By Christopher VanDusen
Since Christians are brothers and sisters in God’s family, they ought to be in agreement on the essential matters of life. However, since we still have the tendency to be selfish, arrogant, and proud, sometimes we fail to agree with each other on those essentials. When Christians fall into this sin, how do we help them to agree with each other? The apostle Paul answers this question in Philippians 4:2-3.
Philippians is a letter that was written by Paul to a church in the city of Philippi, near northern Greece. He had planted this church years earlier, and now was in the city of Rome, confined by the Romans to one place as a prisoner. He was imprisoned because some of his Jewish enemies had accused him of disrupting Jewish society, and he was awaiting the opportunity to defend himself before the Roman Emperor. While waiting, one of the Philippians, named Epaphroditus, came to him with money for his needs, and with news of the Philippian church. In response, Paul wrote Philippians to express his gratitude for the church, to instruct them in Christian living, and to address some troubles they were having.
In the first chapter, Paul expresses his thanks for them; explains how he prays for them; describes his circumstances; and instructs them on how to face persecution. In chapter 2, he teaches them how to be united and loving; how to be a good witness to the unbelieving community; explains his plans to send them a representative; and explains why he sent Epaphroditus back to them. In chapter 3, he begins addressing false teachers by warning them against legalism; instructing them on how to become more like Christ; and urging them to follow his example, instead of that of fake Christians. In chapter 4, then, he commands them to stand firm in Christlikeness, and addresses disagreement between two church members in verses 2-3:
“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.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul does four things to reconcile two church members:
- He Urges His Coworkers to Agree in the Lord (v. 2)
- He Asks His Companion to Assist them to Love (v. 3a)
- He Evidences their Care for an Apostle’s Labor (v. 3b)
- He Identifies them with Coworkers who were Appointed to Life (v. 3b-c)
Paul Urges His Coworkers to Agree in the Lord
Paul begins his effort to help these sisters in Christ to agree by simply urging them to do so. He says,
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
The Greek word translated “entreat” is parakalo, which literally means “call alongside”. By using this word, Paul’s calling these women to himself to help them. And what does he call them to do? “To agree in the Lord”.
In the original Greek, Paul literally tells them to “have the same mind”, or to “think the same”. Does he mean that they need to agree on every single issue? Of course not. Rather, he’s urging them to come together about whatever they disagree on, and accept one another as fellow sisters in Christ.
But Paul doesn’t just tell them to “agree”. He tells them to agree in the Lord. When Paul uses this phrase in connection with this command, he’s calling attention to the fact that the reason they ought to obey his command is because they’re “in the Lord”. This means that their existence and identity is in the kyrios, or Supreme Authority — the Lord Jesus. As such, they share in Jesus’s life. Hence, since Euodia and Syntyche both share Jesus’s way of thinking, they ought to agree on whatever they’re disagreeing on. Not only that, but the fact that Paul calls Jesus “Lord” reminds them that they are to obey Paul because he’s speaking on behalf of their Lord.
Paul Asks His Companion to Assist them to Love
In the first part of verse 3, Paul next asks another Philippian to help Euodia and Syntyche:
“Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women . . .”
Apparently, Paul wasn’t confident that Euodia and Syntyche would be able to settle their differences on their own, so he requests one of his friends to help them. He calls this friend his “true companion”. The Greek word translated “companion” is syzogos, and literally means “yoke-partner”, or one who’s yoked together with another. In other words, unlike Euodia and Syntyche, Paul and this man were companions that worked together. Not only that, but this man was a true companion, or a “real” companion. As such, he’d be willing to do what Paul asked.
The Greek word Paul uses for “help” is syllambanou, which literally means “seize” or “grasp”. Paul’s saying that his companion ought to reach out and grasp these sisters, before they go farther off course. In the original Greek, the word “women” isn’t there, but is supplied by the translators to tell us that the two names are feminine.
Paul Evidences their Care for an Apostle’s Labor
In the second part of verse 3, Paul motivates syzogos to help the sisters by explaining what kind of Christians they are:
“. . . who have labored side by side with me in the gospel . . .”
