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Living in the Goodness of God's Peace Part 1

February 17, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians

Topic: Peacemaking Passage: Philippians 4:1–4:3

LIVING IN THE GOODNESS OF GOD’S PEACE–PART 1

An Exposition of Philippians 4:1-3

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   February 17, 2019

Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

INTRODUCTION

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to observe that we live in world that is characterized by a lot of conflict. International peace is a fragile thing in a fallen world. In our own country, peace isn’t the word that comes to mind when we think about what transpires in Washington, DC. Closer to the ground of where our neighbors actually live, we know that the breakdown of the family has affected the everyday lives of millions of people. At the individual level, how many anxious or conflicted people pursue some kind of equilibrium through counseling, medicine, or group therapy?

In terms of the biblical worldview, it is not at all surprising that people’s ordinary experience is so often disturbed by significant conflict. The 20th century Christian teacher named Francis Schaeffer exercised a formative influence upon my thinking in my early Christian life. Schaeffer helped me to see the full scope of the conflict that humanity came to experience immediately after our first parent’s plunge into sin. Schaeffer pointed out four particular dimensions of conflict that exist in the now sinful world of Genesis 3, which recounts the tragic reality of sin and its consequences.[1]

First, there is spiritual conflict: human beings are in conflict with God. To begin with, Adam and Eve sinned against God and disobeyed His Word. Then this happened: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) When the Lord draws near to the people that He has made, and those people hide from Him, you have what would have to be described as a dysfunctional relationship – and the fault lies entirely with us and our sin. Conflict with God is the most foundational conflict of all.

Since sinners have a broken relationship with God, who is the source of all that is good and true and beautiful, it is not surprising that sinners also have breakdowns in every other aspect of life.

So second, there is psychological conflict: each person is conflicted internally. After Adam and Eve sinned, their “eyes… were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7). But the fig leaves didn’t do the trick. When God showed up, the man said that “[he] was afraid, because [he] was naked” (Genesis 3:10). Because we are alienated from God, we are no longer comfortable in our own skin – now we feel fear, guilt, shame, and a disconcerting vulnerability. We were created to be holy in the Lord. But when sin enters the equation, that sin causes our inner life to rupture and disintegrate.  

Third, there is social conflict: human beings are conflicted with one another. When Adam and Eve were joined together, they were “one flesh” and lived in transparent joy with each other (Genesis 2:24-25). But after sin reared its ugly head, they were at odds. When the Lord confronted Adam over Adam’s sin, Adam became the first man – but not the last – to play the blame game: and so he pointed the finger at Eve (Genesis 3:11-12). In Genesis 4, Cain murdered Abel. And as soon as you get to Genesis 6, “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11).

Fourth, there is environmental conflict: human beings now have to live in an uncooperative physical environment. Now there would be multiplied “pain in childbearing” (Genesis 3:16) for the woman, and the painful toil of working a cursed ground for the man (Genesis 3:17-18), and in due course the human body would itself break down and “return to the ground “ (Genesis 3:19).

Once we understand the truth of Genesis 3, we see that it comes as zero surprise that the world around us is characterized by these various conflicts: spiritual conflict at the root, and then its  bad fruits in psychological, social, and environmental conflict. If you follow the news, you should understand that each day’s news is basically a re-enactment of these various conflicts: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Or as Malcolm Muggeridge put it: "all new news is old news happening to new people."[2] And let’s be honest: so much of this news is bad news.

The gloriously good news of the gospel, however, is that the sin-induced spiritual conflict of Genesis 3 can be undone by the power of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came in order to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) – in other words, to bring about reconciliation between us sinners and the Holy God against whom we have grievously sinned. Jesus secured this peace for His sheep through His atoning death on the cross: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead in order to restore us to a right relationship with God. Those of us who have thus been “justified by faith” now “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Continual supplies of grace and peace are now flowing to us “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2) Through this gloriously good news of the gospel, we are summoned to live in the goodness of God’s peace.

