Last week, I attended a virtual conference where we learned about conflict and various ways we could work through or within that conflict to transform and grow everyone involved. It was a wonderful couple of days of teaching, discussion, and role play. In today’s devotional, I’d like to share with you one small part of what we discussed because it really brought home to me how Jesus himself approaches his relationship with all of us. I hope you’ll find it as fascinating and helpful as I have.


Almighty, eternal, and life-giving God, be our wisdom and guide today. Lead us with your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Philippians 2:1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

“Waymaker” — Michael W. Smith, Vanessa Campagna, & Madelyn Berry (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)

You are here, moving in our midst
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, working in this place
I worship You, I worship You

You are Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper
Light in the darkness, my God
That is who You are

You are here, touching every heart
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, healing every heart
I worship You, I worship You

You are here, turning lives around
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, mending every heart
I worship You, I worship You

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working
You never stop, You never stop working


Some call it the “Drama Triangle.” Others, the “Triangle of the Victim.” When I first heard about it this past week, it was simply described as “Karpman’s Triangle” after the psychologist, Stephen Karpman, who first popularized the tool back in the 1960s as a way to help us understand the roles we tend to play when we’re hurt, tense, or otherwise in conflict with someone else. He had observed that, when somebody is at odds with another person, they’ll often try to bring a third person into the conflict as a way of sharing and shifting the tension, thus forming a triangle of relationships.

Karpman went on to note that each person in the triangle tends to play a particular role, usually without having a clue they’re doing so, and it’s usually not healthy. First, we have the persecutor who in some way injures the victim. This causes the victim to reach out to someone he or she hopes will be a rescuer. That rescuer then swoops in and saves the day either by simply taking the victim’s side or by confronting the persecutor herself. The relationship between victim and rescuer quickly becomes one of co-dependence.

Let me give you an everyday example. Over the past few months, my daughter has done a lot of online learning. Her school uses Zoom, so she can ask her teachers questions, but sometimes a math problem (“the persecutor”) would arise that would force her (“the victim”) to reach out to either Sara or me (“the rescuers”). You can probably see where this is going. If I simply swooped in and solved the problem for her, I’d have done her a disservice. Sure, the conflict would be dissolved, but Emma wouldn’t have learned anything. But, if I actually taught Emma how to do the math, then she would grow as a mathematician and the conflict itself would be a learning experience. In that case, she would cease to be a victim.

We could apply Karpman’s triangle in a number of ways today, but with Lent coming up, I can’t help to think that what we have here is a fascinatingly helpful illustration of sin and salvation. In Philippians 2:12-13, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are supposed to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” What does this mean? To put it in the language of the conflict triangle: sin is our persecutor, we are the victims, and Jesus is our rescuer. But, how does Jesus rescue us? Sometimes, I think, we want him just to swoop in and solve the problem for us. “Wash us clean, O Lord!” But what happens then? Where does Paul’s “work out your own salvation” come into play? Stephen Karpman argued that the role of the rescuer in the conflict triangle should look a lot more like that of a teacher — or even, we might say, a shepherd —who guides us and helps us learn and grow. In this way, the victims are actually saved from their oppression instead of simply being shielded from it (until the next time, at least!).

The Apostle Paul would seem to have the same vision of salvation in mind. Jesus is not some simple rescuer who just swoops in, only to leave us in the same helpless state we were in before. Sure, we need forgiveness through and through, but salvation doesn’t stop there. In Matthew 12, he tells a strange parable about a clean house and an unclean spirit: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Apparently, the house needed more than just a good cleaning. It need to be filled with a different kind of spirit altogether. Today, we call that the Holy Spirit, and we’re told in John 14:26 that this Spirit will not only abide in us but will also teach and remind us of everything that Jesus taught. In other words, the Holy Spirit is our shepherd and guide, and what the Spirit does is empower us to do the will and work of God, just as Paul says. This is what it means to work out our salvation. It means to become truly holy people through the shepherding power of the Holy Spirit.

So, as we enter into the season of Lent this next week, let’s remember this lesson of the conflict triangle and not forget that Jesus is way more than our rescuer. He is our guide and our empowerer, who wants us to and even helps us to learn and grow so that we, too, can do the work of God.

Closing Prayer

Holy God, thank you for not simply rescuing us but for actually working in us and with us to help us become the kind of people who love to do your work and your will.  Amen.