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From Encouragement to Exhortation

We’ve been looking at the advice given by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:1-3 for those occasions when Christians clash in the local church. Continue reading . . .

We’ve been looking at the advice given by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:1-3 for those occasions when Christians clash in the local church.

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true comrade, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:1-3).

I’m going to skip the exhortation at the end of v. 1 and jump right in to his appeal to these two women.

Before we do, however, let me say something about the presence of “division” in the church. People are often confused on this. Not all “division” is bad just as not all “unity” is good. Sometimes division is absolutely essential, especially when the truth of the gospel is at stake. Back in 3:2 Paul warned the Philippians to stay clear of the “dogs” and the “evil workers” in their midst. When people stand opposed to the gospel or threaten its purity, keep your distance. Unity is always a question of “with whom” and “on what grounds” and division is always a question of “from whom” and “for what reasons”? Unity that requires compromise on biblical truth or ethical purity is worth nothing. Division over secondary and comparatively unimportant doctrines is ridiculous.

So what had happened in Philippi with these two women?

First of all, who were they? We know they were in fact women because the pronouns in v. 3 that refer back to the individuals in v. 2 are feminine. I say this because some have argued that “Syntyche” was a man’s name and that he was none other than the Philippian jailer we read about in Acts 16. Euodia, so this theory suggests, was his wife. Some have said Euodia was symbolic of Jewish Christians and Syntyche was symbolic of Gentiles, and the dispute was one of ethnic prejudice. Some argue that one of the women was actually Lydia, the lady in Acts who was the first convert in Philippi. All this is speculation.

What’s also important to see is that these weren’t two women on the periphery of church life who simply spent their time gossiping and causing trouble. As we’ll see in a moment, they were “co-workers” with the apostle Paul. They were significant, contributing members of the body and the spread of the gospel.

Second, the nature of the dispute between them isn’t stated. There’s no indication that either was involved in theological heresy or immoral behavior. Did it involve their responsibilities in the church? Was it a personality conflict? Had one of them defrauded the other or broken a confidence? We simply don’t know.

Third, what’s most important is that Paul focused his energy on resolving the dispute. He doesn’t take sides. He doesn’t command them as an apostle. He entreats them in love. He doesn’t summarize each of their claims against the other. He doesn’t say, “O.K., Euodia, most of the blame falls on you, so humble yourself and confess. You need to apologize.” He doesn’t sit on the fence or suggest that they are both equally to blame.

As far as Paul was concerned, they were both responsible to make the first move. Paul knew that human relationships can be incredibly tangled, complicated, and messy. In effect, Paul says, “Don’t wait for the other to make the first move. I’m not expecting one of you to say, ‘I’m perfectly ready to accept an apology when it is made. Nor do I want the other to say, ‘I’m perfectly ready to make an apology when I’ve got some assurance that it will be accepted.’” It’s interesting that Paul repeats the verb “entreat” in both cases. I entreat both of you equally. Take steps to put this right!

Fourth, he entreats them to “agree in the Lord” (v. 2). He certainly doesn’t expect them to put their minds and deeply held beliefs on hold and agree on every issue imaginable. He doesn’t say: “Hey, ladies, put aside your doctrinal differences for the sake of unity.”

The key is in the phrase, “in the Lord.” “You are both Christians! You both are loved by Jesus who gave himself for you both! You are united not only now in this local church but for eternity by virtue of your faith in Christ. You are both ‘in’ the Lord! So be willing to be defrauded by the other. Be willing to have your rights trampled. Be willing to suffer an injustice. Be willing to give in more than the other. If you genuinely love each other and desire the best for each other and for the welfare of the entire church, be quick to come to agreement. And part of that agreement may be that you agree to disagree but to do it in a way that doesn’t cause friction or prevent the two of you from tearing each other and the rest of the church apart. Above all else, do it for the sake of the name and reputation of Christ in Philippi. Don’t let your disagreement bring reproach on his name or the gospel.”

This is extremely important. It’s as if Paul is saying that men and women who together are “in” the Lord should be willing to bend a bit. Don’t be so brittle that you snap in two every time someone disagrees with you or has a proposal that runs counter to yours. Don’t be wishy-washy, but at the same time don’t be so inflexible that you alienate others in the body of Christ. If the issue isn’t one of primary theological or ethical importance, be a little more tolerant and understanding of each other.

So, he’s not calling for perfect agreement on everything between them. Rather, he’s urging them to embrace a common vision, a common orientation around the gospel. He wants them to be jointly committed to the same Christ and do all things for his glory. See Philippians 2:2.

Fifth, Paul’s exhortation extends to someone else in the church who is to insert himself into the situation and help resolve their dispute. This is instructive, because it reminds us that sometimes certain disputes can’t be resolved by the people involved but call for a mediator, someone wise and patient and competent who can help people work through difficult disputes.

Paul calls him “true companion” (v. 3). Who was this? The word translated “true companion” literally refers to someone works well in partnership with another. This is the sort of person who is especially gifted and skilled in mediating broken relationships. Some think it was Lydia. Others say it might have been either the husband or brother of one of the ladies. Perhaps it was Epaphroditus or Timothy or Silas or an Elder in the church at Philippi. The fact is, we’ll never know and don’t need to.

Fifth, the most important thing to note is that Paul’s concern for these women and the reason he wants them unified is that they had fought together with him in the proclamation of the gospel. They were co-laborers, working at Paul’s side in spreading the truth of Christ. They had both made great sacrifices and likely had taken great risks to their physical welfare to help Paul in his ministry.

I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t feel the need to mention any other names, except that of one man named “Clement.” It’s as if he says, “It’s not important that we know them by name. It’s only important that God does, and he has them each inscribed in the book of life.”

I know what you’re wondering: What is the “book of life”? There are two possibilities.

(1) In the OT the “book of life” (or its equivalents) was a register of the citizens of the theocratic community of Israel. To have one’s name written in the book of life implied the privilege of participation in the temporal blessings of the theocracy, while to be erased or blotted out of this book meant exclusion from those blessings. In other words, this book had reference to the rights of citizenship for the Jewish people (cf. Ex. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3).

(2) The most likely reference is to the Lamb’s book of life that serves as the register of those who have been chosen for salvation from eternity past. It is not temporal or earthly blessings that are in view, but participation in the eternal kingdom of God as recipients of eternal life (see Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 13:8; 17:8). It would appear from these texts that not all are written in this book, but only the elect.

We need to look closely at Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 to understand what Paul has in mind here in Philippians 4:3. According to Revelation 13:8,

“all who dwell on earth will worship it [i.e., the Beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

Similarly, in Revelation 17:8, we read:

“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.”

The “book of life” therefore is a metaphor of the register or list of those whom God has chosen for eternal life and whose names therefore were inscribed before the foundation of the world.

To be continued . . .

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