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Pursuing Relational Harmony
STAND FIRM–part 2, Philippians 4:2-3
Addressing Relationship Tension
I remember battling with my parents after they had turned to Christ, yet I was still an unsaved church-attending teenager–that tension was hurtful. As a single man, I remember liking a gal, but she only wanted to be friends–that tension was brutal. As a young, 22-year-old student pastor, I remember struggling with parents of teens over the best course to follow with their students—that was a difficult tension.
As a college pastor, I remember battling with two families who didn’t agree with my counsel to a sinning couple to establish a pattern of purity before they got married. That tension was horrific. I remember a woman who had memorized most of the New Testament, but was intensely bitter at all men because of an unsaved husband–very tense.
I recall a ministry which fell apart because the servants could not resolve their differences. Or missionaries who could not get on the same page, frustrating the work of Christ. I witnessed a family who seemed to love each other, until the dad died and the will was read. I could go on and on—relational tension is a norm in this life.
The great apostle Paul battled with Barnabus over John Mark. Peter felt a strong relationship pressure from some Christian Jews in Galatians. The Corinthians experienced relational strife with each other, reminding you of two truths.
#1 God desires for you to work at pursuing relational harmony, and . . .
#2 In most cases, Christians are to address relational tension when it occurs
What do most believers do when relational tension occurs? They avoid it, or completely ignore it. But mature believers work at it and address it when it occurs. It is how you stand firm, mature in Christ and grow into a godly man or woman. Open your Bibles to Philippians 4, as Paul instructs Christians to stand firm.
God designed most of you to be married and most to birth children. Most men work with other workers, almost all of you live in the midst of neighbors, all students school with other students, all of you have friends, and all of you are to be a vital part of a local church community of brothers and sisters.
With all those relationships, there will be relational harmony and relational tensions. When there are tensions, the expectation of God toward His children is to address the tension, to pursue relational harmony. This is more important to God than you think. It is God’s very nature to be in relational harmony.
Our God is one yet three–three equal persons, one God, who have been in perfect harmony before creation and will be in relationship harmony forever in the future. The only way you can glorify God is to pursue the same relational harmony, which means when there is tension with others, you’re to address it so that you might emulate the Trinity–glorify God.
Jesus was pointedly clear in John 17:11b and 22, “Keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” The theology of unity is clear and simple. This is deep theology. You be one as God is one.
But Chris, how do you pursue relational oneness, when Christians are so warped? God gives you a game plan in the New Testament–here are some general rules.
#1 Live HUMBLY for OTHERS
Philippians 2:1 to 4 calls us to give, sacrifice, focus on them and not you! Their mistakes may cause you hurt and cost you time, money and trouble, but you live for Christ, not you. Your life is no longer about you.
#2 Focus on GIFTS, strengths and their heart for Christ
Romans 12:1 to 8–celebrate their contribution to Christ’s work in the church and their witness in the world.
#3 Let LOVE cover a multitude of sins.
First Peter 4–Christians are not to be the offended victim, but give grace to actions or words which should not have been done or said, but which you have done or said innumerable times.
#4 As far as it depends on you, make relational PEACE
Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Make an effort to correct relational tensions when you can, regardless whether it was you or others who caused it.
#5 Lovingly CONFRONT intentional or defiant sin
According to Matthew 18:15 to 18 and Galatians 6:1, which is how Christians confront sin, stable people are those who pursue relational harmony. Those who stand firm are those who address relationship tension and do not ignore it. It is obvious, isn’t it? Spiritual stability depends on mutual love and peace between believers. Our lives are to be intertwined that we might support one another.
Paul wants that kind of harmony in the Philippian church, but instead there was an intense disagreement between two women, threatening the health of the entire church. God (and the apostle Paul) want to keep sins like partiality, criticism, bitterness, unforgiveness and pride from spreading throughout the church.
