We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
In today’s section Paul addresses a very specific problem in the Philippian church. While we are not told if the tension between the two women mentioned in the letter was ever resolved I have taken some creative liberty and written it up as it may have happened. Given that Paul has such confidence in the Philippians I think this might be at least plausible!
Clement – Recently, the followers of Jesus Christ here in Philippi received a letter from our dear friend Paul. You may have heard of him? He is an apostle who has seen the risen Lord and who was sent to take the good news of Jesus to the nations. I was one of the first believers in Philippi and had the immense privilege of working with Paul in the cause of the good news.
Like so many communities of faith we are facing increasing pressure from our wider community. Pressure to conform to the values of our society rather than the values that come from following Jesus. These pressures have only made more clear the various ways in which our own church is divided. Not on central issues! We were taught by Paul and have held fast to the teaching that he handed to us – that Jesus came in the flesh to the people of Israel in fulfilment of the Scriptures, was handed over to the authorities who crucified him, but he was raised on the third day by the power of the Spirit who he then sent to complete his work. His death was for the redemption and atonement of all humanity; first the Jews but also including the Gentiles. This we agree on!
No, our divisions are over much smaller things; often based on personal ambition – so typical of our society, but in complete contradiction to the cross of Christ.
Paul – I had heard through the grape vine that there were personal agendas at work in Philippi. This broke my heart. The Philippians are so dear to me that I couldn’t not write! And what I wrote wasn’t glib truths but, was, I felt, the word of God for them at this point in time. It felt prophetic; like it was really the word of God.
I tried to show them, in my own life, in the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus and ultimately in the life of Christ, what it means to follow in the way of our Lord.
But now, after warning them about false teachers and those who put their trust in the things that the world sees valuable and those who have their hearts set on earthly things, it was time to name the one situation above all that I had heard was bringing division to the church.
Read Philippians 4:1-2
Clement – Not for the first time, you could have heard a pin drop in our community as Epaphroditus read these words. When he did, he looked right at Euodia and Syntyche and there was a real sense of pleading in his voice. Surely, this was how Paul himself had dictated these words!
Paul – I actually named Euodia and Syntyche. You might think this is a little embarrassing and, you’d be right. However, it is also a sign of friendship. Normally, when you write about an enemy you don’t name them – it’s a way of shaming them really. By naming these two dear women I was trying to convey my deep and abiding friendship with both of them.
Clement – These two women were leaders in the community. They had been among the first believers, along with myself, Lydia, and a few others. They were passionate for the good news and were excellent examples of what it meant to follow Jesus.
I can’t even remember what, if anything, set off their disagreement. All I know is that things have been getting more and more awkward between them. There are some of us who have tried to mediate between them, but more often than not we find ourselves siding with one or the other.
No one missed the fact that Paul named them both – it was as if he was saying, while they weren’t his enemies, they were important enough to be named before the community. It was also really noticeable that he pleaded with the one and then with the other. There was no sense of favoritism; no sense from Paul that he thought one was right and the other in the wrong. They were, so to speak, both in the wrong. They were both acting with their own interests in mind, rather than the interests of the church or each other.
Paul – I’d heard from a few people who had come from Philippi, their understanding of the situation between Euodia and Syntyche. From all I heard, there was no doctrine at stake, just an opportunity to look to the needs of others first and to not seek advantage and personal benefit.
To be frank, I don’t care who is in the right and who is in the wrong. All I care about, in this case, is that the community of faith is suffering from their personal ambition at a time when they can least afford to be divided. External persecution will open those cracks up until they tear the community apart! The gospel is too important. And it was this desire that led me to name them both.
Besides, they know me. They know my care and concern for them. We have worked so closely together in the cause of the good news.
Clement – We weren’t sure what to do next. Paul had named them both in front of the whole community. After they got over the shock, they looked at each other, but before one could speak Epaphroditus went on.
Read Philippians 4:3-4
Paul – I could just picture the scene as Epaphroditus read the letter aloud. I could see the shock on their faces and the uncertainty of what should be done in the midst of the community of faith. That’s why I instructed Epaphroditus to immediately include Syzygus, my loyal companion in Philippi in helping them work it out.
Clement – When I was mentioned I nearly fell off my seat! The mediation of Syzygus was momentous. Everyone respected him and he, of all people, would be able to help them. It was actually very moving. Epaphroditus stopped reading, lowered the parchment and everything and waited. This was too important to wait.
Syzygus stood up and reached out both his hands. Euodia took one and Syntyche took the other. Then he drew them together until they took each other’s hands. He said something to them that we didn’t all hear clearly though it had something to do with following Christ, counting that cost and straining ahead for the good news and all that was promised.
We all stood and gathered around them too and it was a long time before Epaphroditus could continue. There were tears and apologies and prayer before someone suggested that we eat of the Lord’s supper. So we broke bread together and sang again the hymn Paul had cited. We got quite carried away actually, began to plan how we would let Paul know that things had been resolved.
It was then that Epaphroditus interjected that he hadn’t yet finished the letter! There was still more from Paul. So, gathered around the table (there weren’t that many of us), we listened to the remainder of the letter.
To think about
Euodia and Syntyche were called out by Paul to sort out the differences between them. We don’t know if they ever resolved it, let alone if they resolved it there and then, but it raises an important question for us either way: Is there someone you need to be reconciled to?
Give this some careful thought and pray that the Holy Spirit might reveal to you who you may need to change your attitude towards!