Good Congregational Practices (1)

 A group of good sisters were going to have a discussion, and the tension could be cut with a spatula.  “If the church won't provide baby-sitters or our ladies Bible study, I and several others won't be coming back,” said Susan in a firm voice.  “I didn't come here to hold crying babies.  I come for a break, not more work.  And there are others who feel this way as well.”  Helen, an older sister, then spoke up: “Susan, some of the older women are concerned about the costs.  When we were your age, we all took our turns in the nursery.  While I don't necessarily agree, some feel that your generation isn't willing to make sacrifices.  But I have an idea.  Why don't the mothers care for the nursery one week and then we'll alternate with paid sitters on the other weeks!”  “That's not good enough,” said Susan, “It's fully funded each week or we won't come.”  “I think we ought to drop this whole discussion,” said Denise.  “We shouldn't argue like this for someone will get hurt.”  The group paused for a moment, and then went on with the discussion.  Denise then spoke again, “Excuse me, my son left his lunch at home.”  She stood and excitedly exited the room.  “Maybe the whole thing is my fault,” Iola said.  We should have settled this matter earlier on.  I'll be happy to serve in the nursery, and I've got a little next egg that might help to pay for sitters when I can't make it.”  Iola was an elderly sister who lived on fixed income.  Everyone knew she would have her hands full and did probably not have enough money to pay for the sitters.  Eunice then spoke up, “There's a way to solve this problem, but it won't be by forcing a vote today.  We need to do some more talking.  We need to look for a third way—not Susan's nor Helen's but one that we can all agree with and strengthen our relationships.  It may take some time, but we can be stronger in the end.”  So all agreed to have further meetings.  In the next meeting, Eunice asked the young women why the paid child care was so important to them.  And they explained that they had busy schedules, many worked part-time to make ends meet, young children often lead to sleepless nights, so the last thing they wanted was more work at the Bible study.  The older women were surprised to see how stressful their lives were, and exhaustion, not laziness, was behind their request.  In the next meeting, Eunice asked the older women why they would have problems with paying for sitters.  Many of these sisters were widows living on fixed incomes, and they felt sitters were rather expensive.  The younger women began to see that most of these women were financially stretched.  Both groups also saw that different needs were met by their Bible study.  The younger women wanted a break while the older women wanted companionship.  They both agreed, however, that sharing struggles and praying together was beneficial, and the group should not be split up.  Then Eunice called another meeting where the group brainstormed for options on how to solve the problem.  One sister suggested that they ask the elders if a special collection could be made to help pay the expenses for sitters.  Everyone liked the idea!  The collection was made, and the Bible studies continued with all sisters more aware of each other's struggles and needs.  Now this story is fictitious, but it does illustrate several ideas about approaching conflicts that we'll examine a little further in few minutes.  In previous lessons from Philippians, we have learned steps to enhancing unity, ways to imitate Paul, and realities of our Christian race.  In the last chapter, we find a dozen secrets for strengthening congregations.  We'll look at six in this lesson and six in a subsequent lesson.      

The secret of goodwill is being complimentary and praising others (verse 1).  “Therefore, my beloved and longed for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”  When we see the word “therefore,” we need to ask what it's there for.  Most commentators link this verse with the previous section where Paul has warned the Philippian brethren about false teachers who have become enemies of the gospel.  This is his final admonition for that section.  Paul “is deeply concerned [too] that the Philippian Christians really know that he loves them.  We see that he begins and ends verse 1 with the word 'beloved'” (Barnes).  But Paul doesn't stop here.  He longs to see these brethren again.  These members are like family to Paul.  You know, when family members don't care to see each other or when they see their meeting together as a drudgery, something has gone wrong.  You know, when the local church has a family-feel about it, every gathering of the members will be like a family reunion (Ibid.).  Paul then praises these brethren by calling them his joy and crown.  Just as our grandchildren, good spouses, and children bring us joy, so Paul says that his spiritual family at Philippi brings great joy to him.  Then Paul says that these brethren are his crown.  This is not a kingly crown, but the crown of victory given at the end of a race (Martin).  Paul valued these brethren like we'd value an Olympic gold medal!  Paul wanted obedience to his command to stand firm, but notice how he placed this directive in the atmosphere of goodwill, a goodwill that is seen in his compliments and praises for these brethren.  Don’t you know that these brethren wanted to stand firmer after hearing how Paul valued them so highly?  What about us?  Do we try to express our affection and affirmation for other brethren too?  When have we last expressed a compliment or praise to another brother or sister?  Some psychologists tell us that for every negative statement we make, we must make at least 5 positive ones to keep the balance even in another person’s emotional bank account (Faulkner).  In fact, they claim that if a married couple doesn't have at least 5 positive moments for every negative one, the marriage will become unstable and may eventually break up.  A divorce can be predicted with 87% accuracy based on their negative attitudes expressed in a couple’s conversations!  So often, if we aren't appreciative of and encouraging towards our church family, then we'll become critical of and negative towards it (Ibid).  The secret of goodwill is being complimentary and praising others!  

