Dealing with Disagreements
Written by Grace Fox (First 5 Ministries)
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
As a career missionary, one of my roles is to provide staff care for other missionaries within our association. During a recent training session, I learned a startling fact that saddened me: The number one reason North American missionaries leave an overseas assignment is not terrorism, illness, their children’s educational needs or lack of funds. It is relational conflict with their team members.
Relational conflict between believers is nothing new. In today’s reading, we see two women, Euodia and Syntyche, from the early church in Philippi, struggled with it too.
Influential women contributing to the well-being and growth of the local church was common in this culture. (Acts 16:1-15; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12) Theologians agree that Euodia and Syntyche were prominent figures in the Philippian church, and Paul acknowledged them as ministry partners. We don’t know what their roles were, but the nature of Paul’s ministry and life suggests that they worked hard and sacrificially. (Philippians 4:3) They modeled leadership and spiritual maturity. Their passion for God’s Kingdom was evident to all. Unfortunately, so was their conflict.
When word about the problem reached Paul in prison, he refused to take sides or invite discussion about who said what. Instead, he did something he rarely did in other conflict situations (mentioned in his letters) – he addressed each woman by name. Again, this indicates that the issue was already public knowledge. It also suggests that he held them equally responsible for both the conflict and the resolution. He removed any possibility that either could blame the other for the problem.
Paul appealed to Euodia and Syntyche to agree. This means “to live in harmony as sisters in Christ” or “to be of the same mind.” He used this expression earlier in his letter – “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). This was not a command to be unanimous in opinions or decision-making. Rather, it was a plea for unity, despite differing perspectives.
The phrase “in the Lord” reminded the women of Christ’s authority in their lives. Surrendering to His authority would create an attitude of humility, which, in turn, would produce unity and harmony.
Paul pressed for reconciliation for good reason. Without it, anger and unforgiveness could take root and their relationship with God would suffer. (Hebrews 12:14-15; Matthew 6:14-15) If believers took sides, the local church’s fellowship and ministry would also suffer. Their bickering would make the gospel unattractive to unbelievers, and souls would be forever lost. (Philippians 1:27)
Disagreements will arise between Jesus’ followers. Even the spiritually mature are not immune. Paul’s admonition encourages us to remember that unity is possible and necessary. Living surrendered to Christ’s authority is vital. Pursuing God’s will rather than our way enables us to work through our differences. Everyone within the Church, and beyond its walls, benefits.