This is what Paul teaches in Philippians 4:1 to 9–look there. The main command is in verse 1, “Stand firm”–then is followed by seven key commands/statements which describe those who do stand firm. I know you’ve seen it–some Christians are more stable than others. Some are unmovable, certain, and unphased by trials. Some keep trusting while the earth falls away underneath their feet. How did they become so solid? How do they stand firm? It’s those who pursue certain principles, manifest certain habits and imitate the unique attributes which are found in verses 1 to 9.
The first attribute of someone who stands firm is described in verses 2 to 3, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 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.”
This female fight is floating just below the surface of this entire Philippian letter. Like a great white shark lurking under the water about to attack an oblivious surfer, this relational conflict now splashes to the surface and rips apart church unity. We knew it was there the entire time, but it has finally surfaced in verses 2 to 3.
These two warring women are going at it, taking opposing views, thinking differently, disagreeing with each other and causing others to take sides. This has only happened once in 2,000 years of Church history—not!
Look back through this letter and see if you can spot the fin of this disunity shark just below the surface of this letter. Philippians 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Philippians 2:2, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
So now the issue finally surfaces. And because those who stand firm will address relational tension and pursue relational harmony, Paul reminds the leaders to get on it. Not only is God a perfect unity, but as believers you’re no longer completely individual. When you’re saved, you’re an organ in a body, a brick in a building, a sheep in a flock. You belong to something much bigger than yourself.
You’re no longer to think of yourself merely as an individual, but as a community. You belong to Christ and you belong to each other. And as such, you cannot and must not tolerate division in your midst. You must not be the brick removed from the building, the sheep standing alone, nor the liver separated from the body. You’re to be one body with others–just like God is one.
Those who don’t get along are spastic. They offer the world nothing unique. They display a picture of Christ as a quad in a wheelchair who can’t control his body, not as a Sovereign King, Head of the Church who can transform lives.
I’ve broken down these two verses into seven points to help you understand it. The first three are longer and the last four are very short and go quickly–don’t panic. Interspersed in all of it will be principles to guide you in dealing with conflict. Paul reminds the Philippians, in their church there are . . .
#1 Contentious PROBLEMS
Verse 2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” These are the two women who are in relational, probably ministerial conflict. These fighting females are women of influence, probably prominent church members, because they had worked with Paul in the cause of the Gospel.
You know how Paul began his evangelistic efforts. He’d preach at the local synagogue. But Philippi didn’t have enough Jews to support a synagogue, so some faithful Jewish women met together for worship by the main river in town. Acts 16:13 says Paul “began speaking to the women who had assembled” and shared the Gospel with them. That group of women might have included Euodia and Syntyche, but we really don’t know for certain.
We don’t know why these disagreeing darlings were creating havoc in the church. They were not “united in spirit” nor “intent on one purpose.” Lack of love, pride, and demanding your own way all create a spirit of disunity. And these two maligning maidens had a full tank of the wrong gas. They were dividing up the church into camps, so Paul says in verse 2, Gals, “Live in harmony.”
This is much bigger than, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Live in harmony means to think the same–get on the same page, gals. When Paul says, “think the same in the Lord,” he has more than just, “get on the same page theologically or biblically” in mind. Paul is calling on these disputing daughters to get on the same page submissively–live in harmony in the Lord.
This is literally, “Live in harmony in Master.” Christ is the Master–He’s the one in charge. He’s the Lord over this conflict—submit to the Master. Christ is the one you’re in conflict with. It is Christ you are offending–not each other. You want to be on the same page with Him. This conflict is not about you, it’s about Him.
Do you get it? Jesus is the Master and He doesn’t want you fighting. So think the same–He is the Master. You’re to do what Christ says. So submit to your Master and stop fighting. This situation is like two ants fighting, then you show up in giant boots, ready to stomp and squish. Christ is in charge, you submit to Him. In a conflict, think about who the Master is–Christ is in charge. So relational harmony principle number 1 is this . . .