The secret of endurance is standing firm in the Lord.  Paul wants these brethren at Philippi to be like soldiers determined not to retreat, whatever might be the forces against them (Foulkes).  They are to hold their ground in the Lord's teachings and not give in to these false teachers who want to have Moses' law and Jesus' teachings joined together.  They are not to panic, but to hold fast to those teachings that Paul had given them in the past!  Those teaching had exalted Jesus and the new covenant.  Jesus was the fulfillment of Moses’ law, and He had established and put into effect a new covenant with the shedding of His blood.  Jesus Himself once affirmed: “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rains descended, the floods came, the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).  Working together to build our lives upon Christ and standing firm in Him will help us to weather the storms and false teachers of life.  Paul wanted these brethren at Philippi to be grounded in the Lord so that they would not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the craftiness of their deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).  Paul did not want these beloved brethren to lose the fellowship that they had in Jesus.  The secret of endurance is standing firm in the Lord.  

The secret of harmony is being submissive and lettings others help you in times of conflict.  “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel.”  Someone has said, “I love the brotherhood, but it's the brethren I can't stand” (Barnes).  Notice how Paul again, even in this hard situation where he must be critical, is also affirming with regards to these sisters (Foulkes).  We have no idea about what these women were in conflict, but they had been faithful workers with Paul in the past.  Christians struggling with each other can still be in the book of life.  They were out of harmony, so their music is repelling instead of attracting (Barnes).  These sisters needed to learn to get along, and Paul did not ignore this problem.  Maybe Paul remembered how Jesus taught us that when we have some problem with another brother or sister, we are to go and talk with them and seek to be reconciled before coming to worship (Matthew 5:23-24).  Paul begs each sister by name to be submissive to the Lord.  All strife can end when we submit our wills to God's will (Hewlett).  As we both bow at the feet of Jesus, we can be reunited.  But Paul also was practical and asked another brother to intervene and help these sisters to be reconciled.  It is interesting how each of us can approach conflicts in a different way.  In our opening story (Shawchuck and Moeller), we saw that Susan was aggressive, domineering, and inflexible.  Some call this the shark approach because such people think, “I must win, and you must lose.” Of course, these folks approach an issue in a “jaws-like fashion”, and other members feel like they are being forced to conform to their positions, and anger begins to rise.  Then we saw how Helen tried to suggest a compromise; she tried to keep the group together through negotiation and bargaining.  Some compare her to a fox because such people think, “All must win a little, and all must lose a little.”  Of course, these folks are flexible, seek the common good, and try to be mediators rather than manipulators.  Other members may give in to their compromises, but often they feel only half-satisfied and half-committed to their solutions.  Then there was Denise.  We saw that her response was to retreat and avoid the conflict at all cost.  Some call this the turtle approach because such people think, “I will withdraw to avoid hurting anybody.”  Of course, these folks can be good at trying to keep peace and helping others to see if a matter is really important.  Other members, however, realize that those who withdraw really offer no real solutions to the group's problems, and they feel somewhat frustrated at the erratic behaviors of numbness or removal that often take place.  Then we saw Iola's approach of surrendering her own interests to accommodate the group's interests.  Some call this the teddy bear approach because such people think, “I'll lose so that you can win.”  These people like to keep a peaceful atmosphere, are sacrificial, and try to solve disagreements by offering a short-term and personal solution.  Of course, other members appreciate the teddy bear's willingness to take difficult situations upon themselves, but they also realize that their solutions usually aren't realistic and don't really address the group's needs (Ibid.).  Of course, from the reading in Philippians, we don't have any idea which approach Sister Euodia and Sister Syntyche took to their situations, but whatever it was, it wasn't working, and they needed someone to help them work through their difficulty.  They needed a mediator to help them towards reconciliation.  Sometimes we may need the help of another brother or sister to bring about reconciliation.  They needed a Eunice, a person who wanted to find a true solution to the problem.  We see how Eunice was patient and helped both groups to learn about each others’ needs.  We see how she used the conflict to strengthen the group and not destroy it.  We see how she believed that a third option could be found through brainstorming—not my way or your way, but our way was finally discovered.  Some call this approach to conflict that of an owl because such people think, “Let’s find a way for everyone to win.”  Paul asks the owl to help these sisters find a solution to their problem.  How wonderful it is when the shark, the fox, the turtle, the teddy bear, and the owl can all learn to live and work with each another because Christ has tamed this wild kingdom (Ibid.)!  The secret of harmony is being submissive and lettings others help you in times of conflict.  

