3:1, 3 he urges them to “rejoice in the Lord.” He repeats this in 4:4. One is tempted to think that perhaps the whole letter to the Philippians was written with this closing appeal to Euodia and Syntyche in mind. If this reading is correct, then what follows in Philippians chapter 4 is not a set of disconnected, random exhortations but a seven-step solution to conflict.
SEVEN STEPS TO CONFLICT RESOLUTION
1. Other brothers and sisters were to help (4:3). They were not to take sides, nor were they to gossip, but to help.
2. Rejoice in the Lord (v. 3). In Philippians 3:3, Paul contrasts “rejoicing in the Lord” with “putting confidence in the flesh.” It might come as a surprise to hear what Paul means by “putting confidence in the flesh.” He doesn’t mean money, education, physical strength or any of the things that might first spring to mind. Rather, he points to himself as one who had put confidence in the flesh, in having all the outward religious bona fides that won men’s approval.
He had confidence in the flesh, as he details in Philippians 3:3-6. But now, how things have changed! He rejoices in the Lord, desiring only to “know him, and the power of his resurrection.” (v. 10). Perhaps there was some excess of self confidence in Euodia and Syntyche— and perhaps there is in us. If we could put it aside “rejoicing in the Lord” and becoming “conformed to his death” then our disagreements would seem trifling matters relative to the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3:8).
3. Be gentle (v. 5a). It is worthwhile to consider the usage of the same word elsewhere in the New Testament, notably Titus 3:1-3: Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.
Gentleness rules out conflict.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. Gentleness rules out conflict. Strive for a reputation as the gentlest of all people!
4. Recognize that “The Lord is at hand” (v. 5b). At the manifestation of our Lord, what rejoicing there will be, and how quickly our insignificant and petty conflicts will disappear. But he is even now “at hand.” Our Lord walks among the seven candlesticks. Could we be fighting with each other in his presence? Like Elisha’s servant, we need to have our eyes open to see the presence of the LORD. If “The LORD is at hand,” shall we be in conflict?
5. “Be anxious for nothing” (v. 6a). Here, Paul is not advocating a “don’t worry, be happy” indifference. Indeed, he uses the same word “anxious” in 2:20 to praise Timothy for his concern for the ecclesia! He uses the noun form of the same word in 2 Corinthians 11:28, of his own experience, regarding the “care of all the ecclesias” that was upon him. But we can worry about things that don’t matter. And if we find ourselves fretting over whether things are being done right, the remedy is to cast our burden upon the Lord. So, Paul offers his sixth solution to quarrels:
6. “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (v. 6b). It’s as if Paul is writing: “Euodia: put it in God’s hands if you’ve got worries. And Syntyche: don’t forget to be thankful for dear sister Euodia!” The result will be that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (v. 7). What an amazing prospect! And, oh, how much better than to be in conflict.
7. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things (v.8). This sounds easy, doesn’t it? But our natural inclination is to focus on other things, things less praiseworthy. Maybe we do this to feel better about ourselves! “Well, at least I’m not… at least I don’t… and I would NEVER….”
In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul writes of people “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves,” concluding this mindset is lacking in true understanding.
WILL OUR LORD REMEMBER US FOR GOOD?
Like Nehemiah, we hope our Lord will remember us for good (Neh 13:31). If we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, let us remember our brothers and sisters for good, focusing on their strengths and virtues. So then, the next time we find ourselves feeling some discord with a brother or sister, let’s try to think of Paul’s seven-step solution.
- Get help;
- “Rejoice in the Lord”;
- “Be gentle”;
- Remember “the Lord is at hand;”
- Don’t worry;
- Pray, with supplication and thanksgiving; and,
- Think on praiseworthy things.
It’s hard to be in conflict with someone we admire.
William Link, Jr.,
1 All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise noted.