RH principle #1 Focus on Christ as the Master in charge–not the persons, nor the conflict
In order to help, Paul makes some . . .
#2 Clear-cut PLEAS
Verse 2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” Urge is to encourage, to call together–like a small child in rebellion. At times, you pick them up and hold them tight and carry them with you–that is the picture of urge. Urge is to grab a hold of you verbally and intimately plead with you to move in the manner in which I am asking.
Did you notice–both women are equally urged, using the exact same verb. This is an equal, fair urging. But never forget–to resolve Christian conflict, you are to take the side of one person. Yes, you take sides. Not to take the side of Euodia against Syntyche, nor the side of Syntyche against Euodia. No, you do not take their side, you take the Lord’s side.
Solving Christian conflict means determining the will of God from the Word of God on the issue, then applying His will to the situation without partiality. When you stand firm, you’re committing in any conflict, “I’m not on your side, nor am I on their side–I am on the Lord’s side.”
Joshua 5:13 to 14, “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ 14 He said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’” He said, I’m not on your side or their side, but the Lord’s side.
RH principle #2 Take God’s SIDE by studying God’s Word
Apply it authoritatively to the conflict, graciously but impartially. It is possible each lady was equally to blame for the conflict and disunity. But they will be one in Heaven, and if they’re going to please Christ, grow mature, and stand firm, they must pursue oneness here on Earth.
But what makes this situation difficult is there are two groups in opposition and there has been no resolution up to this point. These good women need help and Paul now calls upon a brother to step up and bring relational harmony.
#3 Contrasting PERSONS
There are two “lay-into lassies” making up.
First The CULPRITS
Verse 2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” They could be deaconesses, key women in the church, possibly those who housed the church along with or after Lydia–we really don’t know. We do know these women were prominent in the foundation of the church in Philippi. We don’t know what the trouble was between these women.
The context may indicate their conflict was over the false doctrine of perfectionism–possibly one believed you could achieve perfectionism in this life and the other gal didn’t. It probably wasn’t doctrinal, cause Paul would have corrected that–no this conflict was most likely philosophical or personal.
It could’ve been over women’s rights, some small matter of personal taste, or merely intense friction between two high-powered Roman tiger women for Jesus–we really don’t know. I talked to a man from another church recently who told me he saw his senior pastor at a store. He and his wife said, “Hello,” to the pastor and his wife–but the pastor and his wife said nothing in return and walked on by. That alone was enough for him to want to leave his church of over a decade. Whoa—thank you for not being that way. I now say, “Hello,” to complete strangers in every store.
We don’t know anything about these gals, but they’re infamous–they will probably be in Heaven and maybe their names will give us a little idea as to who they were. They have beautiful names–don’t name your daughters Jezebel or Gomer, but you can name them Euodia and Syntyche. These are great names. Euodia means prosperous journey, or possibly sweet fragrance. Syntyche means good luck.
Now would you agree? Calling them out, naming names, referring to them specifically seems kinda harsh here, doesn’t it? Wow! Why does Paul list their names in this verse? One commentator actually suggested it was because he was 800 miles away under house arrest in Rome so he could safely call two women out.
The best answer is this–everyone already knew who was causing the problem. The Philippian church was well aware, and the situation was very public. So Paul seeks to put an end to this conflict by calling them out and commanding a brother to finally fix the problem with these two culprits.
RH principle #3 Christian Conflict often requires a spiritually mature third party and other Godly individuals to solve the problem
Paul appeals to one person in particular to help these bickering Bettys.
Second The COACH
Verse 3 starts with, “Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women.” This is awesome–who is this guy–this true companion? His name is Suzugos. Where do I get that from? Glad you asked. The Greek term companion pictures two oxen in a yoke, pulling the same load. It describes a comrade or a yokefellow, a partner or an equal in a specific task–in this case, solving this spiritual conflict causing disunity.
