1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.
3 Indeed, true comrade, 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 ‘77]
Paul gives us an action step based on our status as citizens of heaven, then addresses a specific problem in the Philippian church. In both cases he shows how our position in the family of God and as citizens of another world should affect how we live. We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t live as those do who have their minds set on earthly things. We are different from the world and that must come out in every area of our lives and relationships.
Paul begins this section with an admonition based on what he just told us about our status. We’re citizens of heaven eagerly waiting for the return of our Savior (3:20). Thus, we must live differently. We must live according to the values and priorities of our true home. We must stand firm and not be swayed and waylaid by the priorities of this world.
Living full-time in this world while holding to the precepts and values of another can be gut-wrenchingly difficult. That’s the reason for the admonition. We must stand firm in the face of influences and pressures to conform to this world. We’re faced continually with the message that our real home isn’t important in light of all we see in this one. We’re told constantly that it’s this life and this reality that must consume us and it’s the rewards we see that should drive us. Walking by faith instead of sight goes against everything we naturally want and every message we hear. Thus it’s paramount that we stand firm on the truth and live in eager expectation for the return of our Savior. This life is only a means to glorifying our Father in heaven.
Notice that we stand firm in the Lord. That describes both what we stand on and who stands with us. We have an almost overwhelming task in front of us to stand firm in this world, but we don’t stand alone. When we stand in the Lord we stand FOR Him and WITH Him. His precepts and commands are what we obey. And it’s HIS strength that enables us to stand. Remember how Paul started this letter – He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (1:6 – this is the day we eagerly await per 3:20). And he also told us that it’s God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:13). So God will not leave us alone and our obedience gives Him joy. Thus we stand firm and live according to the values our real home and we CAN stand firm because the Lord of our real home will never leave us alone.
This is the second time Paul has told them to stand firm. In 1:27 he said to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. That’s the detailed description of how we’re to live. We unite with others in striving for the gospel. We stand on and for the gospel. And in so doing we set ourselves in opposition to the world because the world largely rejects the gospel (they’re enemies of the cross). That’s why it’s so important that we stand in the Spirit (in the Lord) and stand in unity with others. We have no chance if we stand alone (“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately” – Benjamin Franklin, just before signing the Declaration of Independence). Unity within the body and unity with the Spirit are vital to standing firm.
So our status causes action. Our heavenly citizenship isn’t benign – it has ramifications and responsibilities. We belong to another world so we must stand firm on it while not living in it. We don’t allow this world to overwhelm us with its priorities. We stand firm against the onslaught of earthly things. We stand firm in the face of the world’s messages and allures. We have the power of the Spirit at our disposal and we have the responsibility to use it to glorify our Savior. We walk by faith and not by sight – we stand firm.
Paul gives a taste of the unity he commands by how he addresses his readers in verse 1. It’s as if he can’t express his love strongly enough. My beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, my beloved. These are his family members in the faith and he loves them. They are fellow-laborers in the gospel (1:5) and fellow citizens of heaven and he loves them. It’s a picture of how we’re to see other believers and how we’re to live in unity with them. We’re all redeemed sinners basking in God’s love. So we share that love with each other. We share the greatest gift and the greatest citizenship, thus we freely and joyously and generously love one another.
His concern for love and unity in the body leads Paul to address a specific problem in the church. There are two women – Euodia (YO-dee-ah) and Syntyche (SIN-ti᷃-key) – who can’t get along. We have no idea what the issue is, but it’s apparently affecting the church to the point that Paul has to call them out by name in a public letter.
The women are believers – as Paul attests by saying they’ve shared his struggle in the cause of the gospel and their names are in the book of life – but something happened that drove them apart and now causes problems for everyone. Perhaps it’s caused factions in the church as some line up behind one woman and others line up behind the other. This may be why Paul’s admonished the Philippians to be of one mind several times throughout the letter. The bottom line is that their dispute threatens the whole church as the body stands no chance against the world and its persecution (1:29-30) unless it’s united.
What Paul doesn’t say in these verses is as noteworthy as what he does. He doesn’t list any details about the dispute. He doesn’t tell one of the women to apologize to the other nor does he identify who’s right or wrong. He doesn’t give them or the church any specific guidance at all regarding how to reconcile. He simply tells them to live in harmony in the Lord.
Those last three words are critical. Notice they’re the same words he used to describe how we’re to stand firm. The problem with these two women isn’t that one or the other is wrong – it’s that they need to see each other and themselves in the Lord. They’re not to look at each other and they’re not to look at their feelings or sense of justice and fair play. They’re to look at their Redeemer and see each other in light of what He’s done for both.
They are also to model their lives after their Redeemer. Paul already said we are to follow His example and have the same humble spirit He did. We are to regard one another as more important than ourselves, and not merely look out for our own interests but also for the interests of others (2:3-4). If we adopt the same attitude as Christ – who didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself (2:5-8) – we won’t struggle as much to live in harmony with other brothers and sisters in the faith.
So to live in harmony in the Lord means we both reflect on our standing in the gospel and model our life after His. Christ-like humility is the key to harmony just as pride is the main ingredient in strife. If we honestly see others as more important than us and if we continually empty ourselves as Christ did, we won’t worry about our rights or about someone taking advantage of us. And if we see ourselves and others as we are in the gospel, we won’t have as hard a time loving them in spite of who they are or what they’re like or how they treat us.
This is not to say that details aren’t important, or that every dispute can be solved simply by telling both sides to look at Jesus and see themselves in the gospel. That Paul tells others to help these women implies that there are real issues to work through. But it’s revealing that Paul puts the emphasis on harmony in the Lord. We are first and foremost children of God striving to obey and eagerly waiting for our Savior to return. When we see ourselves and others that way it goes a long way to both avoiding and settling interpersonal issues.
Paul does tell others in the church to get involved. Interestingly, he identifies someone called his true comrade and asks him/her to help the women. What’s odd about this is that the letter isn’t addressed to one person and to this point Paul’s never singled anyone out. So how this true comrade can know that Paul means him/her is a mystery. It could be that the mystery man is Epaphroditus who likely carries the letter to Philippi (2:28), although it seems odd to address the letter carrier in the letter (why not just tell him what to do verbally?).
What’s important, however, is that Paul doesn’t just leave the women alone to figure things out. He asks others in the body to come alongside. If the women’s dispute has affected the whole body, then the whole body should be part of the reconciliation. This goes along with what James says about taking problems to the elders, confessing sins to each other and praying for each other (James 5:13-18). The body is united and when one part hurts, the whole body hurts. We are to unify with each other and help each other. No one lives in a vacuum, and disputes that affect two ultimately affect everyone if they aren’t resolved.
So as citizens of heaven eagerly waiting on the return of Christ we are to live differently from those around us. We are to stand firm in the Lord in the midst of a world determined to make us more like itself. And part of that standing firm is to stand united with other heavenly citizens and live in harmony with them in the Lord. We stand firm and we stand together, all in the Lord.
Ultimately, this life isn’t about us. We have responsibilities based on our status in the family of God and we have responsibilities to each other. Our actions have more weight than simply how they affect us. We live for God and we live for each other, and we’re responsible both to act humbly in regard to one another and to help when problems arise in the body. We’re all connected through the grace of the God and the ministry of the Spirit and we must both stand firm and stand united as a result.