“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Philippians 4:1, NRSV)
I was purchasing gas for my car the other day at the typical “Pay-at-the-Pump” convenience store. After completing the sale, a message popped up on the screen that said, “Thank you, and have a nice day!” I verbally responded, “I hope you have a nice day, too,” not realizing that there was somebody on the other side of the gas pump, also pumping gas. They said, “I’m sorry, were you talking to me? I didn’t understand you.”
At that moment, I was facing a dilemma. Do I admit I was talking to a machine, or do I find some way to save face with a stranger who is probably wondering whether I’m a safe person to be around? I replied, “Although I’m never really convinced the gas pump means it when the message on the screen says, ‘Thank you, and have a nice day!’, my mother always taught me to respond politely to such gestures, and so I instinctively said something in return.” The person on the other side of the pump offered a nervous laugh as they continued to fill their tank. I quickly got in my car and left.
Relationships matter. If the person knew me, we probably would have carried on a conversation the whole time we were at the pump together. But because we were strangers, communication was more challenging. The apostle Paul knew the people in the congregation at Philippi, and he loved them deeply. They were generously supporting his ministry, and the warmth of his letter to them is testimony to the strength of their relationship. So it’s not surprising that Paul would “call out” a couple of those members who had a conflict in their relationship with the other. But he begins affirming his relationship with them before he offers his challenge to their behavior.
We live in a world where the means of communication are more readily available than ever before. Even gas pumps can communicate with us! But we’ve never been more communication-challenged than we are now. And the reason for this is that although we broadcast more information through the news and social media, we have much less personal interaction with those sharing the information. This limitation prevents us from understanding the greater context of the information that is shared. Without human-to-human contact, we cannot read tone and nuance into the communication. Even old fashion letter writing provided more hints about what was in the mind of the writer.
How much of the conflict we experience in our nation (and in all our relationships) is more misunderstanding than actual conflict? It’s hard to say, but the more we dialogue in real-time rather than in the static space of social media, the better we will understand one another. If you read Philippians 4:1-9 in its entirety, you will see Paul is saying the same thing.