Look at verse 3–Paul described this individual with the word true or genuine comrade. Who is he? One view states he is an unnamed man who was Paul’s yokefellow in ministry .But Paul just named two women by name in verse 2 and is about to name Clement in verse 3–so true companion being an unnamed guy seems unlikely.
Another view is that Suzugos, which is singular, is used to refer to the entire church of Philippi as one group–but that is just as doubtful. The best view is not to translate Suzugos and recognize him as a proper name. So the verse should say, “Indeed, Suzugos, I ask you also to help these women.”
So who is Suzugos? Who? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. But it’s likely he was one of the church elders mentioned in Philippians 1:1–remember? Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons”–overseer elder Suzugos.
Paul is exhorting Suzugos, as an elder, to shepherd these women and restore church unity. Paul called him a true comrade, because Suzugos was living up to the meaning of his name. There are other examples in the New Testament of men who lived up to their names, like Suzugos. Remember Barnabus, whose name means the son of encouragement, who genuinely encouraged believers in Acts 4:36. Remember Onesimus, whose name means useful, who was genuinely useful to Paul and Philemon, Philemon 11. What does Paul ask Suzugos to pursue?
#4 Caring PROCESSES
Verse 3, “I ask you also to help these women.” Paul is asking Suzugos to be a peacemaker by helping to resolve this disagreement. Paul says I’m repeatedly asking you, and with joyful, caring anticipation. Paul adds the word, “Yes,” in the Greek text. Literally the text says, “Yes, I ask you also.” What? To help these women–to help is the main verb in these two verses.
To help is a command to obey, describing part of what it means to stand firm. To help is pointed at a singular person, one guy, and describes an ongoing, continual action, pointing to a process of bringing about the resolution of a conflict. Harmony is rarely established in a single moment, through a single decision.
The verb to help is also in a voice which demands Suzugos to act upon himself to help them. So the verb to help Paul is commanding Suzugos to help these women to get along with each other. The meaning of the Greek verb help is very unusual. It means to seize, arrest, even to apprehend–Paul tells Suzugos to cuff these women and toss em in jail. No.
Actually, the idea is to physically capture them with your hands, aggressively surround them and come to their aid. Paul is commanding Suzugos, get in there and grab a hold of this situation–don’t let them escape until you bring them under the authority of the Master. Help these ladies.
RH principle #4 Resolving Conflict usually requires a PROCESS, not a single step
What for? Paul gives five clear purposes. I ask you also to help these women to live in harmony in the Lord. Why? Verse 3 says because these women have shared my struggle in the cause of the Gospel. The Greek word struggle is very severe–it is the Greek word which gives us our English word athletics, describing an intense struggle.
These are great Christian women–they are not occasional attenders, nor marginal, so-called believers. No, they are go-getters. The reason why Suzugos is to help these women is for the most important truth in life. For the sake of the Gospel–the only message that can provide salvation. The only message that can actually rescue you from Hell and secure your eternity in Heaven. (He mentions the Book of Life at the end of verse 3–securing your eternal life.)
The purpose Paul lays out for Suzugos to help these women is because these two gals have intensely labored with Paul in proclaiming the Gospel. These are team players who are investing their lives in the most important thing. These divisive Darlas were focusing on eternity and sacrificed to make certain the only message that can secure you for Heaven was being proclaimed.
RH principle #5 Harmony is cultivated by focusing on priority issues, not petty ones
Paul, are there other saints in Philippi who can help? Yes!
#6 Confirming PLAYERS
Verse 3 adds, “together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers”
Paul mentions another leader and a group of fellow workers. Clement was most likely an elder who also shared Paul’s struggle. He may have been the church leader known as Clement the first or Clement of Rome. Those are guesses and we don’t know anything more about him. Paul asked Clement to help in resolving the conflict between these critical Carlas, proving these were well-known women and definitely spiritual tiger women in Philippi.
Then Paul adds, “the rest of my fellow workers.” I wonder for them if they were sad, because Paul didn’t mention them by name. Regardless, whether Paul mentions them, remembers them, or ignores them–God will never forget your ministry for Him. Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” And what is even better than all this is the . . .
