Ben continues our series 'Letters from Lockdown', preaching from Philippians 3:17-4:7. In this passage Paul gives the church in Philippi practical ways to put the gospel into action in their relationships with each other.
In looking at this passage I am reminded of a sermon by Pete Woodcock, in which he suddenly announced that there was one individual present, who was not welcome in the service. This caused a sensation of shock amongst the congregation, and I remember, first of all, wondering who that person could possibly be. And then I started to realise that Pete might actually be referring to me. I suddenly felt embarrassed and fearful that my inner sin was about to be exposed to the whole congregation. I am sure there were many of us at that moment, who had the same fear.
As it turned out, the ‘unwelcome individual’ that Pete was referring to, was the sin of ‘Pride’ which was the subject of Pete’s sermon that morning.
I have used that example because in normal life, it is possible for us to hide our inward sins, But when we are faced with the scary possibility that our sin might be made public, it really focuses our minds on what needs to change in our hearts, before we can face public scrutiny.
In the Church in Philippi, Paul recognised that there were divisions and murmurings of discontent, and he chose to address the specific challenge raised by the behaviour of Euodia and Syntyche, in Philippians 4:2
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”
One must assume that the Church were aware of the disagreement between these women, as no explanation of details is provided in these verses. But Paul feels that it is sufficiently important an issue to make it public. He was not afraid of embarrassing them, because his sole aim was to encourage and keep them strong in the faith.
This provides a great model for how we should address particular sin issues in the church.
There are 4 steps we should follow in order to address this topic.
1. Frame the sin in the context of who you are in Christ
Verse 1 begins with ‘Therefore’ emphasising that everything he is about to say is in the context of what he has said in the preceding verses.
He has already emphasised that all their confidence should be in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. He has encouraged them to strive with all their might towards the goal of eternal glory with Christ, without looking back to the world’s empty claims. And he has urged them to strive forward together as citizens of heaven.
Now, as he begins to address the specific problem, it is important to note that Paul uses overflowing terms of affection for the church.
If you read verse 1 of Philippians 4, he says:
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”
This is very similar to the sentiments he expresses in 1 Thessalonians 2: 20.
“Indeed, you are our glory and joy”.
He speaks of the church as the crown and glory that he wants to parade before God in heaven.
And his final words in this paragraph are ‘Dear friends’
Paul is careful to encourage these women to reflect on his previous teaching; to use this knowledge to stand firm in the Lord against the temptations of Satan; all the while making sure this is in the context of his unwavering love and support for them.
This framework of who we are in Christ puts our life into perspective. He is saying to these women: ‘You are already clothed and adopted into God’s kingdom, you are already the crowning jewel, so therefore stand firm.’
2. Address the sin
We do not know the details of the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche, because we do not need to know. A much more important issue is at stake here: the issue of the women not being united in heart and mind for the good of the gospel.
It is interesting to note that these are not immature believers, whose faith might be weak.
In Chapter 4:3 he acknowledges: “They have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel”
They have been faithful companions and servants of Christ.
So, take this as a warning. We too must be on our guard against the temptation to find fault with a fellow believer. Whilst such behaviour does not bring the salvation of these women into question, it is still vitally important that they recognise their responsibility to be reconciled to each other.
Paul uses the word ‘plead’ as he speaks in this passage. It is so important that they put aside their disagreement in order to restore unity.
Paul reminds them that they are striving forward in the cause of the gospel, with the glorious goal of eternity with Christ. Surely this bigger eternal purpose should make their current differences of opinion seem so trivial in comparison, that they will sincerely desire to be reconciled.
Can we think of situations in our own lives where we have struggled in relating to another person? We want to rejoice with that person in Heaven, don’t we? Let us reflect that our problems and differences will seem so small and insignificant once we are in glory.
Think carefully about whether we need to apologise to another believer? Do we need to reconsider our perspective on the relationship? We must recognise that our priority should be to be reconciled, even though this may be very difficult for us.
3. Accept and allow help
In Philippians 4:3 Paul recognises that they need help.
“Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel”
Even King David needed Nathan the prophet to reveal his sin to him.
We need people to help us and patiently walk alongside us. So, do not deny offers of help even if our pride makes this very difficult to accept.
Paul recognises that these women cannot work through their differences on their own. It is not like helping a child learn to take his first steps, before letting him go by himself. Church is actually a hospital for the sick, and we need people to walk alongside us, all the way. So, allow help.
Be a helper! Show concern for fellow believers. Carry their burdens. Steer them in the right direction.
Have you noticed extra tensions during Lockdown? Many issues have come to the surface in past months, so the need is even greater to seek to help each other where we can.
Verse 4 proclaims: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice!”
This may seem a strange ending in the context of a public declaration of sin.
However, if you look at the end of verse 3, Paul is referring to Euodia and Syntyche as amongst those ‘whose names are in the book of life’ regardless of the differences between them.
Our joy in the glory to come is what we should rejoice over. If you look at Luke 10:17, Jesus told his disciples: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
Jesus told his disciples not to rejoice in the achievements or gifts of this world that made them happy. But to rejoice in their salvation!
In the same way we must rejoice that the person we need to be reconciled with, also has their name in the book of life.
On the day of Judgment there will be thousands upon thousands of records of sins committed. Praise the Lord that the book of life does not record deeds, but names. If your name is in that book of life, rejoice because you are forgiven and raised to new life in Christ.
He repeats the word ‘Rejoice!’, to remind the church that no one should panic that they’re not good enough. Christ has done it all.
Now, if we accept and desire to follow this framework, we need to consider whether there is someone whom we struggle with in Church.
If so, first of all remember who you are and who they are in Christ, and be reconciled.
Secondly, be prepared to accept and give help in order to achieve this.
Finally rejoice because their names, along with yours, are in the book of life.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, Rejoice!”
Philippians 3:17 - 4:7
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
4:1 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.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.