Division, discord, disharmony. It happens in different spheres of our life all the time–occasionally even in the church. Paul addresses this issue in Philippians 4:2-3, “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.”
There was some division, some discord, some disharmony in this church. We don’t know exactly what the problem was—Paul doesn’t address it openly. Yet we can conclude with how he handles this that it was a matter of friction in the church, not one of false teaching. If it had been a doctrinal issue, Paul, we know, would have dealt with that head on. When Peter was being two-faced and causing confusion in the church, Paul goes toe-to-toe with him. When false teachers are threatening the church Paul doesn’t mince any words (see Galatians 2:10; Philippians 3:18-19. False teaching can devastate a church. But that isn’t the issue here.
But so can disunity and discord. And Paul knows that fellowship in the body is crucial to the strength and the life of the church. This friction might have involved a critical spirit, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit—all of which can devastate a church. We know from Proverbs 6:19 that one of the things the Lord hates is he who sows discord among the brothers. And there was discord here. It might have been a disagreement over a secondary matter of some sort, but it was a problem affecting the whole church.
Division and discord over secondary issues robs a church of its power and its testimony. And though we might be vigilant against false teaching in a church, we must guard our hearts and in the church against division and discord. Sinclair Ferguson writes,
“Christian fellowships are often at their worst when dealing with differences of opinions. In some ways biblically-based churches find it easier to deal with false teaching. But personal differences can be almost as deadly, dividing the fellowship, sowing the seeds of bitterness, diverting attention from central issues to sometimes petty, peripheral concerns, sucking energy that should be employed in building up believers and in reaching out to the community. How effectively we handle these differences may say more about the biblical character of our church life than how we handle heresy.”
Paul tenderly, gently and diplomatically pleads for reconciliation in this situation–that they would agree in the Lord. He asks others to help out and restore like-mindedness between these two individuals who had labored with Paul side by side in the gospel and whose names were written in the book of life.
What can we learn from this passage. First, that true unity is a critical factor in the life and health of the church. Secondly, that true unity depends on a personal and growing relationship with Christ. It is only possible in the Lord! Third, conflict that is unresolved will inevitably affect others. Fourth, resolving such conflict is ultimately about the gospel! Three times in these verses, Paul mentions to do something “in the Lord!” Stand firm, agree, and rejoice in the Lord!” It is all about the Lord and the gospel.
Paul’s appeal to “agree in the Lord” is gospel-centered. This doesn’t mean that every one in your local church will agree on every fine point of theology, on the best Bible translation, on musical preferences or on certain practices that aren’t central to the gospel. But we can labor together side by side for the gospel with others who are gospel-centered!–To the glory of God, to the building up of His church, and the salvation of lost sinners.