Peace, Purity, and Prosperity with Euodia and Synteche - Nick Napier
In loving obedience, do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of this church, promising to seek the peace, purity, and prosperity of this congregation as long as you are a member of it? So asks the final vow of our membership vows in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). Submitting and pursuing — those are the two things (both with “subheadings”: submit a) to government, b) to discipline; pursue a) peace, b) purity, c) prosperity) required in this vow. It seems a simple task and yet is often broken. The purpose of this article is to think on the pursuit of peace in the church. I was recently reminded of this vow when preaching through Philippians 4:1-3. There, we read Paul’s exhortation, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 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” (NASB).
This exhortation to these two women serves as an important demonstration of brining peace to the church. Danger in the local body is not always doctrinal. That is a danger, of course, as we saw Paul deal with those who would come in and deceive the Philippians into false worship and self-righteousnessin Philippians 3:1-3. But here, we see the danger of disturbing the peace of the church often happens when people — usually unintentionally and ‘for the good of the church’ — begin to assert things which are merely preferential and not necessary as if they were essential. In other words, to make non-essential things to be of first order importance, or essential for Christian fellowship, is to disturb the peace of the church. There is an ever present danger to placing importance on matters which Christ has not placed importance.
It would seem that these two women were in need of Paul's earlier exhortation in Philippians 2:3-4, “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.” Peace is disturbed in the church when when we place our preferences (a form of idolatry) above the mission of Christ and make the church our own kingdom. We can see this in Philippians 4:1-3 by taking a look at the participants, the problem and the prescription for peace in the church.
What do we know about Euodia and Synteche? We don’t know much. We really don’t know anything more than their names, but we do know that in Paul’s estimation these women are not unbelievers, not “wolves” who are false teachers, and that they’re not ordinarily those who disturb the peace of the church.
We know these women aren’t simply “fringe” people who have come to the church lately; they are known to Paul—friends of his in whom he has great confidence! Calls them those women who have shared my struggle and my fellow workers, whose names are in book of life. What’s he saying? That these are godly Christian women! These are women who have understood what “the main thing” is, and have labored alongside of Paul in order to see Christ exalted in the church at Philippi. He calls them his fellow workers! He says they shared hisstruggle in the cause of the gospel!
So Paul addresses them as Christian women who have been about the purity and prosperity of the church, who will respond to his exhortation (ie., submit to the discipline of the church) to stop seeking their own interests in order to seek the peace of the church That’s about all we know about these women, so what was the problem?
Well, much like the women, we don’t know much about the problem, so we will have to draw out by deduction what is the nature of the break of peace between these women that is causing friction in the church. I think it is safe to deduce that the problem between them is not moral. Paul has no problem naming sin and making sure that it is dealt with properly (see 1Corinthians 5). It is safe to deduce that their issue is not doctrinal. We know that Paul doesn’t have an issue calling out the dangers of false teachers, and he doesn’t lump them in withthose in Philippians 3:1-3; nor does he point out their falsehood—which he has no problem doing (see 1 Timothy 1:18-20). So, their issue is not that they are abandoning the gospel and causing others to — or we know Paul would have condemned them (see Galatians 1:8-9).
So, what do we have? He simply says twice, “I urge.” He uses the same word for both women, indicating that they are both at fault. He calls on them “to live in harmony in the Lord.” He is reiterating his exhortation from 2:3-4, and calling on them to remember 2:5. Why? What’s the issue? These women have brought in something non-essential and are treating it as if it was of gospel importance. They have not been living according to 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.”
Euodia and Synteche have stopped laboring with eternity in mind, and have decided to let their preferences over non-essentials (adiaphora) outweigh what is the most importantthings which Christ has set forth. In other words, they have unintentionally let their preferences become more important than Christ’s kingdom. They have set up their own kingdoms within Christ’s kingdom. Let me illustrate it:
Euodia said to Syntyche, “That’s not way we did it last time,” or perhaps, “We’ve not done it that way before, and I think we should do it this way.”
Syntyche, “Why? I think we should do it this way.”
Euodia: “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
Synteche: “Does it matter?”
Euodia: “It’s our tradition. It just does.”
In other words, the problem was that they were asking and seeking anything other than, “Is this what God Commands? Will this glorify Christ and see His Kingdom advance?”
By calling them to harmony in the Lord, Paul is not sayingthat the ends justify the means. He is saying that love overlooks multitude of non-important and merely preferential infractions that someone may make against us — love overlooks difference of opinion if not unbiblical (see again Philippians 2:3-4)
One of the biggest causes of a disturbance of the peace in the church today that is not doctrinally related is allowing extra-biblical traditions/preferences to creep in un-examined by the light of Scripture—and yet to treat them with import and authority of Scripture—and when someone questions them, defend them without use of Scripture, but appeal to tradition/preference. (Tradition is not bad—but tradition for sake of tradition with no appeal to Scripture is idolatry.)
What do we learn from the participants and problem? We learn that Christians can lose their way and lose sight of who is really King over the church, and forget what really matters. They can (most often unintentionally) try to make the churchinto their own little kingdom about their personal preferences.
So, what’s the solution to this problem? Paul gives a very simple solution in verse one of Philippians 4. It’s where all our unity and peace lie in the body of Christ. He says, “in this way, stand firm in the Lord.” Paul is tying his dealings with Euodia and Synteche back in to 3:18-21 which itself flows from and ties back into 1:27. In other words, all that Paul has said since 1:27is that standing firm in Lord that he called us to. It is that dying to self that he mentioned in 2:1-4. It is that following Christ in his example and praising him from 2:5-11. It is living life for God’s glory, and as people with the single issue of following Christ fully (2:12ff); it is knowing doctrine and counting the knowledge of Christ as supreme (3:1-11). It is pressing on and thinking and living in the way of Scripture, remembering that this world and its vanities is not our home (3:12-21). It is in light of all of this that he calls them to, in 4:1, “in this way stand firm in the Lord.”
The solution to a lack of peace in the church is a simple fix. What is the solution? The solution is: not to forget that which isprimary in the Kingdom of Christ. (What is primary in the Kingdom of Christ is not my personal proclivities, but what Christ says in his Word. It is not traditions that have been handed to us without scriptural warrant; it is not things that are good in themselves, but are not necessary for fulfilling the mission that Christ has given to his church. We are to be pursuing Christ in all that we do. In other words, the simple fix is to give up our preferences and to die to ourself in non-gospel issues; to say, “If it doesn’t go against Scripture then I can live with it.” (See again Philippians 1:27-2:5)
Some questions in our pursuit of peace: 1) Is Christ, as set forth by his Word, the sum of your pursuit? 2) Does Christ set your priorities? (Can you die to your preferences? Ask yourself—“Is this a gospel issue or simply preference?” Ask yourself questions like this: do I not like this because I think it is against Bible or because it’s against my personal tastes?) These things can help us as we pursue the peace of the church where we are members.
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