A Community Affair
Main Point: Problems and disagreements between individuals in the church involve the whole body, even affecting our joy and testimony before the world.
1. Personal Disagreements, v.2
2. Involving the whole body, v.3
3. What's at stake?
a. our joy in the Lord, v.4
b. our testimony before the world, v.5
The Salem Witch Trials lasted from February 1692-May 1693. This was 15 plus months of hysteria and wild allegations where around 200 people were accused of witchcraft, 30 were found guilty and 19 people, 14 women and 5 men, were executed. No doubt most of us have heard of these witch trials before and maybe even some of the explanations for what was going on, but did you know that at the center of it all were two families that had been feuding for 20 years?
It all started in 1672 when the Putnam family, made up of traditional, conservative Puritan farmers, had their field flooded by the Porter family, made up of more liberal, and wealthy, entrepreneurs. There were constant disputes between the two families, and people in Salem chose sides. The Putnam’s and their allies were in support of their very conservative town pastor, Rev. Samuel Parris; the Porter’s and their side actually voted to cut his salary at one point.
The first young women to show signs of being affected by witchcraft in Salem was the Reverend’s daughter, her cousin, and their friend, Ann Putnam Jr. And everything snowballed from there with the vast majority of those making accusations being on the Putnam side, and the Porter’s side, of course, being the one’s heavily accused.
No matter what it was that was actually happening with these so-called “bewitched” girls, it is clear that bitterness, rivalry, and feuding was a major factor in this tragedy that cost so many lives. And instead of this being an isolated incident, it is really a cautionary tale of exactly where unchecked disagreements can go in a community. That is why we have this inspired passage in Philippians where Paul gets right at a very specific issue happening within the church at Philippi. He can’t ignore it, he can’t just hope they can read between the lines of this letter, but instead he faces it head on. Paul knows, and what I hope we will see this morning, is that,
Problems and disagreements between individuals in the church involve the whole body, even affecting our joy and testimony before the world.
1. Personal disagreements, v.2
Throughout this letter, Paul has focused a lot on the topic of unity. If you remember what was happening in Philippi, the Christians there were coming under increased persecution from the world around them. Paul, their friend and mentor, had been imprisoned and it seems that even some of them had been arrested as well. This led to some feelings of worry, doubt, anxiety, fear, self-protection and disunity within the church and Paul repeatedly reminded them that they are all in this together. They are a family, a body, a unified whole and they need to go forward together as one, serving one another, looking out for and encouraging one another in Christ. And now he zooms into a very specific instance of disunity within the church, calling these two women out by name.
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a moment, if you can imagine this with me. Epaphroditus returns to them, they are all overjoyed at seeing him and he has a letter from Paul! It probably would have been the Elders of the church that would have read this letter from him out loud to the gathered congregation. Lots to take in, hearing this all for the first time, then BOOM, Euodia and Syntyche get called out. Wow! Is this because Paul is insensitive? Didn’t he know they this could hurt some feelings? Yes, I am sure he did and he knew they would read this letter out loud and this would be hard to hear. But he loves these women, and he loves this church too much to let this issue slide. These women were those who labored with Paul for the work of the Gospel, they were active members of the congregation, they were close with Paul and the rest of the leadership and workers of the church at Philippi. These aren’t busybodies, these aren’t habitual problem childs, these are people you would not expect to cause an issue because they are walking with the Lord, they are working for him alongside Paul himself. And Paul’s love and tender heart for them is evident by the way in which he addresses this issue. Notice how he addresses both women and entreats each of them, literally this word means to earnestly plead with them in a kind manner. He is saying, “please Euodia, I beg you, please Syntyche, I beg you…” This is not a heavy handed reprimanded but a loving entreaty for unity.
We don’t know exactly what was happening, just that they need to agree, therefore what is happening is a disagreement of some sort. It is safe to say this is not a major doctrinal issue or else Paul would have addressed that head on with the truth. And yet, there is a big enough problem between them that Paul needs to potentially make everyone uncomfortable by calling them out.
