Peacemaking for Christians

October 9, 2022
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God has called us to work diligently in the church to reconcile with others and to help others reconcile.

Can you imagine having a fight with somebody and then finding out that your fight was recorded in the Bible and that you were called out by name in Scripture so that for the rest of human history you would forever be remembered for that one time you didn’t get along. That’s what we’re going to look at today. We’re going to look at two people, Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies forever immortalized for that one time they didn’t see eye to eye. Oh, remember that next time, by the way. When you were coming home from work and you’ve had a bad day and you yell at your spouse, I want you to just remember that. I want you to say a little prayer and thank God that the canon of Scripture is closed, so that it will not be forever put into the scriptures and remembered by the church and analyzed by the church for centuries. Euodia and Syntyche, we know that they are in heaven with the Lord, sin free and perfectly reconciled to each other. We’re going to see that here in just a minute. Do you think the other saints, though, do you think they ever make jokes still? It’s kind of like when they’re all getting together for dinner. Do you think, oh, don’t let Euodia and Syntyche sit next to each other. We know how they get along. Carl, you better sit in between them. Carl is the name that I’ve given to the unnamed true companion that we’re about to read about. It’s probably right. I’d have a hard time not making jokes. It’s probably why I’m still alive.

We’re going to look at this disagreement between two people that, on the surface, when we first read it today, you may feel like it’s not really that big a deal. It just doesn’t seem like that big a deal, like it’s a minor problem. With all the problems and struggles that we could focus on, why does Paul take the time out of all the conflicts, all the issues, all of the stuff that’s happening in the ancient world at that time, why does he take time to focus in on this one conflict between sisters in Christ? I mean, this man is sitting in prison. Persecution from secular authorities is on the rise. False teachers are making their way into the church. Jewish false teachers are adding to the gospel and ruining grace. There’s an incredible need among poor Christians and imprisoned Christians. The brothers and sisters in Christ need to deal with these things. Why take any space in this letter at all to address such a minor problem between just two people who don’t agree? And for that matter, why would we spend any time on it? Well, how could a disagreement between two ladies in ancient Greece 2000 years ago have any effect or bearing? How would that be a suitable topic for us to cover today? Surely, we have more pressing matters. I can certainly think of some. We have bigger problems. We have an increasingly decaying culture. We have all sorts of false teaching making its way into the church; it’s undermining the gospel. Why take the time to discuss two ladies and their differences and how to get past them? Well, I’m going to suggest to you today that the reason that the tension between Euodia and Syntyche has been forever preserved in God’s word for us, is so that we would consider the peace and unity and teamwork among Christians, and that it is far more important to the glory of God and to the mission of the Church than we often think that it is. In fact, Paul has been telling us this throughout this letter. He’s been addressing this issue. He’s been addressing this disagreement. And this really is the culmination. him calling out these two ladies is the culmination of a lot of things that he’s been saying. Listen to this. This is from chapter 1: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with all knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” This is from verse 27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you; that you are standing firm in one spirit with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” And from chapter 2, we read “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind, do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And also from chapter 2: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent Children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation among whom you shine as lights in the world. See, Paul places a very high value on the internal attitude and the one-mindedness of the local church, because it’s essential for glorifying God, for carrying out the mission of the church and for preparing us as God’s people for the day when Christ would return. So what we’re about to read might seem on its face, on the surface, like a small problem, but it has massive ramifications for the success of the church. See, God has called us to work diligently in the church to reconcile with others and to help others reconcile. Peacemaking among members of the church is a vital part of our mission to glorify God and to share the gospel with our community and to prepare for eternity. It’s really not a very small thing. Faithfulness requires taking these matters as seriously as the Lord takes these matters. And it’s the reason that it comes up so often in Scripture. Thankfully, God’s grace covers over a multitude of sins, including the tensions and the troubles that form in God’s church. So let us once again turn with history and unpack this trouble between Euodia and Syntyche. I am sure they have long since embraced their role as the example for the need for peacemaking in the church.

We’ll start with what we know about these women, and then we’ll look at their conflict and what that does in the church, and then we’ll finally consider the role of intercession and the part it plays and why it’s sometimes needed. Let’s pick it up in the top of chapter 4. “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and longed 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.”

Now, just a quick thought here before we learn about these women, before you can ever hope to fix the problems of a church, big or small, big problems or small problems, you have to love the church. I don’t mean just the idea of the church. I don’t mean the organization that is the church or the institution that’s the church. I mean the people of the church. You have to really love and care about those people who make up the body of Christ. Paul calls them brothers, he loves and longs for. They are his joy in his crown, meaning they are what makes him happy, and they are what he points to when he thinks about the results of his life’s work. He says these people are beloved to me. Everything he says to them, everything he says to them, is an effort to see these people that he loves stand firm in their faith in Christ. And his motivation for that is love. He’s not doing this to meet his own needs. He’s not doing this to satisfy his own desires. He’s not doing this out of selfish ambition. We can never hope to help the church unless our love for the church exceeds our criticism of it. A love has to be much higher than our criticism. This is why I personally don’t give much attention to those who are critical of the church who are non-Christians. Whether they are people who have left the church or people who were never part of the church.

