Imagine for a moment that you are part of the 1st Century Philippian church. You are a first generation gospel work that was founded through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This famously included the “earthquake prison break” followed by the conversion of many people—not the least of which the jailer! The church is young, afflicted, generous, advancing, and still plagued with imperfection. And, here we sit awaiting the reading of a letter from our beloved Apostle Paul. After some prayer and a hymn, one of our elders stands up to read the letter in our gathering. Our ears are glued to his every word as we find ourselves transfixed by this content. Then we are surprised.
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)
Paul just called out two ladies—by name—and told them to basically “work it out”. I can almost see the pastor who was reading the letter pausing and looking at the women referenced as he read it. Doubtless all the other people did the same. This was intended to turn up the heat of urgency on an issue that was doubtless becoming increasingly divisive in the church.
As we read this we have one immediate question: What was the problem? We don’t get any information on the problem, we just know that there was a problem.
We are not left without any context clues, however. We have a couple of things that we could surmise.
- The dispute was serious, and more than likely a source of disharmony in the church (why else would he deal with it in this way?)
- The dispute was not a dispute of the nature of the gospel. In other words, it was not something over first-tier or level doctrines. He is not saying, “just get along for the sake of getting along.” The dispute, whatever it is, is secondary to the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
- The dispute was something that the gospel solved. After all, when rightly applied, the gospel solves every dispute.
This last observation is something I want to press on here. Paul tells them to “agree in the Lord”. The word translated “agree” is the same word that is translated “same mind” in (Phil. 2:2) and it is the “mind” that reflects the humility of Christ (Phil. 2:5). In other words, the Apostle is urging Euodia and Syntyche to sync up with the reality of the gospel and then to sync up together.
I fear that many times in the church our gospel is just too small. Instead of applying the truth of the gospel we can deny it by nursing a grudge, neglecting the pursuit of peace, or by distancing ourselves from the problem.
D.A. Carson properly observed the following:
I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel please. Basics for Believers, an exposition of Philippians, pp.12-13.
Listen, there may be big relationship problems in our churches, but I can assure you the gospel can handle it. You may have big problems, but you have a bigger gospel!
Four things strike me in conclusion:
- Remember who this is ultimately about. If God means to get glory through the reconciliation of believers then we should not avoid the process. This is selfishly dealing with selfishness. Doing so reveals a contemptible lack of love for our brothers and sisters, and disregard for the glory of God.
- Relationships are critical for mission. One of the reasons why Paul is so insistent here is the fact that the mission appears to be hindered by this squabble. If you have issues with another brother or sister you need to see that is is hindering the mission; salute the gospel flag and work it out!
- Mature people falter too. You’ll notice that these women are very dear to Paul. He indicates that they have labored side by side with him. It appears though, that they have taken their eyes off the ball. While the situation is regrettable we can be encouraged that Paul called these mature believers back to the gospel for renewal.
- Unity is precious. We see this by Paul’s example as he is writing from prison. He loves what the gospel has brought and he prizes it being demonstrated. The fact that Paul basically says, “Hey, we have issues but we have a bigger gospel; let’s work it out” should instruct us to do the same. Never let issues mount, but instead, put the gospel to work.
Learn from Paul’s priority here with these two dear female saints. We must raise high the gospel flag. Put it to the top of the flag pole. Let it be above every other earthly interest and pursuit. He basically says, ”Raise it high and salute it sisters.” Then, once we have done that, we will see the priority of the gospel and how it shapes everything else. We do indeed have a big gospel!