Philippians 4:1-3 Devotional
Philippians 4:1-3. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Reflection. With Philippians drawing to a close, Paul gets increasingly practical. So we should approach this devotional with two questions: (a) what might it mean for these two conflicted women at Philippi - Euodia and Syntyche - “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (3:2); and (b) how does this section apply to our own thinking about conflict in the church community?
Earlier in Philippians Paul touches on the theme of oneness and unity (1:27-2:4). He roots this in the exhortation to imitate Christ (2:5-11). Christians must: “stand firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (1:27); suffer as a collective (1:28-30); encourage and comfort one another with “tenderness and compassion” (2:1); “complete his joy “by being like-minded, having the same love” (2:2); abandon selfish ambition; and “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (2:4). Does this describe the local church community you belong to?
Reread the description above. Paul is not picturing some unattainable utopia. Instead, he is describing what is possible when God’s people are “of the same mind in the Lord.” And note that he doesn’t mention absolute doctrinal accord and theological agreement—as if unity were grounded simply in thinking the same things. In fact, despite repeatedly using the word “mind,” Paul describes an attitude and demands actions towards others. Paul desires transformed treatment, as as result of renewed thought.
God’s intention for the church is not a group of people who all own the same Systematic Theology - I recommend Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, by the way - but a family of believers committed to expressing their faith through concern for others in their local church. Thus he exhorts the Philippians to “help these women” (4:3). Far from the Christian community consisting of people with identical views, ranging from theology to politics, it is made up of unique and sometimes conflicting parts. This was evidently one of the reasons Paul wrote Philippians 4:1-3.
In his superb book, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes this about the church, “Living together…is one of the great and arduous tasks before Christ’s people. Nothing requires more attention and energy. It is easier to do almost anything else.” Above we were reminded of the incredibly demands God places on those who wish to belong to a Christian community (1:27-2:4). Thus, one probable reason you do not belong to a church that embodies Paul’s description is that you yourself do not seek to imitate Christ. Neither do I.
We find it so easy, in the age of consumerism, to complain about our local church community. All the while we ignore the fact that we as individuals comprise it. Every local church is made up of Christians. Recognising that Christian community is, as Eugene Peterson puts it, an arduous task requiring significant personal energy, should therefore motivate each of us to work harder at creating that sort of Christian people by becoming that sort of Christian person. There are numerous reasons meaningful Christian community is elusive—many of these begin with you.
Eugene Peterson suggests two more reasons: (a) isolating people in pursuit of peace; and (b) turning the church into an institution. I have written on the latter elsewhere. By making the church an institution, Peterson means, “people are treated not on the basis of personal relationships but in terms of impersonal functions. Goals are set that will catch the imagination of the largest numbers of people…Organisational planning and institutional goals become the criteria by which the community is defined and evaluated.” Obviously, this vision of the local church falls horribly short of Paul’s in Philippians.
But it’s the second of Peterston’s points that I want to consider. Peterson writes, “It is far easier to deal with people as problems to be solved than to have anything to do with them in community. If a person can be isolated from the family…and then be professionally counselled, advised and guided without the complications of all those other relationships, things are very much simpler.” But while this approach may be simpler, avoiding conflict as well as the messiness of reconciliation, it cannot appropriately be called community—certainly not the kind of community we are exhorted to pursue and embody in Philippians.
Avoiding meaningful and vulnerable relationships will mean we avoid both conflict and community. But note again what Paul writes, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women” (4:2-3).
Whatever the cause of this disagreement, whatever the reasons for their conflict, Paul does not suggest dealing with these people in isolation. If they are to be of the same mind then they must be helped by others. Eugene Peterson offers an excellent, explicitly Pauline definition of Christian community as, “A place where each person is taken seriously, learns to trust others, depend on others, be compassionate with others, rejoice with others.” This will not happen if solutions to problems are always sought at the level of the individual.
Unity is not avoidance. Reconciliation is more than letting the dust settle. Community demands coming together, however hard and uncomfortable. It depends on addressing our problems—always with generous grace and gentleness. As the psalmist writes, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).