A Study of the Book of
“Philippians” Unity. Humility. Joy.
“Two Believers Are Arguing; What Do We Do?”
Deer’s antlers locked from combat. If they stay locked together they both die, no matter who “won” the argument. In church, disagreements will arise, because we are people, but sometimes when those disagreements turn into arguments that need to be addressed, someone needs to step in and help free the congregation from this entanglement. If they don’t, it will splinter and damage will be done.
There is however, no irreparable damage to a church – because we have the gospel. No church has gone so far that the love of Jesus and faith in Him can’t turn things around.
Prayer 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Agree in the Lord (vv. 2-3)
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, 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.
Paul up to this point has strongly encouraged the Philippian church to be united, to stand firm, and he has been thankful for their partnership in the gospel – but he is also writing them because there was division within the church. Now, he specifically mentions two women’s name (Euodia and Syntyche). By entreating, pleading both of their names, he is not choosing sides.
However, “his reference to them by name in a letter to be read to the whole church appropriately and understandably identifies a major cause of the problem of disunity addressed in numerous ways throughout the entire letter.”
All of the issues of disunity within the church swirled around these two women. The only way for the church to have unity is for these two women to be united and (as he has said earlier) be of the same mind in the Lord. We don’t know what they were arguing over, or what caused this sharp division – Paul has already mentioned earlier that “such division is caused by pride, selfish ambition, and spirit of rivalry. These church leaders were engaged in a power struggle to expand their spheres of influence and control over the church.”
These two women don’t seem to be able to work this out on their own, so “I ask you also, true companion,2 help these women” – The division was so heated, and was spreading like a cancer to the entire church, there needed to be a moderator – a third party to step in and help these two women work this out.
The women were famous for serving with Paul, he says the women “who have labored side by side with me in the gospel,” – They are believers, “whose names are in the book of life.” But whatever this issue may be, they are greatly divided over the issue.
So how do you get from division to “agreeing in the Lord?”
Let us assume that we are the “true companion” that Paul is asking to step in and help these women, what could we do? Paul is continuing his teaching of how the church is to “conduct” themselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Our agreeing “in the Lord” is paramount to the mission being completed.
This is why doctrine is so important on the front end of church membership – if anyone can believe anything at any time, then there will always be division. So, we say, this is what we believe, and how we live this out (basic values) – once that is established, then division should go away. Because beyond this, we are not arguing over essential beliefs, we have moved into opinions and preferences.
These two ladies are not arguing over a doctrinal issue. Paul has already addressed the doctrinal issues of the dogs, the evildoers, and the mutilators (3:2). Paul is not addressing the message of the church, but how two believers are disagreeing over the method of the church.
7 Principles of Moving From Arguing to Agreeing
- Remember that this (the church) is not an “us” and “them” – it is always just “us.” If you find yourself using language like “those people,” or any way of diving the church into different groups, then you are on the road to division.
- Think about what is at stake if the two groups don’t come to an agreement: division will continue, and it will escalate. The church will slip in two; it will splinter. Is one side’s viewpoint so right, that it should cause a church split? Is this issue or opinion a hill to die on?
- Remember Believers serve and love the same Lord. Paul uses the phrase “in the Lord,” several times throughout the book. They can be joyful “in the Lord,” even in times of persecution; they were to welcome Epaphroditus back home “in the Lord,” even when his plans had to change, and these two ladies should seek unity because they are “in the Lord.” We all serve the same Lord and Christianity serves the same mission – sharing the gospel.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
- Rejoice. To rejoice is to “show great joy or excitement.” It is an expression of joy. If we are to settle a dispute between believers (whose names are in the book of life), Paul says to rejoice. It’s the only one of the list, that Paul repeats, “again, I say rejoice.” We are to rejoice, specifically “in the Lord,”
We serve a risen Lord, who has called us to salvation, we get to be apart of the gospel expanding, and seeing lives eternally changed. Rejoice in the Lord that you are apart of the most noble life purposes. Rejoicing will keep your focus upward, and you are less likely to complain.
