Good morning church! We’ll be continuing our series titled “Joy filled Life” from the letter to the Philippians.
It’s been great learning what “true joy” is as we’ve studied the passages together. And in today’s passage we find that the Philippian church is in the center of a conflict situation – it’s in fact one of the main reasons why Paul wrote this letter. There is so much to learn from the first three verses of chapter 4. Without wasting much time let’s get into the passage:
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[b] help these women, who have labored[c] 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.
Living in Christian community seemed to be a piece of cake! That’s when I used to watch “church on TV” every Sunday morning. Without much instruction on the importance of church during my first few months as a new believer, I found myself “enjoying” church services from the comforts of my sofa.
In fact, I even thought I had options to chose the kind of church service that suited me – I just had to tune in at the select timing. But a few months later as I joined my first church as a believer – reality hit me – I realized not only was church a people that I was created to be part of but also filled with broken individuals including me.
And that brought a whole new set of questions in my mind. How should I respond when conflict is caused by my own sin? What is my response supposed to be when I’m caught in the middle of other people’s conflict? Let’s look at today’s passage to get the answers.
1. We need to persevere in the gospel
Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t directly jump to what these individuals should or not do with respect to the conflict. But even before that he takes time to explain the gospel and then ask them to “stand firm” or “persevere in the gospel”.
Every time I think of the word “persevere” I think about a marathon – like a 42k marathon. The Christian life is not a 100m dash but is more like a marathon. It’s long-distance and requires great endurance. So what does it mean to persevere in the gospel?
From the previous chapter, we understand that perseverance is connected with “Knowing Jesus”. And I know that we generally use that term “knowing Jesus” quite frequently but what does knowing Him entail? Is it a feeling or a thought about Jesus? Is it merely the knowledge of Scripture? How do I know Jesus? Paul lists out the different ways by which we know Jesus:
- We know Christ by placing our faith on Him– The most amazing truth of the Bible for us is that Christ died in our place as our substitute. On the cross, Jesus exchanged His pure white robe for our filthy rags. And then after rising from the dead, He declared that whoever would trust in His sacrifice & run to Him for safety would receive His white robe in exchange! That’s what faith in Christ means.
- We know Christ by obeying His Word- Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil 3:12). Because Christ is God and yet paid the highest ransom amount to save me, I’m not going to take my spiritual life lightly. I’m not doing it to gain favor from God but instead I’m obeying Christ to show my love for my Savior (John 14:15)
- We know Christ by suffering with Him- Another way by which we get to know Christ intimately is by suffering for Him. If you are a true believer in Christ, then at some point you will be persecuted or mocked or insulted because of your holy life, your message and choices. When that happens to us, we get a glimpse of what it might have been for Christ to endure suffering & also have the opportunity reflect His love and forgiveness to those who oppose us.
- We know Christ by being transformed into Him- 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:19) Think about it – if all that was planned for us is to live on this earth for 60-70 years with no eternal consequence, then all what we’re doing is absolutely useless. Instead the Bible tells us that because God is God & faithful to His promise, we will be supernaturally transformed into Christ’s glorious, perfect body!
In the church today “knowing Christ” has unfortunately been reduced to just gaining biblical knowledge about Jesus or merely a feeling that you experience during a worship set.
As we look at this passage, we see that when the Bible speaks about knowing Jesus – it is meant to be deeply personal, active and transformative!!!
Knowing Jesus means becoming like Him! That’s the goal. If our knowledge isn’t making us look like Jesus, then something isn’t right about it. That’s why it requires “perseverance”.
There was once a generous king who wanted to adopt a young boy from his country. All the bright and talented boys lined up for adoption but to everyone’s surprise, this king instead wanted to adopt a boy from the local prison!
When the king comes to the prison, he notices a boy who is battered, bruised and fully covered in dirt. The one whom no one wanted to sit beside was chosen to be the son of the King! The King brought the child home, bathed him, cleaned his wounds and gave him new clothes to wear.
The King later has a conversation with the boy & tells him that he is so glad to be his father and no one’s ever going to change that. But he also tells him that the boy will need to go to another place for a few years to undergo some training so that he understands what it means to be the son of a King.
His past life was so different from this new life and he needed to be trained. Right before the boy goes out for training, the king gives him a handwritten letter where he’s listed out all the things that he’s said to him so far with his own sign and seal.
Whenever the boy doubts or is tempted to leave the training, he can read the letter to be reminded that he is the son of the King and no longer a prisoner. He should wait for the King who will certainly come one day to bring him home!
