“Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”.
“Odious and Soon-Touchy”
Thus has some wag sought to “translate” the names of two women to whom Paul refers in his letter to the Philippians – Euodia and Syntyche. Somehow these two had fallen out with each other, and Paul is urging them “to agree in the Lord”. Why was it important that they should do that? Why is it important for Christians to agree? Isn’t it inevitable that there will be disagreements between Christians on points of doctrine, liturgical practice, or due to personality and so forth? Well yes, indeed, but notice what Paul is actually saying here (Phil 4:2): “agree with each other in the Lord”. Earlier in the letter (2:2) he writes about “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” Do you see the clue here to unity in disagreement? We take our eyes off ourselves and turn them towards the Lord and his grace and his will and purpose.
So, is it possible for Christians to agree even when they disagree? Imagine a family (you may not need to imagine it!) where there are three grown-up children: one votes Conservative, one votes Labour and the other votes LibDem. Politically they are at odds with each other, but do they need to be at odds with each other as siblings? What should hold them together in a bond of love – despite differences of politics – is their parentage! They all have the same Mum and Dad, they are all of one blood. They have each inherited their genes from the same pair. Most of all (ideally!) they are each loved equally by the same two parents.
In Christ, believers are brothers and sisters of each other but also of Christ himself (Romans 8:29), and therefore of one heavenly Father. Now, looking to him in times of conflict is sometimes our last resort, when it should be our first. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). By telling Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord” Paul is surely reminding them, and us, that that is where our true unity lies. Instead of beginning our conflict resolution with accusations and allegations, how about starting with: “Look, both of us have been forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus. Let’s acknowledge that we are both sinners, redeemed by grace, express our love in the Lord and then, and only then, sort out our differences”?
Of course we do, and shall, have our differences – some of them serious, perhaps. But let’s keep reminding ourselves that our true unity is found when we, as it were, stand hand-in-hand at the foot of the cross, looking to Jesus. What do you think?
Your brother in Christ,
PS: Last month I said I would give you an update on plans for this year’s Bible Focus event. Due to Covid-19 we shall not be meeting together in person but, God willing, we intend to have a two-session Bible exposition via YouTube. This will be launched on Saturday, September 12th at 3.00pm and the second session will follow at 4.30pm. Thereafter the two sessions may be accessed at any time. We shall look at how God brings out his good purposes in spite of our disappointments and setbacks. The first session takes us to consider some implications of Abraham burying his wife, Sarah, and the second session looks at how Paul and his companions arrived in Macedonia when their own plan had been to go somewhere else. Coronavirus may have put a stop to some things and forced us to change plans – but God’s plans are always best!