Philippians 4 v 1 – 3
The first word we notice is ‘therefore’ – it points to what has gone before.
Paul is applying the doctrine that he has just taught us, telling us that we now need to do certain things. We remember from last week’s sermon that he set out for us ‘Two Ways to Walk’ – those who walk as enemies of the cross, and those who walk like Paul and others walked. They walked like that because he reminded them and gave them the doctrine that our citizenship is in heaven, and that we eagerly wait for the Saviour who will transform our lowly bodies. He is telling us to not walk like those who are enemies of the cross, but to walk like Paul and others walked – to follow their examples. Because we are citizens of heaven and the Saviour will come and transform our lowly bodies – for those reasons he says THEREFORE we need to do certain things.
Paul is always applying the Gospel when he is setting out doctrine, and he is always setting out doctrine when he is applying the Gospel. In this passage he is dealing with application of what he’s just set out for us as citizens of heaven who are eagerly awaiting the transforming of our lowly bodies by the Saviour whom we await. He is dealing with the very doctrine of the Christian Church – doing so for a very good reason in this letter to the Philippians, because of a problem that has come up at the church in Philippi. We cannot deal with even what some would call a minor problem without keeping in mind the whole character of the Church of the LORD Jesus Christ. Paul is setting out for us in these verses the amazing, wonderful and majestic picture of the nature of the Church of our LORD Jesus Christ – the character of a life! But in doing that he does more – maybe doing so in an unconscious way, but he gives us a wonderful picture of himself, telling us how he feels about the Philippians – a picture that everyone of us who has the joy, honour and grace to be part of the Lord’s Church, and especially those of us who are called to lead them – that we must be like the Apostle Paul, who called them ‘my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown’. He also shows remarkable humility as he addresses the problem that is confronting the Philippian church at that time. He speaks to two real sisters – Euodia and Syntyche – not starting out from his high horse commanding them as an Apostle saying ‘you just stop it and do what I tell you’ – he pleads with them –he beseeches them! He doesn’t command and rebuke them – he entreats them. Especially in our reformed circles so often we do so little entreating – do so much correction and rebuke – we fail to entreat. We fail to stop and think I’m dealing with someone and something very tender – something very breakable. We need to be tender and entreat more than we rebuke and correct. I love that about the Apostle Paul.
It seems there was some disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche. We are not told what the nature of the disagreement was, but it must have been serious enough for him to take up pen and parchment and to write about it. Remember that in those days they couldn’t just get on WhatsApp and pop them a message. He had to sit there and work the pen and ink, roll out the parchment and very laboriously write to them. It seems that the problem between them was serious enough that it threatened the well-being of the church at the time. For some reason or other it seems they were quarrelling and causing trouble in the church. Because Paul loved the Church as he did, being anxious for her unity and perfection he has to deal with it. He does that by not just giving them some advice. One outline to this passage of a well-meaning brother put out a thing about some advice as to how to resolve conflicts. That’s helpful, but it misses something more fundamental and important than that, and that is that when we do entreat people who find themselves in this kind of conflict and other things, we need to always put that dispute in the setting and paradigm of the whole doctrine of the church. If the Church had always remembered that, I just wonder how many times we would have avoided troubles and church splits, because every problem – doesn’t matter how small and insignificant it may be to us, must always be put in the larger context. There is no such thing in the Church of the LORD Jesus Christ as an inconsequential and isolated problem – we can never consider any problem that we may have without considering it in the light of the very nature of the Church. That is what the Apostle Paul does here, having three things to say to the church regarding this conflict.
- The Call of the Church
The main reason for her existence as salt and light in this world – as the body and bride of Christ – as the city set on a hill – the first call is to labour in the Gospel. It is not just to exist alongside psychologists and other counsellors and life coaches to make people feel better about the consequences of their sin and sinful ways. That’s not the main task of the Church, albeit an important part of what we do, but we always do so within the context of the Church, considering the call of the Church, which is to labour in the Gospel. He speaks of Euodia and Syntyche as those women who ‘laboured side by side with me in the Gospel, together with Clement‘. They laboured together with him in the main call and commission of the Church, which is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is our call! He has already told us about that in the beginning of the letter chapter 1:5 where he thanks the Philippians for their fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now. It was their partnership in the Gospel. In verse 8 he says ‘for God is my witness how greatly I long after all of you in the LORD Jesus Christ’ and in verse 7 – ‘even as it fit of me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart’. Why does he have them in his heart? – ‘inasmuch as both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, you are all partakers of grace.’ How far are they partakers of grace? – Inasmuch they are confirming the Gospel together with the Apostle Paul. To labour in the Gospel is the main calling of the Church and that’s the first thing that Paul appeals to them on the basis of. That’s the primary, missionary task of the Christian Church – it’s always Paul’s understanding and the New Testament picture of the Church. We can never forget that as a Church we’re a body of people set in this world – a world that’s under control of sin, Satan and self – a world that’s supposed to guard – a world that is madly rushing unconsciously to eternal perdition.