I once had a very angry atheist tell me what my local church ought to be doing. That’s how it was phrased to me. This is what your church ought to be doing. And I found her thoughts interesting. I didn’t give them a moment’s consideration because if it were up to her, we wouldn’t exist at all. And I didn’t know how to incorporate, or that I even should incorporate her thoughts, when clearly she didn’t have a love for our community. She didn’t have our best interests in mind. Paul has some critical things to say about the church, he does. Oh, boy, he does. I mean, read first Corinthians or Galatians. He’s got so many critical things to say, but when he says hard things, he is motivated out of a deep love to help his brothers and sisters in Christ. When he addresses this issue with these women, he is not doing it because he’s fed up or annoyed with them. It’s not doing it because of that. He’s doing it because he loves them as individuals and because he loves the church as a whole. He sees the whole church together as his people. He sees the individuals in the church as people he loves. And he wants more than anything for them to stand firm in Christ. Okay – with that motivation, who are these women? Well, this is the only place in the Bible where they are mentioned. Everything we know about them comes from verse 3 here, but it’s actually quite a lot. They are both part of Paul’s ministry team. They both stand side by side with him in ministry. And that implies that at least at one point they were side by side with each other. These women were partners together for the gospel. You’ll remember Paul describing partnership back in chapter 1. So these are not new Christians. These are not people on the fringe of the Christian community. They’re not nominal, sort of in name only, Christians. They’re not immature believers. These are fellow missionaries who love Jesus. They understand the mission of the of Christ and his church. And they are bought into that mission in the same way that Paul and Clement and all of the rest of the Christians who are bought into the mission of the church are. They are firmly within it. We know that about them. We also know that they are not false teachers. See, people can walk with the church for a while and then eventually turn away from Christ and turn out to be non-Christians. Paul’s been warning about outside threats that can work their way into the church community, and these outside threats can start to add to the gospel. These imposters, and we still have them today by the way, people, all churches all over the nation have people like this among them, and what happens is eventually they have to be removed from the membership of the church. They need to be forced out through church discipline. But that’s not these ladies. What he’s saying is that’s not that’s not these ladies. Their names are written in the Book of Life, he said. They’re written in the Book of Life. He’s referring to their salvation. They have shown themselves faithful to Jesus. They are, without question, members of the Body of Christ’s Church. And we know that they’re also hard workers. Paul calls them part of his fellow workers, and he says he is labored with them.

If you’re part of a church long enough, you start to see who is a coworker, a fellow laborer for the gospel and who isn’t. Ministry is hard. It’s so hard. It’s time consuming. It requires sacrifice. You have to take on the burdens of other people in ministry and make them your own burdens. You have to carry them like they’re your own burdens. You got to lift them up. To be a fellow worker takes a lifestyle commitment. When you say, I’m going to labor for Jesus, what you’re saying is I’m going to change the way I live so that I can be faithful to what Christ is calling me and the rest of my church to do. It changes what you value. You have to say I no longer live just for me. I belong to Christ. And so the work that I do is in service to Christ and to His church and to His mission. And here’s the thing. I know that won’t always line up where I would necessarily want to put my time and my treasure and my work. And yet, because I love Jesus, I make choices that are in line with what he wants for me and for my church community. Ideally, of course, every Christian saved by Christ is a fellow worker in the church. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. You and I know that’s pretty far from what actually is. In our culture, there are plenty of people who will show up to a church to be served, but it’s a smaller group that comes thinking, how am I going to be used today? How am I going to get my hands dirty for Christ today? How will I be part of making disciples today? That’s who these ladies were. That’s who they were: co-laborers with Paul. They were your youth mentors and your evangelists. They were the people who would show up at your house and sit next to you when you were going through a tragedy. They were the people serving the poor Christians and helping them to get back up onto their feet. We don’t know actually what these ladies did, because he doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t tell us exactly what they did. But we know they did work like this. They were laborers for Christ. Which makes this fight that they’re having even more of a problem.

