Imagine for a moment that you are part of the first-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.