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Grace Notes

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EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE
by Philip Owen

            When someone is rebuked publicly by name, we may feel a great deal of discomfort in ourselves, sympathy for the one called on the carpet, and, perhaps, even resentment toward the person delivering the rebuke.  And if we happen to be the ones on the receiving end, those emotions may be greatly intensified.  But often the only remedy for public sin is public rebuke.  And although God never embarrasses anyone sheerly for the sake of embarrassment, He is not loathe either directly or through His human agents to make a public issue of a public problem.  Such is the case with two women in the church at Philippi.  Writing to the church in that city, Paul says, “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” (4:2, 3a).  These verses found in God’s eternal Word should not be considered an ancient historical footnote long since emptied of any possible relevance.  On the contrary, they have been preserved specifically for our edification.  Among other things, they teach us what follows.

            1.  No one is above falling into sin.  Euodia and Syntyche appear to have been godly believers.  That their faith was not merely nominal is evidenced by Paul’s statement that they had “shared” in his “struggle in the cause of the gospel.”  Paul gives no further specifics because the facts were known to the church itself.  And the severity of Paul’s struggles speaks well of any who would “share” in any way with Paul in them.  We might be disappointed, then, that these two sisters in the Lord had to be reproved by Paul, but we should not be surprised.  No one is above succumbing to the weakness and temptations of the flesh.  We should understand that Peter’s admonition to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert” (I Pet. 5:8) and Paul’s admonition to “pay close attention to yourself” (I Tim. 4:16) applies to us because we, too, can fall.

            2.  No one is above reproof.  It is certainly not the case that Paul has no affection for these women, that he has failed to appreciate their genuine service in the past, or that he has no regard for the shame they might experience because of his open reproof.  The greater his love for them in the Lord, the greater their service has been, and the more highly they have been held in esteem by him and the congregation at Philippi, the more critical it is that their sin be dispatched.  The more authority, responsibility, and respect that adheres to a believer, the more influence he wields—for good or ill.  And in order that the believer him[her]self might be blessed and that other believers be edified rather than harmed, it is incumbent upon him to receive timely reproof for the sake of the entire assembly.

            3.  Someone must take responsibility for correcting sin.  It fell to Paul to broach the need of these two women, but from a distance he could not handle the issue as well as he might wish.  And so he enlists his “true companion” within the Philippian congregation “to help these women” by whatever means charity required in order to restore them to peace and harmonious fellowship.  It is noteworthy that the Word of God knows nothing of a unity or Christian harmony that is based on the ignoring of sin or compromise with it.  Rather, biblical unity results from gracious and determined dealing with the issues that disrupt a congregation.

            4.  All must recognize that division is frequently the result of personal carnality rather than doctrinal error.  It seems altogether likely that Paul would have corrected any doctrinal error that was causing the rift between Euodia and Syntyche.  Since he did no such thing, it would appear that the issues dividing these women were personal in nature.  The corrective for such problems is to “live . . . in the Lord” (v. 2), to walk in the Spirit, to maintain a submissive will and an humble mind.  And we should remember that “if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (I Cor. 11:31).   Euodia and Syntyche passed from this scene nearly two thousand years ago.  But this brief snapshot into their lives survives forever that we might examine ourselves and not be destroyed by personal differences or human carnality.       

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