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We Can Work it Out

When we think of the first churches in the New Testament, we might be forgiven for thinking they were perfect. Because many of those church members had seen Jesus or personally knew apostles like Peter and Paul, then surely—the thinking goes—this would lead to the most perfect churches, right?

Wrong. Dead Wrong.

It just wasn’t like that. At all.

In fact, when we dig into the letters of Paul, Peter and John, we see that the early churches faced many of the same failures and problems and struggles we face today.

Every so often in those New Testament letters, an example of disunity, disharmony and just plain craziness bursts to the surface—and one such time is writ large in Paul’s letter to Philippi.

Much of the letter—and this is the final chapter, so Paul is winding up to his conclusion—has been filled with encouragement and praise to Philippian believers.

Indeed, this chapter starts no differently.

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! (Philippians 4.1, NIV)

Paul refers to the Christians there in Philippi as “dear friends” and“brothers and sisters.” He also thinks of them as “his joy”, even his “crown".

You might almost say—in modern parlance—Paul thinks of them as his crowning glory.

But things take a different turn in the following two verses.

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, to 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. (Philippians 4.2-3, NIV)

I think when we read this passage, we gloss over these verses to get to the “best bits”—the much more well-known words in verses 4 to 9.

But today, I want us to alight from the bus at a more problematic stop—and look at what we might learn from Euodia and Syntyche in verses two and three.

1. Where Disputes Start

Now, we don’t know what the issue was between Euodia and Syntyche. All we know is that they did have a parting of the ways.

And this was no petty tiff. Whatever was going on between these two women had made its way from Philippi to Rome—where Paul was in jail.

This is one of the few times in his letters that Paul "names names" when addressing a conflict. So, this was no minor turbulence.

It is sad that ALL we know about Euodia and Syntyche is that they were two women who disagreed – I am sure there was much more to their lives.

But all we know about them is how they had a falling out.

I wonder how we’d like to be remembered when we are gone? Someone who never got involved in helping and serving people? Or as someone who just couldn’t get along with anyone and rubbed everyone the wrong way. Or maybe someone who was always so negative and critical

I’m sure we’d all want to be remembered for something a bit positive, eh?

As Paul himself says in verse 9: Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Don’t be remembered as a disputer, a negative person or a miserable so-and-so. Leave a legacy of love and service.

Without blaming others

Notice that Paul addressed them each equally: I plead with Euodia, AND I plead with Syntyche.

Paul didn’t take sides—nor did he indicate who was right and who was wrong.

Perhaps there WAS no right and wrong? It’s a vanishingly rare occurrence to have a dispute that is 100% one person's fault.

Now, at first glance, we might assume that Euodia and Syntyche were either immature Christians—babes in Christ—or maybe weren’t even Christians at all.

But the passage itself disabuses us of the notion. We are told, firstly, that Euodia and Syntyche “contended at his side for the sake of the Gospel.”

Then, we are told that their names are “written in the Book of Life.”

Put those two statements together, and it’s obvious they were prominent church members and likely leaders in that church.

Why else would St Paul mention them by name? He wouldn’t have bothered—or maybe even known about them, if they were fringe church members or new believers.

No—this was a bust-up between key church leaders.

It happens. It happened then—and, trust me, it happens now.

Think about it—this church was founded by St. Paul himself, and within a few short years, disagreed so acutely that Paul 800 miles away in prison heard about it.

Don’t be surprised when a disagreement happens—be ready for it and deal with it.

3. Working With difference

Paul encourages the two women “to be of the same mind in the Lord.”

Now, let’s clarify here. I don’t think being of the same mind in the Lord is the same thing as being of the same mind.

Being of the same mind indicates uniformity—which is NOT the same thing as unity.

Uniformity is where we all agree on the same things.

  • We like the same type of worship, the same hymn book, and the same Bible version.

  • We have bible studies where we sit around and agree with one another.

  • We quite literally sing from the same hymn sheet.

But I don’t think St Paul is asking for uniformity—but unity.

What’s the difference?

Unity is where we have the same mind in the Lord. This happens when our mutual commitment and obedience to Jesus brings unity amid diversity and disagreement.

Loving Jesus and figuring out what it means to live as followers of Jesus is more important than getting my own way and having everything in the church fit my personal preferences.

I can’t count the people I’ve known who have left a church because they couldn’t have everything their way. Most of them went off to other churches where they tried to make that new church do everything their way. And so it continues…

The original apostles Jesus brought together were a diverse group, even natural enemies, but their mutual allegiance to Christ brought unity and peace.

With the right attitude and with God’s help, all of us can work it out.

Life is very short, and there's no time

For fussing and fighting, my friend.

I have always thought that it's a crime,

So I will ask you once again.

We can work it out,

We can work it out.

Adapted from a sermon at GMC on October 15th


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