#7 Ceaseless PROMISES
Verse 3 ends with, “whose names are in the book of life.” Whoa–what a guarantee. Clement gets a pass. He and the fellow workers are in. They can relax, get a beach house by the sea and wait for the next bus to Heaven because Paul just put them in the book. If you’re in this book, the Book of Life, then you’re guaranteed to go to Heaven for eternity. When Paul went to the third heaven, he must have peeked in the Book of Life to see who all was in it, cause verse 3 says they’re in.
I was mentioned by name once by a famous author, in a revolutionary book, because I kept begging him to write it. That was cool–but that’s nothing. Nothing compared to having your name written in the Book of Life. There are books kept in Heaven which seemingly keep documentation of everything ever done by anyone on Earth–they are extensive. Some take these books figuratively, representing God’s omniscience, but we cannot assume these books aren’t real books, since it’d be easy for biblical authors to tell us the all-knowing God judges everyone.
The most important of these heavenly books is the Book of Life, in which the names of God’s people are written. Eight times the Bible mentions the Book of Life–once in Psalms, here in Philippians, and six times in Revelation. Twice in Exodus 32:32 to 33, when addressed to God, it is called Your book, and once in Daniel 12:1 it is called the book. Other passages refer to it as a scroll in Heaven.
In biblical times, ancient cities kept roles of their citizens, listing the names of those who lived in a particular city. As you entered the city, guards at the city gates would check for your name against their list in order to keep out criminals and enemies. That’s the history behind Revelation 21:27 speaking of Heaven–God reminds you nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Paul just reminded the born again Philippians they are citizens of Heaven–they are in the Book of Life, which is checked at the gates. Because Suzugos, Clement and the fellow worker elders pursued Christ with a faithful, passionate lifestyle commitment, Paul is confident they’re heavenly citizens. And by implication, though these two women shared in the work of the Gospel, their current disunity raises a question as to whether they’re truly in the Book of Life.
So in comparison to the faithful, these women need to realize, then repent of their disunity, because they’re raising a question as to whether they’re truly born again. Paul wanted the Philippians to know the joy of unity and sweetness of being one heart, but that meant each individual and the entire body needed to stand firm by pursuing relational tension before it attacked, and to deal with conflict before it turned into a feeding frenzy, causing the church family to eat each other alive.
A Conflict is INEVITABLE
Relational tension will happen in every church, even healthy ones. Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.” Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” At times, brothers and sisters will sin against you. At times, there will be anger between believers. It is inevitable, which is why we need to be prepared to deal with these tensions biblically.
B HESITATE entering into a conflict where Christ does not rule hearts
Proverbs 26:17, “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.” Standing firm means addressing relational tension, but not necessarily seeking to address each relational issue between non-Christians, or so-called Christians. As a Christian, you’re a part of a church, meaning you are to deal with tensions in that local family. That is not always the case with those outside the church family.
C Conflict must be RESOLVED or contained
This struggle was going in Philippi for a long time–it was doing damage to the church. Paul got Suzugos, Clement and fellow workers (all the elders) involved in correcting it. But it should not have gone on as long as it did. Jesus told us in Matthew 5:23 and 24, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
A single Sunday should not go by where you’re not seeking to resolve the issue. Communion must not be partaken until you have sought to resolve the conflict. “As far as it depends on you,” as soon as possible, seek to resolve relational tension. Do not delay in pursuing unity and protecting from disunity–it is always easier to deal with it when it is in its infancy. Once it matures, it is deadly.
Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
D Conflict has its roots in sin
This can only be cured by Christ in salvation and by dependence upon the Spirit and a will to obey God’s Word in sanctification. Today, turn to Christ, be made right with God, and be transformed internally. Today, depend on God’s Spirit and step out in obedience to God’s Word to make things right with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must not delay. Stand firm. Let’s pray.