“I’m Not Being Defensive!”

This is one of the most common statements made by people who are in the midst of being defensive. It’s like people who angrily say, “I’m not angry!”

Being defensive is a common problem, because it comes out of self-centeredness, an area in which most of us are well gifted. Yes, that was a wee bit sarcastic.

When we are defensive, it not only leads to unnecessary conflict with people, it also makes it much harder to resolve conflict with people.

As people of the gospel, the only agenda we have been given for people is that of gospel reconciliation. We will not be able to fulfill that agenda with everyone, but it remains our goal at all times.

We see this truth of Christian living clearly laid before us by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

If we are to be seriously engaged in Great Commission and Great Commandment living, then we must labor at identifying and rooting out our expressions of defensiveness. Otherwise we are operating in the world perhaps with morality, but not out of the gospel.

Gavin Ortlund helps in this difficult task, with his article “Repentance vs. Defensiveness”. Gavin begins by clarifying what defensiveness looks like.

•  A defensive heart says, “But look at what I did right!” (diversion)
•  A defensive heart says, “But look at what was done to me!” (distraction)
•  A defensive heart says, “It wasn’t that bad” (downplaying)

I will add, to Gavin’s list, that a defensive heart says, “I am not defensive, so this article doesn’t apply to me” (denial)


‘Reconciliation is not Optional’       


A major theme in Philippians is unity with one another and in mission (1:27). In chapter 4 Paul addresses two leading women in the church whose conflict threatened both of these

Philippians 4:1-3


We Don’t Know the Reason for Their Conflict

But it was serious: it is a rare step for Paul to correct people in a church by name

And it was affecting the whole church: this correction is addressed in a letter to the whole church

When members of ‘the body’ are in disharmony, the church will be weakened

The women were living in contradiction to the heart of the entire letter

1:27 tells us to live worthy of the gospel – but they were not

2:4 says don’t look out merely to your own interests – but they were


Look How Paul Approaches Reconciliation

1.  Paul approaches them with an abundance of grace (v1)

This is how God approached us in order to reconcile us to himself and it continues to be how he deals with us

We are acting hypocritically when we brush graciousness aside

The reality of the sin in these women didn’t override the reality of how Paul loved them; and the reality that Paul loved them didn’t override the need to confront their sin

Our approach to reconciliation doesn’t imitate Christ, if it is not filled with grace

2.  Paul addresses the women equally and earnestly (v2)

Paul didn’t pick sides, or even deal with the outward issue

The rightness of one or other was secondary to the wrongness of their conflict

Each had a heart condition that needed be addressed – they were holding on to an offense

Each had an attitude to change – they thought the other was unworthy of fellowship (grace)

Each had actions to take – to forgive completely and forever

Biblical reconciliation requires careful biblical self-examination

3.  Paul wants them to see their “situation” in its true context (v3)

This was a gospel issue – they were gospel recipients (“names in the book of life”)

Mission of church issue – gospel workers (“labored side by side in the gospel”)

All who are ‘in Christ’ are gospel people; reconciliation is now in our DNA (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)                  

The world needs us  not to allow anything to dilute “the ministry reconciliation”

The glory of Christ’s work in the gospel deserves that we live out “the message of reconciliation”

We are inconsistent with the gospel, if our heart is not reconciled


Paul Gives 3 Commands For Reconciliation

1.  Stand firm in the Lord (v1)

This is the same command he gave in 1:27 to “live worthy of Christ”

If they are to respond correctly, it will be because they are rooted “in the Lord”

They have to lay aside their offense, and take up Christ

They need to refocus how they see each other, and use “the Lord’s” perspective

If we don’t approach each other “in the Lord”, instead of “standing firm”, we are drifting

 2.  Agree in the Lord (v2)

This doesn’t mean we have to agree with the other person

It means we agree that what we share “in the Lord” should keep us in fellowship

We remember that we share the same standards of love and humility (2:1-4)

We recognize that we will share the same eternity that will be completely free of disharmony

3.  Help them to agree (v3)

The verb “help” indicates strong action. It is elsewhere translated ‘seize’ and ‘grasp’

Whether the “true companion” refers to a person or the church community, it lets us know that we have a role to help reconcile fellow-believers

