Phil. 4:1   Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Phil. 4:2   I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Relationships in the church can be the source of great joy

Relationships in the church can be the source of much pain

Relationships in the church can require much help

Relationships in the church can be source of great joy

Phil. 4:1   Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

What stands out in verse 1 is the layering of words of affection with which Paul addresses the Philippians. 

  • ἀδελφοί μου “My brothers”. We are brought into family relationship through Christ.

  • ἀγαπητοὶ καὶ ἐπιπόθητοι, "Beloved and longed for”. Paul’s affection for them.

  • χαρὰ καὶ στέφανός μου, “my crown and joy”. What the Philippians have meant to him.

And then, after admonishing them to again stand firm in the Lord, he closes his heartfelt admonishment by again tenderly naming them his beloved. We have seen throughout this entire letter the joy that this church has brought him and the love that he says is fitting and proper that he has for them. 

Relationships in the church can be source of much pain

Here we have Paul mentioning by name two women in the church who are not experiencing joy from their relationship with one another, but are actually experiencing quite a bit of conflict that is disturbing the church to the point at which, again, Paul has to call these women out by name. It’s important to note a few things about these women. 

  1. They are in fact actual Christians. Paul says that their names are written in the book of life. We can so easily slander those with whom we are in disagreement - they are not really Christian. They can’t be - for how could they do that or act like that or treat me like that. Paul’s like, nope - true Christians, genuine sisters in the Lord, can be a source of pain to one another and a disturbance in the church.

  2. They are mature, ministering Christians. Paul’s describes these women as having “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together” - calling them his “co-workers” like Clement and the rest. They are not simply members of the Philippian church. It seems likely that they were at some point part of a ministry team with Paul and Clement (who some traditions say became the second bishop of Rome after Peter). Paul describes their work in this way, “they have laboured side by side with me” Sunathleō – contend, is used twice in Philippians; in 1:27 and in 4:3. It means: to contend on the side of someone; to cooperate vigorously with a person; or, to make every effort in the cause of, or support of something. In other words, it is “to work with vigorous activity.” Specifically they were contending with Paul and Clement and the others, “in the gospel” - a phrase which Paul uses often as shorthand for devoted gospel ministry (Rom 1:9: For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, 2 Col 8:18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel, 2 Col 10:14: For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.)

    Now, Paul’s descriptions of the ministry of these women is so exceptional that some have positioned this passage as a counter against passages that seem to limit or restrict formal ministry roles to men, such as the role of pastor or elder. Some even think that these women might be the pastors of the Philippian church! That seems to read in too much into the very little data we have in this passage, against some of the more direct teaching passages of the New Testament. However, I do think we should give some weight to the fact that these women are named as important and substantial co-workers to Paul; that they are named in this letter, and thus well-known in the church; and that they are influential enough in the church ministry that their division and disagreement is important enough for Paul to publicly address. Chrystostom, the ancient Greek church Father referred to them as seeming to him to be the chief women in the church. Whatever our conviction are regarding the roles of elders and pastors, we cannot discount the fact that Paul saw women as his co-workers, labouring alongside of him in the gospel. This is why I have a hard time answering the question of whether I believe scripture to all for women in ministry. I read Paul as restricting the office of elder to men, all the while naturally accepting women on his team as co-workers striving with him in gospel ministry. So if you ask does the Bible allow for or restrict women in ministry, I’ll answer, “Yes.”

    However, that is all secondary speculation to this text. Of primary concern to us here is this - that it is not just Christians in the church that can be the source of much pain, but even mature, ministering leaders in the church can disagree and fight, and cause pain through their disagreement. And its not just these women serving as an example - the apostle Peter himself caused pain to the gentile believers when he ceased eating with them when certain men came down from Jerusalem. At that time the apostle Paul saw how that was impacting the Gentiles in the church and he opposed Peter to his face, for his conduct was not in line with the gospel, which tore down the dividing wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. I often tell new members, if Peter screwed up like that, there’s a good probability that I will hurt you, I will disappoint you at some time.

    And so we see here in these few verses, that our relationships in the church body can be a source or great joy and love, and yet also pain.

  3. Finally, before moving on, its’ probably also helpful to note quickly that these women are not false teachers. Paul has addressed false teachers in chapter three with very harsh words, but here his words are gentle. He doesn’t want to see these women rebuked, he wants to see them reconciled. He wants them to share in the same joy and love working with one another as he felt woking with them.

Relationships in the church can require much help

  1. Paul addresses the issue directly: Naming names. He doesn’t ignore the conflict in the room, or sweep it under the rug. It seems that their conflict was publicly known, so he courageously addresses it. This is compassion, even thought it could have causes embarrassment.

  2. Paul addresses the issue fairly: He directs his exhortation to each individually. The Greek is vary balanced: I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche. He doesn’t take sides. There is also something each one can do to work out their confilct. In conflict, don’t fixate on what the other could do, have you done all you can do? Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

  3. Paul addresses the issue communally: Paul recognizes that these two women may need more help from the community to work out their differences. 3 “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women” Now, we don’t know who this “true companion” is. Some think it is the person Paul delivered the letter through (Timothy or Epahroditus), or a leader in the church (Dr. Luke or Clement). Others think it might be one of the women’s husband (I’m not sure why). Others think the word we translated “companion” is actually a person’s name. And still others believe that Paul is speaking directly to every single person in the church, appealing to them each to do what they can do to help these women. I don’t think we’ll have an answer. However, in any case, Paul is appealing to someone in the church body, if not everyone in the church body, to help these women come to reconciliation.

What does this look like?: 

1Cor. 6:1   When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Matt. 18:15   “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

  1. Paul addresses the issue spiritually: Notice that he doesn’t encourage the women to compromise. Nor does he encourage them to take an anger management program. Or to work out their negotiation tactics. Or to take a time-out and do some yoga, or focus on me-time. Or any other conflict resolution strategies. Although those are all good and sometimes useful. But Paul’s appeal to them goes deeper into the heart of what is causing the division among them - they are not each exemplifying the mind of Christ.

    Here Paul uses the exact same language that he used in chapter two: Phil. 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

    There are a bunch of conflict management techniques that you can learn, but the exhortation is actually much simpler - put on the mind of Christ.

James 4:1   What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James then gives us a path forward. 

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

When we see our own hearts exposed before Jesus, we understand the grace offered to us, and then we begin to see that those in the church we are in conflict with are on their own path of working out their heart issues with Jesus. That is the pathway to grace, understanding and reconciliation.

“There was once an old stone monastery tucked away in the middle of a picturesque forest. For many years people would make the significant detour required to seek out this monastery. The peaceful spirit of the place was healing for the soul.

In recent years however fewer and fewer people were making their way to the monastery. The monks had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited.

The Abbot of the monastery was distressed by what was happening, and poured out his heart to his good friend Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a wise old Jewish rabbi. Having heard the Abbot’s tale of woe he asked if he could offer a suggestion. “Please do” responded the Abbot. “Anything you can offer.”

Jeremiah said that he had received a vision, an important vision, and the vision was this: the messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was flabbergasted. One among his own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared his exciting news with his fellow monks.

The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah?

From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Joseph and Ivan started talking again, neither wanting to be guilty of slighting the Messiah. Pierre and Naibu left behind their frosty anger and sought out each other’s forgiveness. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given.

As one traveler, then another, found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place. People once again took the journey to the monastery and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them.