A Word about Conflict in Church

How might you handle a minor disagreement with someone if you knew it would be remembered and talked about two thousand years later?

As Paul closed out the letter to the Church at Philippi, a church that we could argue was as healthy and effective as any we find in the New Testament, he mentioned two ladies who were at odds with one another. Whatever their disagreement was, surely they would have been mortified to know that it would end up in the Scriptures of their newfound faith. Paul wrote: 

“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 4:2-3)

We are not meant to think badly of either Euodia or Syntyche. Paul did not take a side, and he made clear that both ladies were incredibly faithful leaders and servants in the church. Not only did he say, “these women . . . have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel,” but he mentioned them in the same breath as Clement, who would become the key leader of the Church at Rome in the next generation of disciples.

Yet there was clearly a glaring conflict between the two women. It had become so pronounced that Paul asked someone, who he described as his “true companion” or “true partner” (Lydia?)* to step in as a go-between and mediate. Paul neither dropped the hammer of his apostolic authority nor threatened them with church discipline. He did not accuse them of poisoning the effectiveness of the church. Instead, he “pleads” with them to have “the same mind” with one another in the Lord, and to not remain divided over some non-essential issue.

If these two ladies could simply come back to what they had in common–that their names are written in the book of life and that they had been partners in the gospel ministry–they would be able to be “of the same mind” in the Lord once again. This did not mean they had to agree on everything, or that one would have to concede entirely to the opinions or preferences of the other. Instead, Paul appealed to the most important thing that united them – the gospel of Christ Jesus.

As part of Sunday’s message on this part of Philippians, I shared the following from one of  my most trusted New Testament scholars: 

A WORD ABOUT CONFLICT FROM D.A. CARSON:

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“Some honest differences of opinion among genuine believers could be resolved if they would take the time to sort out why they are looking at things differently and if they would take their views and attitudes and submit them afresh, self-critically to the Scriptures. But many disputes will not be resolved, because those who are quarreling will neither take the time nor deploy the energy to study the Scriptures together. In some cases, neither side wants to be corrected or sharpened; both sides are so convinced that they are right that mere facts will not correct them, and in any case, all they want to do is win…usually what is being exposed is a rather embarrassing immaturity. Where there are disagreements of principle, argue them out. Take out your Bibles, think things through, find out why you are disagreeing, and be willing to be corrected…Personal differences should never become an occasion for advancing your party, for stroking bruised egos, for resorting to cheap triumphalism…Focus on what unites you: the gospel, the gospel, the gospel.” (From Basics for Believers – A Study of Philippians, page 128-129).

LAST WORD

What Paul wrote specifically to Euodia and Syntyche is not separated from the rest of the letter. On the contrary, it is a personal exhortation to practice the Christian unity described so eloquently to the entire church earlier in the letter: 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:1-5)


*There are several theories as to who this companion/partner/”yokefellow” might have been. Some say Timothy or Epaphroditus. Others say Luke. I would add Lydia (Acts 16:10-15) as a strong possibility since we learn that the church at Philippi might have met in her home, and that she being from Thyatira might have been essential in staring the church there (Revelation 1:11, 2:18-29). Who better to mediate the conflict between two other women than the matriarch of the church?

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