Not only are these sisters “in the Lord” together, but they also have “labored” together “in the gospel” with Paul himself. The Greek word Paul uses for “labored side by side” doesn’t just mean work in general, but literally means “compete together with”, as in the ancient Olympics. Thus, they had competed against Satan and his lies together with Paul. But what does it mean that they did this with Paul “in the gospel”? He uses this phrase to speak of his work of sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and teaching the gospel to believers in order to make disciples, and to establish churches. Therefore, these women have been Paul’s personal missionary partners who helped him to save people through the gospel. Thus, they have even more reason to agree with one another, and to work together.
Paul Identifies Them with Coworkers Who Were Appointed to Live
Finally, Paul gives syzogos one last reason to help Euodia and Syntyche — they’re true Christians. He puts it this way:
“. . . 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.”
Not only have these sisters personally competed with Paul to further the gospel, and the salvation of souls, but they have worked side by side with those who Paul knows are saved. Among them is a man named Clement, whom early church tradition teaches was the famous pastor of the church in Rome, Clement of Rome. “The rest” of Paul’s “fellow workers” would include such people as Luke, Paul’s physician, and Timothy and Titus, Paul’s spiritual sons.
The reason I say that Paul knows these people are saved is because he says their “names are in the book of life”. When he says this, he’s alluding to the practice of cities at that time to keep records of the names of its citizens. Since these people have their names in “the book of life”, they are spiritually alive, and will possess eternal life in God’s kingdom. The apostle John describes this kingdom, and its connection to the book of life, in Revelation 21:23-27, which says,
“23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (ESV)
So, when Paul says that Euodia and Syntyche have worked with those whose names he knows God has written in the book of life, he’s implying that these sisters names are also in the book of life, as far as he can tell. Therefore, they should agree as those who will both live on the new earth in God’s kingdom forever.
Agree in the Lord, Pull Together, and Remember the Team
So, if you claim to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, agreeing in the Lord with our brothers and sisters on the essentials of our beliefs and lifestyle is important enough that we need to earnestly call any Christian who’s in major disagreement, or at odds, with another one to agree in the Lord. Not only that, but notice that Paul didn’t leave these women anonymous, but he used their names in a letter that would have been read to the entire church. Hence, he’s giving the whole church the responsibility to help the women who are in opposition. Such opposition needs to be clearly identified and addressed directly because any disunity in the church displeases the Lord, and is harmful to the church and its neighbors.
Second, we shouldn’t always assume that Christians who are opposed to each other will be able to be reconciled on their own. Instead, it’s helpful to have someone to serve as a peacemaker, reconciler, or mediator, between opposing Christians, and to talk to both of them about their sin, its consequences, and their need to change their minds and become friends.
Third, we should remind all the people involved in such events of their past experiences together in the Christian life, so they remember that, at one time, they actually were able to get along. Further, we should remind them that we’re all in a competition together against Satan’s forces to teach and spread the gospel, and expand Christ’s kingdom, so we can’t afford to refuse to work together.
Fourth, we should also keep in mind that, if Christians who are opposing each other have proven themselves to love other Christians, and the gospel, then they’re all going to end up living together in harmony anyway. Thus, we might as well work together now.
Finally, how does your character compare to good qualities we see in the people mentioned in this passage?
Are you a true companion to your brothers and sisters in Christ, who works together with them to make disciples?
Do you compete together with your brothers and sisters to promote, spread, teach, and live in light of the gospel as a co-worker?
Do you know that your name is in God’s book of life? If you don’t, then you need to understand and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s only good news because we’re naturally enemies of our Creator who rebel against Him in thought, word, and deed, and God is our hateful Judge who will punish us for eternity if our lives end while we’re His rebellious enemies. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment that we deserve. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as our King. He commands everyone to change their minds, and to trust only in Jesus as their King and Savior from sin and God’s wrath because He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus according all they’ve done, and punish His enemies forever in a place of torment. He promises to forgive all the sins of everyone who will trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin. Please make sure you’ve done so, so you can know that you’ve been reconciled to God.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.