Everybody does it. I mean, everybody. And yet, I don’t know of anyone that likes it. Yet, still everyone does it. Everyone fights. Spouses fight. Siblings fight. Co-workers fight. Politicians fight. Christians fight. And now you have Facebook so you can fight random strangers all over the world. And get this. Most of these fights never need to happen. Yet people still do them. And all that fighting sucks joy and peace out of people’s lives. It brings hurts and wounds, some that last years. At its worst, it brings on death and destruction, not simply to individuals but to nations even.
So why do people do it? Why do people fight? More importantly, how does it stop? How do you discover a way to relationships that have greater peace and harmony and even joy? In these words, from Paul’s public letter to Christians in Philippi, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
How does fighting stop? How does peace come? God tells you. Peace only happens without when you have peace within. And peace within only begins to happen when you discover the ultimate place where your worth can really be found.
And that’s the problem to which God points to. People fight because, in the end. they are fighting for worth in all the wrong places.
Right at the beginning of what we just read, you get the idea. Things aren’t going so peacefully in Philippi. People are fighting over something. And in Paul ‘s words, God is urging them passionately, urgently to get on the same page. But here’s the funny thing. God doesn’t take sides. God doesn’t tell Paul to say to one side or the other. “Hey, you people are on the wrong page. Get with the program.”
Instead God says, whatever your disagreement is, only when you change these two things will it get resolved. And what are those two things? Stop competing and stop trying to look good. And in those two things, God is pointing to the two core issues that lie behind almost every interpersonal conflict you’ll find.
Competition might make sense between companies, but it makes no sense in relationships. Yet people end up doing it all the time. In marriages or any intimate relationship, couples compete over who gives the most or puts up with the most, who is the most loving, the most supportive. The list goes on. In churches, people get wrapped up in arguing about who is the most devout or the humblest, or who does the most work or simply gets this whole Jesus thing most right.
And do you know why that doesn’t work? Jesus gave you the reason in the sermon on the mount. He asked this question. “Why are you judging the speck in your neighbor’s eye, when you have a log in your own?” What did Jesus mean?
Jesus was saying we always think we’re doing better than we really are. And we also think that others are doing worse. You see. When you’re competing in relationships, that becomes a huge problem. You’re grading your own paper, and giving yourself an A. And then you’re going around and giving your partner or friend or whoever, a D. And in both cases, you’re totally wrong.
Years ago, I heard the British preacher, Nicky Gumble, show how this rigged game works. On some mornings, he shared how he would bike into work, using the London bike lanes provided for that purpose. And every time as some driver steered into the bike lane, he automatically thought. “What a jerk. That person has no respect for others.” But here’s the twist. Some days Nicky took his car. And when he ran into a traffic problem, do you know what he did? He steered into the bike lane. But do you know what he said to himself. “I’m doing the Lord’s work. I can’t be late to this meeting. It’s ok for me.”
You don’t compete in relationships because in those places, you can never ever figure out who won. All you do is insure a situation where both folks lose. And more than that, relationships don’t need competition. They need cooperation. That’s how they work. Think about it like a symphony. It creates amazing music with this huge variety of instruments, even with different folks playing different notes at the same time. And all this difference creates this amazing unity because they are working together. But what if the flute player said, “I’m going to blow this orchestra off. I’m going to get a mike, stand up on my chair and go crazy with a solo.” Would that work?
So, why do people compete in places where competition makes no sense, where all it leads to is conflict and hurt feelings and pain? They do it because of the second thing to which God points to that causes conflict, empty glory.
The translators here render that word conceit, but the word doesn’t mean that. It literally means, vain glory or empty glory. And in that word, God is pointing you to a problem that lies at the heart of almost every conflict, people’s hungering for empty glory.
Now before you can understand what that means, you need to get what glory means. And let’s be clear, glory can be a good thing. For example, when a child does something really well, what do they do? They’ll say. “Mommy, daddy look at me. Look at what I did.” And when Mom and Dad respond. “Wow, what an awesome job” do you know what they are doing. They are shining some glory on that child. Glory is what you get when you win a medal in the Olympics or score a great performance review at work. It’s getting recognized for doing something good.
So, what creates empty glory? Empty glory happens when it becomes mostly about the glory, and not so much about the good. So, you’re in an argument, and you realize painfully that maybe the other person is right. But do you acknowledge that? Well, if you did that, you’d look bad. You’d have to admit you were wrong. You’d lose the glory. So, you stick to your guns. And in all that mess, the truth and the solution get lost. Why? Nobody wants to look bad. Nobody wants to lose face. Nobody wants to be in the wrong. No-one says that of course. But that’s what is going on nonetheless.
And this whole empty glory doesn’t simply affect you in conflicts. It affects you in every area of life. Why? When you become so focused on looking good, you give tremendous power to other people’s opinions or simply what you think those opinions might be. That giving over of power cripples your life. And it cripples your relationships too. It blocks the intimacy that every relationship requires. Why? You fear exposure. So, you hide behind looking good, behind empty glory.
And why do you do that? It’s because somewhere along the way, you got this very twisted idea. You got the idea that your worth depended on that, on looking good, on being good, on getting that glory. And because God knows that, he leads Paul to point you to the truth that shows how much a lie that idea is. God tells you. Look at Jesus.
First, look at Jesus because Jesus didn’t care about the glory. Jesus died a criminal. He endured not only a brutal death, but the most shameful death possible for a religious Jew, naked, bleeding, nailed to a tree. But more that that, God is pointing you to why Jesus died. In Jesus, God died to bring you home, and that had death had nothing to do with your goodness. In fact, in Jesus, God is dying to restore a relationship with the very people killing him. God saw everything about you, the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the ugliness you hide so well. And seeing all that, God still joyfully gave up everything to make peace with you. Why did God do that. Because God loves you. Because your very existence brings joy and delights to God’s heart, so much so that wants to have you in his presence forever. And when you know that, when you really know that, you know your worth. And you don’t have to play the empty glory game. You know the real glory, the God who so adored you that he gave up everything for you.
And when you know that you can lose an argument. You can lose face. You can admit your faults and missteps. You can even look bad if that’s what it takes to make peace. Why? You have a peace within, a peace that comes from knowing how infinitely worthy you already are, and what can be more glorious than that?