Philippians 4:1–3, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 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.”
This small snippet towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians carries with it a lot of mystery. We typically like to devote plenty of attention to controversy when we find it in Scripture because we don’t see it very often. What were Euodia and Syntyche disagreeing over? Who was right? Did Paul take a side?
Such speculation will only prove flustering, and unhelpful. There is much we don’t know about the disagreement between these two women of Philippi. It’s ironic, given their names mean “propserous journey” (Euodia) and “fortunate” (Syntyche), which only perpetuates the mystery. Here’s what we do know:
- It is significant enough for Paul to address in his letter.
- These two, though we have no evidence of them holding any offices, are likely notable members of the Philippian church.
- Both of these women deeply matter to Paul.
- Both women are followers of Christ.
In the opening remarks of this chapter, Paul offers an exhortation pointing to the importance of church unity between these sisters in Christ, and between the church and them. He calls on the church to help them in reconciliation, and he reminds his readers of their importance to God, to the church, and to Paul himself. He works to relieve the obvious tension that exists between these two women.
When we think about the practical counsel of Paul’s words here in 4:1–3, I think there is much to learn about how we engage one another, and these verses leave us wondering, “How do we work towards agreeing in the Lord with Christian brothers and sisters that we disagree with?”
That question is loaded, especially for a society that seems to feed on disagreement and getting the upper hand. We primarily see this take place in the online realm. I have written extensively on this subject elsewhere, but I’ll summarize my points below.
We live in a Coliseum of sorts. We experience “fight” and “flight” almost every day in our conversations online and offline. We either engage others with hostility, seeking to beat our opponent down and becoming victorious (fight) or we retreat to nonchalance, indifference, and merely serve as spectators to the world’s wars (flight).
Neither extreme works. A fight-heavy approach leaves folks battered with deep wounds. A flight-heavy approach leaves folks disengaged and careless. Neither can be the answer, and neither are what God has called us to in Scripture. So, how do we respond? What is the right approach to engagement with opposition, especially in situations like the one Euodia and Syntyche are found in? There are three helpful questions we can ask ourselves as we navigate the waters of reconciliation.
- Do I know where I stand, and why I stand there?
The most fundamental problem with evangelicals is our lack of familiarity with Scripture. The reason culture equates the skeptic with reason as opposed to the Christian is because oftentimes it’s the Christian who cannot formulate a seemingly reasonable argument for his position. We oftentimes look like Peter. We draw our sword to bring harm (Jn. 18:10) or we just want to withdraw completely (Jn. 18:25). We act out of fear or emotion instead of reason and wisdom. If we cut their ear off, they won’t hear.
In order to engage opposition correctly, we must first know what kind of weapon we have in the Word, and more so, how to handle it. Your words will always be fruitful if they are founded in Scripture and prayer. We wouldn’t trust our military to defend our country if they had absolutely no training with guns and weaponry. Why should the Christian be different? Preparation is vital to our message (1 Pet. 3:15). As John Newton notes, when God’s Word is at the forefront of our attention, “We seldom make great mistakes.”
- Do I know where he stands, and why he stands there?
A common mistake we make in engaging others is that we don’t take enough time to reason with others from their perspective/worldview. We’re so infatuated with getting our point across that we’re susceptible to missing the undertones of what is actually being advocated for. Doing the extra work to understand other’s presuppositions will save us much trouble. This takes a lot of patience, listening, and not talking.
Proverbs tells us, “A prudent man conceals knowledge” (12:23) and “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise” (17:28). This does not mean flight or avoiding the confrontation. It means shutting up. It means letting the opponent have the floor and respecting his voice. It means being wise and discerning.
It’s baffling why we Christians struggle with this, especially with unbelievers. For one, we know the truth, and it’s rooted in an omnipotent God. Nothing can stand superior to the truth of God and the Scriptures. We should believe, then, that the longer we let a skeptic talk, the more he will expose the flaws in his own logic, for it’s not truth! More than this, if we expect to be given a chance to share our beliefs or viewpoints, we must offer the same to our brothers and sisters online. Football teams study the opponent’s game film because they want to know how to capitalize on their weaknesses. We can only learn from our opponents when we practice careful listening with patience.
- How am I loving people with the gospel?
That was terribly painful to type. I think back to many of my snide, off-center remarks made against brothers and sisters in Christ. Harsh, bruising words leave a permanent wound. Absence and silence are deafening when we don’t love unbelievers enough to share the good news we know. Anytime we engage in discussion or debate, especially when someone opposes our stance, this question should be burning in our hearts. It’s in these moments that we have a chance to demonstrate the offense and the love of the gospel all at once. The Holy Spirit will remove scales from eyes and soften hearts, so let’s be more concerned with loving our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes, that means appropriate confrontation. Sometimes, it means private conversation. But it should always mean grace, humility, clarity, patience, more grace, and love.
The truth is, we do have a significant message to share. We have the opportunity to connect authentically with real people. When others disagree, fight isn’t the right extreme, and neither is flight. Only the good news of Jesus Christ can bring true restoration, even to our communication! Until then, let us labor to be grounded in truth, patient to listen, and willing to love.
*Note: This post was adapted from “Fight or Flight? Engaging Opposition in Social Media.” Gospel-Centered Discipleship, December 8, 2015. http://gcdiscipleship.com/2015/12/08/fight-or-flight/