The letter to the saints at Philippi is Paul’s most upbeat letter. He constantly thanks them for their love and support, and repeatedly praises them for their exemplary behavior and diligent efforts at spreading the gospel. He calls them “my joy and crown” (4:1). There is almost nothing negative in the whole letter.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2-3).
Apparently, these two women were not getting along. While it doesn’t appear to have been related to any false teaching or any terrible sin (in which case, Paul surely would have commanded one or both to repent) the dispute was troublesome enough that Paul brought it up.
Anytime there is rancor in the church, there is a problem. Christians are called to treat one another as members of a loving family.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32).
Because the church is made of imperfect people, there will inevitably be friction and pain. Someone will give someone else a reason to get upset, sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose. Someone will take someone else’s pew. Someone will forget to invite someone else to a potluck. Someone will forget to pay a debt, or will steal a twenty. Someone will commit adultery. It’s how Christians deal with these mistakes and misunderstandings, these insults and attacks, that allows the church to shine forth the image of Jesus.
Lingering resentment is not an option. “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15). Rancor in the assembly makes it hard to worship (Matthew 5:23-24). In fact, when brethren can’t resolve their differences, it suggests to the world that the gospel has little power (John 17:21, 13:34-35).
The example of Euodia and Syntyche is especially dispiriting because they were so active in the ministry. They shared Paul’s “struggle in the cause of the gospel.” What should have been a thankful greeting recognizing their accomplishments became a smudge.
Paul doesn’t pick sides. Instead, he notes that their names are recorded in the book of life, a metaphor for their salvation (Revelation 20:11-15). Two people bound for the same Heaven have every motivation for coming to terms. Thoughts of Heaven should remind us that earthly things are temporary and meaningless. Likewise, people following the same Savior should possess the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and know the definition of real love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), practical skills which provide the way forward in any dispute.
If animosity between two Christians is bad enough, or goes on long enough without a resolution, perhaps a third party can help. Paul says in other places, “I am convinced … you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge an able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). “Is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:5). In that spirit, Paul asks a certain “companion” (perhaps a proper name, Suzugos) to help these women resolve their differences and get back to the work of the Lord.
What does it take to “live in harmony in the Lord”? Christians may certainly have differences of opinion. But we should remember we are part of the same family. We should “greet the friends by name” (3 John 15). We should not be satisfied to put on a sweet face, but actually address and fix our disagreements. We should learn to forgive without limit (Matthew 18:22). Refusing to reconcile after a reasonable period of time ceases being a distraction and starts becoming sin (Matthew 5:24, 1 Corinthians 3:3). Modern day Euodias and Syntyches need to patch it up, and return to the wonderful work of building up the church and saving souls. –John Guzzetta