- This could be a secondary doctrinal issue, as in they are fighting over a theological position that is not central to the faith, such as eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul had to address that a lot in different churches. It is important but it is not a gospel issue so it doesn’t need the same type of addressing that a central gospel position would.
- Or this could be a disagreement over how something should be done in the church. That can happen so easily, right? Differences of opinion about how this should or shouldn’t be done can divide people.
- They could just plain not get a long because of their personality differences or similarities. They were obviously both very gifted and strong women so perhaps they just bumped heads on a lot of stuff.
- Or maybe like in the Salem Witch Trials, one of their families was wealthier and this led to jealousy and rivalry.
We just don’t know, and I think, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this was intentional. We are meant to fill in the blank with our own possibilities, our own situation where we can relate. If it was laid out for us it would be so easy to just gloss over this as a local issue from way back when that doesn’t pertain to us, right? But here it is left open so we can put ourselves into their shoes and see where we may relate and have disunity with someone else that needs to be addressed. Because we do know that Paul wanted them to solve the disunity, that is what was of utmost importance. And we know what his answer to their problem was.
And what is his impassioned counsel to them both? To agree in the Lord. What does that mean, to agree in the Lord?
First, I don’t think it means to simply agree. In other words, Paul is not telling them to just get over whatever they are fighting about and just come to an agreement already. This isn’t a call to meet half-way and compromise. Instead, I think he wants them to entirely reorient their thinking, not just about the issue, but about everyone involved. And this is not the only time Paul has used this language, in fact this is identical to what he said back in chapter 2 to the entire church where he wrote, “complete my joy by being of the same mind,” same wording in the original Greek. What does he go on to say there? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Why? “Have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus.”
This was a calling to unity of purpose, a unified mind of humility, service, forbearance, love and patience towards others. This was a plea to be like Christ: to think, act, and relate to others more and more like him. Euodia and Syntyche were not acting Christ-like, they were not having the same mind, the same pursuit of humility and service, but instead were seeking their own interests. These women were hurt by each other for some reason and it caused them to go to their own corners and lick their wounds, to focus on themselves, to be inward thinking, self-centered in this conflict.
And isn’t it interesting how complex we can be as illustrated here? These women were very active in their Christian service. Paul has no doubt that they are saved, he says in verse 3 that their names are in the book of life, meaning at the final judgement when the books are opened, they will surely be found to be in Christ. They were not on the fringes, they were not even immature believers, they were his co-laborers in the gospel. Christ worked in and through them in many ways. And yet, in this instance, they closed God out of this part of their hearts. This was their grudge to nurse, to hold onto. It seems they were willing to serve everyone, except each other. This was a massive blind spot in their lives! Can you relate? I know I can. Has this ever happened to you? If you say no, guess what? I found a blind spot for you to see!
These women, and really all of Paul’s readers including us, need to hear this valuable lesson. We need a reorientation of our hearts when it comes to ourselves and others. We cannot have any places in our hearts and minds that are off limits to growing in Christlikeness. We can’t say, “this is mine to hold onto, God doesn’t get this grudge, or this attitude, or this desire or this way of thinking.” He gets all of it; all of it needs to be changed in the Lord. This way of thinking, acting and feeling is commanded of us, it was modeled for us and bought for us when God the Son, Jesus Christ was willing to do it himself through his perfect life and sacrificial death when he died for underserving sinners like you and me. Because of his great love for us, he was willing to be maligned, mistreated, accused, abandoned, wronged, offended, tortured and murdered and yet he never held a grudge, never acted in bitterness, never turned self-centered. And he calls us to follow in his same footsteps in every area of our lives.
I am sure Euodia and Syntyche felt justified in their minds and hearts. “She hurt me! She is just insufferable! She is not acting very Christ-like!” All of that may have been true. And yet when that happens what is our responsibility? To act like Christ. To serve, to love, to humbly put on patience and kindness, even in the face of injustice. You may strongly disagree with someone else and may need to have a hard conversation with that person, but always out of a heart of humility and love, always like Christ, never out of a desire for revenge, to get one-up on the other person, never from a self-serving heart.