This call to live in the goodness of God’s peace is thematic in Philippians 4:2-13, which we will be looking at in this and the next four sermons. The point of these verses is not about how sinners find peace with God in the first place. As I mentioned just a moment ago, sinners find peace with God at one place and one place only: in the cross of Christ. It is at the cross that God reconciles sinners to Himself and thereby turns sinners into His beloved sons and daughters. If you would have peace with God, you must turn away from your sinful ways and believe the good news about Jesus and treasure Jesus as the glorious Savior who commands you to follow Him.

The point of Philippians 4:2-13 is about how God’s redeemed people, who have already been reconciled to God, should now live their everyday lives in the goodness of God’s peace. If you are not a Christian, attempting to implement the principles of these verses won’t make you a Christian. But if you are a Christian, then it is your privilege to live each and every day, in each and every situation, in each and every relationship, out of the overflow of “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:7) which “the God of peace” (Philippians 4:9) is pouring into your life.

So here’s the beautiful thing: in the midst of this conflict-laden world with spiritual and psychological and social and environmental conflict all around us, we Christians are called to be a people of peace – a people who experience piece and exhibit peace at all times. In the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the foundational spiritual conflict of Genesis 3 has been undone: we have peace with God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Being thus established in right relations with God, God’s Spirit takes the rich soil of spiritual peace and produces within us peace in other areas of life.

A Comprehensive Vision for Living in the Goodness of God’s Peace

Although today’s message will focus on verses 2-3, I want you to catch a vision of the full-orbed way of peace in which you are called to live and grow. This vision is for “your hearts and your minds” to be guarded by “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:7). Thus guarded, your hearts and minds are safe from all threats, secure from all disturbances, and protected from all intruders. In other words, psychological conflict is undone and increasing psychological peace becomes the order of the day in the lives of believers. As God’s peace stands guard all around the gates of your soul, what is going on inside your soul? This: joy (Philippians 4:4, 10), no anxiety (Philippians 4:6), gratitude (Philippians 4:6), wholesome thoughts (Philippians 4:8), and contentment regardless of external circumstances (Philippians 4:11). God’s will for your life is that your emotional life and your thought life be characterized by these things. Are they? It is safe to assume that since you and I are not perfected yet, we have some growing to do. Well then, let us be eager to grow!

So God’s will is that His peace stand guard all around the gates of your soul, and that your soul be full of vitality, stability, purity, and beauty. This vision then expands into your outward life: if you are experiencing true God-given peace inwardly, then you will exhibit this God-given peace outwardly in at least three ways: 1) you will be seeking to live agreeably and peaceably within the church family (Philippians 4:2-3); 2) you will be known as a reasonable, gentle and peaceable person (Philippians 4:5); 3) and you will be making steady progress on the path of Christian obedience (Philippians 4:9). In the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, social conflict is undone and we increasingly enjoy social peace with one another in the richness of God’s grace, and together – side by side – we follow our Lord and grow in our walk with Him.

So there is the inward experiencing of peace as a governing reality in your heart, and there is the outward exhibiting of peace as a way of life that glorifies God and blesses others and builds up the church. The most blessed aspect of this peaceful and peaceable walk is that on this walk you are accompanied by God Himself: “the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9), says Paul, as you live within the sphere of God’s grace, mercy, and peace.

Isn’t this a beautiful picture? Do you want to grow in this wonderful grace?

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

With this larger vision in mind, let’s now turn our attention to the call upon us to pursue peace with one another in the body of Christ. Holy Scripture says:

“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 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.” (Philippians 4:1-3)

THE CONTEXT OF PEACEFUL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

Before we get to the specific instruction “to agree in the Lord” and to “help” each other to do so, we need to take a step back and appreciate the context in which this instruction makes sense. There are at least three contexts we ought to consider.

