Churches, like any other people-packed group or business, are liable to encounter disunity, party spirit, anger, slander and lies. Of course, such behaviour is wrong and damaging to the cause of the gospel, as Paul outlined in Ephesians 4:17-32. But in today's verses his attention is focussed on two women who have created a 'septic wound' in the fellowship. Euodia means 'prosperous journey' and Syntyche means 'pleasant acquaintance': but they were certainly not travelling the same road together and hardly considered each other as friends.
We do not know the cause of their rift, but we know that it was sufficiently disruptive for news to have travelled to Paul in Rome, probably via Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). Paul was eager that their fellowship should be restored, not least because these women are born-again believers, who will spend eternity together in heaven. But how could this toxicity be resolved?
The Apostle does not advocate some shabby 'let’s forget about it all' deal, or worse – ‘let’s pretend there is no problem’. Instead he sets out a godly way. Firstly, he pleads equally to them both in a way which honours each woman. He asks them to see the situation from the Lord’s point of view. At the same time he asks a trusted brother to act as a mediator, to help each woman to understand the other. The word translated as ‘my true companion’ may well be a man’s name 'Syzygus'. Paul then reminded the church of the way that they had all worked together in gospel fellowship – and it was that gospel work which was being put at risk. His final motivation was to state the fact that all their names were in God’s book of salvation (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 20:15). Paul was not coercive but gently entreated the women and the church to understand that the gospel work is bigger than any difference of opinion, as Paul had personally experienced (Philippians 1:15-18).
Like so many secular organisations, the church has often failed to deal well with disagreement because truth is not central. Truth must be at the core of every solution otherwise trust will be forfeited for a long time. How many ministries have been compromised by sham agreements that were neither heartfelt nor wanted. And how many attempts at unity have fallen apart when everybody agrees the words, but each group believes they mean different things. The same problem may occur in marriages and business negotiations. When this problem comes to your door, don't ignore it but honour all, and seek to understand the truth behind the division. As trust starts to emerge, fresh agreements can be made in good faith if people are willing to accept the truth. Genuine resolution will be marked by a fresh desire to work together. In the church, this means gospel work.
© Dr Paul Adams