Unity Comes from Solving Problems

Steve Viars August 2, 2008 Philippians 4:1-7

 

- Have you ever been in a public setting where your name was called out unexpectedly?...

- many of us have experienced that in one way or another...

- when I was in 8th grade, I had a social studies teacher named Mr. Edgecombe...

- this is back in the days when teachers regularly gave swats to their students who misbehaved and Mr. Edgecombe didn’t appreciate my sense of humor nearly as much as he should have so I spent a fair amount of time that year in the hallway with Mr. Edgecombe, his paddle, and whatever designated witness he could find at the time...

- then 2 weeks before the end of the school year, he announced that he was not going to be giving swats for the next 2 weeks...he was tired of how much class time that was taking...so he was just going to make a mark on a piece of paper on his desk every time a person earned a swat, and then the last day or two, he was just going to have some sort of swat marathon for everyone who had earned one in that 2 week period of time...

- I decided right then and there, that I was not going to get another swat...

- I was going to behave...I was going to watch my mouth...I might even pay attention and study a little bit...and I did – in my view, I was practically a model student...

- so the day came and Mr. Edgecombe started reading the list of people who needed to go receive their swats...

- and as he read, I found myself agreeing...yes, that guy deserved one...

- I remember what that kid did...

- as I recall, there was even a girl or two on the list...

- and for the most part I agreed with his analysis...until he called my name...

- I was stunned when I heard that...

- and I even asked him in the hallway...what did I do?...

- as I recall, the answer was something like, I just thought you needed one...

- but many of us have been in that situation where your name is called publically and you’re just shocked...

- another time that happened to me was in sports...in the 2nd semester of my sophomore year of high school I transferred to a Christian High School in my area and so that next fall, I decided to try out for the soccer team...

- I had never played soccer but I wanted to get to know the guys in the school better so I went out for the team...

- the day before our first game we were sitting on the practice field and the coach had a white board out there with all the positions and players labeled and he was going over the game plan for the next day...

- and I was in the back and I couldn’t really read his writing but one of the positions in the backfield looked like it was labeled with a name that started with V...

- and I’m looking around thinking, I didn’t even know we had another V on this team...

- and sure enough, when he got to that particular position, he started explaining what I was supposed to be doing the next day in our first game...

- and I was stunned...I’ve never played soccer before...I knew very few of the rules...

- in fact, I had never even watched an organized soccer game...and yet here my name’s being called...

- the first soccer game I ever saw was the next day...and I watching from the perspective of a player because my name had been called to be in the game...

- we probably all have situations like that...

- now picture this...let’s say that you were sitting in church...

- and a letter has come from one of the apostles, one of the designated leaders of the church...

- and he is greatly respected by the congregation and people are listening very intently to everything the letter says...

- and then the apostle talks about two people who are having trouble in the church, they are not getting along for some reason...and he calls them by name...

- imagine if you were one of the people whose name was called...

- now you might say – has that ever happened in church history?...yes, it has...

- and the way the situation was handled becomes a classic illustration of how Unity Comes from Dealing with Problems.

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to Philippians chapter 4...page 156 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- our theme this year is Seeking God’s Plan...

- in fact I’d like to encourage you to be part of our church family night tonight because we are going to be discussing the various planning initiatives and actually doing what we affectionately refer to as multi-voting...

- we pretty much decided as a congregation the “big rocks”...the overall theme for the 5 years and the major projects we’re going to undertake...

- but now we need to think about all the sand and gravel...the other 100 initiatives or so that we hope to pack in around those primary projects to be sure that we are effective as possible in these coming years together...

- this summer, we’ve been working verse by verse through the book of Philippians and talking about Seeking God’s Plan Through Joyful Unity...

- and we’re finding this book to be full of practical truth to guide the way we live every day whether we talking about our personal lives, our families, our jobs, and certainly our church...it’s amazing how much powerful and practical truth we find packed into this small letter...

- and please always keep in mind – fundamentally that is what this is...a letter...in fact a thank you letter...

- from the apostle Paul who is imprisoned in Rome because of His faith...to the church in Philippi who supported Paul as one of their missionaries...

- and because they had just sent a very generous gift to him, he was writing back to thank them and provide an update of his condition while he was imprisoned...

