This week we've studied Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies of the church in Philippi, who were named in Paul's letter. It seems that contention had risen between the two women, and it was of concern to Paul. He knew just how much the conflict could have (and perhaps already had) harmed the church if allowed to fester and grow. Contention between two people can spread to the other members, and cause a lack of unity in the whole congregation.
Paul described them as "women who contended" at his side in the cause of the gospel. They were (in the past) devoted and hard working servants of the church.
As in most disagreements, it was going to require both of the women to change. In fact, Paul tells them that the solution to the problem is to "agree with each other," not just with lip service, but with sincerity -- "in the Lord" -- not to solve their disagreement in their own way, but in and through Christ Jesus.
Paul also recruits the help of others to reach out to Euodia and Syntyche and help them to reconcile.
If you knew two Christian friends who were in this situation, could you do it? How would you advise them? Encourage them?
First, Paul focuses on Christ's example of an attitude that can lead to reconciliation. He reminds the believers that they are united with Christ and therefore should share His motives. In verses five through eleven of that chapter, Paul reminds them of the sacrificial love of God -- the Creator Who became flesh, became a mere mortal man, instead of using the advantages of Who He really was. He gladly became a servant, and then humbled Himself to be hung on a cross, dying for our sins. And that now He is risen and exalted. He points Euodia and Syntyche to the example of Christ.
Secondly, Paul focuses on the "comfort from His love." The scholars tell us that "comfort" can be translated "incentive." It doesn't carry the thought of being forced, but of tenderness. God tenderly provides us with incentive to pass along the love that He shows to us. As Christians love each other, divisions will fade and unity can blossom.
Next, Paul speaks of "fellowship with the Spirit." We have the Holy Spirit's presence with us and in us each and every day. This allows us to live in unity with one another. It helps with peace between believers:
We are a diverse group, God's family. We come from varied backgrounds, educations, races, and economic situations. Such a group of totally different people can have unity, because the Holy Spirit is the adhesive that holds us together!
Lastly, Paul reminds all of the tenderness and compassion that we have received from God; and he tells all of us that we should be inspired by those gifts to treat others in the same way. When believers are tenderhearted toward each other, unity is not far behind. The rivalries and the selfishness that is embedded in our human side can separate us -- let us remember that we are members of one body, and labor for the welfare of all.
Unity in the church family is so vital to the work that God has called us to do! That is why in chapter one, Paul said:
(Philippians 1:27)Paul mentions Euodia's and Syntyche's past work, but he warns them of the danger of hindering the work of God. It takes hard work to avoid this dangerous situation -- it takes "standing firm" and "striving...as one."
Do you wonder sometimes how stories end? This is one that had me thinking. I wondered if they resolved their disagreement? Did they see unity and God's work as more important than who started their squabble? Did they swallow their pride and "make up"? Or did they get in a huff and act even worse than they did before? Did they follow Christ's example of selflessness?
The Bible doesn't speak to that. It doesn't tell us. But one of the commentaries that I read mentioned some historical evidence that might give us clues. Early in the second century, the church in Philippi wrote a letter to the church leader in what is now Turkey. His name was Polycarp, and we don't have their letter, asking about a minister who'd been arrested and taken to Rome. But we do have his answer!
Polycarp commended the congregation in Philippi, saying:
" (You) have followed the example of true love and have helped on their way,
as opportunity offered, those who were bound in chains.....I rejoice also that
your firmly rooted faith, renowned since early days, endures to the present
and produces fruit for our Lord Jesus Christ." (Polycarp)
I don't think these words could have been written about a church torn by contention and warring personalities. I think this is a church that had developed godly unity!
I wonder what will be written about us, or our church families, years from now? Will we have set an example of unity? Or will we be held up as examples of what NOT to do?