There is recorded in the fourth chapter of the letter to the Philippians a brief reference to two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche. From The Amplified Bible, “I entreat and advise Euodia and I entreat and advise Syntyche to agree and to work in harmony in the Lord.” It is obvious they were in disagreement and also their disagreement caused disharmony among them. It is also implied, if not obvious, that their disharmony was affecting the entire Philippian church. There are some who actually assert this entire letter was written because of the report that reached Paul in the Roman prison of the evidently serious and lingering division among these two ladies. Eudoia and Syntyche were very important to the ministry and leadership of the church, so these were not two immature Christians, who were governed by their flesh. But rather, they were those who, according to the apostle, “have labored side by side with me in the gospel.”
Would that this was the only occasion when two followers of Christ developed some issue between them that became such a problem there needed to be intervention of some kind. Paul wrote to the recipient of the letter, “I ask you also, true companion, help these women.” Now this is not a Kernels of Truth with the purpose of exposing these ladies and their argument (there is no indication of what that might have been), but rather an example for us to take seriously in our own relationships within the body of Christ wherein we function. Jesus said the world would know that we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another. If we allow offenses and disagreements to linger, that isn’t much of a testimony to our discipleship.
The Bible is full of examples of followers of Jesus having serious encounters of disagreement, so it is not a new phenomenon. Paul and Barnabas had such a serious argument (over John Mark), they went their separate ways. When Paul discovered some hypocrisy with Peter and others, Galatians records Paul’s words – “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” What followed was a correcting word. The problem occurs when the angst between two or more individuals lingers and becomes a spiritual cancer to them and others. It was important to Paul (even though he was sitting in a prison) that these ladies be reconciled for their sake and the sake of the Philippian church. Later on, we see evidence of a reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas. Also, near the end of Peter’s life, around 65 A.D., he writes these words in his second letter concerning Paul, “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you . . .”
There are certainly plenty of occasions in every church environment where disagreement and division occur among the family of God. It is a fact of being humans, relating to other humans within the context of God’s kingdom purview. There will be times when folks do not see eye to eye about a matter and sometimes it might cause hurt feelings, which could probably cause division and disharmony. This is a dynamic we must address as followers of Jesus, so that we can “dwell in unity” as Psalm 133 teaches, and we can avoid being knocked off our mission for the kingdom to which God has placed our hands.
Jesus instructed us that if we come to the altar of worship and remember that our brother or sister has an issue with us, we first immediately go to them and be reconciled. Sometimes we are fault and sometimes they are. The issue is not whether or not we are right, but whether or not the relationship is worth whatever lengths we must go to renew it. Peter asked Jesus, “How many times am I supposed to forgive someone, seven times?” I don’t think Peter was expressing a theory with this question, but he had a problem with somebody in the immediate company of Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ answer was indicative of the importance of doing whatever is necessary to repair a relationship.
Maybe it is no accident that in this same letter to the Philippians, Paul writes these words.
“Is there any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.”
Therein lies the crux of the matter in most cases. The majority of ongoing arguments or disagreements can be traced back to the old nemesis, self-centeredness. Paul goes on to write,
“…regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others..”
If we are honest, when we hold on to a grudge, most of the time it is because we “have to be right”, or we “have to look right.” When we can accept the crucified life and look out for the interests of others, we are well on our way to repairing a relationship that is valuable to us and the church as a whole.
This is why “love one another” is such a theme in the Bible and is repeated many times over from numerous vantage points. To love one another is to find a way to get past our hurts, slights, and offenses and renew and restore what is broken. True “agape” love can be known only by the action it prompts. Christian love, whether exercised toward the family of God or toward humans in general, is not an impulse from feelings and does not always run with natural inclinations. It does not come natural to most of us (if any) to get beyond the matter of contention and repair the breech that is causing disharmony and angst.
One thing that occurs when we allow disharmony to linger is that we break the cycle of love. What do I mean by that? John wrote in his first letter that “We love each other because He loved us first.” God loves us first, then we extend that love back to Him and His kids. When we are at a seeming impasse and do not extend God’s love to our brothers and sisters, we have broken the cycle (temporarily, I hope). God is still extending His love to us, but we are not passing it on to the family of God.
Another matter to address is that when we are separated from fellow members of the body of Christ, the body becomes disjointed. I have had plenty of injuries playing sports over the years, but one of the worst was when I dislocated my pinky finger playing basketball. It was certainly an eerie feeling to look at the front part of my finger pointing at the ceiling while the rest of my finger wasn’t. Of course swelling and pain ensued. The Scripture teaches us that we are being knit together in agape, to create this dwelling place for God. And when we are knit together by joints and ligaments (continuing the human body metaphor), the body grows with an increase that comes from God. We maintain or repair our unity so as not to cut off the supply and nourishment that comes to the body through the body from God Himself.
When we become disjointed in our relationships, there is also swelling and pain. And if you have ever had an injury of this sort, you know that your entire body is affected by the injured area. The same is true in the church. When there is a “Euodia and Syntyche” situation in a local church, there is inevitably swelling and pain that affects the entire body. People are affected by it who do not even know what is going on.
So, let’s make some observations about the salvaging a relationship in the body of Christ. First of all, the result of being connected to another human being in God’s covenant is sometimes the issue of conflict, and thus the additional issue of resolution. Again, the Bible is full of examples of well-meaning, committed followers of Jesus Christ becoming disjointed over a matter of disagreement.
Secondly, matters of disagreement or offence must be dealt with face to face and swiftly. We have already seen where Paul confronted Peter face to face in the matter of hypocrisy. Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move; you be the big boy or big girl and initiate restoration and forgiveness. You reach out and establish contact.
Thirdly, don’t use email to resolve conflict or misunderstanding. You might use email (or some other digital source) to make contact and set up a meeting place and time, but please don’t attempt to put the relationship back “in joint” by using social media. It will only make matters worse because inflections of emphasis, attitude, and heart cannot be conveyed in an email or text (that is the sum total of my social media????). Again, face to face offers the optimum possibility of restoring the fractured relationship.
Fourthly, sit down somewhere you can look each other in the eye and determine not to get up until resolution has been achieved. Promise yourself you will not leave the encounter until movement has been made towards reconciliation. Sometimes, it might become necessary to invite a third party that each of you trust to help with the process. Whatever it takes, don’t leave the meeting until you have achieved what you came for.
Fifthly, remember that resentment and unforgiveness are cancers that will stunt your growth and hinder your Christian experience. Remember that embracing unforgiveness and resentment is equivalent to drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. If you are harboring hurt and unforgiveness towards someone, it will ultimately eat at you from the inside until you become a bitter person…nobody wants that. Not to mention the cancer that infects the local body of which you are a part.
Lastly, when conflicts arise, don’t let the monster grow. The longer misunderstandings or disagreements linger, the more that monster grows until it is so large it overwhelms your entire life. We visit the institute of theology by my favorite tv character, Barney Fife, as his answer to a problem was almost always…
- Remember that supply is through our connectivity with one another.
- Connectivity and relationship is the incubator for most of God’s dealings with us.
- We are instructed to incite one another to love and good works. Sometimes that inciting leads to misunderstanding and hurt.
- We receive strength to stand through our connectedness and relationships.
“Two are better than one . . . For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his com- panion. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Ecclesiates 4:10,12