Saturday, 23 June 2012

Church hurt : Euodia and Syntyche

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”(Philippians 4:2-3 NIV)

In the course of my life I’ve known many women named Ruth, Rebekah, Sarah, Anna, Deborah and Mary. I’ve never met a single person called Euodia or Syntyche. (There is in fact, a pretty pink-blossomed Euodia tree grown here in Queensland but I digress.) Some biblical names conjure up associations with grace, strength and beauty, but in the case of Euodia and Syntyche, the association is, unfortunately, with discord.

The short (4 chapter) epistle to the church at Philippi is one that resounds with joy and encouraging words- it only takes a quick read through to identify numerous Sunday school bible verses therein. Yet in his final greetings, Paul singles out a conflict between two women that was of obvious concern.

I do feel rather sorry for Euodia and Syntyche. These ladies were active in the life of the Philippian church, working hard for its purposes, when a rift had occurred. As with many of the people that are named in the Bible, we are only given a tiny glimpse of their lives and sometimes giant deductions which may or may not be correct are made from a little information. Whatever had happened between these two women, it was significant enough for Paul to have learned about it.

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche….” There is something tender about Paul’s words to these women, a far cry from the almost satirical references to the pair we may sometimes find in the comments of others. He understands the pain of hurt within the body of Christ. It is always unexpected and divisive. He emphasizes their contributions. They were not two silly women who had nothing better to do but fight. Sadly and ironically, their names were to be forever linked together, probably something neither of them would have wished for.

Paul acknowledges that there was a problem. This was not something to be swept under the carpet. He acknowledges that both women were working for the cause of the gospel and were Christians with their names in the Lamb’s book of life. Paul’s warning against false doctrine at the end of the preceding chapter is enough to indicate that this dispute was not in that sphere.

Paul states that they are to “agree in the Lord.”  There is a sense that they are to both focus on Jesus, rather than each other or the problems that had divided them. When studying scripture, it is always useful to look at the verses that precede and follow an item being studied. After declaiming the false teachers and those with earthly priorities in chapter three, in the first verse of chapter 4, Paul exhorts his friends to “stand firm.” Satan is at his busiest in the Christian church, for he knows that this is where his opposition is, not in the acquiescent world. Then, as now, quarrels cause  disunity and distract the individual and the church from its main task of spreading the gospel.

Now, as then, it may seem impossible to resolve a rift, such are the hurts and behaviours and personalities of the people involved. Yet Jesus said that the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. ( Luke 18:27; Mark 10:27 and Matthew 19:26). With prayer, humility and surrender, disputes can be used for God’s ultimate glory.

Paul also requests that the church assist Euodia and Syntyche to resolve their differences, acknowledging that this was not being done.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” says Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5. Paul asks a trusted colleague to mediate in the affair. The word “mediate” means to “carry between.” Unfortunately in some instances what is carried between folk in the event of a church dispute is slander and gossip.

We are given instructions, particularly in Matthew chapter 18, regarding the process of settling disputes according to Christian principles.  We are also provided with principles fostering repentance and forgiveness in the gospels. Sadly, the world is awash with folk who have been hurt in churches. Whole ministries exist to apply balm to the wounded. Congregations are ripped apart in rifts, ministry careers are ruined and lives shattered, sometimes by the words and actions of a very few. We cannot afford to trivialise or ignore quarrels.

Yet all is not lost. When we look beyond the quarrel of Euodia and Syntyche, the following verse scintillates: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). The chapter continues with reminders that our value is found in pleasing God, not man. Paul explains that we are vindicated by being gentle, praying to God and  experiencing His peace. We are to focus on the things of God – pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy; and to concern ourselves with doing His will. Then we will know His peace and joy that surpasses any earthly trials.

We don’t know what happened to the two ladies. Perhaps Euodia married, had seven children and purchased a network of flourishing vineyards, providing the church with much needed finances. Maybe Syntyche taught herself to read and write and undertook several missionary journeys to England. We do know that the church in Phillipi continued to grow and flourish, which is what they both would have wanted.

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