Unity Is a Team Effort

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 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. (Philippians 4:2-3)

Interesting passage, and it may seem out of place as we read that. Paul is doing something really interesting in that he’s calling out these two women in his letter, naming them and entreating them to do something.

When I was a young child growing up in a mid-sized neighborhood Baptist church, there were times when I got called out by the pastor. So I’m kind of cringing as I read what Paul does here; it takes me back a few years! The pastor in my home church of about 500-700 people didn’t approve of junior high or high school age boys getting up during the sermon. Once he started preaching, it was understood that you don’t get up until it is over. That meant taking care of some things prior to the sermon beginning, like getting a drink, restroom break, or whatever you needed to take care of. Once church began, you stay in your chair, and there’s a consequence if you don’t. Now I know how it is, when you know you can’t get up, then you think you need to get up. That is how I am when I get in the HOV lane; I’m fine until I get in it, and then all of the sudden I get thirsty or I need to go to the restroom, and you know how it is, you can’t get off for forever. 

Anyway, this pastor, he wasn’t too hard on people really except for, again, teenage boys. And we knew that we may get by with getting up once, but no way on that second try. On a second move toward the door he was going to call your name. So timing was important. It was not a pretty sight, him calling your name, not then in front of the whole congregation and certainly not when we would get home. Of course, that put a stop to most of the getting up that we were tempted to do. I knew what it was like to get called out before the whole church. His kids knew what it was like to get called out too, not just for getting up but even for whispering to a friend during a service.

No one likes to get called out, not in that way. I mean who would like that, right? Some of you parents might be saying, “I kind of like that, go ahead and do that with my kids.” I’m not suggesting we change our Sunday morning policy. My pastor had his reasons, and I’m sure we deserved what we got and even more.

Here is the thing: in our passage this morning, Euodia and Syntyche, they got called out. I mean, they got singled out in this letter that was not only sent to the Philippian church but also that got circulated to other churches and eventually became part of our Bibles today. This was a serious matter. I mean, for the Apostle Paul to mention these two ladies by name, he must have been very concerned about their conflict and how their conflict was affecting the Philippian church. Their conflict was no longer a private matter just between the two of them, it had grown to become a public matter within that body of believers. Their conflict must have risen to a level of becoming a significant disruption for the church for Paul to have mentioned it here. Why would Paul do this? Why would he mention these two women by name? What is his purpose in it, and what was he trying to accomplish?

After Paul’s challenge to the church to stand firm, which we looked at last week, to stand firm no matter what we may be facing in life circumstantially, he goes on to address these two women in the church. So let’s look at these two verses and see what this means for us as part of the church today. It wasn’t just given for the Philippian church and their unity, it was given for us to consider as well.

Paul entreats both women to agree in the Lord. To entreat, or you could say to plead, conveys the idea of making a strong request, but in an inviting way. Remember, these two he had already addressed earlier, not by name, not singled out, but they were a part of the rest of the church. In verse 1 of Philippians 4 he used five terms of endearment. These terms applied to these two ladies. He calls them beloved; they were included in that word, and the tone in which he penned verse 1 was meant for them. Paul entreats them or pleads with them in a very tender and friendly tone. He loves them individually, and he loves the church, and so it is in that love that he chooses to speak. There is no indication here that Paul means to be ugly, mean, or that he’s trying to embarrass them.

Notice too that the word “entreat” is written before each of the women’s names. He addresses them equally. It appears he is not taking sides. He doesn’t say “I entreat you Euodia, agree with Syntyche.” Or, “I entreat you Syntyche, agree with Euodia.” What Paul does instead is he entreats them to “agree in the Lord.” Paul is calling them to unity, but not just any kind of unity, not unity based on just anything, but unity that securely rests on Christ. 

Now again, why would Paul make such an outward appeal to them? I think we must assume that their conflict had clearly moved beyond a private disagreement. If it were simply a private matter, I don’t think we’d see this here. It could be handled differently than how Paul handles it here if it were a private matter. What are we supposed to do if we have a private disagreement with someone, if we have offended someone or we’ve been offended by another person? Write a letter to the church? No, Matthew 18 says we are to go to them privately.

