I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, 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. (Philippians 4:2,3).
The Philippian church was founded after Paul led Lydia to Christ. Do you remember that story? Lydia’s story is in Acts 16. You can read about her in my May 2014 post as well. The newly founded church in Philippi met in Lydia’s home. It grew rapidly and when Paul wrote his epistle to them it was a great joy to him. There were far fewer problems in the Philippian church than in some of the other churches Paul wrote to.
It seems that there was one problem at the church that caused Paul some grief. Two of his companions in the Gospel work, Euodia and Syntyche, just couldn’t get along. We are not told what the exact trouble was, only that their behavior was disruptive to the peace of the Philippian church.
Who were these women and why did the apostle Paul take out time to address this issue specifically?
Paul tells us three important things about Euodia and Syntyche.
First, they are Christians. Paul is certain that their names are in the book of life. Many times it is hard for us to tell who is really a believer and who isn’t. Some people “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk”. Apparently there was no doubt that these two women were dedicated workers in the Kingdom of God. Paul assures the elder at the Philippian church, his “true companion”, that these women deserve his attention.
Secondly, Paul relates that these women shared in his struggles in the cause of the Gospel. Another translation says it this way, “these women who labored with me in the gospel.” The original word in the Greek is actually “synathleo” a term that is used in athletic contests. It implies the actions of teammates who are striving to win. And so it could be translated as sharing a struggle or working together. The goal is to win the lost for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that Euodia and Syntyche were team members who supported him in the work of the Kingdom. They worked hard and the fruit of their labors is seen at the Philippian church where the congregation is one of the most mature in love and faith that Paul established. These women had a part to play in making this congregation such a joy to Paul and it is a shame that the joy may be marred by their unbecoming behavior. So Paul pleads with them to solve their differences and live in harmony.
Thirdly, Euodia and Syntyche are part of the growing group of women in the New Testament who take their place alongside the men to work in the Kingdom. Over the last few months we have seen that Jesus brought new freedom for women. Jesus did not try to overthrow the Patriarchal system, but He showed how it should be reformed. Men were not treating women with the love and care that God intended. The Jewish leaders and the pagan leaders treated women as objects or second-class persons. Jesus treated women with love and respect.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells many stories of the men and women who worked side by side in the New Covenant. The disciples learned from their Master that women could be disciples and should be helping to spread the Gospel.
Paul includes Euodia and Syntyche with his other fellow workers including Clement. Clement went on to become a bishop. It is possible that he is the same Clement who wrote letters that the early church fathers saved. We have copies of them today. Paul listed these women as important as these male workers.
It is probable that Euodia and Syntyche had some sort of leadership position. We are not told what it was. At the very least, they were probably leading in the study of Scriptures and the new faith in Christ. Hence, it was imperative that they solve their differences in order to bring peace back to the church.
In an epistle to Titus, Paul instructs older women to be “reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:3-5) As leaders they would be setting an example with their behavior. It was important that they live in harmony with each other as they were entrusted with the spiritual nurture of younger women.
Paul does not talk about these women with qualifiers such as “for women they did quite well”, or “even though they are women” please help them. He speaks straight across about these women even as he spoke highly of Phoebe. (See last week’s post.) Paul speaks of Euodia, Syntyche, and Phoebe as co-laborers, fellow workers, and supporters. He tells the believers who receive his epistles to receive women with respect and love.
A look through Paul’s epistles shows his attitude toward women. If the Church today wants to know just what women can and cannot do to serve in the body of Christ, a study of the epistles focusing on Paul’s references to women would be a good place to start. The kingdom of God will advance much faster and further when all of the soldiers of Christ, male and female, work alongside each other using the gifts that God has given them.
Let us put aside our own prejudices and really look at the history of women in the Church. Not only in the Scriptures, but in the records of Church history we will find that God does indeed use women to serve in His kingdom. Just how high in the ranks of leadership a woman may go is a discussion for another day. Certainly working in the church, serving in the home and community, and teaching are tasks that women can do. A lot of heated discussion and hurt feelings could be avoided if we will only turn to the word of God for the answers. Thank you, Lord, for the humble service of the early church women.