Hope for All Philippians

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…. Philippians 4:5


A.D. 61 With great anticipation, the congregation at Philippi [1] gathers in a courtyard on the Lord’s Day. Their beloved leader, Epaphroditus, now recovered from his life-threatening illness, has just arrived from Rome with a new letter from the Apostle Paul. The founding members are given places of honor in the front, along with the weakest and poorest in the church. Lydia, the seller of purple cloth, now an older woman, gathers with her children and grandchildren. How the church loves this courageous saint who became the first Christian of the city.

A Roman sentry sits nearby, making himself as inconspicuous as possible for a soldier in full uniform. He owes his life to Paul and loves to retell those spectacular events burned into his memory—the prisoners under his guard singing hymns in the night, the earthquake bursting everyone’s chains, and words of hope he would never forget, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”


Two other mature and influential women also sit in front—on opposite sides. Everyone knows that Euodia and Syntyche do not get along well, especially after their sharp disagreement over a recent church decision. Then the reader takes a deep breath and continues: “Euodia I entreat, and Syntyche I entreat, agree in the Lord!” The women turn red, and the congregation falls silent. Some are thinking, “Oh no. I wonder if Paul will call out my name, too. He could, because of, well….” To everyone’s relief, the reader does not pause, but enlists an esteemed brother: “I ask you, loyal Syzygus [2], help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel….” It seems an odd commendation of the two women after the implied rebuke.


Indeed, they often had accompanied Paul on his personal visits to members’ homes and had earned the apostle’s confidence. Paul also relies on the dear man who bears the apt nickname, “Yokefellow.” He’s a behind-the-scenes person who anyone can talk with and everyone trusts. “He’s always reasonable and charitable,” people think. “But how on earth can Syzygus ever help these two members who are so hurt and so far apart? Let’s listen to Paul’s letter very carefully. Perhaps we’ll find out.”


A.D. 2022 We can’t transport ourselves to ancient Philippi for the first reading of Paul’s epistle, so the full storyline we can only imagine. What issues separated Euodia and Syntyche? We can safely assume it was not about serious doctrinal error, or Paul surely would have taken sides. Yet it was not trivial either. Conflicts between believers rarely are, because we become passionate about important things, biblical things. Our problem is that we never see everything because we’re finite, and we never see with complete accuracy because we’re sinful. And, lest we forget, no one gets everything they want in this life. Your church and family, and everyone else around you, will never become everything you want them to be, or do everything you want them to do. We live with that disappointment. And you can count on this: they feel the same when they look at you.


The characters in the Philippian church surely felt the weight of God’s commands from the Apostle Paul—imperatives that had special bearing on church leadership [3]. These women must agree in the Lord, and Syzygus, the peacemaker, must assist them. We, too, ought to feel the same weight when we consider our struggling and fractured churches, families, and marriages. Pray that we can discover methodologies to fulfill this apostolic mandate in our day and our context.


Yet before we construct our methods, we must change our mindset. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (Phil. 4:5). The Greek word [4] defies an English equivalent. “Charitable” may come closest. It is reasonable, gracious, gentle, forbearing, calm, and kind. It assumes the best, not the worst. It is the opposite of quarrelsome. Church leaders especially need this mindset (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 3:2; cf. Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:18), and as it becomes evident to all people it enhances that good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7) required of church officers. Above all, this character trait is the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ—the one who perfectly embodied humility with “graciousness” (2 Cor. 10:1).


[1] This piece is an excerpt from Andrew H. Selle, Make Smart Choices (and Avoid Stupid Ones)--Together: A Practical Theology of Church Decision-Making © (not yet published). The Philippians storyline is “historical fiction” based on the biblical data. Luke presents his thrilling eyewitness account of this church’s founding in Acts 16:11-40. His switch to the plural pronoun “we” indicates that Luke joined Paul at this point during the second missionary journey. [2] Syzygus translates as “Yokefellow” and could refer to the church itself, or to an individual within the church. Since Paul mentions other names in the immediate context, I believe Syzygus was a particular member who bore this name, or perhaps a nickname based on his reputation. [3] Significantly, this epistle is the only one among Paul’s writings that singles out church officers—the “overseers and deacons”—as the intended recipients (1:1). [4] ἐπιεικής (epieikés)

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