Disunity - A Church's Kryptonite
I urge Euodia, and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2–3).
We cannot be sure what Euodia and Syntyche were fighting about, but we know that they were struggling to get along, and their difficulties were causing the church to lose focus on their gospel mission. Perhaps, they were arguing about the theme of potluck, or maybe they could not see eye to eye about how to show hospitality when a church leader like the Apostle Paul came to town. One of them may have been upset over how the other neglected to greet them at the gathering. These two ladies may have even been working through a significant doctrinal difference. We cannot know, but we do recognize they were having trouble, and their quarrel threatened the unity of the church at Philippi.
The apostle Paul was concerned enough to write a letter, which in part addressed their difficulties. While he was troubled, he was careful to maintain unity by not involving himself directly in their argument. Therefore, Paul didn’t take sides and didn’t directly address the specific struggle between these two ladies. As such, one could surmise that their differences arose from a petty disagreement because Paul never shied away from directly addressing significant doctrinal problems, and he would have firmly landed on one side, or the other had it been necessary.
Dear Philippi, We Have a Problem!
Early in the letter, he barely hinted that there was trouble lurking in the shadows of this otherwise loving church. In chapter one, Paul mentioned his love and constant prayers for the church at Philippi, and he highlighted their participation with him in the cause of the gospel. The church and these women had participated in Paul’s ministry from his first arrival in Philippi. Euodia and Syntyche may have even been a part of the women who had assembled with Lydia at the riverside when Paul and his team arrived (Acts 16:13). The apostle had known these ladies well for quite some time. He understood the importance of bringing the two back together and sensed that the future effectiveness of the church depended on restoring the relationship between them.
The first clue that there was a problem comes early in chapter two where Paul exhorted the Philippian church:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (2:1-2).
The unity of the body of Christ is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation to the church. In doing so, he appealed to non-negotiable truths of the Christian walk. As believers, we should always be encouraged in Christ, finding great comfort in our love for one another, and enjoying relationships which are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we tend to fall in the trap of acting like the world in our relationships; therefore, we lose sight of the power of the bonds we have together in Christ.
We do not experience transcendent relationships because we fail to pursue like-mindedness and love for one another despite our differences. Above all, we fail to forgive when people wrong us. Paul appealed to the reality of relationships wrought in the Holy Spirit as he pleads with the church to pursue unity with one another in love.
Five Practical Strategies To Pursue Unity
At this point in the text, Paul gives the church five practical strategies for maintaining a oneness of purpose:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (2:3-4).
1. Don’t tolerate selfish ambition and pride in your walk with Christ.
Paul urges the folks in the Philippian church to consider how they are living with others and how they may be interacting selfishly. He implores them to do nothing with selfish motives or pride in one’s ability. The ESV translates the word selfishness as “selfish ambition,” which has the idea of striving for self-promotion or personal success without regard for the morality of your actions. Paul also warns the Philippian church against vainglory, which is an overinflated view of ourselves and our importance.
These actions and attitudes are like kryptonite to church unity, and we should never underestimate their destructiveness to the body of Christ. All it takes to damage our gospel mission is for a couple of folks to pursue ministry success or personal comfort without regard for others or concern for what is right before the Lord. Therefore, we must recognize the path to unity (and holiness) begins with killing selfish ambition and pride!
2. Learn the meaning of true humility and practice it.
Pride and selfish ambition have destroyed many churches from within. I have personally witnessed churches as they accelerate in their slide toward oblivion due to the actions and attitudes of just a few in the body. These situations are devastating to all involved, no matter which “side” you are on.
According to Paul, the humility of mind is the much-needed immunization against these devastating diseases. But what is humility, and how can we achieve it? I believe that true humility is elusive. As soon as we think we are humble – we have probably stumbled into deadly pride. Yet, we are called to pursue humility.
At the root of true humility is an understanding of the holiness of God and our sinfulness. As we come to understand the holiness of God, we join with Isaiah in saying,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
As we realize our sinfulness considering God’s holiness, we recognize that God could rightfully judge us for our sins. Therefore, we know that we have avoided His wrath only because He is full of lovingkindness (Exodus 34:6).
3. Treat others as VIP’s
Once upon a time, I worked for a company with a Jewish CEO who loved the wisdom found in the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount. I wish he loved Jesus, who preached that sermon, but I am thankful that he guided the company according to our Lord’s wisdom.
As you may expect, the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – was one of our guiding principles. Our CEO even encouraged us to imagine that others had the letters VIP, which stands for a “very important person” – stamped on their foreheads. I would daresay that this principle had a profoundly positive effect on the people of our company, even though most did not understand the true nature of Jesus’s words.
This truth is part of Jesus’s teaching concerning our relationship with God and man. He taught that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He also commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. According to our Lord, these two commandments sum up the Law and the prophets. As such, they were the point of the Law and the prophets.
The Apostle Paul understood the wisdom of Jesus’s words and restated them as he instructed the Philippian church to regard others as more important than themselves. I daresay that any church which chooses to follow Jesus’s and Paul’s words will prosper because their love for one another will make our love for one another evident.
Sadly, we forget that our love should be evident; therefore, we fail to treat others as more important than ourselves. We tend to think more about our preferences than we think of others around us. We forget that our relationships with others in the church are more crucial than the myriad of things we tend to prioritize.
4. Practice looking out for the interests of others
Paul urged the church not to look out for their interests but to look out for others as well. We must recognize the practicality of this command. At the heart of it, Paul wanted them to consider the needs of others and act upon those needs. We live in a me-centered culture, so this thinking is against the grain. We must look beyond ourselves and be attentive to what others are facing in their lives to be aware of what is in the best interest of others.
Just a few months ago, our church had a need arise with one of our saints. One of our members made the need known, and many in our church acted upon it. They took this opportunity to look out for the interests of one of our dear saints. I pray that this attitude would become infectious. Our church body should always be confident that others are looking out for them, especially in times of need.
But this attitude does not stop with meeting the physical needs of others. We should also regularly pray for others in the body. We must remember that God perfectly knows what we need. Therefore, we must always lift the saints in prayer to God, who perfectly cares for them.
5. Look to the Supreme Example
Jesus modeled this humility by going to the cross and dying for our sins. According to Paul, the greatest act of humility was the Son of God hanging on a tree. He had all the rights, privileges, and honor of deity, yet He did not cling to these things. He was the Son of God and perfect humanity, yet He emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and came in the appearance of a man. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross – the most gruesome and humiliating death ever devised by men.
We cannot grasp the full import of Christ’s humiliation because we are not God in the flesh. He is the only one who truly deserves glory and honor, yet He condescended to die on a Roman cross for the sins of humanity. He could have come in wrathful judgment, yet He chose to take the wrath of the Father upon Himself. He did this so that believers in Him would not have to endure the wrath of God for eternity. In other words, He was forsaken so that we could be forgiven.
The simple solution to our conflicts is to forgive others when wronged. This answer is profound and challenging at the same time. Our flesh cries out in our hurt and frustration desiring others to pay dearly for what they have done to us. But we must fight this dreadful tendency and forgive those who wrong us.
We must forgive because God forgave us for the greatest act of treachery the world has ever known – our sin against Him! We can only do so when we recognize that we are most like Christ when we forgive others!Blessings!