A Church Dispute
A Church Dispute, 8.30.20
Good morning church family. If you have a Bible, please go ahead and open up to Philipiians chapter 4, verse 3.
This morning is the beginning of a new chapter for us in the history of our church. Never in the history of our church have we gone through a pandemic before where we have had to shut down many of our church’s operations. This has been a first for us. And this morning marks our first morning in an almost, completely back to normal fashion. We are singing together now, we start Sunday school this week, we start AWANA very, our other activities during the week are starting up, too. Lord willing, this morning marks the time when we return to normal and keep our normal church functions going. We do not know what the future holds. The Lord Jesus Christ could return tomorrow. I am hopeful, though, that the worst of this pandemic is behind us. So this morning is something of a new beginning for us as a church.
And in the Lord’s providence the passage that he has for us hits upon something that we as a church need to heed. One of the greatest problems our church faces is disruption and disunity our church experiences from various long-standing disputes between believers. That is what I have been able to observe since my time being here. We need help in this area. We need the Lord’s direction and guidance. And this morning, in this new chapter in the life of our church, the Lord has placed this passage for us to study and meditate on. The Lord wants us to examine our hearts this morning about the disputes that we have within this body by looking at a dispute that occurred in the Philippian church.
Let us together, dear friends, read this passage. It is Phil 4:3. I will read through verse 4. Paul writes,
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 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.
I have titled this morning’s sermon, “A Church Dispute.” This passage that we will deal with is a straight-forward, clear cut passage that serves as a window into a dispute that occurred in the Philippian church between two women. The way I want to examine this passage is on the basis of a problem, solution, application outline. First point will be the problem. Second point will be the solution. Third point will be the application. Very simple and straightforward. So first we will deal with the problem.
If you are taking notes based upon my outline, go ahead and write, “Problem.” What exactly is the problem that Paul mentions in our passage.
To begin discussing the problem at hand, we need to first see who is involved in this problem. That’s what we need to do first. The problem surrounds the relationship of two women. Those women’s names are Euodia and Syntyche, Paul mentions them right at the beginning of v. 2. There is evidence in the Ancient World that these names were sometimes men’s names. Sometimes historians find inscriptions of names on old artifacts from the ancient word and sometimes these two are used for men. But we know that these two people were men because of Paul’s reference to “women” in v. 3. Paul tells “true companion” to “help these women.” Two women in the church in Philippi are at the center of this problem in the church.
Who are Christians
As should be easy to tell by what they did in gospel ministry, these women were believers in Jesus Christ. They were Christians. They were not fakes. They were not false teachers. They were not just Christians on the outside. They were the real deal. How do I know this? Look how Paul ends his discussion in v. 3. He says, “whose names are written in the book of life.” Grammatically, I take this “whose” as applying to everyone mentioned in this context. It refers to Eudia and Synteche. “true companion” in v. 3, Clement, and “the rest of my fellow workers.” Everyone mentioned in this passage are Christian. These women are Christian. They are the real deal.
Co-Laborers with Paul
These women were very special to Paul. Paul had great concern and love for them. Paul knew them very well. If you look at v. 3, Paul is specific about how these women had helped Paul in previous times. He mentions that these women “have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” This is a tremendous praise to place upon these women. These women were gospel laborers. They contended, they struggles alongside Paul in gospel ministry. We don’t know exactly what they did, but they were heavily involved in the spread of the gospel in the early church. To contend/struggle along with someone else
(I’d like to make a side note right here. Our church does believe that the office of pastor is exclusive to qualified men. We believe that is what the Bible teaches and we are not apologetic about that. However, this does not meant that we as a church dismiss the idea that women can not actively, passionately, and effectively serve in gospel ministry. Quite the contrary, we believe that women form an essential part of the body of Christ who can and should use their gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. As Eudia and Synteche were in Paul’s time, women can and should labor together in the gospel. We need more women like this. We do. Our church needs more Eudias and Synteches—women who exert themselves for gospel ministry.)
Nevertheless, nevertheless, these two godly, Christian women, who have labored with Paul in gospel ministry disagree with each other. They disagree. Now how do I know that they disagree? I know this because of Paul’s command here. Paul instructs these women “to agree in the Lord.” Now this command to “agree” only makes sense in a context in which there is disagreement. It would not make sense for Paul to tell these women to agree if they didn’t disagree. Paul gives this command of agreeing because these godly women who have labored in the gospel disagree.