The secret of unity is seeing others as fellow workers and partakers of eternity, rejoicing in the Lord, showing fair-mindedness to all, and remembering the Lord’s presence.  Let’s read our text again beginning in the middle of verse 3: “With Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness [or better your fair-mindedness] be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.”  We know nothing about the Clement that Paul names here, but we do see that Paul pays these sisters, Clement, and the rest of his fellow-workers a great compliment by saying that their names are written in God’s Book of Life.  Daniel 12:1 and Revelation 21:27 both tell us that God has recorded and written down the names of those who will be saved.  God will not forget His children.  Isn’t it amazing how tactful the apostle Paul was?  He saw other brethren in the church as fellow-workers.  He doesn’t talk badly about these sisters or their mediator.  In fact, he sees them all as fellow partakers of eternity together!  When we realize that we all sinners who have been saved by God’s good grace, maybe we will be less critical and less condemning of others as well.  If we are really going to spend eternity with each other, maybe we’d better start trying harder to get along with each other right now!  Isn’t it amazing that here’s a congregation that has tension within, false teachers without, their evangelist was seriously ill, their missionary was in prison, and Paul tells them, “Rejoice in the Lord!”  In fact, Paul’s “assurance [to rejoice] rings out like a [trumpet] call, and is repeated so that its message may not be misunderstood” (Martin)!  Now if the brethren at Philippi could rejoice in the Lord despite their difficulties, why can’t we in Prescott do the same?  Our sins are cleansed!  We enjoy God’s love, Christ’s strength, and the Spirit’s help!  We have a solid church family and the hope of heaven!  Why can’t we rejoice in the Lord?  Being fair-minded means that we’re willing to forsake our rights for another’s benefit (Barnes), it means that we willing to take all the angles into account, it means that we’ll be charitable towards faults and merciful towards failures (Martin).  “The Lord is at hand” could refer to Christ’s second coming.  But many commentators believe that it means the Lord is near and close to us.  How calming and encouraging it would be to the brethren in Philippi to recall once again that Christ was standing ready in His present nearness to help them (Hewlett).  Just as God was near to Israel, so Christ is close to His people and hears their cries and feels their pains (Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalms 145:18, Acts 9:4, Keener).  The secret of unity is seeing others as fellow workers and partakers of eternity, rejoicing in the Lord, showing fair-mindedness to all, and remembering the Lord’s presence.  