In the view of that, what is the main business of the Church in the midst of all that bad news if it is not to hold forth the Good News – the Gospel? It’s to speak to the world and tell the world about its sin and its deplorable condition – to tell it about the Saviour and the only way of salvation that He has brought to us. That is our call.
Paul starts out in this conflict between the two sisters by pointing them to the fact that their conflict was detracting from the main cause of the Church. We can never let any conflict do that! Paul thanks the LORD for them and tells them to go out and do the same thing. He thanks God for the members at Philippi, because they were all doing that work with him – they’ve helped him, being all partakers in his ministry. We see that about them throughout the book of Acts.
Whatever disagreements we may have among ourselves at CPBC or with Christians in other churches – we can never forget our main calling, which is to labour in the Gospel. If even in the resolution of our conflicts and disagreements our motive and aim is not to do the work of the Gospel – to labour in the Gospel – we are busy with something other than that to which Christ has called His Church, and that is a sad state of affairs. There is something that is essential to us carrying this task and fulfilling that calling, which is the whole burden of these three verses. It is the direct lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look how it comes up – agree in the Lord – rejoice in the Lord always he says – the Lord is at hand he says later on. Constantly, he’s holding up to them the direct lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He entreated them to be of the same mind, but he doesn’t stop there – of the same mind, how? – In the Lord! That’s where we always have to start, stay and end.
Paul always made all of his appeals in those terms. Paul doesn’t appeal to the women to put things right for his sake – he doesn’t say ‘you are just upsetting the atmosphere in the church’. He doesn’t beg them to put things right for the sake of Paul’s reputation or to show to people what kind of a negotiator he is to bring peace between people – he has a far higher reason for why he wants to bring them to be of the same mind. It is in the Lord – not even for their own sake or for the sake of the church at Philippi, but for the Lord’s sake, always remembering His lordship.
- The Courage of the Church
He admonished the congregation to stand fast and firm in the Lord. It’s also one of the phrases that Paul often repeats. He also said to the church at Corinth to watch and stand firm in the faith – be like men, be strong. He calls them to fortitude – to courage. He already said so in chapter 1:27 – ‘Let your conversation be as it befits the Gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you or not I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit’. What does Paul mean when he says that? It was that they had to stand firm in the faith. The task of the Church is missionary – she has to preach the Gospel, tell the world the Good News – to hold up salvation to men and women. But the Church can’t do that unless she herself is sure of her own faith. Paul doesn’t say stand firm together, but stand firm in the Lord. If we do not stand firm in the Lord, we don’t have a Gospel to preach. If the Church is not sure of her own message, how can she hold it out to others? If she doesn’t stand firm in the Gospel herself, how can she go and expect other people to even stand on it at all!?
The very power of the Church lies in the message of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. We so often forget this. It’s a temptation to us to concentrate on being highly organized and have good programmes – to think we can draw a great crowd and it will have a great impact on people. I don’t know why I shiver every time I hear the word ‘impact’ – the whole of history denies that. There was a time when churches were filled ±100 years ago, but in spite of that, they were faced with the same position. Numbers never convince. The mega churches are buckling under the same things when they forget to stand firm in the Gospel and to make the Gospel their main task. We must stand firm in the Truth, because without it we have no power. Paul said that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of salvation – to the Jew first and also the Greek. We can be very kind and nice to each other, but that won’t convince the world of sin – it will not bring them to the Lord Jesus. Only the truth can do that.
- The Concord of the Church
He entreated them to be of the same mind – to agree in the Lord – to be of the same mind. There has to be this concord – agreement in the LORD – once again the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a perfect picture of the Church. Her task is to be a missionary church. She has to be careful to do everything for the Lord – to proclaim the right message. She cannot play with or compromise with it in any way. That’s the danger of the heresy with which Paul has been dealing in the third chapter we considered. It’s one of those dangers that come from within us. Another danger that was arising in the church. These two women who were clearly quarrelling with each other possibly wanted to form rival factions and amass people around them to take their point of view. The Apostle entreats them to stop, because that would spoil everything – upset the whole testimony of the Church and overthrow everything he was trying to do. We must guard not only against heresies that comes from without, but against our own spirits too – against those subtle temptations that come from within ourselves which can spoil the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must not be like Euodia and Syntyche – forming factions and always splitting churches. They were probably not even speaking to one another, trying to corrupt the people around them. I’m sure there was a lot of whispering behind hands – they were refusing to work with each other. The Apostle says if only you realized that you are all under the LORD, that none of you would even be in the Church if it wasn’t for His grace, you would not do this thing. So you need to stop doing this and agree with one another in the Lord. That doesn’t mean that we dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ the same, but we do agree in the Lord – in His lordship and in the proclamation of the Gospel.
It has been my joy as your Pastor over some years now to have enjoyed something really rare – a congregation in which conflicts have been few and far between and hardly ever serious. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful unity and we seek to continue to do that for as long as the Lord gives us that grace. But we’ll do it only in one way – if we remember our Call, which is to labour in the Gospel, the Courage we’re called to, which is to stand firm in the Gospel and in the Lord and that Concord to which He calls us to agree with one another in the Lord.