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. (Matthew 18:15)

If someone sins against us, we are to go to them privately. It’s not a time for public proclamation, nor is it a time for gossip. It would be wrong to say things like, “You wouldn’t believe what so and so did/said!” It’s not a time to try and build some kind of coalition of people who will feel sorry for us or take our side on an issue. No, at this point it would be a private matter and should be handled privately.

How do we go to someone privately in this way? In humility, in meekness. Before going to someone with whom we’re having a conflict, we are to first consider our own sin, our own faults very carefully, a time of introspection before God, and then we go to another person to talk about the offense.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Sometimes we may be so entrenched in sin that we may not be seeing the situation clearly, so we are called to deal with our own sin first. One of the greatest benefits of approaching another person biblically who has offended us is the process that we must go through to examine ourselves, examine own hearts and lives first. It becomes an occasion not just to help a brother or sister who is sinning, but it is a time for us to be personally changed by God as well. And that can happen through this time of introspection and self-examination as we consider the log in our own eye. It becomes a great example of how God even takes sin, sin committed against us, and uses it for our good. Why? Because it drives us to proper self-examination before Christ. “How does God want to change me in this,” not, “How do I want to go after that other person?” So if you sin against me, God is not only working on you, He is faithfully working on me as well! It’s like He’s working every angle to change us, isn’t He? For our growth, for our progress toward Christlikeness.

When sin is public, the circle widens a bit. When many people witness our sin, we have offended more people, so it becomes broader in that there are more people to ask forgiveness from. So the fact that Paul calls these ladies by name indicates, I think, that those hearing him are already aware of whatever issue is at the center of their conflict. And further, this conflict is not just known, but it is having some kind of impact on unity in the church.

What Paul does is he calls on the two to agree, to have the same mind in the Lord. This is what Paul had encouraged the entire church to do already back in 2:2 when he said, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul is in both cases calling for harmony in the church. This harmony had been disrupted, or was threatening severe disruption. What is he calling them to do? To be of the same mind or agree in Christ. This is to have a like attitude or the same opinion in a matter. It is to share a goal with one another. 

The basic orientation in life for the Christian should be one of agreement with each other. How are they to have a right attitude toward each other in this matter, whatever the matter is? How does such strong disagreement that has disrupted the whole church become a matter of agreement, how does it turn into an agreement? The answer is by focusing on their life in and union with the Lord. Think of it this way, think of this even in your own relationships. Maybe you are struggling with another believer right now, maybe even someone else in this room. Think of these ladies. When these ladies begin to rightly, strongly focus their minds on their common bond in the Lord, then their attitudes will change. When their life is Christ, and their aim is to please Him in all things, when they’re consumed with their Savior, life will be different. I’m not trying to just be overly simplistic here, or to give a Sunday School answer, but what Paul is urging is that they agree in the Lord. They can become like Christ, who walked toward the cross, ready to be beaten, wrongly accused, murdered, and yet did not demand His own way.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

What is going to happen when these two ladies begin living out Philippians 2:5-8 in the circumstances that they are in? How might that change them? What is going to happen? What happens when two people who are in disagreement begin to see themselves as less important than the other, and realize they are to be meek and humble in the presence of others? When we argue or dispute with another person, from what position do we normally do that? From a position of superiority, “I know best,” or from a position of humility, “I could be wrong”? Where are we in that?

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)

Now there is a difficulty here. We don’t know the exact nature of what they’re disagreeing about. Obviously God didn’t want us to know that, otherwise He would tell us here. It could be that their disagreement is simply a matter of preference or opinion. This is where most of our arguments reside, in preferences or opinions. “I think this, or I think that. I like this or that so much that I’m willing to bring harm to our relationship to get what I want.” These are things that are not clearly defined in the Bible, I’m speaking of personal preferences. We talked about many of these things a few months ago as we discussed worship. There are some hot-button issues that fall into this category of preferences. I have some listed, but I’m not going to read them. You can decide what those might be for you. I could mention a couple things that may get your heart beating a little faster. The thing that’s hard about that is that when we talk about these preference things, we don’t just think of them in a vacuum. We bring all of our personal history and experience into it. Someone may say, “We can’t do that because I did that once, and here’s what happened to me, so that’s what will happen to you.” It’s experience-based rather than being based in Scripture.