What a challenge, huh? This is an impossible task! What happens usually as soon as we are offended, belittled, or hurt in some way? We want to defend ourselves either through running away or fighting back. But that is serving ourselves. That just happens reflexively right? So how can we act like Christ? Well, we can’t on our own, that is why it is agreeing in the Lord. This is his heart working in us through the Holy Spirit. It takes submission to him, it takes prayer, it takes a work of God himself in us! And it will most likely take failing, and learning and growing. But God wants to do that work in us, he has called us to that and he will work mightily in us when we turn to him to work through us. Then we will grow in having Christlike hearts even to those who hurt us dearly.
And how do I know if I am there or not? This is so much more than just saying, “I dont have any hard feelings.” We need to ask ourselves, am I willing to pray for and humbly serve this person? If there is some trepidation there then we have not achieved agreeing in the Lord. We need to confess and repent of even a hint of bitterness and anger and let God fully restore us to a true spirit of unity. We can’t stop at part way!
- Involving the whole body, v.3
More than this, Paul wants to impress upon his readers that this disagreement between these two women is a much bigger issue than just their two hearts. That is why in verse 3 Paul involves the whole body, the whole church at Philippi. There is a lot of debate about that first phrase, “true companion.” Some people think this should be translated as a name, that he is speaking to a person whose name means “companion.” Other’s think he may just not name the person he is talking to but they would have known. I am more of the belief that he is speaking to everyone in the church, everyone listening to this letter being read at Philippi. That Paul is asking everyone there to act as his true friend and help these women. They are all his friends, his true companions, and they all need to step up and help these women.
Paul is telling the whole church at Philippi that this isn’t just a “them issue.” This is so much more than just these two women; this is a whole-church problem. When any part of the body is hurting, the entire body is affected and it takes the whole to help heal the parts. For most of us, myself included, when we see or hear about an issue that doesn’t involve us, the natural reaction is to just leave it alone, right? “Those two have an issue. They will work it out. I don’t want to meddle, I don’t want to get involved, make things messy. They will be fine.” But Paul not only wants Euodia and Syntyche to reorient their thinking, he says everyone needs to do the same. You are one, all of you and if one of you is malfunctioning, hurting, broken, then the whole is malfunctioning, hurting, broken and all of you need to humbly assist.
It reminds me of the more extreme issues that were happening in the church at Corinth. They had disagreements within their church that led to lawsuits; they took their fights to another level. And Paul said to them in 1 Corinthians 6, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.” That word “you” is not just speaking about those with lawsuits. It is plural, it is meant to speak to the whole body, the entire church; those with disagreements and those who don’t. To have disunity within the body at all, even in a small degree between just two people, is a defeat for you, for you all, for us all.
Therefore, it is our duty in Christ to come alongside those who are in disunity because their problem is our problem. We are all called to be like Paul and gently plead with the other person and show them where they have gone astray. Perhaps they don’t even see it, often times we are blinded to our sin, especially if we feel justified in it, if we think we are in the right we don’t see it as sin. All the more reason we need to help them be restored to the unity of the church family.
And along with that, it is our duty in Christ to let others come alongside us if we are the one in disunity with another. We need each other, we are one body, a family, not just a random conglomeration of individuals.
We are one in Christ so we can’t turn a blind eye to any part that is broken, that would be acting in self-protection and self-centeredness, just like that person stuck in bitterness. Instead in love and humility we are to join with one another, help one another, walk with each other in healing what is hurting.
- What’s at stake? vs.4-5
A big question that may come to mind in thinking about all of this is “what’s at stake here? What happens if we don’t do this?” Or to put it more positively, “What do we gain by following after this?”
a. our joy in the Lord
I see two things in verses 4 and 5 that we gain, or that are at stake; the first is our joy in the Lord. Verse 4 seems kind of random, doesn’t it? I have had to think a lot about why it’s here, it seems a little out of place but I think once we see what Paul is saying it is really powerful. Notice Paul uses that little qualifier phrase, “in the Lord” again, just like he did in verse 2, so he hasn’t lost his mind, he is connecting these ideas together. I think what he is saying is that when we agree in the Lord, when we are growing in that humble, servant, Christlike mind and heart, we will find more and more joy, more and more reasons to rejoice. Because let’s be honest, the idea of letting everyone else’s preferences be more important than my own, to let people wrong me, to serve other people even when they don’t deserve it, that sounds like it could be pretty miserable, right? There doesn’t sound like much room for real rejoicing in that life.
