“Holy Spirit, please open our eyes and let us see your wisdom. Fill our hearts with compassion and humility. Let us see the arguments and opinions of others with your eyes.”
Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the [a]gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life. LINK to ASV
We have a proverb in our church: “It’s not about you; It’s not about me; It’s about the Kingdom.” Look back over the first three chapters of this letter Paul and Timothy have written to the Philippians. You could summarize it with our church’s proverb. It is not about the Philippians. It is not about Paul and Timothy. It is always about the Kingdom. So, he begs them (and us) to “stand firm”.
In chapter 4 verse 2 Paul addresses a specific issue concerning “Euodia and Syntyche”. It seems to be the consensus that these two ladies were in disagreement with each other. Thus I provide the comment above. However, there are actually three possibilities: 1. The two ladies were in an argument with each other. 2. The two ladies were offended together over some non-theological argument. 3. The two ladies had begun to promote a theology that differed from that of St. Paul.
The IVP Commentary has an interesting view on the situation with these two ladies. There is also a wonderful speculation as to the identity of the “true companion” or “yokefellow”. In our discussion of Philippians Two there’s more about this…
Wikipedia contributes one worthwhile historical note, “As a Roman colony, Philippi gave a level of independence to women that was not common in most Greek cities of the period; this may account for the prominence of the women and their disagreement.” I’ll comment on this shortly.
I found a very interesting discussion at the Marg Mowczko blog. This blog article is helpful in understanding these verses.
So it is quite possible that the two ladies were not in disagreement with each other. It really does not matter which of the three scenarios noted above were the actual situation. In any case we can understand the letter as much more than just a “Hi, Y’All. Tim & I are doing fine, even though I’m in prison.” Epaphroditus brings the gifts from Philippi to Paul and Timothy. He also tells them about the situation in Philippi. (Or, during the illness of Epaphroditus, someone else conveys the situation to Paul and Timothy.) After Epaphroditus recovers, he takes this letter back to Philippi. Read with that idea in mind, the letter has much to offer us today.
First, the two ladies most certainly were in some sort of leadership position. They had worked with Paul, Clement and others. The Church has, from its beginning, had women in leadership roles. The rights of women has always been championed by the Biblical Church. This was not merely the culture of Philippi. It was the culture of the Church that women were given leadership roles. Second, the Church has always been subject to argument. These two ladies were at the heart of a problem that was causing division in the Church at Philippi. Every congregation has members who don’t get along. Every congregation has members who ‘think differently’. Third, Paul gives us a method or prescription for healing such division. He brings the argument back to Christ. Whenever there is a disagreement, we must seek reconciliation through Christ. In this letter, Paul is showing us how to overcome differences. When disagreement becomes a true split in the Church is is simply because one or both sides were unwilling to accept the model of Christ. The Bible has the answer: we just have to be Obedient.
One other very important note is Paul’s reference to “The Book of Life” and the implications of his mention of it. The fact that he uses it to describe those who are in the Kingdom of God is quite interesting. There are very few references to this concept in the Old Testament. Some translations use “Scroll of Life” and others use “written with the Righteous” or something similar. I’d recommend this as a “rabbit trail” for anyone who would like to know more. The WEB has 9 references to it: Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, 21:27 and 22:19. Daniel 12:1 also makes reference to the concept of names written in a book. That should help you get started.
Another rabbit trail is the identity of Clement. The Encyclopedia of the Bible tells us that Irenaeus and Origen both state that this Clement is the man who became Bishop of Rome after Peter and Paul were executed. But the Encyclopedia also states that this is doubtful. However they offer no argument that is convincing to me. I find an interesting article about Clement in Christianity.com but nothing conclusive about Clement of Rome being the same as Clement in Philippi. Clement of Rome is a most interesting person and you will learn much about him if you ‘chase this rabbit’.