The Contenders

To err is human. To forgive is divine. — Anonymous.

PRAYER (from the Lectionary)

“LORD, we pray that Your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.”

SCRIPTURES (from the Lectionary)

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

“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…whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: OVERCOMING DISAGREEMENT.

First a quiz: Would you like to have your name recorded in the Bible for all eternity?
a. Yes.
b. No.
c. It depends.

Euodia (pronounced “ee-OOO-dah”) and Syntyche (“suh-DEE-hee”) were members of the church in Philippi. We hardly know anything about them, and what we do know is really good. The Apostle Paul commends them highly. He describes them as loyal believers, hard workers for the cause of the gospel.

But they also contended with each other, enough that it was a problem in that early congregation. In his epistle to the Philippians, now enshrined in Canon for all time, Paul pleads with them—publicly, in writing—to agree with each other. He also asks for others to help them resolve their differences and restore harmony in the church.

Philippi, as a Roman colony, afforded a level of independence to women that was uncommon during the first century, even in Greece. This may account for the prominence of these two women and the deleterious effect of their dispute.

We don’t know why they quarreled. But their inability to get along was almost certainly causing contention among other believers in Philippi. How do we know? Because it can, and does, happen with embarrassing regularity, between men and women alike. Yes, at church.

Disagreements are inevitable given our human condition. And once we allow pride to creep in and nudge aside God’s love, disagreement can result in hurt feelings and division. Hurt feelings turn into hard feelings. Gossip begins to spread. People take sides. The whole church can lose its harmony. People may not remember what caused the problem in the first place, but they will almost always remember which side they were on.

Too often, sadly, this is what happens unless there is wise intervention. Take note that Paul addresses both individuals. He doesn’t mention who started it or who was more at fault. He expects both of them to give ground. Paul tells them to “agree with each other”—but not just any kind of agreement, “agree in the Lord” (4:2).

It is the heavy responsibility of the members of the family of Christ to help resolve such disputes with fair and peaceful solutions – not to take sides or add fuel to the fire. The first steps toward reconciliation are taken in prayer, and that can start with anyone.

In this week’s Lectionary Epistle to the Philippians Paul urges the church to be different, to stand out from those who do not know Christ: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

The world watches us, Christian. We may be the only glimpse of Jesus that some will ever see. We must not dim the light of that gospel by quarreling among ourselves.

Did Euodia and Syntyche resolve their disagreement? We don’t know. To do so they would have needed to value church unity more than what separated them. This week we pray for God’s grace to precede us and follow us, that we would be given to good works. Let us also pray for unity in the house of the LORD.

It’s Monday Morning. Did you see the contenders in church yesterday? Are you praying for them today, that they would agree in the Lord?

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. –Paul

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