So let’s look at the fight. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Not much there. Not a great amount of detail given to us about what exactly was going on here. Lots of people have speculated on the details of the problem, but I actually don’t find that very helpful. I don’t ever really find it very helpful to speculate on Scripture. God’s word gives us everything that we need to know. And so if we don’t have the details of a particular situation, it’s because we don’t need to know them. But here’s what we do know. First of all, this is a disagreement. Now, that might seem obvious to you, but it’s an important thing to note because of what it’s not. This is not a situation where one person is in persistent sin against the other person. See, Paul has ways of dealing with sin in the church, and it does not include compromise. It includes repentance or removal from the church. That’s how he deals with sin. We don’t compromise on sin as a church. If one of these ladies was stealing from the other one, or one was keying the other one’s car and the church parking lot, they would deal with it directly. There would be a different tone and instruction to what to what we’re reading here. But neither here is called to repent because this is simply some kind of disagreement. We also know that neither lady is totally in the right or wrong. And we know that because Paul appeals to them both in the same way. He actually repeats the same word ‘entreats’. I intreat. It means to plead, basically. He says, I plead with you, Euodia, I plead with you Syntyche equally to both of them. That means that either they want different goals, but both goals are worthy. Or they want the same goal, but they want to get there in different ways, and both ways are acceptable. If one was clearly in the wrong, Paul wouldn’t have told them to work it out. He would have just told the one who was wrong that they were wrong. He’s not shy about doing that. He’ll tell people when they’re wrong. We shouldn’t be shy about that either.

So what we’re dealing with here is the ambiguity of different personalities in the church. People who love Jesus, but they just don’t see things the same way. They’re not sinning against each other as far as we know. We’re not told that they’re sinning against each other here. Although it’s clearly trending in that direction. It will absolutely become a sinful situation if it’s not dealt with  Because the third thing we know is that this disagreement is threatening the firmness of the church. The command in verse 1 is for the church to stand firm in the Lord. That means to remain very faithful to the Gospel. To remain faithful to the mission of the church. That in the midst of these ongoing threats and all of these things that come crashing against the church, that the church would stand firm in the gospel. And so for Paul to turn and address these two ladies by name in the very next verse, strongly implies that if their disagreement continues, it’s going to weaken the foundation of the church community. And in my experience, there is no doubt about this. There’s no doubt.

Nothing will weaken a church more than unresolved conflict among the members of a church. External persecution? Bring it on. That’s fine. External stuff, totally fine. The church has proven throughout its history that it gets stronger when it is forged in the fires of worldly criticism, opposition, and even physical attack. There is no question of that. We see that over and over and over again throughout history. But internal strife? That’s the real threat, Church. That’s the threat. Gossip, bitterness, anger, unresolved hurt are the internal bleeding that takes down a church. And it takes it down slowly. Lack of trust. Complaining. Careless words, misrepresenting one another, holding a critical eye towards others without grace. These are the real threats to the anatomy of Christ’s body. That’s why Paul takes a few verses to call out this issue and the ladies involved, and he does so by name. By name. Clearly, this unresolved disagreement is trending toward becoming cancer in the church community. And if you leave it there, if you leave it unaddressed, it puts the whole church in a compromised position, because you spend far more time trying to root out the problems, and trying to solve things, and trying to bring healing, and far less time doing what we’re called to do. Church, the mission of Christ is too important to allow ongoing strife to continue. It has to be addressed. Agreement has to be found in the Lord.

And that’s the fourth thing we know about this disagreement. Paul, who clearly knows the inner workings of the disagreement. Clearly he’s been told this. He probably knew these ladies before he worked with them. He may have known about it before, but he’s clearly been updated that it’s not gotten better, probably from Epaphroditus when he came down and talked to him. He says Euodia and Syntyche, you have to agree in the Lord. Which, by the way, is different than just agreeing. And it’s certainly different than our phrase that ‘we agree to disagree’. This is two people sitting down taking their ideas and their perceptions and their thoughts and their points of view and running those things through the gospel while considering the interests of others more important than themselves. That’s agreeing in the Lord. This is recognizing that there is a Lord who has spoken and we are not him. So our ideas and preferences must be considered in light of what we know about Christ and His mission. And in the areas where we have to suspend our freedoms and opinions for the sake of Christ and his church, we do that because we belong to Christ and to each other. And not just to ourselves. Belong to Christ. We belong to each other, not just to ourselves. That is really hard to do.

What I just described is really hard to do. And so sometimes it requires intercession. Let’s look at that. “Yes, I ask you, also true companion, help these women.” Notice that he does not ask the women to consider allowing the true companion of Paul to intercede. He does not say Euodia or Syntyche, would you reach out to the true companion? Think about that. Reach out to him. See if he can help out. He just says true campaign, get involved. Jump in there. If we didn’t have the values of the Kingdom of God at work in the church, if all we had were worldly values that formed and shaped how the church interacts with each other, this would go over so badly. This would be so bad. Because with this attitude, it’s like this my business. You need to stay out of my business. You can’t tell me what to do. That’s how our world would look at something like this. If Euodia and Syntyche didn’t love the Lord and weren’t part of a church, they back off. I’m going to deal with it my way. If I want to be mad, I’m going to be mad. Don’t you speak into my life, because that would be highly inappropriate. And remember, this is a public letter. This is not a private correspondence. So the first time Euodia and Syntyche heard their names in regard to their fight from Paul, it was in a setting like this. That was the first time. And then Paul tells a third party also in the room, to jump in there and help these women find a solution to their disagreement. How would you feel? How can that be?