1) THE CONTEXT OF KOINONIA

First, there is the context of deep spiritual fellowship. You may recall that one of the most important words in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the word koinonia. Koinonia refers to a deep spiritual fellowship and can be translated “partnership” (Philippians 1:5, 3:15), “participation” (Philippians 2:1), and “share” (Philippians 3:10, 4:14). Koinonia conveys the idea that as Christians we share life together in Christ: we have fellowship with Christ, and we who have fellowship with Christ are knit together by the Holy Spirit so that we have fellowship with one another – a fellowship of spiritual life, a fellowship of practical love, a fellowship of shared mission.  All true Christians everywhere are part of this Holy-Spirit-produced koinonia, and yet it is important for this koinonia to get truly and tangibly expressed in each local congregation. So in Philippians 1:27 Paul encourages the Philippian congregation to “[stand] firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Then in Philippians 2:1-2 Paul continues the same idea:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [koinonia] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

This is the reality into which we are called: “one spirit,” “one mind,” “the same mind,” and “the same love.” God calls us His people to share together in the riches of His grace, to serve “side by side” (Philippians 1:27, 4:3) as fellow laborers in the cause of the gospel, and to take special care to love and help one another. Paul echoes this koinonia reality in Philippians 4:3 when he refers to his colleagues as “fellow workers,” as those who have “labored side by side with me.”

Since we are called into this deep spiritual and collaborative koinonia, it is so very important that we be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) To be clear, we do not create this spiritual unity. God creates it and brings us into it through faith in Jesus Christ. So we don’t create it, but we are placed into it. And once we are placed into it, we have a God-given responsibility to “maintain” it, to be good stewards of it, to live according to it. For this reason, if we find ourselves at odds with a fellow believer, we ought to consider it a matter of great importance and urgency to be reconciled to each other.

2) THE CONTEXT OF BEING LOVED

Second, there is the context of being loved. To this point I haven’t given full attention to Philippians 4:1. I have discussed the “Therefore” and the “stand firm thus in the Lord” and connected these back to Philippians 3, but I haven’t discussed the other words, which are also important. These other words help us to understand that the church is a loved family. In the case of Philippians 4:1, Paul is telling the Philippians how much he loves them. He calls them “my brothers,” which means that they are family. He tells them that he loves them and longs for them, which means that his affections are strong for them and he wants to be with them. He calls them that they are “[his] joy and crown,” which means that he delights in them and places high value on them. Finally, he calls them “my beloved.” The Philippians are Paul’s beloved family for whom he feels loving affection and on whom he places great value. The Philippians are a loved family.

As I have said before, Paul’s attitude toward the Philippians is a window that reveals Christ’s attitude toward the Philippians. In Chapter 1 Paul told the Philippians that he wrote this letter as a servant of Christ (Philippians 1:1) and that he “[yearned] for [them] all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:8) Paul loves the church of the Lord Jesus Christ because he is a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Lord Jesus Christ loves the church, which He purchased with His own blood. Since the Lord loves and values the church, so must the Lord’s servants have a hearty and warm love for the church. The Philippians are a loved church family, and South Paris Baptist Church is a loved church family.

The point to understand here is not the call to love, but rather the reality that you are loved. Let it sink in: the Lord Jesus Christ loves all of you who belong to Him, and values you, and delights in you. For this reason, if we find ourselves at odds with a fellow believer, we ought to be true to the great love that is flowing abundantly to us from our gracious King. In other words, if you are part of Christ’s beloved family, and if I am part of Christ’s beloved family, then the only fitting thing is that you and I be knit together – or re-knit together – by the love of Christ.

3) THE CONTEXT OF HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP

Third, there is the context of heavenly citizenship. Paul had just written at the end of Philippians 3 that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21) Think about this: as Christians we are fellow citizens of the same ultimate and everlasting kingdom, and all those who belong to Christ are headed toward the same glorious destiny of being conformed to the glorious image of Jesus Christ. We possess the same citizenship papers, and we possess the same destination papers. So don’t you think we should act like it?

