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May 26, 2023

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! 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, 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 4:1-3).

Once again, the division between chapters is not a solid wall. Paul is finishing his point that our lives must be guided by the truth that our ‘citizenship is in heaven.’ Likewise, it ought to guide Euodia and Syntyche in whatever disagreement they are having.

But before we get to them, Paul is again expressing himself as someone deeply emersed in the life of the church, not as an ivory tower theologian. These Christians are his joy and his crown even now. They are the treasures he is laying up in heaven. He is confident that Christ will complete the good work he began in them (1:6); thus, they will adorn Paul’s brow at the final day, just as the crown of leaves adorned the brow of a victorious athlete in his day.

Paul is not gloating. He does not want people looking at him, admiring him, hero-worshipping him. Rather, they will be proof that his labour was not in vain; their presence before the throne will authenticate his calling as an apostle, which some still doubted. Elsewhere, Paul has made the case that he is an apostle, but here he will not press his point; judgement day will make all this clear.

But only if they stand firm by avoiding the excesses of the enemies of the cross of Christ. Again, we pause to consider the motives behind our own desires. Do we live merely for ourselves? Or are we guided by the cross? We all live with mixed motives. It is the constant task of the Christian to allow the Holy Spirit to test and probe us. The cross is the way of humility. Will we walk it?

Now, about these two women. The argument between them may be penetrating the entire church. For the sake of the communion, they need to end their strife. The phrase “be of the same mind’ echoes the one Paul used in his exhortation to the whole church to be “like-minded” (2:2). The clear verbal echo indicates that Euodia and Syntyche need to put the interests of each other first.

In his rebuke, Paul is deliberately even-handed, He does not take sides but exhorts each one with equal firmness and commends them both for being co-labourers with him for the gospel. They should be in Spirit-produced fellowship with one another, and this relationship should be characterized by “tenderness and compassion,” a mutual love, and a unity of purpose. It should, in addition, lead them to put the interests of the other ahead of their own interests.

Paul is under no illusions, however, that they will end their dispute with one another on some purely human grounds. Thus, he adds to his admonition the qualification that their agreement should be “in the Lord.” Further, sometimes, we need help to see the truth of things. And so, he asks his ‘true companion’ to help these people resolve their issues.

Paul’s admonition is not abstract, a general command for the Christians to work out on their own. Here he shows that the deep concept of Christian unity must be worked out on the ground, one quarrel at a time. So, Paul singles out Euodia and Syntyche, identifies them as two people who have contributed to the disunity within the church, and urges them to “agree in the Lord.” In 4:2, Paul pours all the theological richness of 2:6-11 into a single dispute between two people. For him there can be no dichotomy between reflection on the incarnation and the behavior that the incarnation requires of us.

Similarly, what we believe determines what we practice. If we believe that God is the “Creator of heaven and earth,” we cannot exploit his creation in ways that dishonor him. If we believe in “the forgiveness of sins” through the death of Jesus Christ, then we cannot refuse to forgive the sins of others. If we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” then we cannot grieve over death as if we had no hope. But especially considering this passage, if we believe in “the holy catholic church” and in the “communion of saints,” then when relationships within the church are broken, we must work for their reconciliation. It should be unthinkable to confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed but to refuse to associate with our brothers and sisters across the church aisle.