Let me point out two things. And these are hard things but let me point them out. The first is, people who need intercession don’t always welcome it. People who need to hear it, they don’t always welcome it. Often we’re blind to how things actually are. And we have a higher view of how much we can actually handle than what we can actually handle. Or even when we do know that, we’re stuck in something, when we know we’re not able to handle something that is bigger than we can solve, we’d rather keep up an appearance of being in control than admit that we need help. This is especially true in our culture where to admit that you need help is to admit that you are weak. People will sit in a problem and stew and suffer forever if it means they don’t have to admit that they’re weak. Won’t they? But here’s the thing. And we need to remember this. It’s very important, Church. All of us need help. All of us need help. There is not a person sitting in this room that has ever even for one second been fully independent of the need of the help of others. You need help every single day. You always need people speaking into your life. You can’t even come to a full knowledge of Christ and receive the mercy and grace of the Gospel without admitting that you are entirely in need of help. It’s right at the core of the Gospel. Jesus sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate intercession. We have to admit that we can’t help ourselves to know Jesus, that’s true. Why would we think that’s the only area of life where we need intercession? Why would we think it was limited to that? See, God has given us each other in the church to help us succeed when we need another perspective. And the other reason, the other reason that this intercession is so necessary is that there’s something more important at stake in this conflict than just two women and their issue. There’s a whole church to consider

I’ve already talked about what’s at stake in the mission of the church. So let me approach this from a different way. Church, when you allow the tension of ongoing conflict to remain, and you refuse to allow other people to bring help, bring resolution, what you are really saying is, I don’t care about the effect of my argument or my unresolved problem on my church. I don’t care who it affects. I don’t care what the ramifications are. You’re saying I’d rather be angry and be right in my own mind. Even if the church is weakened and our mission is compromised, than to admit my own weakness and allow others to bring healing and peace. That’s what you’re saying. And that’s why he tells this true companion to just jump in there. Just get involved in this. Help is necessary, even if it’s not asked for, help is necessary in this situation. Sometimes there needs to be an intervention. Someone needs to just get in there. And those who love Jesus know that we don’t always see the need, or at least we should be growing in that in our humility, we should be recognizing that we don’t always see clearly. We have to have the humility to allow other faithful Christians to intercede, to say the hard thing both for our good but for the good of our church. We need that.

And here’s the other thing: we need intercessors. We need intercessors. There’s something very instructive t to us about how Paul calls this man or this woman that he’s speaking of his true companion. See, a true companion in the Gospel is willing to mediate for the sake of the body of Christ. A gospel teammate doesn’t just sit on the sidelines, watching the conflict in the church and wringing his hands and saying, Oh, I hope that gets worked out. Well, I’m glad I’m not part of that. Oh, that sounds terrible. I hope somehow that gets better. Oh, I have some insight to that. But I don’t want to speak up. I don’t want to be dragged into this; it’s not my problem. I want to stay out of this. A partner in the gospel is someone who’s willing to do hard things that are necessary to bring peace in the church. And you might say, okay, but I don’t feel adequate for that. I don’t know that I could get involved and speak into it and help bring peace. I don’t feel adequate. Who feels adequate? Please point them out to me. I haven’t found them yet. Who feels adequate for these things? Where are all the self-assured, adequate folks? I haven’t found them. I hate conflict. I hate it personally, I hate it. No one gets in the middle of a conflict because they like it. And if they do, they probably shouldn’t be the one getting involved in the first place, you know what I’m saying? God’s not employing adequate people. He’s employing people willing to be used for His glory. His church functions on His strength, on His authority. Not our own, Not our own strength. Not our own authority. We need more people in the church willing to be used in awkward situations. To bring healing, people. So that we can be healthy and ready to accomplish all the things that God has for us to do as a church. Following our service today, the Leadership Board is holding listening sessions in the fireside room. And to answer questions and to talk with folks about the new shepherding model. If you stayed for our church luncheon last week, you heard some good questions and you heard some clarifying answers. You also heard some uninformed and ungracious soap boxing. We are carefully listening to all of it. We’re listening to all of it. We are keeping what’s good. We are changing what’s necessary. We are discarding what’s unhelpful. And we’re guiding everyone to the healthiest church that we can. You may not agree with everything we do, but I’ll make you this promise, Church. I will make you this promise. I will do everything I can to lead this church in the direction of peace and firmness in the Gospel. Because I love the church. The leadership board loves the church. Your future elders love the church. And I know in this congregation there is great love for the church. Come speak with us. Would you pray with me?

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