We can’t help wondering what caused disharmony between two women in the church at Philippi, but we will not find the answer--only that Paul urged these women to live in harmony. That’s all we know. Yet until the Lord shall return, Bible-readers everywhere will know there was an unspecified problem between these sisters, neither of whom is mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures. The wisdom in the scriptures’ silence on the details is evident. If Paul had revealed in his letter to the church some issue that arose between them, our human nature would drive us to inspect and analyze that issue to great lengths, dissect and attempt to adjudicate the argument on its merits, and focus our teaching of the passage on the way that particular issue should be resolved between disputants. But we don’t even know if there was an issue or if the women just had clashing personalities, each bristling to the other’s words and actions. It does not matter what the discord was about; what was vitally important was to end the strife. Otherwise the apostle would not have taken such public notice of a seemingly private conflict.
Neither woman is shown to be evil, nor is one shown to be right and the other wrong. Both had labored with Paul for the sake of the gospel. So this wasn’t a problem between Christians and people of the world. It was a family matter of concern to the entire church (note that the letter is address to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi”). That’s the way it is when church members are “on the outs” with one another. The poison tends to spread through the body, with every member eventually adversely affected. The natural tendency is for people embroiled in conflict to talk up their case in the Christian family and line up support for their respective sides. The dissonance proliferates to other parties who have no interest except to sympathize with one of the quarrelers. It is precisely the seventh thing in the proverb-writer’s recitation of things the Lord hates—things that are an abomination to him—“one who spreads strife among brothers.”
Jesus’ prayer was that his followers would be one, so that the world would know they are his disciples. Euodia and Syntyche were not the one for whom Jesus prayed, but two--separate and quarreling. The same may be said for the women’s sympathizers.
Today there are innumerable volumes of guidance on conflict resolution. We might consult the works of experts and prescribe multi-point ways for people to solve disagreements. But for any approach to yield a satisfactory and lasting cure, it must be rooted in the principles Jesus and his apostles taught. If your brother sins, or if you know that your brother has something against you, try to settle the matter privately first, involve others only if necessary, and then in the presence of your opponent, involving the church only as a last resort. Give preference to one another in love. Be angry, and do not sin. Be quick to listen, slow to anger, not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought. Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. The change that is needed is in the hearts of people, not some settlement.
Paul never tells us the outcome of his admonition. He only shared with later generations what was most important--the motivation to set aside petty struggles and get on with serving the Lord.
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