- now, in the course of this letter, Paul also addresses some problems that were occurring the church...remember that the gift had been delivered by a man named Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippians church, and he had undoubtedly updated on Paul on what was going on...

- and there was much for which to thank the Lord...because this was a very good church...

- but there is a big difference between a good church, and a perfect church...the latter of which does not exist...

- as soon as you try to bring two people together under the same roof, there’s going to be problems...

- in fact, if you just had one person in a church, since we’re all cursed by sin, there would be problems...

- you’ve heard of the pastor who was shipwrecked on a deserted island...and it took two years before he was rescued...

- so when they reached him, there were three huts, 2 with crosses on the top...

- so they asked for an explanation...and he said, well the first hut is my house where I live...and that made sense

- and then he said, and the next hut is my church where I pastor...

- so they said, well, OK, but what’s the third hut...he said sheepishly, well, that’s the split off my first church...

- the fact is, there will always be interpersonal problems in families, in workplaces, and even in God’s house...no question about that...

- the only question is – are they going to be handled?...and are they going to be handled well?...

- with that in mind, let’s read our passage...read Philippians 4:1-7...

- we’re talking this morning about how Unity Comes from Dealing with Problems.

- with the time we have remaining, let’s study Four principles to handling problems well.

- before we dig into the text, let’s just throw out a few Opening Salvos to provide some biblical background to all of this...

1. God wants problems to be solved in a timely manner.

- Ephesians 4:26 – Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

- Matthew 6:34 – So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

- some people do not address problems, they ignore them...they give others the slow freeze or the cold shoulder...or they hold grudges and let their unsolved problems turn into resentment and bitterness...

2. God wants problems to be solved in a balanced way.

- the quintessential example of that is...

- cf. John 8 – the woman taken in adultery...

- do you remember that story...where a group of men bring a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery before Christ and ask whether she should be stoned to death on the spot?...

- there are two clear extremes...

- on the one hand they ignore the man who was involved---he’s not even mentioned in the text...

- on the other hand they advocate the most severe form of punishment available for the woman...

- [and Jesus’ response demolishes bit both extremes – first he said to the crowd, he who is without sin cast the first stone, and then he says to the woman – go and sin no more...]

- generally people fall into one of these two extremes in their personal style of dealing with problems...and you might even want to ask your self this question...do you tend to ignore problems and fail to communicate in a biblical and timely manner with the goal if finding solutions and restoration?...

- or do you tend to overreact and smash a mosquito with a sledgehammer?...

- or talk something to death by bringing the person’s failure over and over in a repeatedly or unbalanced way?...

- there are a lot of landmines when it comes to this topic...

3. God wants every Christian to shoulder responsibility in this matter.

- it is amazing how many activities are viewed by some Christians with the tag “and yes, the pastor ought to do that”...

- that is an unbiblical view of the church, and some people who have been Christians for a long time do not always seem to understand that...

- pastors do not exist to do the work of the ministry...we exist to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry...

- Ephesians 4:11-12 – some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service...

- the question isn’t, did the pastor do that?, or, has the pastor been here...the question is, has the pastor equipped someone to do that and insured that it actually got done?...

- when it comes to the matter of handling problems... Romans 15:14 - And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

- in other words, God’s people have to be skilled at, and committed to solving problems in their families, in their friendships, and in the church...

- that’s what spiritual people do --Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

4. God wants problems to be addressed in the tightest circle possible.

- one of your questions about the verses we just read is, why did Paul address these women publicly?...

- when we compare Scripture with Scripture, the only acceptable answer is, because their brawl (or whatever it was) was already known by everybody in the church...

- the general principle in God’s Word is that you keep the circle of knowledge as tight as possible...cf. Matthew 18:15-18

- in fact, that’s another one of the potential landmines...the sin of gossip...

- Proverbs 20:19 - He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

- Proverbs 26:20 - For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.

- when there’s a problem, some people don’t have the courage and godliness to go and talk to the right person at the right time in the right way...they go talk to the wrong people at the wrong tine in the wrong way...and they make the problem significantly worse in the process...