The secret of peace is prayer, reflection on the wholesome, and being intentionally involved.  Let’s read verses 6-9: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus.  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 be any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Someone has translated verse six: “Don’t worry about anything, but pray over everything.”  To stop worrying, start praying (Barnes).  When we pray, our appreciation for God’s past mercies will help to stimulate our trust for His future ones (Hewlett).  God’s peace as a soldier standing watch over our hearts and minds to keep us from being troubled is a striking image (Keener)!  Since Philippi was an old fortress city filled with many retired soldiers, this image would have struck home (Martin)!  Modern meditation often teaches us to turn inward, but God’s reflection encourages us to look outward on all that is wholesome.  Dwell on matters of truth, like God’s word and reliable sources, not gossip and rumors.  Focus on what’s honorable, the serious and dignified matters of life.  Thinks about what right, not what’s wrong, suspicious, or doubtful.  Dwell on what’s pure, and not the shady.  Concentrate on what’s lovely and beautiful in life.  Tune in to what has a good reputation and leave off the questionable.  Meditate on matters of excellence, virtuous things with high standards.  Let’s put our minds on things with are praiseworthy and valuable.  Let’s reflect on the wholesome to the point that such thinking begins to shape our own conduct.  In fact, Paul challenges the brethren in Philippi to be intentionally involved in living out or practicing the good things that they had seen Paul doing in his life.  We don’t just have righteous thoughts, but we display righteous actions as well.  If we’ll pray, reflect on the wholesome, and be intentionally involved in living the Christian life, then Paul assures us that the God of peace will be with us.  The secret of peace is prayer, reflection on the wholesome, and being intentionally involved.  

The secret of love is having a concern for others and taking advantage of the opportunities to serve them.  Verse 10 says, “But I rejoiced greatly that now at last your care of me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.”  This is the only letter in which Paul felt it necessary to express the depths of his joy (Harrell).  Paul is about to thank the brethren in Philippi for a gift that they had sent to him.  This is why he says that their care for him had flourished again.  In other words, their bond of love was confirmed by their generous gift (Hewlett).  Having worked on a mission field myself, I can personally testify that “care packages” from brethren are wonderful boosters!  The items were not as important as they fact that this gift showed that others were thinking about you and your family, and they wanted to show in a real way that they cared for you.  Paul too was overjoyed at this gift which was hand delivered to him by Ephaphorditus!  It showed that the brethren in Philippi were really concerned for his welfare.  That’s what love does; it finds a way to show concern.  And it is usually expressed through small but thoughtful items—a note of encouragement, a sympathy card, a phone call, some photos, a newsletter or bulletin explaining what has been going on the congregation, a toy, a book, a magazine, a meal, a brief visit.  How are we showing our concern for others here in the church?  Notice how Paul said that their care had flourished again.  That almost sounds like maybe they had not been caring.  So not to be misunderstood as being unappreciative, Paul quickly adds the last part of the verse: “though you surely did care, but you lacked the opportunity.”  Getting something to Paul in that era was probably a little harder than getting something to others in our day.  So Paul says, “I know you really cared, but you just didn’t have the opportune moment to show it.”  Not being able to find a carrier was something sort of out of their control.  But whenever these brethren did learn that Ephaphorditus was headed Paul’s way, they got on the ball and sent their gift through him.  Love takes advantage of the opportunities to serve, doesn’t it?  Someone has humorously asked, “Why don’t we jump at opportunities as quickly as we jump to conclusions?”  Another person passes on this advice, “When you have a chance to embrace an opportunity, give it a big hug.”  Are we praying that God will help us to see and to take advantage of the opportunities that He gives us each day?  Sometimes when we fail to take advantage of an opportunity of service, it will never come again.  Let’s try to encourage each other to make the most of our opportunities to serve.  The secret of love is having a concern for others and taking advantage of the opportunities to serve them.  

Paul loved the brethren in Philippi, and the brethren in Philippi greatly loved Paul!  How wonderful is this glimpse that we get of their brotherly affection!  Do we desire goodwill, endurance, harmony, unity, peace, and love in our congregation like they had?  Then let's put into practice the six secrets that we've discovered in this chapter this morning—praising each other in the Lord, standing firm in the Lord, learning to settle our conflicts in the Lord, being unified in the Lord, experiencing peace in the Lord, showing love in the Lord.  The old hymn has it right: “Jesus is all the world to us, our life, our joy, our all.  He is our strength from day to day without Him we would fall.  Beautiful life with such a Friend, beautiful life that has no end.  Eternal life, eternal joy!  He's our Friend” (Thompson)!  Let's truly be the church of Christ!