We're studying these two ladies from the fourth chapter of Philippians this week, and I'm indebted to this person who put this cartoon out on the interwebs . . . it makes me think of the consternation that must have been on the faces of Euodia and Syntyche when Paul's letter was read in the church!
I sure wouldn't have wanted to be one of them . . .
All of those verses leading up to this in chapter four -- Paul was making his case all along, wasn't he? In most of his epistles, Paul, like His Lord before him, spoke a lot about unity. When he wrote to the folks in Rome, he said:
When he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus:
So, when he wrote to the congregation in Philippi:
(Philippians 2:1-2)After laying the groundwork, he names the names of the women and also asks for the current leader of the church to "help these women." Not to ignore the problem. Not to go behind their backs and talk about them. Not to ask someone else to intercede. Paul, who was steeped in the Jewish writings from a young age, must surely have been thinking of this verse:
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak....... I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)
Why? Because they had labored with him to promote and spread the gospel. Their names were in the Book of Life, and they needed to return to the unity that they once enjoyed as servants of Christ. The folks we think of as "difficult" might just be placed in our lives for a purpose that only He knows. Perhaps to teach us patience, tact, or some other skill that is lacking in our lives. (Grin)
There is no "chance" in God's plans, nor in His providence. Folks like these who are in conflict, or who cause conflict, must be handled with just the right words, and they must be handled with just the right timing, too!
Just the right words.
Hmmmmm....... Paul did indeed choose his words carefully, don't you think?
What if he had addressed these ladies like he did the church in Galatia?
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel...... you foolish Galatians!.... (Galatians 1:6, 3:1, NIV)What if he had addressed them like our Lord, accused of healing a man by the power of Satan?
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Matthew 12:34, KJV)If he'd been writing today, Paul might have said, "OK, Euodia and Syntyche, let's get this one thing straight. Y'all need to stop this bickering -- it doesn't accomplish a thing! Do we understand each other?" (Yeah, I know, I made Paul a Southerner.)
There are a wide variety of ways that Paul could have addressed this, but we noticed earlier that he first laid a groundwork for his words to them. He reminded all who would read the letter about the principles of obedience, servant-hood, humility, and unity.
And then the timing . . . Why did he wait until so late in his letter to "call them out"? Perhaps he was well aware of how embarrassing it would be to the ladies. They would have no room to wriggle out of it. No way to retreat, nor to blame anyone else. I don't think any church leader enjoys having to single out a member of the group for exhortation. Public reprimands are a thing of the past in some congregations, and it's not because they're all saints, either! It's a difficult thing to do! In fact, Paul almost seems ready to close this letter earlier -- he starts the third chapter (our designation, not his) with the words, "Finally, my brethren...." and then goes on to say much more. It seems like he finally decides to name them, though.
Perhaps he is trying to remind the church leaders (by naming the ladies) that public sins, that harm the testimony of the congregation, are not the same as private matters that our Lord gave instructions for:
Instead, he is reminding them of the very next principle that Jesus spoke:
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17)The strife and conflict between these two would harm the testimony of the church. It would call attention to distinct personalities and people would be taking sides. Unbelievers looking on wouldn't see unity and love -- just the opposite! All of this would be in stark contrast to the way that Paul hoped the people would behave:
How embarrassing to be named in Paul's letter -- and told to do better! But I kinda think maybe that was just what was needed . . . . (Romans 12:9-18)
Join us tomorrow as we conclude our study and we'll see.