How does your church resolve conflict? Often those in the crosshairs or with their finger on the trigger just pick up and go elsewhere. It’s far easier to leave a church than face the emotionally-charged task of resolution. And it’s simple to “shop around” since most churches of the evangelical stripe tend to look and feel the same with similar styles of worship and program offerings. Changing churches is often just a change in locations.
Yet God gives to us a passage about conflict between two members of a local church and some ways to resolve it. And, if these verses are in the canon of what we call God’s Word, then there is something for us to learn. Hear now the Word of God:
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Note the pastoral tone and effective touch of the Apostle Paul as he writes God’s Word to us. There’s something here for leaders. There’s something here for individuals. And there’s something here for churches. No one is ignored; all are invited to consider the application of God’s Word to us.
- Paul pleads with two women to get along. He does not issue any heavy-handed commands or rebukes. Instead, he comes alongside Euodia and Syntyche and urges unity (παρακαλῶ, repeated for each so as to avoid all appearances of taking sides).
- We do not know the nature of their dispute, but we can say that it was likely nothing of doctrinal import, as Paul would have dealt with it in this letter per his typical fashion (see 1 Tim 2:11-15). It is possible that it was merely a personality conflict. Regardless, Paul saw a threat to the unity of the Philippian church and, therefore, believes it important enough to address explicitly and openly to the entire church community.
- The specific appeal was for Euodia and Syntyche to literally “think the same thing” or be like-minded (same word used in 2:2). This is not some congenial appeal to “agree to disagree.” Nor is this some sentimental request to love one another and drop the dispute at the expense of truth (cf., Rom. 12:9 and Eph. 4:15 where Paul insists that love and truth belong together). Still, this is not an impossible demand to agree on every matter of doctrine and practice. Instead, Paul expects that believers will have the same basic orientation and priorities. Where there are genuine differences, most could be resolved by taking out our Bibles and submitting our positions to Scripture.
- By appealing to his “true companion” for assistance in restoring peace, Paul is highlighting the significance of the dispute. The need for a mediator suggests that the two parties could not work it out on their own.
- Recall that this letter was addressed to the entire Philippian community and to its leaders (1:1). Presumably, it was intended to be read aloud to the congregation. Hence, by using personal names in this dispute and appealing to a mediator (no doubt known to Paul and the Philippians), an accountability mechanism before the entire congregation was set into place for a firm, public, and sure resolution (cf., Mt. 18:15-20).
How does your church resolve conflict?
I’m indebted to Don Carson’s commentary on Philippians for much of this material.