Hopefully we can help informally through prayer and encouragement

But if this doesn’t work, then church leaders are required to step in

If we ignore infection in the body, then biblical community will fail


God has changed us, with the purpose of making us his instrument of change in others

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf – be reconciled to God”’.  2 Corinthians 5:17-20

We are a “New Creation”

God has changed us significantly, eternally and wonderfully

When we received a new nature, the change was not subtle or just along the fringes of our life. The Bible says, “all things have become new”

We have a new relationship with God

To be “in Christ” means we are connected to what He has accomplished: his death, life and perfect obedience

Our identity is now forever ‘in Christ’; everything we receive from God is connected and secure in Him

We have a new understanding

If we look at ourselves without seeing supernatural differences – we have a false perspective

How we value what we are and do, is literally turned upside down

This change is not all finalized, but it is complete

Although we are not yet perfected, in the plan and sovereignty of God it is finished

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”  Ephesians 2:6

Serving God is a matter of living out what he has already done

Examples of this are in Ephesians 6:11 “take up the whole armor of God” and Romans 13:14 “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. In these examples we are not carrying out a new work, we are joining in the work Christ has accomplished for us

God provides all we need to be fruitful

We have the Holy Spirit, who is the fullness of God, residing in us.  It is impossible to have greater help!

We have the Word of God which has an extraordinary power to work change (Hebrews 4:12)

We have the Church, a community operating by supernatural principles of support and encouragement (Ephesians 4:16)

What is the result of all this?

We are always blessed abundantly

We are always thoroughly loved

We are always in midst of God’s gracious purpose

But if we stop with God working in us, we have stopped halfway

The process of spiritual blessing and growth are not merely about ourselves

Our salvation places us in a ministry role

The “word of reconciliation” and “the ministry of reconciliation” are ours instantaneously (we see an wonderful example of this in John 4:39-42)

God immediately turns us into His representative or “ambassador”

Being called an “ambassador for Christ” presents a specific word picture

We represent someone else in what we do; God’s agenda is now our agenda

We can declare the gospel of Christ with the authority of Christ. Look again at v20; it is “as though God were pleading thru us”

This indicates the depth of God’s commitment in using us

And it tells us that if we are to represent God, we should have a whole-hearted participation as his Ambassador

What high honor we have to represent Christ in his work of making broken lives whole

Although ministry has labor to it, it brings joy and vitality into our life

God has given us the most significant and satisfying labors possible

So what are we doing?



Conflicts, hurts and offenses take place in all significant relationships.

Sometimes these hurts tear our relationships apart. This is always a grievous result – especially among believers.

God makes it clear that reconciliation is the only biblical response we have for conflict.

Recently I received a note from someone who knew God was leading them to step forward in reconciliation.

I was overjoyed to receive this note and continue to praise God for it.

In fact, I thought their note was so thoroughly saturated in a biblical perspective that I asked permission to post it here. They graciously agreed.

Please read this letter slowing in order to identify the many biblical principles that flow through it.

Dear Pastor Kyle,

It’s been quite a few years since we spoke last and for almost as long I have often thought about the way we parted company; certainly not on the best of terms.

At the time I was incensed that you accused me of having a critical heart. In my arrogance I took that as a personal attack. Regardless of however it was meant or what basis in fact it may have had, the cause of your statement was what I said to you. I know that now. I have known it for years.

Over the passing years I have often though about sending this email, but did not do so. This morning during my devotional time, I read Matthew 5:23-24, particularly “First be reconciled to your brother.”

It immediately brought this up in my heart again and so I am sending this email as a way to say I am sorry for the things I said and the inferences I made. I was wrong to do so then. I was wrong to wait this long to apologize.

As I have continued to mature in my relationship with Christ, I’ve grown in the understanding that humility may be manifest in many ways. Few ways are better than admitting when one is wrong and showing the respect and love associated with reconciliation. So I ask your forgiveness for my words and actions.

I pray for all of you often. (We) will always be in Jesus debt for calling us. We are also in debt to many at Greentree, particularly you and your father Gene, for bringing us to the point of understanding what it means to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

I wish you all love and success with your work for Christ.

 Is there someone you need to step toward in reconciliation?

Are you willing to ask God for grace in how best to do this?

We are praying that God uses these words to encourage, inspire and guide all of us to be people of reconciliation!