We do not know much beyond these basic facts of the situation regarding this problem that Paul addresses. Two Christian women in Philippi, who have labored alongside Paul, disagree with each other about some issue. We don’t know if it’s a personal issue, if its doctrinal, or if it’s a combination of the two. We don’t know. All we know is that two godly women who were involved with Paul in ministry disagree with each other about some matter.
Situations like this, dear friend, can and do happen. Godly people, who are engaged in ministry, who’s names are written in the book of life, who serve Christ by preaching the gospel, these types of people can and do disagree with each other. It happens. A lot! It happens here. It happens elsewhere. It happened in the past. It happens in the present. And it will happen in the future. So long as we are on this earth, living as sinful people, we can and will disagree with other Christians. That’s what has occurred with Euodia and Synteche.
So that was the problem. What’s the solution? What does Paul want to see happen in the Philippian church to resolve the issue?
Addressing the Problem
The first step Paul takes in providing a solution to the problem is that he addresses the issue. This is an easy point to miss when we read this text. Paul could have very easily not brought this dispute up in his letter. Looking at the text with me. Would this epistle make sense without 4:2–3? Would the book of Philippians makes sense had Paul not mentioned 4:2–3 and moved from 4:1 to 4:4? Without our passage today, chapter 4 would read like this:
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
That would make complete sense. Paul didn’t have to raise this issue between Eudia and Synteche. His letter would have made sense without his comments regarding the situation. Nevertheless, Paul did raise the issue. He did bring it up. He did approach the “elephant in the room.”
Dear friend, to address these types of disputes in churches, the dispute has to be first be brought up. Some dear Christians have the tendency to be conflict-averse. They don’t want to talk about serious matters. They would rather just be quiet about disputes and act like everything is just fine. In some situations, it’s much easier to no address a dispute than it is to address it. Conflict can be difficult and hard. However, we see from Paul’s example, conflict is necessary in some situations. The issue must be brought up and not swept under the rug.
That’s what Paul does here. He didn’t have to do this but he did. Addressing the problem is the first step in solving the problem.
The next step Paul takes in dealing with this problem is that he gives the same command to both women in v. 2. Look with me in v. 2. The passage reads,
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.
The command that Paul gives to both Euodia and Syntyche is the same. Both of them are to “agree in the Lord.” Dear friends, this is a command. Paul is commanding these two women to agree.
This raises the important issue within the church concerning the extent of the diversity of thinking that we are able to have. In a previous sermon, I mentioned that Paul allows for a diversity of thought within the Philippian church. Paul does not demand of the church that they all think the same way. Look with me at 3:15. We covered this passage maybe a month and a half ago. Paul writes,
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
I argued here that Paul does not browbeat the Philippians in thinking the same way that he does. Rather, with some issues, he allows for diversity and believes that god will reveal the truth to the Philippians who disagree with him. Some diversity of thought is permitted within the local church.
However, this diversity has limits, as we see in 4:2. Paul commands these women to agree. Some disagreement in the church is sinful and ungodly. That’s the type of disagreement between these women. They need to stop disagreeing with each other and instead “agree in the Lord.”
Now what does this “in the Lord” prepositional phrase mean? It’s a key phrase that is a part of the commandment. We need to understand what “in the Lord” means in order to understand Paul’s commandment.
I take it that what Paul says here in 4:2 is referenced earlier in 2:1. Turn with me there. Look what Paul says here. I will read through v. 2.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Do you see that “being of one mind” at the end of v. 2? The same verb occurs in 4:2 that occurs here in 2:2. I take what Paul is doing in 4:2 by commanding these women to agree in the Lord as a reference back to what he says here in this context of commanding the whole congregation to agree with one another.
And as the passage develops here in chapter 2 we see what Paul wants them to do. We see the mindset that Paul wants them to emulate. What exactly does it mean to be of one mind, Paul? It means this. Look at v. 3
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Agree with one another in the Philippian church looks like placing the interest of others above your own. It means being humble. Serving. Laying down your life. And this mindset is built on Christ. Look at v. 5.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus
In other words, Philippians, think like Christ though. Model his thinking and attitude. Well what was his attitude? Look at v. 6–8.
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God ra thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Paul gives another commandment in this passage. This command is found in v. 3. Look with me there.
Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women.
Now we don’t know who this “true companion” is. If you read different commentators, they will give different answers the question of who this person is. For our purposes, though, it doesn’t really matter who this person is.Paul gives a command to the two women—agree in the Lord—and he also gives a command to this true companion. And the command is for this person to help these two women.