But the truth is, and the whole argument of the book of Philippians, is that the more we truly know Christ in our hearts and minds, the more we see his heart through the Word of God and through the Spirit of God changing us into his image, the more we know experientially, the more joy we find, the more reasons we have to rejoice. Not in our circumstances, not in our ability to be right, or to defend our honor, or to nurse our own hurts. Our joy is not grounded in the world around us, especially if we are to live like suffering servants like Christ. No, our joy is found in him, in the Lord, in knowing him, in glorifying him, in loving him, in showing others him in all things. Then we can rejoice always, even in the face of suffering. Then we can be like Christ, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. Christ could have joy even in the face of unimaginable pain and suffering because he lived to glorify God in all things and again, he calls us to walk in his same steps and to discover that same joy even when we share in his sufferings.
If we hold onto our grudges, our bitterness, our disagreements and hurts, we are robbing ourselves of the very joy of Christ. We can’t rejoice in the Lord if we aren’t willing to agree in the Lord, to have Christlike minds and hearts towards others. Bitterness and joy can’t reside together, the one will always push out the other. And remember, this affects everyone. This isn’t just a single person, or two people have bitterness and miss out on joy. When one part misses out, it robs all of us of truly being able to rejoice in the Lord. We rise and fall together.
What’s at stake if we refuse to let go of our hurts? Our joy in the Lord. What do we gain when we forgive and have Christlike, servant hearts? Our joy in the Lord.
b. our testimony before the world
The second thing at stake or that we gain is found in verse 5, which is our testimony before the world. The ESV uses the word “reasonableness,” other translations may say “gentleness.” I think gentleness gets closer to what Paul is saying but it goes deeper. This word includes the idea of forbearance, patience with others, all in gentleness. Paul is saying that everyone should see the church as a community of people typified, characterized, by loving and gentle patience towards one another. Instead of the world around us hearing that there are bitter disagreements within the church, in-fighting, self-centeredness, the local church should be known to everyone as a place where that doesn’t happen. The world is where those things take place, not here, not within this community. The church should be someplace different, made up of people who stand out, who reflect the very heart of God as seen in the life of Jesus. To put it another way, when we have disagreements and disunity, when we hold onto our grudges, our testimony before a watching unbelieving world is broken. We are showing them a disfigured picture of Christ.
Or, to put it positively, when we are growing in Christlike minds and hearts that lovingly, gently and patiently grow with one another, we live out the Gospel; we show the world who Christ is, we invite them into his very heart.
What, then, is to gain by agreeing in the Lord and helping each other do the same? Our joy in the Lord and our testimony before the world.
Notice this little phrase that ends verse 5. The ESV says, “the Lord is at hand.” Others may say, “the Lord is near.” This is another place where there is some debate as to what exactly Paul means. Is he referring to the Lord being near, as in close to us, emotionally and spiritually? I think that is part of it. I think Paul also means the Lord is near in time to his physical return, the second coming; it’s not that far off. Why would Paul throw that idea in here?
When we think of the possibility of years of mistreatment for the sake of knowing Christ and loving others no matter what they do to us, that sounds hard. And it is. It sounds overwhelming and discouraging. A lifetime of suffering, of trials in serving those who don’t ask for it and frankly don’t deserve it. But we have this hope: someday soon the Lord will return and he will set right all wrongs. He will judge everyone perfectly; no stray word will go unchecked; no mistreatment goes unnoticed by the Lord today and it won’t go unpunished. We can entrust our judgements, our disagreements, our hurts to the one who is near, our perfect Lord and judge. And a lifetime of pain, will be as nothing in comparison to an eternity with him. It will far outweigh any wrong that could possibly be done to us today. This should set us free to live like him, to have his joy set before us and endure all things because the Lord is at hand.