Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Our Native American brothers have an interesting way of describing our conflicted behaviors. They talk about each man having within him two dogs fighting: one good and one bad. They say the dog that wins at the end of the day is the one you have been feeding.
That old saying draws upon an eternal truth about the human condition. We all have a quirky tendency to become the person we believe others perceive us to be. Good or bad, positive or negative, we actually tend to become more and more like we believe others perceive us to be. If you have reared children, you have seen this firsthand. If you tell your child he is “stupid” often enough, he begins to believe you and he fulfills that prophecy. If you tell her she is beautiful inside and out, she begins to believe that and carries herself accordingly. There is something very powerful about our perception of others’ perceptions of us, particularly if those others are ones whom we respect or whose opinions matter to us.
This is what makes this final word from Paul’s prescription for church conflict such an amazing insight. After walking us through some practical counsel about dealing with conflict in the church, Paul ends his advice with a final tidbit that can literally transform some of the most difficult parties to a conflict.
Paul says that, in the midst of the conflict, while we are practicing all his other counsel, we must learn to see the best in each other and to bring that out in one another. We must learn to “feed the good dog” in one another. Learning to recognize the Christ-like characteristics in others, particularly those others with whom we disagree, is a skill that can actually (over time) transform them. If we were to create a culture in our church where we acknowledge the best in everyone instead of focusing entirely and exclusively on what is wrong with everyone, we would be surprised at the change that might take place.
To change the metaphor a bit to one Paul might have used, each Christian has two parts: the Spirit of God and the flesh. The line between the two is constantly shifting back and forth, so that one day I may act primarily from the Spirit, but the next day anxieties may cause me to act primarily from the flesh. Over time, I will tend to grow one or the other. You, as a respected member of my faith community, can influence that process. You can “nurture” the Spirit in me or the flesh in me, depending on your focus in your relationship to me. Focus on Christ in me (nurture the Christ in me) and watch it grow!
Therefore, Paul’s final word of advice to the church in conflict is truly brilliant. Focus on the Christ in one another, because you’re going to need that side to show up in a big way during this season of conflict. In this way, we can actually inform what others are becoming, and they can actually inform what we are becoming.
So, here is an important question if you are dealing with conflict in your church…did you feed the dog today? If so, which one?
© Blake Coffee
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