So I looked up this word “help” in a Greek dictionary, and you know what it means? I was taken aback. It means “help.” Can you believe that!? Paul wants this person, true companion, to help these women resolve their disagreement. Paul wants this person to help these women agree in the Lord.
What Paul instructs here is a common procedure for dealing with conflict within the church. When two people or two parties cannot work out their differences, more people should get involved. What Paul teaches here is what Jesus teaches in Matt 18:15–16.
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. 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.
Now the situation in Philippians is not exactly like the one that Jesus mentions in Matt 18. I take the situation in Matt 18 to be more serious than the one mentioned in Philippians. Nevertheless, notice what both Paul and Jesus instruct regarding dealing with dispute—both of them instruct other people to get involved when there is an impasse in the conflict. These two women cannot seem to agree and Paul encourages others to get involved. Jesus says when a Christian brings up a sin committed against them with another Christian and that other Christian does not repent, other people—specifically one or two others along with you—are supposed to get involved. Paul and Jesus teach complementary truths. The church is a family. The members of the church must help other members heal their conflicts and bring reconciliation to the situation.
Now if Paul commands “true companion” to help these women, this also means that these women need to be receptive to the help. By Paul calling true companion to help that assumes that Euodia and Syntyche will be open to the help.
Sometimes Christians want to maintain a sense of privacy about their problems that is not healthy. Sometimes Christians believe that no one should know their business. There is a temptation in the Christian life towards secrecy and not allowing people to talk to you about important matters.
I want you to see here that by Paul calling true companion to help these women, Paul is also commanding the women to let true companion help them. Euodia and Synteche are going to be required to let “true companion” come into the dispute and help them. Euodia and Synteche are going to need transparency.
So let’s imagine a situation that would prevent true companion from helping these women. Let’s say true companion comes to Euodia and says, “Euodia, I just heard Paul’s letter. We need to talk soon about what’s going on between you and Syntyche. Can we do that soon?” I imagine that is how it played out. It would be wrong and against what the Lord is commanding in this passage for Euodia to say, “It’s none of your business, true companion, what’s going on with me and Syntyche. You need to not be so nosy!” No. For the situation to work, the women need to be humble and transparent.
This was a lengthy point. Let me summarize for us before we move to the next point. Paul addresses this problem in four different ways. He addresses the elephant in the room. He raises the problem. He commands the women to agree in the Lord, to put on kindness, humility, and selflessness towards one another. He commands “true companion” to help in this situation. And he assumes that Euodia and Synteche will be transparent with “true companion” regarding their dispute.
Now we move to application. Let’s review where we have been. In our first point, we investigate the problem that was going on in the Philippian church. The problem concerned a disagreement between Eudio and Synteche. These two women were Christians who had labored alongside Paul in gospel ministry. These were godly women. Yet, there was some disagreement that arose between them that they could not get passage. The solution Paul proposed was to address the elephant in the room, instruct these women to agree in the Lord, and instruct the “true companion” to help these women agree. So, now, how should we as a church and as individuals respond to this passage. Here’s the applications. Three points of application based upon Paul’s example here.
The first point is this: address the disputes in your life that God is calling you to address. Let me say that again, address the disputes in your life that God is calling you to address. We can also summarize this point negatively: don’t run from all forms of conflict. Don’t run from all forms of conflict.
This point of application arises from Paul’s example of bringing up the dispute between Eudia and Synteche. We see with him that he did not run from this conflict. He brought it up. He addresses this dispute in the church that God wanted addressed. We need to follow Paul’s example here.
There is a tendency in the Christian live towards being conflict averse. That is, with those dear Christians who have this tendency, they run from any whiff of division or dispute or difficult. These Christians would rather just let the elephant be in the room forever than address it. These Christian are more comfortable with the elephant taking upon the whole room than they are voicing that he is there. This is a tendency of some Christians.
I want us to see, though, from Paul’s example that there are occasions when we must as Christians address conflict, point out the elephant in the room, call brothers and sisters in Christ to repentance for their sins. There are some occasions when we have to do this. We need wisdom to know which situations to do this in. But in some we have to do this.