Rejoicing in our salvation reminds us how much we have been forgiven. “Philippians 4:4 is a Paul’s hyperlink to Matthew 18:23-35. There in response to Peter’s question about how to respond to his brother who sins against him, Jesus tells the gospel story. That is, Jesus takes Peter vertical. Over and against the one-hundred-denarii offense of our brother, Jesus points out our ten-thousand-talent offense against God. And yet, he reminds us, God our Master forgives us.”
“Rejoice in the Lord,” is a call to realign our attitude and agenda with God’s. The Lord’s agenda, must be our agenda.
5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
- How Believers Deal With Conflict is a Witness to the Power of the Gospel. “Reasonableness” “a yielding up of certain real rights.” In order for there to be a possibility of a partnership in the gospel, all parties must yield certain real rights, in order for others to hear and understand the gospel – we show the power of the gospel by displaying to the community our reasonableness to work together for important things; in other words, the gospel is more important than my feelings.
Our reasonableness is rooted in a desire to make peace. James 3:16-18 “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Remember the “Lord is at hand.” – we don’t have to settle this issue alone, we don’t need to be anxious about this conflict or division, instead God is here to help us work through it. “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” – We go to the Lord in prayer, to seek wisdom, and the Lord will hear and answer our prayers. Paul adds that we should pray in times of conflict, “with thanksgiving.”
Paul even opens this book by saying how thankful he is for the church, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” (1:3). The church had issues, that’s why he wrote the letter, but thankfulness allows him to see the big picture.
When there is a lack of thanksgiving, our hearts tend toward idolatry, Romans 1:21-25 “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . .” Instead of God, the gospel, the lost, the kingdom, the mission, etc. being the center of our thoughts, we substitute what we think about this issue in it’s place, and our feelings on that topic becomes the idol.
We think on that issue all the time. Also, without thanksgiving for all that God has done, this one point of disagreement becomes our whole world. Thankfulness keeps our minds aware that there are things going on in the world (in the church) other than what we think about a given issue. Our view become myopic.
Without thanksgiving, prayer becomes merely a way of complaining to God about all the bad things in our lives. Knowing that God is near, that he hears our prayers, and we have a thankful spirit, that leads to . . .
(v. 7) “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” – Give the issue to the Lord. “Lord, this is your church, these are your people, I am here to serve, and will do whatever you want me to do.” – and mean it. Don’t add, Lord this is your church, now do what I want or I’m going to leave,”
In our hearts, when God moves to the center, and we give everything to Him. God’s peace stands guard over our hearts and minds. Earlier in the passage, where it has been “in the Lord,” (agree in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, etc. ) now as we apply these things to our lives, it moves to “in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:26 echoes this same idea, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is no “us” and “them” – just those in Christ Jesus. Just those who love Jesus and have put their faith in Him. We are all seeking to serve the same Jesus.
And in our relationship with Jesus we have experienced forgiveness. “Our blindness to sin and unwillingness to forgive reveal more than a failure to think of God. They reveal our failure to remember our own offenses against God and his amazing grace and acquittal of our sin.”
“do not be anxious about anything” – This is in the context of church life. There are things in church life that may lead us to be anxious. Matthew 6:31-34 “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Anxiety is doubt that God will come through with an answer, the solution, that He somehow doesn’t know what we need. We strive toward Jesus, we serve with all our hearts, and we trust that God will take care of us.
- Choose What You Will Think About
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Now Paul gives us six things to consider for the Christian life – but without these no ideals can exist. Think about these things, what is: Honorable, Pure, Lovely, Commendable, Excellence, Praise Worthy
Think on these things – you can choose to focus on the strongness of the coffee at the fellowship meal, or how something was changed on the stage in the sanctuary, or how a decision was made and your input was not considered – or you can think on things that will bring you peace, and peace within your church. “We are responsible for our thoughts and can hold them to high and holy ideals.” Or you can choose to dwell and think on things that cause division and at the end of the day will keep you (like those deer) locked up in combat.
There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. We live in a world that cries out for forgiveness – let it be found in the church.
 G. Walter Hansen, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009) 282.
 Hansen, 284.
 Alfred Poirier, The Peacemaking Pastor, A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books, 2006) 121.
 W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967) 466.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume IV (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1931) 460.