It was in a prayer group of mothers that the fight began. One of the women had suggested that we come up with a list of standards on which we could agree for our children. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all agree we wouldn’t watch R-rated movies in our homes? Then our children would know their friends had the same boundaries.” It seemed like a great idea!
Within ten minutes we became like mother bears defending our cubs.
The tension began immediately. Margaret said: “I’m surprised you mentioned R-rated movies. In our home we don’t watch PG-13 movies.”
Quietly but firmly Hannah said, “In our home we don’t watch movies.”
We each bristled a bit. I suggested, “Why don’t we try dating age? I was thinking not before sixteen.”
“Sixteen! They are babies! They have no business dating before they are ready to marry.”
“In our home,” one said evenly, “there will be no dating.”
One by one my friends left in tears, until all that was left was my dear friend Shell and me. Shell and I have promised one another unfailing love. Our daughters, Robin and Sally, became friends in kindergarten. My soul is knit to Shell’s. But I had always thought Shell was too strict, and I thought this would be a good time to tell her so. She felt I too permissive, and told me so.
Shell left in tears. I was undone. What had happened?
We had forgotten the gospel.
This happened over twenty-five years ago when I was writing The Friendships of Women, ironically. The Lord worked in our hearts so that we did humble ourselves and reconcile, and then God did a mighty work through that prayer group, so Satan did not have the victory. Looking back today, I have more insight than I did then. I see how wise my husband Steve was when I came to him in tears, saying, “Shell doesn’t realize what a precious friend she could be losing in me!”
He comforted me but he also said “I have heard you say that when there is a problem in a horizontal relationship, there is almost always a problem in your vertical relationship with God.”
He was gently pointing out of of the most important aspects of the gospel. We are so depraved, so wicked, that Christ had to die for us, yet sin blinds us. We always think it is the fault of the other person. Usually there is sin on both sides, and even if we think ours is the lesser, God calls us to do whatever we can to be at peace. I had to go, humble myself, and tell her what I had done wrong, and how I had hurt her. And she responded in humility, with the forgiveness of the gospel.
We talked about it later — how the specific issues addressed that day were Romans 13 issues — gray issues — and we shouldn’t have even tried to agree, and simply needed to give one another grace. When Paul says, “Have the same mind,” he wasn’t saying that we had to agree about everything, but that we needed to have the humility of Christ, not clinging to our “rights.” And when Shell and I had quarreled, though there was truth in what we each said, neither of us had spoken in love and we each felt attacked. Why? What causes tempers to flare?
Philippians 2 gives us insight into the root behind our outbursts. It is so helpful. I can’t wait to do the study with you — I need to be reminded of these truths constantly.
(And by the way, I need to credit Rebecca D. with the title for this week, who credits Elizabeth! That was fun — and I had fun with the mother bear pictures!)
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Before you do the study, take a stab at this: What do you think was the root that causes our tempers to flare? (You can review your answer at the end of the study.)
3. Paul begins his plea in Philippians 2:1 by listing some of the sure realities of being a child of God, of being cleansed and embraced by the Lord, of having His Spirit in us. His Spirit encourages, comforts, and can give us a unique fellowship, like we are experiencing here. Slow down and contemplate this verse, and then take just one reality and give an illustration from your life on how it has blessed you recently.
One key aspect of the gospel is “sonship.” Our identity now should not be in the success of our mothering, ministry, marriage, or anything but in being a child of God. If our identity is in something else, we are vulnerable to defeat, division, and despair. I believe, in our situation, our identity was in being good mothers, and so we became defensive and angry.
4. The Philippian church was the healthiest of the churches, yet they too had discord. What request does Paul make of them in Philippians 2:2? What does it mean to be of the same mind and to have the same love? (See Phil. 2:5) Can you disagree about an issue and still have the same mind and same love? If so, can you give an illustration?
Read Philippians 2:3 in the KJV, which Keller says is a helpful translation for this verse:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
5. What do you think “vainglory” means?
6. Where, according to John 17:22, should we find our glory, our identity, our significance?
I realize now that in that mother bear prayer group, we were finding our glory, our identity, in being good mothers. So we erupted when it was attacked. We might have been able to have a constructive conversation about these peripheral issues, but our tempers flared because our glory was in the wrong place. Yet despite all that, God came to us, loved us, humbled us, and brought us back together.
In Keller message he also talks about a “spirit of rivalry,” the one who gets his identity by always disagreeing. He wants to be noticed. Our greatest fear is being unknown, forgotten. But we are known by the One who matters most. If our identity is in Him that spirit of rivalry will fade. I keep thinking of Brennan Mannings words from a few weeks back — do we realize how much God loves us? Or will He one day say to us, “I never knew you?” Let us receive His love now and cultivate that intimacy.
7. What is Paul’s next plea according to Philippians 2:4? (This is a theme in Philippians.) How did Christ do this?
8. Think, if you can, of someone with whom you disagree or tend to disagree. Ask the Lord to help you see her side of things, why she is upset, why he has felt unheard, why she may have been hurt. (Paul is addressing believers, but this could be applied to your view of an unbeliever as well.)
9. What is the solution, according to Philippians 2:5?
10. How might you apply this to your life?
11. Listen to this sermon and share your highlights. (This is $2.50 — but next week’s is free.) LINK
12. What’s your take-a-way and why?