Paul echoes this reality of heavenly citizenship in Philippians 4:3 when he says that the names of “[his] fellow workers]… are in the book of life.” Think of it like this: God’s heavenly kingdom has a register of its members. This register is “the book of life” and it has within it all the names of those who have been born again into God’s forever family. In other words, “the book of life” is a citizen register with every heavenly citizen’s name written in it. Is your name found there?

The implication for living peacefully with one another is clear: if we find ourselves at odds with a fellow believer, if we find ourselves at odds with a fellow citizen of heaven, if we find ourselves at odds with a brother or sister who is a fellow heir of eternal life, we should do our very best to mend the relationship now. The Bible teaches us to live in a way that anticipates the glory to come. What better anticipates the glory of the sweet communion that shall be forever ours in the new heaven and the new earth? To dig in our heels and refuse to be reconciled to a fellow believer? Or to humble our hearts and let the glory of God’s peace renew and strengthen our fellowship now?

Brothers and sisters, we are called into the richness of Holy-Spirit-generated koinonia; we are a family dearly loved by Christ; and we are fellow heirs of glory. Therefore let us live according to who we already are in Christ, and let us lean into what we will by God’s grace eventually become. Indeed, let us be known as peacemakers within the body of Christ.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE WITH ONE ANOTHER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

As we are rooted in the vital spiritual realities of which we have just spoken, we will be increasingly motivated and equipped to make peace with one another in the body of Christ. What we have in Philippians 4:2-3 is not a general call to unity (such as we have in Philippians 2:2), but rather a specific call to be reconciled in the face of particular inter-personal disagreements between fellow believers – in this case, between two people whose names were Euodia and Syntyche. Paul writes, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”

Disagreements Between Members of the Church Family

We do not know the nature of the disagreement that was stressing and weakening the relationship between these two women. Euodia and Syntyche were gospel teammates, “[having] labored side by side with [Paul] in the gospel.” They were on the same team! But there was some kind of rift, and their relationship had gone sideways. They were not as single-minded as they ought to have been, and so they needed to address the disharmony and be mended in their fellowship with one another.

We should not be surprised when members in this church family stumble into some kind of disagreement among themselves – it might be a disagreement between just two people, or it might be a broader disagreement that involves more people. Either way, we should not be surprised! Why not? The obvious and simple answer is that we are not yet perfected, we still have flaws and weaknesses, and therefore it makes sense that from time to time our mutual flaws will facilitate mutual frictions as those flaws rub up against one another. But our imperfections aren’t the only issue, so let’s apply our minds in a little common sense.

Think about it: we have different personalities, we have different backgrounds, we have been influenced (for better or worse) by different examples, we have different strengths and different weaknesses, at any particular time we have different front burner issues (and you think that your front burner issue should be addressed first, but I think that mine should be addressed first), we serve in different areas of ministry, we have different levels of relationships with different people, we have different levels of theological maturity, we also have different levels of maturity in terms of our character, we have different perspectives on what the real issue is here when a situation arises, and at any given time we have different external pressures that are bearing down on us. Notice that I haven’t even talked about cases of obvious sin. Of course sinning against each other will require us to be reconciled. But what I am attempting to show you is that even in the absence of obvious sin, all of these differences that exist between us make it likely that difficulties will arise in our relationships and in our efforts to do ministry together. Is it really any wonder that we would test each other’s nerves, at least from time to time, and that sometimes we would actually find ourselves disagreeing to such an extent that now there is friction, distance, and diminished fellowship between some of us?

What To Do When Relational Friction Happens

A very practical question to ask at this point is this: what do you do when this friction shows up? Do you double down and insist on your own way (see 1 Corinthians 13:5)? Do you get angry? Do you assume that the whole problem resides in the other person? Do you complain about that disagreeable person who just refuses to see the brilliance of your own position? Or do you check out? Do you punish the other person by withholding your affection and friendship from them? Do you avoid them altogether or at least make an effort to minimize your contact with them? There are many ways to go wrong here.

Perhaps you have come to service this morning and you are in the position of Euodia and someone else in the congregation is in the position of Syntyche. Your relationship has soured, your heart has grown cold toward that person, and things just aren’t the way they used to be.

