Philippians 4:1-3 January 28, 2018
In the first century, there was a small town called Philippi in Eastern Macedonia, which today is Greece. And in this little town was a church to whom Paul writes this letter of Philippians, which we’ve been studying for 19 weeks, and now, this morning, we’ll begin thinking through Paul’s last chapter.
One thing we know about this church in Philippi is that there were godly women there. We’re told in Acts 16 that when Paul and Timothy and Silas landed in Philippi to preach the gospel, they first preached to a group of women who were gathering water for their families. As they preached, we’re told that God opened the heart of a respected woman named Lydia, and she believed the gospel, becoming the first convert in Philippi. And on that foundation of one believing woman, Christ built a church.
And many years later, as Paul writes this letter, there are other exceptionally godly women in the church, including two he mentions today. But these two women are also in conflict with one another. And so Paul has some instructions for them, and for their church, and they boil down to three words: Stand, Agree, and Help. The entire church needs to stand. Those in conflict need to agree. Those out of the conflict need to help.
That’s where we’re headed this morning.
But before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me. “Father in heaven, we need help understanding your Word, your Will. We need help applying your Word, your Will. We know that our minds will be dark and our hearts cold without you, so activate your Holy Spirit in us, and give us light and heat we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4, which, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find on page 637. Let me read the text in its entirety one more time before we begin. Philippians 4:1-3. This is the Word of God:
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2 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. Amen.
In verse 1, Paul has us looking back at what he’s already said, and he has us looking forward to what he is about to say. This is a transitional verse; the word “therefore” looks back, and the word “thus” looks forward. It reads like this:
Therefore, [because of what I have said before] my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm [there’s the first exhortation] thus [in other words, stand firm in the way I’m going to show you] in the Lord, my beloved.
We can make this even more clear by collapsing the verse. If we take out all the descriptive phrases about his readers – “my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, my beloved” – (that’s all talking about the same people); If we remove all those but “my brothers” verse 1 would read like this: “Therefore, [looking back] my brothers, stand firm thus [looking forward].”
Okay, first, let’s take that word “therefore” and look back together.
Looking back at the end of chapter three, (vv17-21), Paul has just warned us about bad examples, who are professing Christians, but walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, and whose end is destruction; therefore, stand firm!
And before that, (vv1-3), Paul had warned of another group, (he called them “dogs,”) they were false teachers who put confidence in their own works and encouraged others to do the same; therefore, stand firm!
And this exhortation is not just for the Philippians, it is for us as well. False teaching is still a problem; bad examples are still a problem; therefore, stand firm!
But he also looks forward in this verse, by using the word “thus.” “Stand firm thus in the Lord.” In other words, in the verses to follow, (actually I think nearly to the end of his letter), Paul is going to give his readers examples of how they need to stand firm. “Stand firm thus.” “Stand firm in this way.”
So this is Paul’s first instruction. Stand. Stand firm. Stand firm in the Lord. And this instruction is for the entire church, not just a select few. “My brothers,… stand firm.” The whole church should be united, facing the same direction, standing firm.
Steko (stee-koe) is the Greek word Paul uses here. He uses the word seven times in his letters, including once before in this letter, in 1v27 when he said “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit,…” Here’s another example – Paul used this word at the conclusion of his first letter to the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13).
This is a military term, and it would be used by a commander to order his troops to hold their position on the battlefield. “Stand firm. Don’t retreat. Don’t turn away. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Be brave, be strong, Hold your position.”
For Paul, this is a picture of what the Christian must do. Christians then, and Christians now are surrounded by unbelievers, and even professing believers who teach falsely and walk as enemies of the cross. They are against God, and against truth and so we must stand firm in the Lord.
We must hold our position. We must not compromise. We must not collapse under pressure. When it comes to our defense of the truth and living in a manner worthy of the gospel, we have to nail our feet to the ground. Persevere, Paul is saying. Never give up. Stand firm. That’s Paul’s first instruction, and it’s for the entire church.
So that bring us to our next verse. If a church is going to stand firm, it will need to be unified. Remember, standing firm is not something Paul wants from a select few – this is something the entire church does together. Jesus said in Mark 3:25: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” A church divided can’t stand.
And apparently, there is some division in this church. There is a conflict between two women, and Paul brings it up in v2: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
Can you imagine how difficult it would be if you were Euodia and Syntyche, sitting in the pew while Epaphroditus read this letter. But Paul admonished them in love.
He speaks tenderly of them. Partly, I’m sure, because they were women, but also because they were godly Christian women. They were not “enemies of the cross of Christ” and their “end was not destruction,” rather, their “names are in the book of life.” They were among his “fellow workers,” who formerly “labored side by side,” and “with Paul,” and “[for] the gospel.”
We don’t know what the conflict was about, but apparently these two women are at the center of it – Euodia and Syntyche. Perhaps they were arguing over who had the worst first name. Evidently, it was a big enough deal for Paul to bring up publicly, but he doesn’t address any particular sin. These women aren’t false teachers; they are not immoral – they are two people in a church who, for whatever reason, are not getting along. They are in relational conflict.
Listen, this is going to happen in your life. For those of you who try and avoid conflict, don’t you find that really difficult? There will be conflict in your home, and in your family, and yes, even in your church.
Here are some ways the dictionary describes conflict: “to come into collision or disagreement; a prolonged struggle; a quarrel; a squabble; a fight; strife.” – which all happens in the local church. This happens in this church – People disagree. Toes get stepped on. Feelings get hurt. Arguments start.
Churches argue over theology and ministry philosophy and Bible versions and education and money and books and carpet color and coffee brands and worship music and on and on.
