Paul does not often single individuals out in his letters unless it is something positive. However, when he does, Paul is serious about what he’s talking about. One such letter containing an instance of Paul singling individuals out is Philippians in chapter 4:2-3. He specifically entreats Euodia and Syntyche to live peacefully with each other. We don’t know the exact nature of the problem, but often these type of conflicts occur when the focus is on me. “I’m not getting my way;” “I can’t believe someone doesn’t agree with me;” and much of this letter seems to be centered around developing better attitudes about one another.
This letter comes some ten years after the establishment of the church in Philippi in Acts 16 when we see Lydia, a nameless jailer, their households, and likely others converted to the Lord. Lydia is typified by her hospitality, and the jailer is characterized by his readiness to respond to Christ’s word. The congregation is consistently hospitable to Paul through his journeys, and he and the congregation have a strong relationship. Now, these ten years later, Paul is imprisoned in Rome and has recently spoken to Epaphroditus, from whom he likely learned the situation in question.
In Philippians 2:2, Paul writes “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” As well as the Philippian church is doing, they have need for these words, and Euodia and Syntyche serve as an example of that need.
Chapter 1: Confidence in Them and the Lord
Chapter 1 opens with his gratitude for their work and their continual growth. He is confidant in their spiritual walk, and verses 7-8 expresses his affection for them. Subsequent verses then record his prayer that they press on in knowledge and wisdom. He wants, when Christ comes again, for them to remain sincere and blameless. Verses 12-26 then contains three negative elements, three clouds, that Paul looks beyond for his hope in Christ.
- Verses 12-14 contain the benefits he sees in his confinement – conversion of some guards and his stand emboldening of brethren in Rome.
- Verses 15-18 contrast the motives of those teaching of Christ. Some do so lovingly where others are doing it in rivalry to Paul. Still, he concludes that, either way, people are learning of Christ.
- Verses 20-26 record Paul’s reflection on his own mortality. He may die in prison, yet he sees the benefit in both life and death – dying to live with Christ or living to work for Christ.
Paul admits some dark things in his life, but dwells on the positive instead of the negative. Euodia and Syntyche may have needed to learn this in their relationship. Paul finishes this chapter with an admonition to stand firm united in their faith regardless of his fate or their obstacles.
Chapter 2: Comfort in Unity
Paul begins this chapter by encouraging his readers to lift one another up as more important than self, disregarding selfishness and rivalries. We should be actively interested in one another’s needs and concerns. Verse 3 speaks of humble service in our lives, and he goes on to appeal to Christ’s example to illustrate this. He appeals to Christ’s humility, His willingness to do God’s work, the enormity of His sacrifice in leaving Heaven to dwell with and be killed by those over whom He is Lord. His life is one of service as ours should be, and He is exalted because He abased Himself.
Starting in verse 12, Paul encourages his readers to go the distance in their service. He admonishes them to avoid complaining and arguing, continuing to be lights in the world. In verses 17-18, Paul reminds them of his devotion to their work – his efforts in preaching to the Gentiles. Then, chapter 2 concludes with some practical matters.
- Verse 19-23 contain Paul’s hopes to send Timothy in his stead, and he praises Timothy’s faith, love, and work.
- Verses 25-30 records Paul returning Epaphroditus to them and speaks of the mutual concern the congregation and Epaphroditus have for each other.
Chapter 3: Laying Aside the World
This chapter opens with a warning to avoid false teachings, especially those that would place weight in worldly manifestations of faith. He specifically points out, in the next several verses, his own pedigree, but he calls such qualifications unimportant compared to the value of Christ’s salvation. Then, the last few verses of the chapter address worldly appetites that can distract from our spiritual work, reminding us where our true citizenship resides.
Chapter 4: Live in Harmony with Each Other and Christ
Now we come to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2, both having shared in Paul’s work at one time or another. Now they are at odds with each other. So many times, we let numerous things upset us and drive a wedge between ourselves and brothers and sisters in Christ. We alienate one another when we should be of the same mind, intent on one purpose, full of love. We can have disagreements without forsaking one another, without forsaking our congregation, without holding grudges against other Christians.
We don’t know why Euodia and Syntyche do not get along, but so much of this letter centers around elements of our faith that can help us overcome these worldly obstacles. He speaks to our true goals, the attitudes we should have, the priorities we should have. He sets up Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of individuals who demonstrate care and concern for others over themselves. He reminds them lay aside those things that don’t matter in comparison to our relationship with Christ. Whatever wrong exists between these two women, Paul reminds them that there is a better way.
Paul closes his letter with encouragement to dwell in the peace of Christ, meditating and fixing our minds on things that work for peace, that work for Christ’s cause. It comes down to how we live with one another and our relationship with Christ. We can complete the Lord’s joy by being of one mind, having one love, and helping each other stay intent on our one purpose.
lesson by Darryl Smelser