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How to handle Disputes and Resolutions biblically?

Categories: Blog

It looks like Paul was building his case for this important moment. The primary reason why Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians is to address the issues and differences between Euodia and Synteche and a possible biblical solution to it.

Some observations about Euodia and Synteche:

  • They were believers from day one of the founding of the church (Acts 16:13). Euodia and Synteche were part of the Philippian church from the beginning (Phil 4:3).
  • Along with Paul, they contented for the Gospel in the growth and expansion of the church. The Greek word for the word “contend” here is “sunathleo,” meaning striving in a public arena, like a tug of war.
  • Paul calls them “fellow workers” along with Clement (Phil 4:3).
  • The construction of the sentence seems different in Phil 4:2. Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Synteche,” the same verb is repeated and this is for emphasis, which means both are responsible for the situation.
  • Phil 4:2 says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” The lexical for the word, “same mind” is “phronein,” which is used 9 times in the book of Philippians. Paul is asking them to develop an attitude based on careful thought.

Paul asked the “true companion” to help these women and wanted the issue to be sorted out.  The issue seemed to be pending for a long time and was affecting the church.

  • It was hurting them and the church. If an individual has an issue in the church, one cannot be oblivious about it because eventually, it will affect the entire church. There is no individual or family or relationships that are without conflicts. But they need to be addressed. It is an elephant in the room.
  • It was dishonouring God in the church at Philippi and hurting the cause of Christ. Whenever there is a dispute in a family or within a church, Satan gets a foothold when it is not resolved. There is no advancement of the gospel and a lot of energy goes into trying to deal with it, which might eventually lead to division within the church.
  • It was Christians not “living worthy of the Gospel” (Phil 1:27; Phil 2:15). Paul knew through the agency of Epaphras that the church was a living witness to the gospel, which sadly was not having a good testimony now.

Therefore, Paul calls on a “genuine comrade” to help them—to be a mediator. He identifies a person who is gifted in dispute resolution and asks him to get involved. “Genuine comrade” was probably his nickname since he was known for resolving conflicts. Or he was probably a lawyer, in good standing with the government and had the authority to resolve conflicts.

Now let’s see what does Paul have to say on this subject in other parts of Scripture?

Paul tells Corinthian Christians categorically that one believer must not sue another believer (1 Cor 6:1-8). Period! Notice especially verses 1 and 6 from I Corinthians 6. There are at least 5 reasons we can see why you as a believer must not sue another believer before unbelievers.

  1. Secular judges do not have any standing at the church (1 Cor 6:4). When two Christians have a civil dispute and they go to the court, the judge or the magistrate does not have any standing in the church. They cannot make a verdict based on Scripture.
  2. Non-Christians do not share the values of Christians (1 Cor 6:4). When you go to the court taking another brother, their verdict is based on humanistic values and not on spiritual values. As a believer, you are seeking justice from a secular body.
  3. Hurts the reputation of Christ (1 Cor 6:6). Every Roman city had an Agora, an elevated place where the governor would be seated on the Bema Seat. Around it was the court, which was in the market place. The prosecutor and the defence lawyer would argue the case and it was heard by the common public in the market place. Can you imagine this happening in an open court and how it hurts the reputation of the Christ? When a husband and a wife go the court and gets non-Christian lawyers to resolve their issues, the name of Christ and the gospel is jeered and mocked at.
  4. When Christians are tried in an open court, they are witnessed by the non-believers. It is a bad testimony for Christians to be tried in front of the unbelievers.
  5. When one believer sues another believer, they defeat themselves (verses 7-8). Paul is not saying that we disrespect any sort of court or that Christians must not sue non-Christians. Nor does he say Christians are not part of any legal system. Paul himself used the legal system in Philippi, Caesarea and Rome. What Paul is saying here is about two believers going to the court to resolve conflicts.

Our disputes may be small or big. In my family we have an unwritten code of law. Before we go to bed, we must resolve our differences, and seek forgiveness from each other. What we need to remember is that anger is God-given emotion which disapproves something that is not right. But if that emotion is not dealt with appropriately and we sleep over it, it leads to rage or revenge. And rage or revenge is infested with sin.

So, having looked at all this background, when conflicts and disputes arise in relationships, how do we resolve them? What are some biblical principles to follow?

  • Resolve amicably. As Paul says, “be of same mind in the Lord” (Phil 4:3; cf. 2:5). He asks Euodia and Synteche to resolve their issues amicably. From Phil 2:1-4, we see that self-projection and self-promotion are not appropriate for gospel-centred living. Instead we are asked to look at the model of Christ. Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, as something to be fought over or to be usurped, but He was humble.
  • Choose to be a loser. Instead of seeking justice in the secular court, why not choose to be a loser (1 Cor 6:7-8)? I have a colleague who was cheated in a bad way financially. And moved by negative emotion, I encouraged him to go to the court of law to sue the other person. But he said, he wouldn’t because he felt the purpose would be defeated by taking another believer to the court. For the sake of the cause and reputation of Christ, Paul asks each of us why not be wronged instead?
  • Call for a mediator. In Phil 4:3 “true companion” is called to help and take them along to resolve the issue. There maybe one or two gifted personnel in your church or in the city, who is a mature believer that can sort out differences. When mediation takes place, there is no coercion or imposition on either one, instead it is a win-win situation for both.  1 Cor 6:5 says, “one among you wise enough” can “help.”
  • God’s people are qualified to judge. Paul is not looking for lawyers in the church to bring dispute resolution. But God’s people by virtue of being born-again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit are equipped to handle disputes. I Cor 6:3 says, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” We will be judging angels in the future. Paul’s argument is if you are destined to judge angels, why not resolve small disputes among yourselves?

Whether there is a dispute with another church member or a family member or a business partner, the issue must be resolved. Christians have problems just as non-Christians do. Sadly, churches have not provided proper answers. And Christians end up going up to courts and hire non-Christian lawyers where cases are filed with a lot of lies and anger.

As Christians, we must look for a gospel-centred settlement by looking at Jesus as our model. Call for a mediator if the issue is still not resolved. Settle your civil disputes and promote God’s honour in your relationships.

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