“Stand firm” Paul has said. And you can’t stand firm in the Lord if you’re in unresolved conflict with one another. So Paul brings it up. He doesn’t sweep it under the carpet. He doesn’t assume it will take care of itself. He brings it up.
Okay, so what does Paul tell these two women to do? This is his second instruction. And it’s not for the whole church – “stand firm” – that’s for the whole church. This instruction is for the two women. This instruction would be for any of you who are in conflict this morning.
Listen to v2 again: “2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” Those inside the conflict have a responsibility to agree in the Lord.
Paul does not take sides. If this was over theology or immorality, then sides might need to be taken. But here you have two women, probably with two very different perspectives, and Paul doesn’t take sides.
He doesn’t “entreat,” (which means “urge”) one of them to agree with the other. Rather, he urges both of them equally, he says it twice: “I entreat [you] Euodia, and I entreat [you] Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
He gives both of them the same job – to agree in the Lord. Neither of them should be passive. Neither of these women should be waiting for the other to say something, to start the reconciliation, to apologize first. Paul entreats each of them to do something – to agree in the Lord.
So, what does that mean?
This word for agree is phroneo (fro-nay-o) and it means “to set one’s mind on something.” It’s a term Paul uses frequently, ten times in Philippians. Let me give you a couple of examples:
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Paul wants these women to set their minds on the same thing.
What is your mind set on when you’re in conflict? Winning? Self-justification? Self-defense? Payback? Self-pity?
What does Paul want their minds set on? “Agree in the Lord.”
Agree in the Lord. Not, come to an agreement. Go ahead, pursue agreement over the issue. But sometimes, (often?), that’s not going to happen. You’re not going to see it the same way. You’re not going to persuade the other. You may have to agree to disagree.
“How can two people who think differently be brought to think in the same way? By remembering that they are both ‘in the Lord.’ They are his, not their own; they are both his. It would be inconsistent, therefore, for either of them to insist on her own way, when they both belonged to a Saviour who had not insisted on his way nor sought to please himself (2:1-11; Rom. 15:2-3). The Lord made himself nothing, did not grasp at his rights. He took the role of a servant (2:6-7). In the Lord they were called to follow his example in their relationships with each other.” (Ferguson)
In light of the argument of Philippians as a whole, this is not a hopeless demand for perfect agreement on every subject. Paul is not saying to Euodia and Syntyche, “Ladies, on every single point of doctrine and life I expect you to thrash out your differences and arrive at perfect agreement.” For when the verb is used elsewhere, the appeal is broader and deeper. Recall, after all, Paul’s argument at the beginning of Philippians 2, where the same verb occurs (here in italics): “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose” (2:1–2). In other words, Paul is appealing for a mental attitude that adopts the same basic direction as other believers, the same fundamental aim, the same orientation and priorities—that is, a gospel orientation. (D.A. Carson)
Conflict is resolved, among God’s people, when those in conflict agree to prioritize the glory of God, through the application of the gospel.
I have been forgiven, loved, and accepted by God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So I can take criticism – that’s how I became a Christian.
So I can forgive others – I’ve been forgiven for everything I’ve ever done.
So I can stop getting angry when you don’t accept me (or love me or respect me) – I have the love and acceptance of God.
So I can cancel the pity party – look how Christ suffered for me.
So I can stop justifying my actions – My salvation isn’t riding on this. I’ve been justified through Christ.
We’re on to verse 3 now. Paul has one more instruction. He has called the entire local church to stand firm in the Lord. He has called those in conflict to agree in the Lord. And now he has an instruction for those who are watching the conflict.
Listen to verse 3 now: “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.”
We’re not sure who the “true companion” is. It may be Epaphroditus who delivered this letter. It may have been Paul’s wife. It may have been a person by this Greek name.
Whoever Paul had in mind, the principle is this: Those outside the conflict have a responsibility to help those in the conflict.
A few years ago, several of us worked through a book together called “Instruments in the Redeemers Hands.” And one of the things the authors pointed out at the beginning of the book is this: We all need help.
These two women were going to need help, and as is often the case with people in conflict, they probably weren’t going to ask for it. They needed someone outside the conflict to help mediate. They needed someone outside the conflict to remind them of the gospel, and to help them agree in the Lord.
I noticed the two of you used to be close and now you’re not.
What happened? Can I help?
Okay, one more thing I’d like to point out. It’s evident in these verses, you probably already noticed it: Love for God and love for one another is what motivates us to resolve conflict.
This is a great example of speaking truth in love. A great example of Proverbs 27:5-6: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Isn’t it clear how much Paul loves this church, and these two women who are in conflict? He has a relationship with them. He misses them. He is proud of them. They bring him joy. Here is what he said at the start of this letter, in 1v8: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
And here, Paul packs this exhortation with love. He refers to them as “brothers.” He calls them his “joy and crown.” He says again that he “loves and longs” for them and calls them “[his] beloved.”
In conclusion, some of you are in conflict right now. You’re in conflict with family members. You’re in conflict with church members. You need to, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
Now, we didn’t talk about conflict between believers and unbelievers, because that isn’t the subject of Paul’s exhortation. Resolving conflict between believers and unbelievers is something very different and very difficult, and with very different expectations.
When you’re in conflict with another Christian, resolution is far easier than when you’re in conflict with an unbeliever, because with a believer alone, can you agree in the Lord.
May we, together, stand firm in the Lord.
And not only that, but when conflict arises, may we work to agree in the Lord.
And finally, for those of us who find ourselves on the outside of conflict, looking in, may we be ready and willing to help.