5. Biblical problem solving can produce spiritual maturity like few other activities.

- we’re about to turn to an expository treatment of this passage in Philippians 4...but I need to point out that some folks who call themselves Christians do not, as a rule, try to solve problems this way...

- and it has stunted their spiritual growth...and it doesn’t matter how old they are chronologically...they are still infants when it comes to this matter...

- for example, we joked about the shipwrecked pastor who ended up with two churches...

- but some pastors change churches about every 5 years...

- as soon as things get a bit uncomfortable...God is calling them somewhere else...

 - and the problem with that is...it is often at that very point, that if he would stay and try to solve the problem biblically, he would mature and so would the church...

- so at the end of his career, he’s pastored 8 churches for 5 years each...

- and he’s tempted to say – I have 40 years of ministry experience...that’s really not true...what he has is 5 years of ministry experience 8 times over (and there is a huge difference in those two equations)...

- the same is true of churches – they spit pastors out about every five years...

- it happens in marriages, it happens in friendships...

- what Paul is doing in this text is hard – but many times this is the very hurdle, that if crossed, will result in a deeper walk with Christ...

- and I hope everybody here is already asking – what strategy do you typically adopt when a problem comes your way?

- now, what can we learn from Paul’s example?

I. Prepare the Person (s) Adequately.

- verse 1 is a very important piece of this puzzle...

- Paul didn’t walk into this like a bull in a china shop...

- he prepared everyone involved for what was to come...he laid a foundation for biblical communication and problem solving...so, how do you do that?

A. Speak of your relationship with them.

- v. 1 – brethren

- his brothers and sisters in Christ...

- these weren’t people he was just mad at...they weren’t people he was getting ready to cut off...

- they were part of the family...

B. Speak of your love for them.

- v. 1 – “dearly beloved and longed for”.

- do you tell people in your life that you love and appreciate them, even in the midst of solving a problem?...

- and does that foundation impact the spirit and tone in which the problem is addressed?...

- would the people who are around you during a time of confrontation conclude – he/she is upset about this, but there is no question they love me...

- I’m sure there are times when I miss that step...how about you?...

- please think about the last person you confronted...

- (and by the way, if you say, I can’t think of the last time – then that’s lack of love on the other side of the equation...)

- but would the last person you confronted say – there was no question throughout that entire conversation that that person loved me---it was evident in the words that were chosen, it was evident in the timing, it was evident in the balanced way in which the issue was discussed, it was characterized front beginning to end by grace...

C. Speak of their importance in your life.

- v. 1 – “my joy and my crown”...

- 3 John 4 - I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

- you can tell the difference when someone is confronting you when they really have your best spiritual interest in mind, or when they are just speaking out of anger because you’ve ticked them off...

- here’s the big question from this first verse – Is this the way you typically confront problems?...do you adequately prepare the person to whom you’re speaking?...

- and if not, that very well may explain why the situations don’t tend to go very well...

- now, let’s keep going...

II. Keep the Confrontation Pointed and Simple.

- it is interesting to look at what Paul does say in this text, and what he doesn’t...

- this is really handled in an economy of words...and here’s how it’s done...

A. Be specific.

- Jay Adams – How important it is to get down to brass tacks...There are real people involved.  They must be singled out and dealt with specifically.  Abstractions and generalizations solve few problems.”

- some folks really wrestle with this --- they can talk round and round the mulberry bush without ever really getting after it...

- sometimes one of the best steps you can take beforehand is to try to sit down and write out in an economy of words what the real problem actually is...

- try to be as precise and specific, and of course as biblical as possible...

- if you’ve been talking for 20 minutes and no one knows what the real problem is, it is highly unlikely that you will ever reach an appropriate solution...

B. Be positive.

- it is very important to note what Paul said at the end of verse 1...

- v. 1 – so stand fast in the Lord...

- there are a lot of different ways that could have been said...

- stop falling down...

- stop quitting so easily...

- no, he chose his words carefully and he said it as positively as possible...

C. Avoid extraneous speech.

- we said a moment ago – it is amazing how much Paul didn’t say...

- like who started it...or who was most at fault...or all sorts of unnecessary details...

- and here’s the principle...

- Proverbs 10:19 – In the multitude of words there lacks not sin: but he that refrains his lips is wise.