There are long-standing disputes in this church that have never been resolved which should be. The tendency is to become used to disputes and used to division. The attitude might be, “We have had this dispute for so long that there’s nothing we can do about it.” I don’t think that’s Paul’s attitude here. If it harms the church, we must address it head on—with love, grace, kindness, and mercy. The goal is reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a Must
The second point of application. It’s this. We must reconcile with each other. We must reconcile with each other. Or, using the language of the passage, we must agree with one another in the Lord. This is a command for us all, dear friends.
For some of you, there are certain Christians in your life—whether in its your spouse, your friend, a family member, a fellow church member—that you are at odds with. You have not upheld this commandment of agreeing in the Lord. Agreeing in the Lord means being humble, a servant, seeking their interests above your own. You have not acted that way towards certain people in your life. God is calling you to repentance through this passage. For those other Christian who you have acted selflessly towards, unloving, unkind, when you have not been like Christ towards other people, God is calling you to pursue agreement with them in the Lord.
Now, reconciliation is a two-way street. I get that. Paul does not single one woman out here. He calls both Eudia and Synteche to agree with one another. The reconciliation of Eudia and Synteche requires them both to heed the apostle’s command here. Reconciliation is a two-way street.
However, Paul’s does not say, “Euodia, you agree with Synteche, only if she agrees with you first.” Or, “Synteche, you agree with Euodia, only if she agrees with you first.” Our obedience to Christ is not contingent upon other people, dear friend. We must pursue agreeing in the Lord with one another, even if they do not pursue it with us. Loving our neighbor, which is what this commandment is about, is not contingent upon your neighbor loving you. Loving our neighbor is not contingent upon your neighbor loving you. Even if others don’t agree with you in the Lord, you are still called to agree with them in the Lord. You are called to model selflessness, kindness, humility.
And the first step towards agree in the Lord with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the first step, is an acknowledgement that we haven’t done this. The first step woards agreeing in the Lord with one another is recognizing and confessing that we haven’t done this. And the way we recognize and confess this is through apologizing to those who we have no been loving towards. We must apologize to those with whom we have not modelled agreement in the Lord. We must, dear friend. If there are Christians in your life who you have been selfless towards, unkind, unloving, you have not sought their interests above your own (and especially if this has been going on for years) you must apologize to them.
Bear One Another’s Burdens
Last point of application. It’s this: bear the burden of achieving reconciliation for others. Bear the burden of achieving reconciliation for others. I get this point of application from two matters. First, the passage that we read this morning for our Scripture reading. Pastor Steve read it. It says this,
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
God calls us to love another to the point that we restore one another in their sins with a spirit of gentleness and that we bear one another’s burdens.
Bringing in this passage with what Paul says in our passage to the “true companion.” Paul calls the “true companion” to bear the burden of bringing together Euodia and Synteche. This is an apostolic command from Christ himself. If you need to see this in the passage again. Phil 4:3 states,
Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women
Whoever “true companion” is, he is not allowed to not be involved in this situation. He’s must get in the middle of the situation and help these women. He cannot be conflict averse here. Paul is commanding him to help these women.
There are disputes and conflicts that we know of that we must address (I already mentioned this) and participate in resolving. One way we express our love for our neighbors is in resolving disputes between fellow Christians that we know and love. In some situations, God’s command here is for us to be like “true companion” with other people.
Be Transparent about Conflict
Last point of application. I get this from the assumption of transparency that Paul has for Euodia and Synteche as true companion helps them in their conflict. We must be transparent about the conflict in our lives. If someone comes to us, brings up some issue of conflict that must be addressed, we cannot respond with, “Mind your own business! Keep to yourself! Don’t be nosy!” Dear friends, we must have transparency in the body of Christ. We must allow others the freedom and opportunity to speak into our lives. This is absolutely necessary. As a Christian, you are not free from accountability. You are not free to live without other Christians instructing and correcting you. We are all sinners. We all need the body of Christ to help us resolve our conflicts.
Concluding where we started off, dear friend. This morning is a new day in the history of our church. Lord willing, the worst of the pandemic is behind us and we step into this new chapter in our church’s life with hope and anticipation of what God will do. Dear friends, let this be, by the grace of our God, also a new chapter for our church’s healing and restoration. We must address the ongoing conflicts we have with one another, we must seek reconciliation, we must bear one another’s burdens, and we must be transparent when others try to help us. Pray with me.
May God the Father bless us with a spirit of humility, love, and kindness to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. May he conform us to the image of Christ and lead us to agree with one another in the Lord. And may the Holy Spirit complete his work in us as a church by bringing healing and restoration to our church body. All God’s people say, “Amen.”