In our last study we considered the active role we have in advancing the gospel. We saw that it begins with having a right spirit coupled with resolute determination. Paul used the example of the Olympic runner sprinting to the finish line, straining for all he’s worth to win the prize. As we move into chapter four, Paul is going to make it more personal, with specific corrections and exhortations, to the point of naming names!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 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.
Paul, with these verses, reminds us that we are reading a real letter from a real person to a group of real people. The names Euodia (“a prosperous journey”) and Syntyche (“a pleasant acquaintance”) have now been preserved for over 2,000 years. Neither of these women are mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. While we know nothing else about them except their names, it is obvious they had a serious enough disagreement that word of it traveled all the way from Philippi to Rome—a distance of over 800 miles—to where Paul was imprisoned. So serious was their disagreement that it was affecting the unity of the entire Philippian church.
Recall that Paul had mentioned the importance of unity earlier in the letter: “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2). He now zeroes in on what can harm, or even destroy, unity: disagreement; not being “one-souled.” Unity has the idea of harmony. In music, harmony is the pleasing sound of two or more different notes played together. Harmony can simply mean a combination of different parts. When we hear musical notes that are in harmony, our ears are pleased. When there is mis-harmony it makes us want to cover our ears. Paul is instructing these two women, “Get back in harmony, you two! You’re ruining it for the whole orchestra!”
Again, we are not given the details of the disagreement between these two women, but one consequence of unresolved conflict between believers is that others tend to choose sides. This, all too often, results in a church split, robbing the church of its power and its testimony (reputation) in the community. Paul pleads, for the sake of the gospel, put aside your personal differences. This is as relevant for the 21st century church as it was for the 1st century church. The cause of Christ must always trump our personal desires and preferences.
The word “companion” in verse 3 has the idea of two oxen in a yoke pulling together. It is the example Paul uses when he speaks about believers not being unequally yoked together with unbelievers in his second letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 6:14). Companion has the idea of partners that are equal in a specific endeavor. Most likely, the Greek word for “companion” or “loyal yokefellow” (Syzygus) was actually the name of a man; an elder of the Philippian Church (see Philippians 1:1). Thus, a paraphrase of the verse might read, “Syzygus, my trusted companion, please go and straighten out Euodia and Syntyche.”
Paul emphasizes that these women are Christians, with their names written in the “book of life” (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:11). Previously, they have co-labored with Paul and others advancing the gospel. Whatever their dispute, they had gotten their eyes off Christ and the work they have been given to do. Hopefully, Syzygus can get them to re-focus and renew their previous relationship, when they worked, along with other believers, together in unity.
It would be better if we didn’t need them, but peacemakers serve an important function in the body of Christ. These are the exceptional people with the credibility, personality, and people-skills necessary to help people in conflict to reconcile. Matthew 18 provides the Biblical foundation for settling disagreements, but often a neutral third-party is necessary in order to get the two sides communicating and ultimately resolving their differences. Syzygus seems to be one of these peacemakers that Jesus calls blessed (Matthew 5:9).
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul swings back to the command he has given six times previously in his letter to the Philippians. Emphatically, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again: Rejoice! (note the exclamation mark). This seems to continue and settle the discussion begun in verse 2. Two women have gotten their eyes off the Lord and onto themselves and their relationship with each other. Paul instructs them, (and each of us!), to rejoice.
Two weeks ago, we did a deep dive into the word rejoice. Recall that in Greek, the word translated rejoice is charió, (khah’-ee-ro) which literally means to be “favorably disposed to God’s grace.” It is a verb; to be cheerful, delighted.
As in chapter three, Paul now adds the term, “in the Lord” to the instruction to rejoice. As we previously determined, this signifies where the believer’s joy exists, irrespective of circumstance. True joy is found in relationship with the sovereign Lord. It’s possible that Paul, continuing his concerns about Euodia and Syntyche, is giving his yokefellow, Syzygus, the reconciling words to give to the feuding women. “Tell them to get their eyes off each other, and their differences, and get their eyes back on the Lord. How? By rejoicing. Here, let me say it again. Rejoice!”
Whether Paul was specifically considering Euodia and Syntyche will have to be left to conjecture, as we are given no further details. But, all of us can benefit by adopting Paul’s encouraging instruction. By sheer repetition (he has now repeated the word eight times!), we can rightly conclude that this is the key theme in the letter. If we don’t remember anything else, we all need to rejoice in the Lord.
Paul, after encouraging his readers to rejoice, says that we should be gentle, so gentle, in fact, that everyone recognizes it. The Greek word for “gentleness” is epieikes and has the idea of assuming a non-retaliatory spirit. Joy (and rejoicing) is an inner quality and may not always be seen, but how one reacts to others—whether in gentleness or harshness—will be noticed by everyone.
Why be gentle? Well, first it’s what Jesus Christ modeled for us, and conforms with what He said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) But Paul gives another reason: the Lord is near. This may mean that God is near in time and space, which is certainly true, or it may mean that His imminent return is getting nearer. Both interpretations are valid and consistent with all other Scripture. Christ’s return to earth, and the sense of urgency associated with that prophetic event, is more likely what Paul has in mind.
With Christ’s promised return and God’s promise to never leave or forsake believers, Paul says that there is no need to be anxious. Fuss and worry are signs of a lack of trust in God’s provision, His power, and His sovereignty. As part of the Beatitudes, Jesus spoke about the futility of worry, reminding His followers that worry won’t add a single hour to one’s life (Matthew 6:25-33). Paul echoes Christ’s caution and gives the antithetic to worry; prayer. Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything.