Or maybe you’re on the front end of a movement toward disagreement, and even though things haven’t gotten there yet, you sense that disagreeable distance is where things are headed. Why not nip it in the bud?

Or maybe you are an observer of a conflict between two other members. Should you do something?  

Whatever your specific situation, I appeal to all of you to pay attention to Paul’s instruction.

The Instruction of Philippians 4:2 – “agree in the Lord”

Paul begins by saying, “I entreat.” Paul he is making an earnest appeal. He is exhorting, encouraging, and calling Euodia and Syntyche into the way of spiritual unity.

Paul entreats Euodia and Syntyche, and the Lord Jesus Christ entreats you. Philippians 4:2 is Holy Scripture and in this God-given passage the Word of God is entreating you to be reconciled with your brothers and sisters. The question is: are you entreat-able? Are you the kind of person who is able to be entreated? Are you ready to receive God’s Word and obey His instruction?

The content of Paul’s entreating word is that Euodia and Syntyche “agree in the Lord.” The word “agree” is a translation of the same two-word phrase that occurs in Philippians 2:2 and is there translated “same mind.” Paul is calling Euodia and Syntyche to be same-minded, to have the same mind, to be harmonized in their perspective and outlook. But what is so important to understand is the sphere in which such same-mindedness is possible. What does Paul say? He says “agree in the Lord” (italics added).

Euodia and Syntyche, and perhaps some of you who have gathered here this morning, really do need to experience a harmonizing and unifying of mind. Some disagreement has popped up and caused division, and now that disagreement needs to be put down and in its place a deep, genuine agreement needs to take place. But this deep, genuine agreement must be rooted “in the Lord,” and not in ourselves.

You think one way, and I think another – and so we have a different mind on that particular issue. Now there are ten thousand issues in which having a different mind is unremarkable. I like mustard and Charlotta most assuredly does not; you go to McDonald’s and they go to Burger King (and the folks over there can’t stomach fast food at all!); one family really likes the winter and another family much prefers summer; one guy is a night owl and the other guy is a morning person. So what, right? These are normal differences that make life more interesting and should cause no trouble in the lives of healthy people. But when Paul tells us to be same-minded, he is telling us to be same-minded in the significant and weighty things that are supposed to shape our life together as a church family.

And as we are doing life together as a church family, certain differences can arise that are way more important than mustard or McDonald’s. These significant differences that I have in mind aren’t the high level matters of first importance, such as the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – if you have a different mind on that, then you are a heretic and you need to repent! But between these most important matters of foundational doctrine and the rather mundane issue of what sports team you root for, there are significant matters that can cause significant friction among God’s people. For example: What do you think about the church’s budget? How should we utilize that large estate gift that was given to the church? What do you think about our Sunday School curriculum, our leadership structure, or the various components of our worship service? What do you think about how we understand and practice church membership, or how we disciple people and involve people in ministry? What do you think about possible capital improvement projects, or about certain decisions that were made by the Elders, or about how particular situations were handled? Do you see? It would be good and well if we had genuine unanimity on any particular issue, and sometimes we might, but the truth of the matter is that often we won’t. We shouldn’t feel threatened by this. And the reason we shouldn’t feel threatened by this is because we can be same-minded “in the Lord,” even though we are differently-minded in some less important things.   

What is so critically important to understand is that the reference point for our agreement is not you or me. Paul is not telling Euodia to agree with Syntyche by adopting Syntyche’s perspective. Paul is not telling Syntyche to agree with Euodia by adopting Euodia’s perspective. Instead he is telling Syntyche and Euodia to agree with each other by both adopting the Lord’s perspective.