- you could say it this way – Paul got in and he got out...

- straight-line administration – what is the fastest way to get this solved?...

D. Be fair.

- v.2 - I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche

- he wasn’t taking sides...he wasn’t acting as if it was all one person’s fault...

- and hypothetically there might be a rare example where that is the case, but that’s not the norm...

E. Be Christ-centered.

- in both verse 1 and verse 2...we read the phrase...

- v. 1 & 2 - ...in the Lord.

- often times you listen to people argue and Jesus is nowhere to be found...

- ask people that in counseling all the time – where was Jesus is all of that?...

- was He the one suggesting that slow shoulder?...that slow freeze?...

- was He the source of that rage and exaggeration?...

- were those His threats?, His ultimatums?...

- later in this chapter you probably know that Paul is going to say --Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

- surely one of the ways that’s true is by relying on His strength and His wisdom to address and solve problems....

- now, there’s quite a bit more in this text, but we have enough on the table to begin asking important questions:

1. Do you have a personal relationship with Christ that would enable you to handle problems this way? [develop the gospel].

2. Are you committed to preserving unity and building long-term relationships with the people the Lord has placed around you (to the degree that you should – different when we’re talking about work as opposed to marriage, family, church)?

3. Are you committed to solving problems biblically (do we have some Euodia’s and Syntyche’s among us)?

4. Do your confrontations meet the characteristics we are seeing in the way Paul dealt with this situation?

- now, let’s go back to our text...

III. Use the Resources of the Church if Necessary.

- Paul brings someone else into the discussion in verse 3...

A. Sometimes an additional person needs to be brought into the equation.

- syzygos – companion, yokefellow

- there is a difference of opinion on exactly who Paul is talking about here...

- the word is agricultural in nature...it refers to oxen pulling together and a syzygos was a person who knew the importance of working together and playing on a team...

- but it was also used as a proper name...

- either way, whether it is a characteristic of a known person in the church, or if that was actually the man’s name – he would have been known by everyone else in the church, and he was probably an elder or a deacon...we don’t know all of that for sure...

- but we can say this with certainty --- Paul is publically calling on the resources of the church to help these ladies solve their problem...

- and the reason is clear...

B. The restoration of their relationship was worth the effort.

- he says – these ladies shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel...

- their names are in the book of life...

- they are fellow workers on the team...

- people and relationships are so easily discarded...even in the family of God...

- “it’s easier to start over with someone else...”...no it’s not, and even in the case where that might be true, what does that say about everything that is about to be thrown away?...

- and you can’t go back in every case...but I would challenge everyone here to place a high level of valuing on developing and preserving long term relationships...

- your spouse – even if you’ve been married before --- the person to whom you’re married---make it your goal to learn how to communicate and solve problems and build a strong relationship till death do you part...

- keep communicating even when its hard...and also be willing to be confronted without making the person pay such a price every time they try to talk to you about something...

- the overall point is – use the resources of the church if necessary (that is exactly what happened here...)...

1. Use the counseling ministry...

2. Use FCI (develop the brochure...)

3. Start making plans right now for this fall (use ABF's, use children’s ministries for your kids

IV. Look to the Benefits of Solving Problems Biblically.

- verses 4-7 are very well known, but they are seldom viewed in their context...

- handling life the way we are studying this morning is hard, but there are incredible rewards...

A. Great joy.

- hopefully we have all experienced what it is like to go through a confrontation and come out the other side enjoying renewed reconciliation...

- Psalm 133:1 - Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!

B. An opportunity to develop a reasonable spirit.

- v. 5 – Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.

- gentle – mercy or leniency toward the faults and failures of others.

- some people don’t confront others because they are afraid the person might actually ask them to grant something they have no intention of granting...

- that is the other side of the confrontation puzzle – some folks are always embroiled in one because they are so unreasonable...

C. Anxious-free living.

- v. 6 – Be anxious for nothing...

- how much anxiety surrounds the issue of unsolved problems with people...

D. Developed prayer life.

- v. 6 - ...but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.

E. The peace of God.

Philippians 4:7 - And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

- well, we didn’t call anyone’s name publicly this morning...but perhaps the Lord did that individually in your heart...He has a way of doing that...

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video