If you’re old enough to remember Mad magazine, you may have a mental picture of Alfred E. Neuman uttering the familiar words, “What, me worry?” The implication was that Alfred didn’t have a care in the world. Paul here is not talking about a carefree life where nothing matters. Quite the opposite. To care is one thing, to worry is something quite different. Paul and Timothy, and many others, cared deeply about the people they ministered to, but their care always involved trust in God. To worry speaks of a lack of trust, especially a lack of trust in God. Paul says, “Don’t do it.” Instead, take everything to God in prayer, with a thankful heart.
Pastor Trev has often remarked that it is impossible to hate or despise someone when you are praying for them. This may be one more solution Paul is giving about the situation with Euodia and Syntyche: pray for each other! If they did that, there’s a good chance that the wall between them would melt away. What good advice that is for each of us. Instead of worrying about the reason why someone hurt our feelings or disrespected us in some way, what if we prayed for them, sincerely asking for God’s blessing in their lives? That step alone, and its obvious juxtaposition from harboring an attitude of unforgiveness, would probably resolve most ruptured relationships. The reason is obvious: the focus is entirely altered from the horizontal (offense) to the vertical (blessing).
Paul says that by taking everything to God and waiting on Him, we get the remedy for worry; peace. Not peace like the world talks about, but peace that transcends the physical earthly realm to the eternal spiritual realm of God. This kind of peace, Paul declares, goes beyond human intellect, analysis, or insight. We gain it because we have a belief that God the Father always does what is best for His children. It’s a promise that God makes to the nation of Israel, and because it conforms with his perfect immutable (unchanging) nature, it is also a promise for each of us who have put our trust in Him, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The peace that comes to us directly from God, comes with a seal of protection that will guard or heart and mind. The Greek word for “guard” is a military term meaning “to keep watch over.” It is continual, and because it is over our heart and mind, it is comprehensive, covering our entire inner being.
Paul concludes this section of his letter with a word we have heard from him before, the word “finally.” It was the opening word in chapter 3 which we studied two weeks ago. Now, as then, Paul means he is shifting focus slightly, making another related but important point. The point he wants to make is about our thought life.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul mentions six things that define a wholesome thought life, each is preceded by the word “whatsoever.” In the Greek, “whatever” is plural, which means that multiple variations of the same thought pattern could be included under each. The six things Paul says we should think about are things that are: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
It is logical and reasonable that Paul would begin the list with the most important of the six items; think on that which is true. If we want to know whether a thing is true, we should begin with God and His word. Pontius Pilate posed the question to the Author of Truth, standing right before him, when he asked, “What is truth?” Truth is a person, the person Jesus Christ. Jesus said it Himself in that familiar passage, John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If we want to think on things that are true, our attention should continually be drawn to Jesus.
Next on Paul’s list of worthwhile thoughts, is thinking about that which is noble. The word “noble” in the Greek is semna and means: “dignified; worthy of respect.” In our celebrity-driven culture, often what is held up for our admiration is profane, irreverent and often outright blasphemous. YouTube and TikTok may not be the best sources if we are seeking that which is noble and worthy of our respect.
“Right” (or “just” in some translations) refers to that which is in harmony or conformity to God’s standard. I’m amused at times when I see what various groups are demonstrating about and claiming are their “rights.” Often, these “rights” have little or nothing to do with God’s standards. The Founding Fathers had it correct when they declared that the only true rights—those that are guaranteed to all of us—are those rights which are inalienable: from God!
“Pure” (Greek: hagna) thoughts are those that are clean and undefiled, not mixed with moral impurity. The 21st century media does not produce much that qualifies as pure. We’re going to have to look elsewhere if we want our minds focused on what is pure. The Bible is a good place to start.
In the Greek, the word for “lovely” is prosphilés and actually has the idea of that which is amiable, that which promotes peace rather than conflict. How much of our thought life is wasted, thinking about ways we can get even with those who have offended us in some way? Paul cautions that our time is better spent thinking about ways we can avoid conflict, becoming lovely.
Last in the list is “admirable,” or “of good report.” In the Greek the word used here is euphemia (yoo-fay-mee-ah). It is where we get the English word euphemism, which relates to that which is positive rather than negative. It has the idea of finding something constructive instead of destructive. It does not mean avoiding difficult situations or difficult people. Rather, it means finding the most constructive language we can use. I’ve heard the term “soft landing” used for such situations. The plane has to land, but it need not bounce harshly on the runway.
Taken together, Paul sums up these six thought-focuses as excellent and praiseworthy. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul cautions that we should “bring every thought into captivity.” No doubt about it, in the age in which we find ourselves, we are being continually bombarded with messages that can trigger wrong thoughts. Left unattended, these thoughts can take us further and further from God. Just pausing for a second to ask ourselves if what we are thinking about is true, right, noble, pure, lovely, or admirable can safeguard our hearts and minds.
Paul concludes by reminding his readers that the Christian life involves not only proper thinking, but proper acting. If there is any doubt what this looks like, Paul says, “You see it in me, now go and do likewise.” Paul did not only teach, he lived out what he taught, and he continually encouraged others to do the same.
We conclude this week’s study with two questions: Do we have those godly examples in our life that we can imitate? And, are we modeling godly lives for those who are watching us? Paul affirms that God has given us all we need so that we can give a resounding “yes,” to both questions.