As we continue our exploration of the baffling peace of God, let's talk about peace in our relationships with others...
The anxiety that results from relational strife is just awful. And we know, 'cause we’ve all, in some way or another, been snubbed, lied to, accused...slighted, betrayed, misjudged, neglected or used. And (exhale)...we’ve also committed our share of similar offenses to others we wished we had loved instead. Both the wounds we bear and the wounds we inflict can keep us up at night - tossing and turning us out of peace.
Think about what causes you anxiety in relationships. If you’re like me, it usually has to do with the wrongs that have occurred within the relationship or in past relationships. The anxiety stirs over things I feel shame over...and things I fear might happen again. What if they lie to me like so-in-so did (fear)...or I'm such a bad friend, I'm sure I'll carelessly slight them again like I did that one time when...(shame)? We already learned that shame and fear often hide behind anxiety...now I will propose that unaddressed shame and fears inevitably fester into harmful bitterness.
What do you do when you feel afraid or ashamed? Usually the anxiety rises and people react in one of two ways:
"Flighters" usually barricade their hearts with self-protective passive walls. Silent treatments. Angry defensive self-talk. Avoidance.
While "Fighters", on the other hand, go into offensive mode, hurling self-protective angry cannons. Defensive speeches. And confrontational monologues.
Both "flighters" and "fighters" cultivate bitterness in their hearts through these strategies in an attempt to protect their own security. The irony, however, is that these strategies only manage to do the exact opposite. Bitterness does not protect us, instead it makes us vulnerable...
Ephesians 4:27 calls harbored bitterness a “foothold” - or in other words, an opportunity for the enemy of our souls to take further advantage in our lives. Let’s zoom in and unpack this word for a minute...
A foothold, also known as a bridgehead, is a military term to describe the area near the end of a bridge (or any other area) that is controlled by an army. From the foothold, the army can strategize to move forward to attack. Once the enemy seizes a foothold in a battle they seize the advantage.
Can you see it? You’re spying from a far with your binoculars. You see the enemy advancing. They found a way into the city gates, they have set up camp (foothold) and are now plotting to steal, kill and destroy the entire village. Your first reaction is to sound the troops, to get the enemy off the ground before they can do any more harm. But is that the same way you respond when you spy out resentments, unforgiveness and other varieties of unresolved anger in your own heart?
No fight is against just flesh and blood. Our biggest enemy is an unseen one. When we harbor bitterness, we allow his forces to camp at the bridge of our hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds belong to Christ - we were bought by His blood, freed from fear and shame! We forget our freedom when we withhold applying the same blood of Christ to our enemies. When we harbor bitterness - our biggest enemy is allowed an inch. When we give him an inch...from there he’ll scheme to burn as many bridges in and through us as he’s allowed...yes, he’ll take a mile. Indeed, this is how the enemy manages to break down individuals as he breaks up families, friendships and churches. It’s arguably Satan's most common strategy to hurt God and God’s church.
No wonder the author “urges” unity. It is an urgent matter. So holy-alarmed, "fighters" and "flighters" take heed. Now when tension in a relationship threatens our security, may we lay down our self-protective-self-sabotaging defenses and pursue the protection of God's peace - the peace that "guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). May we give no stance to the enemy by harboring bitterness. Instead we stand firm in the Lord by understanding the peace of God and sharing it by practicing His peace in our relationships. But how exactly...ya know, practically what does this look like?
I see four practical principles present here in Philippians 4:2-5. While these are by no means comprehensive, they are a great place to start…let's look at them one at a time:
1. Seek Mediation if Needed
2. Find Common Ground
3. Find Healing (part 1 and part 2)
4. Find Your Gentleness
Grace & Peace,