These two ladies may be disputing and causing disruption in the church over stubbornness regarding their preferences. If that’s the case, there’s an easy fix for that: prefer the other person. 

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)

That word “outdo” is to be superior in performance. In other words, be superior in showing honor to your neighbor. Prefer your neighbor. There shouldn’t be warring factions in the church regarding preferences. But there are at times, and we need to work through those things biblically. 

On the other hand, it may be that these are issues of theology. It may be that one of the ladies is grounded strongly and rightly in the Scripture, and one is not. But even with theological issues we must be careful because none of us are inerrant in our understanding, especially about difficult doctrines that just aren’t plain. Paul does not say that what they’re disputing about is not important, that there is not a right and wrong, so just agree. No, he says “agree in the Lord.” I think that’s why he doesn’t bring up the issue itself, because the solution is to agree in the Lord. “Find your agreement in the Lord. Focus on the Lord, know His Word and agree in that. Be sure what you are standing for is in the Lord, consistent with His Word.”

Sometimes we may not only be disagreeing with our brother, but we may be disagreeing with the Lord in what we believe, so we need to be careful. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard things like, “God doesn’t like…” Or “God hates…” Or “God approves of…” And the blanks are things that God has said nothing about, and are merely the preferences of the person speaking. This is like putting words in God’s mouth that He never said. So we must first carefully examine our stance to see if we are agreeing with the Lord in what we believe, or if perhaps our emotions or our desires are so strong in a matter that we have bypassed the Lord and are merely believing what we want to believe.

Notice how Paul helps these women with their dispute…

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. (Philippians 4:3)

He doesn’t just leave these two women alone to work it out on their own, but he brings in the church. Paul asks his “true companion” to help these women, to come alongside them. He is urging a third party to get involved, to counsel, to mediate, to walk with them in reconciliation. This is a coming alongside in the ministry of the church. 

Who is this true companion? True companion means “yokefellow.” It’s the picture of two oxen yoked together, pulling the same load, working together with the same burden toward a common goal. It is difficult to know who this true companion is. Many think that since Paul has just named these two ladies, that what is translated here as “true companion” was meant to be a proper name in the original Greek. The Greek is “σύζυγος,” for companion, and that may have been a proper name. I think that’s a highly likely understanding of this passage. Others think that “companion” here is not necessarily a single person but is referring to the church as a whole, which is possible also. This would mean Paul is saying, “I ask you also, Philippian church, help these women.” In either case he is asking for others to step in and help resolve this conflict. 

And just notice his loving appeal. It is like, “Here are two women quarreling to the detriment of the church and the name of Christ. Help them, help these who have been laborers in the Gospel. Remember how we labored with Clement and the rest of you, all of us whose names are written in the Book of Life! Let’s work together on this. We are a body, a group of believers in Christ, let’s work this out!”

The church is crippled when there are disputing factions in it. That is distracting us from what we should be: a body working together for the glory of God. We need to solve things quickly when they arise. And sometimes that may take help from others, help from other believers.

And so today I want to encourage each of us to consider whether we need to go to someone in love, and deal biblically with some kind of dispute we may be having with another person, maybe hard feelings or a disagreement that has gotten to a place of causing disunity. Maybe a dispute within a family, maybe between individuals from different families. Whoever they may be with, I want to urge you to agree in the Lord. And if that can’t be resolved between you and someone else, then seek help from others within the church. Don’t be satisfied with simply thinking, “I’ll just live with this.” No, we are called to live in harmony, not just to put up with others. We’re called to live in unity with each other. Jesus said…

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23)

Why this oneness? Why is it so important? Just to get along? No, so that the world may know that Christ has come. When we are not agreeing in the Lord, when there are disputing factions in the body of Christ, do you know what we look like? Like everyone else in the world, everyone else who can’t get along. We are called to be different in this world, to be a light for Christ, and our unity shows this. I know it takes two for reconciliation, but we can do our part, even if the other chooses not to. Let’s do our part, in the grace that Christ has given us!

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 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. (Philippians 4:2-3)