How Church Squabbles Hinder Gospel Work


Erik Raymond:

Imagine the scene with me. It’s the first century in the city of Philippi. The church is abuzz because the expected correspondence from the Apostle Paul is said to have arrived. Everyone presses into the room that they meet in for prayer, preaching and the Lord’s Table. One of the elders begins reading it and they are all encouraged that the opening words indicate the fondness of the apostle not just for the elders and deacons but also all of the church. He continues to read of Paul’s joy and longing for them. He talks about the centrality of the gospel and the necessity of humility. Everyone is encouraged and strengthened.

Then the record skips. As the letter is nearly its close we read this:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

Paul just called out two women by name and told them to agree in the Lord (literally be of the same mind). It is as if, through his letter, he puts an arm around Euodia and the other arm around Syntyche and says, “work it out”. He even calls on others to help them in this (Phil 4:3). We see something of the importance of this in how Paul describes them as fellow workers in the gospel. It is difficult to miss the impact of these words when we imagine this group of believers, pressed into a room together, fully aware of the conflict between these two respected servants.

One of the reasons why this needed to be worked out is its negative impact on the advancement of the gospel. Think about why this is important. Let’s suppose this is your church and you have two respected women not talking or at least not agreeing together. You are talking to a neighbor about the gospel. You explain to them that fact that the Bible teaches that sin has affected all of our relationships. In the first place we are separated from God. And because of this, we have a fractured relationship with others. But, God, being rich and mercy and because of his great love, has sent Jesus to live the life we could and would not live. He died for our sins and rose again on the third day. He reconciles our relationship to God and he brings reconciliation in our relationships with others. You go on to say that you gather each Sunday morning with a group of other people from the community who believe these things and do their best to practice them also. You invite them to come and hear the Bible read and preached and to just observe the way Christians treat one another.

Then, they surprise you and come! When you walk them around they notice that there are a group of people on one side of the room giving dirty looks and obviously avoiding the group of people on the other side of the room. After witnessing a few awkward exchanges your friend asks you, “What’s going on over there?” You say, “Oh, that’s just Flo and Salley. They don’t really get along.” Your friend would answer, “But, I thought you said you guys were about forgiveness and peace?” You smile awkwardly, “Yes, we are; most of the time. This is just…different.” They sigh and say, “I see.”

When we let peripheral issues rise to the place of prominence then we have displaced the gospel. Instead of embracing the humility to be of the same mind (Phil. 2:2-4) they desire to put themselves first. Instead of applying the gospel to every situation they selectively apply it how they want to. We have to see that when it comes to mission these secondary squabbles are a real problem. It is like a nail in the tire of mission; it deflates the gospel and slows down its progress.

However, most people who are being selfish don’t see it this way. They see their issue as the issue. They have a real hard time seeing the prominence of the gospel. They refuse to apply it but would rather just simmer and boil. They forget that the gospel is not just the way in but the way on. It is not just what gives us life but it must shape our life. Paul’s main point in this letter is that the Christians must conduct their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). In order to do this they must apply the gospel. When Paul calls out these two women and tells them to work it out he makes his point. Would that our churches would hear it loud and clear.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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