Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity
4:1 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.
There is nothing more annoyingly distracting and irritating when you are a leader of something than to have mission-critical people within your organization at personal odds. This has been one of the great difficulties and challenges of my life as a leader in almost every endeavor within which I’ve become involved.
Earlier in this series I told you about a season of political leadership. A reason I dropped that involvement was due to certain frustrations I experienced in trying to be a conciliatory mediator between two factions. I tried to bring together two spokesmen of the varied viewpoints, and each told me they had no ground of commonality to even enter a dialogue with the other. Relative to the opposing Party, they actually had much in common; but their only focus was upon what they held as differences.
I have coached on a number of levels in youth and high school sports. There were times where I would have to get two warring parties or individuals together and get them to understand that their teammate was not their enemy. It wasn’t only with teenage girls, but it was sometimes the worst with them. It was not uncommon for a couple of girls to have an attitude toward one another over one of a host of mostly inconsequential things, and before long, each had a posse of followers that split the team into obvious factions. It could be seen even in the stretching time before practice – where the groups would be on opposite sides of the practice area in their own huddles. Before we could beat other teams, we had to get unified and beat the internal division that was so destructive.
A local church is much the same. Varied factions, tastes, and opinions are inevitable in any group of people – even those mutually redeemed by Jesus Christ. And such is destructive to the team.
Remember that the chapter divisions that we have in our Bible are not part of the original text. Philippians was simply a letter from beginning to end. And remember also that just before today’s passage in 4:1-3, Paul said in 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Hey – Is it just me as a running coach who sees in that passage where Paul is picturing a race with a reward at the end for finishing well and winning? I know, I know … you all think I see running in everything. But consider our first verse today where Paul says that the Philippians are his “joy and crown.” The word for “crown” is stephanos = the award given the victor in a race or contest. From that previous context, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to live in a way that copies the pattern of life that he and others had set before them – a life that was focused upon God and truth in the midst of a turbulent world and with the internal distractions of false teachers.
The Philippians needed to “stand firm.” There were waves and currents seeking to sway their feet and movement into wrong directions. They were pressed hard from an antagonistic secular Roman world around them. And there were false teachers promoting error that sought to lead the church away into wrongful teachings and emphases. Hey, that sounds like our world! Actually, these problems of anti-Christian hostility and errant, self-absorbed false teachers are seen in every age and time. Don’t be swayed – stand firm with one mind.
And as if the people of the world and the false teachers were not / are not enough trouble, there is the internal issue of really fine people who start bickering with one another. In Philippi, where women were a part of the founding of the church and its subsequent leadership, two of them had some sort of well-known community squabble. And probably like my running team’s girls, each likely had their own posse in tow.
Paul takes the unusual route of calling them out by name! Imagine being there in the church gathering when this letter was being read. One can imagine each of them thinking to themselves about how their opponent and her friends had better be listening to what Paul had to say! And then, as the letter takes the final turn toward home, THEIR NAMES ARE READ OUT LOUD!
OK – catch something here that is not generally understood. These women – named Eudoia and Snythche – had their names singled out, not because they were a couple of high-maintenance drama queens. No, it was because they were outstanding people who had “contended” with Paul in some significant way in the work of the gospel. These were really, really fine women of character and value. And now, for some reason, they were not agreeing together on an issue unnamed … well, that was a set-up for disastrous results. Not only did it divide the church, it could bring shame and embarrassment upon it from those who looked in from the unbelieving world.
A nameless, but well-known individual was supposed to help these women get past this problem. The best guess is that this was Luke – who was known to have spent time in Philippi and who would fit Paul’s words here. All of these people, along with some fellow named Clement and a host of others, were dearly esteemed co-workers with Paul in the gospel ministry. They were valuable.
All of us who share the ministry of the gospel in the context of serving Christ in the local church need to get past issues that distract and divide. There is simply no time for it! Fix it! Move on! Drop your demands and expectations of your preferences being fulfilled. Get to work! There is no time for this foolishness on the church team.
Our theme in this series is “measuring up.” Do that with your preference issue that divides you from another person. Measure that issue against the importance of the work of the gospel message in and through the church to the surrounding community. What is more important – the progress and health of that work, or you getting your preference fulfilled? Yep, you’ll have to give up something … so … measure that against what Christ gave up to make you a part of the church family.
How big is your issue now? You know the answer to that. Be of one mind. Stand firm – together. Under this roof. In this house.