If you are currently experiencing a disagreement with a Christian brother or sister over a particular issue, the first order of business isn’t to hammer out all the details of that issue one more time. Philippians 4:2 doesn’t call you to adopt their perspective and doesn’t call them to adopt your perspective, but calls both of you to adopt the Lord’s perspective. Practically speaking, this means putting first things first, putting the truth of the gospel first, putting the most important things first – and as we do this, we will be same-minded in the things that matter most, and our difference of perspective on a less important, practical issue won’t derail our relationship or our teamwork. In fact, if we are truly adopting the Lord’s perspective and getting aligned with the reality of the gospel, then we will be much better equipped to navigate our disagreement, because we will come to understand that our disagreement is a relatively small thing after all.

Several years ago I was having a debate with a good pastor friend about the spiritual condition of Job’s wife, who in the midst of Job’s suffering had spoken foolishly and told Job to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9) – not exactly good spiritual counsel! The context of the discussion was that I had read a poem about the book of Job and the author of the poem treated Job’s wife sympathetically, with the idea that perhaps she was a godly woman whose faith was faltering in the moment. My friend wasn’t buying it, though, and he made clear his view that Job’s wife was a wicked woman. I stood up in defense of the poet’s sympathetic view, and as my friend was differently-minded, we had what we needed for a good debate. We both agreed with the obvious, namely, that when Job’s wife told Job to curse God and die, she was in that moment acting foolishly and wickedly (see Job 2:10). But we disagreed as to whether Job’s wife was a fundamentally wicked person, or whether she might have been a godly woman who was sinning in this particular moment. Although we were differently-minded on this very specific question, the breakthrough moment of our conversation occurred when we came to same-mindedness about a more important matter. We both agreed that the purpose of the book of Job was not to tell us about the spiritual condition of Job’s wife. The book of Job does reveal Job’s spiritual condition (e.g., Job 1:1, 8), and the book of Job does reveal the glory of God (Job 38-41), but the book of Job is not intended to tell us what Job’s wife was really like. And at that the power of our disagreement was broken, and it was broken because we agreed on a more important matter.

I understand that this example may seem rather ‘off the beaten track’ – I mean, who really sits around and debates the spiritual condition of Job’s wife? Answer: people like me! But don’t miss the forest for the trees, because the example is actually a good example of how “[agreeing] in the Lord” breaks the power of our disagreements. You and your fellow Christian may not agree on any number of practical matters, but will you take a moment, step back, and cultivate agreement on the more important matters? Can we “agree in the Lord” that the Lord calls us to consider one another more important than self (Philippians 2:3)? Can we “agree in the Lord” that the Lord calls us to look out for each other’s interests (Philippians 2:4)? Can we “agree in the Lord” that the spiritual unity of the congregation is way important that our little spat about the color of the drapes? Can we “agree in the Lord” that our relationship is defined by what Christ has done and continues to do for us, and not by our ability to like the same praise songs? Can we “agree in the Lord” that what is best for the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church is more important than me getting my own way individually? Only as we let our hearts be knit together in these beautiful foundational realities will we be able to navigate our differences of opinion in less important matters. Paul didn’t expect those who didn’t eat meat out of spiritual conviction to necessarily change their minds on that issue, but he did expect them to love their Christian brothers and sisters who felt free to eat meat, and vice versa (see Romans 14:1-4).

Some months ago a man in this congregation came to me with an idea for something that he was interested in doing, and frankly I didn’t think it was a good idea – and I told him so. In this particular instance I was speaking in my decision-making capacity as pastor, and not merely as a fellow believer. The beautiful thing is that he took my decision in stride: although he may have had a different mind on the particular question at hand, he also understood that as pastor I had the authority and responsibility to make the call, and he respected that and he was able to appreciate the reason behind my decision. The point isn’t that he necessarily agreed with me, the point is that he willingly “agreed in the Lord” that I should make the call. This captures the Christ-centered spirit of Philippians 4:2.   