Sometimes people ask “how much time should I read the Bible and pray”? I don’t think that’s the best question to ask. You my child. You’re not a prisoner anymore. Spending time with me through the Word and prayer is how you get to know my heart and my will for you.
Some other times people ask “Is it okay if I’m selective in my obedience?” The response would be – You’re my child. You’re not a prisoner anymore. You’ve been pulled out of prison to live a freely for me.
Someone else might ask “God is very important to me but above Him are my parents, my job and my relationship” You’re my child now. Remember how I rescued you from those things (sometime good things) that enslaved and imprisoned you. Don’t go back to that now. You’re mine.
Not only do we need to persevere in the gospel but also
2. We need to express the gospel (especially in the midst of conflict in church)
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[b] help these women, who have labored[c] 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.
Euodia and Syntyche were women leaders in the Philippian church who also were actively involved in Paul’s ministry. We don’t know what caused the disagreement between the two of them but it seems like it was left unresolved and began to affect the church internally.
It could be that some people were thinking “How is it that these leaders are not able to resolve their differences?” Some others probably thought “this is what happens when we get ourselves in church ministry, things get quite messy. It’s better to stay out of it”.
And I think it brings us to this important truth – that there isn’t a perfect church – even a church as faithful as the church in Philippi had major disagreements among the more solid & active believers!
Even as I’ve been part of a few churches myself and visited others, I’ve witnessed how many people have been hurt by church and have considered leaving it. The reasons I feel are:
1. Church becomes an idol- We demand perfection from the church or the pastors and when they aren’t able to meet up to our expectations or our needs, we end up getting angry and frustrated. In one of my previous churches I remember telling a brother once how I felt let down by the church because they weren’t appreciating my efforts to present the gospel in creative ways. I only found opposition each time. And he told me something that stuck to my mind, he said “Whenever we make the church or people to be the ultimate thing, we will always be let down. Jinson, you need to look up to Christ who is the only perfect One and who is able to completely satisfy the longings of your heart”. So true – I was looking at the church to be my Savior and Satisfier.
There is a famous quote that says “Church isn’t a museum for saints but a hospital for broken sinners”.
2. Understanding that the church is still in need of grace: Someone like me who is usually non-confrontational tries their best to avoid any kind of conflict. But what I end up forgetting is as those conflicts are being addressed through the gospel, it becomes the perfect place to display God’s grace.
I miss out on the grace lesson that God wants to teach me during those moments. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but your biggest idols are revealed not when everything’s going great but when you’re in the midst of conflict. Selfishness, pride, insecurity – all of that gets revealed and so it’s a wonderful opportunity for the church to understand grace and repentance when it’s dealt with the gospel.
Which is why Paul in v3 asks the church (his true companion) to intervene and help reconcile these two sisters.Their role in this is not to GOSSIP about the situation but rather aid with the reconciliation process. Here are a few application points that come to mind:
i) We need to pray for the unity of the church (especially if we are aware of disagreements from within)– We shouldn’t assume that because the church has believers that conflict will hardly be there. It’s quite the contrary.
ii) We need to actively engage disagreeing parties- To reiterate the role of the church is not to be a silent spectator nor gossip, but find ways to make reconciliation possible.
And when the disagreeing parties are in front of you, what should you tell them? It’s not to take sides or talk about platitudes. What they need to hear is the gospel. That’s the only thing that can change their hearts and bring about genuine restoration.
iii) We need to trust the church to help us resolve our disagreements (be it in marriage, family, friends and church members)- It might be the case for some of us that our first point of contact to help resolve conflicts are unbelievers but we all know that they’ll not be able to point your hearts to Jesus.
They’ll probably only be able to provide some sort of worldly compatibility advice. Instead what if you’re able to talk to few mature believers who can actually help you navigate through your issues by telling you about Jesus and His sacrifice? But for that, it calls us to be willing to open ourselves to our church speaking into our lives.
Sometime back a brother shared an experience of a bitter fight he got into with his brother during a GC. Things got so ugly that the elders had to put them in separate rooms temporarily and later brought them together and the members of the GC “gospeled” them through that process.
Now it was embarrassing for them at first but that day they had the privilege to practice grace and repentance before Christ and the church. Today that brother is one of the leaders at the church & he retells the story as a way to explain the beauty of the church in helping him reconcile with his brother.
I want to leave you with this final thought – Yes, it’s true that we are experiencing present conflict due to our sin and brokenness, but Christ will have the final word! In a very beautiful way Christ is stitching up His body that will one day be a bright, spotless bride! Don’t look at people, don’t look at a perfect church to satisfy you – look at Christ and His perfection! Know Him & Become Like Him!