Where there is a rift or a potential rift, don’t turn away; don’t walk away from relationship; don’t dig in your heels; don’t get angry; don’t spout off to others; don’t spread the spirit of division. Instead, come together “in the Lord,” talk things through “in the Lord,” and even if you remain differently-minded on a particular issue, you and your fellow believer should be able to be same-minded on the big things – and it is the big things that should govern your hearts and bring you and your fellow believer together so that you “agree in the Lord.” What I am talking about here is not the ‘agreeing to disagree’ rule. Instead, this is agreeing to agree on what matters most! Put your little disagreement in larger perspective, and as you both adopt the Lord’s perspective, you will be able to walk together in unity.

The Instruction of Philippians 4:3 – “help” others “agree in the Lord”

Of course, Philippians 4:2-3 teaches us that the cultivating of same-minded and harmonious relationships within the body of Christ is not only the responsibility of those who find themselves on opposite sides in a disagreement, but is also the responsibility of other members of the body. If others disagree, we have a responsibility to help promote their “[agreement] in the Lord.” As Moises Silva comments, “The striking emphasis of this letter on corporate responsibility reaches a dramatic high point in the exhortation of verse 3. The discord between Euodia and Syntyche cannot be viewed by the congregation as a personal matter. These courageous women… needed the assistance of the whole church to resolve their differences….”[3] This is quite right.

Do you remember what I said a couple sermons ago: if one member falls down, then the whole body is less firm in its footing; if one member runs well, then the whole body is stronger in its forward progress? So here: if two members are at odds, then the whole body is less unified; but if two members genuinely and gladly “agree in the Lord,” then the whole body is more harmonized. And we all must be willing to help: Paul is helping by giving the encouragement to Euodia and Syntyche, and Paul calls upon one whom he addresses as “true companion” to “help these women.” You should be a true companion who helps others be unified in Christ.

But what is the temptation? I am indebted to G. Walter Hansen for calling my attention to the particular temptation that I am about to share – and I think this is so very important to understand![4] If Euodia and Syntyche have a rift, or if Jerry and Joel have a spat, what is the temptation? The temptation is for you to choose a side: ‘I’m with Euodia on this one’ or ‘I’m with Jerry on that one’. In choosing a side, you undermine Paul’s instruction. Paul is not telling Syntyche to adopt Euodia’s perspective, but if you take Euodia’s side, you are basically saying that Syntyche should adopt Euodia’s perspective. Since Paul is calling Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord,” if you are going to help them do that, you must not take sides but instead be resolved to take the Lord’s side, to adopt the Lord’s perspective. Many years ago I was in a church that was experiencing conflict, and I remember a young lady saying that she wasn’t on anyone’s side because she was on the Lord’s side. That’s the right mindset.

We need Christ-centered peacemakers, helpers, and encouragers – who are putting Christ and His gospel first and who deeply value the unity of Christ’s church – to come alongside those who are experiencing disagreement and help them work through it, help them see things from the Lord’s perspective, help them be renewed and strengthened in their fellowship with one another “in the Lord.” Don’t leave others to do the work of reconciling on their own, but help them to do it. Encourage the Euodias and Syntyches to sit down with each other. If need be, sit down with them. Remind them of the foundational spiritual realities that ought to govern our relationships. Pray for them and with them.

And remember this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) 

Let us pray.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] I learned this material (about the four conflicts in Genesis 3) many years ago from Francis Schaeffer’s writing and I am drawing upon memory.

[2] I don’t know if this statement is a verbatim quote of Muggeridge or a summary of what he said. I got this statement from Ravi Zacharias. See Ravi Zacharias, “The Same Old Thing,” published by RZIM and available online: https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/the-same-old-thing. In this article Zacharias writes, “In his cynical way, Malcolm Muggeridge reminded us that all new news is old news happening to new people.”

[3] Moisés Silva, Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005: p. 193.

[4] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009: p. 282. Hansen writes, “By repeating the verb plead [in the ESV it is entreat], Paul speaks directly to each woman separately and does not take sides. No doubt the conflict between these two leaders [Euodia and Syntyche] caused a division between members of the community as people were forced to declare their allegiance to one or the other. But Paul avoids favoritism by respectfully pleading with each one individually.”

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