I’ve always wondered what happened between Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). Maybe Euodia’s daughter turned down Syntyche’s son for the Philippi prom. Maybe Syntyche wanted the floor mosaics to be red and Euodia wanted blue. Maybe they both wanted to call the shots. Maybe one wanted to offer grace and the other wanted to challenge people to holiness and neither could see that both were right and both were needed. Whatever was going on, there was a conflict between them big enough that Paul not only heard about it in his Roman prison but also felt the need to call them out in a letter that would have been read publicly before the entire congregation. Being mentioned in the Bible? Awesome. Only being mentioned because you couldn’t get along with another member of your congregation? Not so much.
My hunch is Euodia and Syntyche were not the only ones having trouble getting along in the church at Philippi. I suspect this because Paul goes out of his way to call the church to unity:
Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philppians 2:2-4).
The real threat to unity is selfishness, not disagreement. When our goal is to honor God and others we can disagree–even vigorously–and still love each other when we’re done. When we act out of selfishness, even small issues mushroom into divisive conflicts. Other people look like threats when my goal is my own self-interest. Instead of seeing people as co-laborers, I see them as competition. They are there to hog my share of the glory, stop me from getting my own way, or prevent me from advancing my agenda. Instead of encouraging one another as we pursue a common goal, we retreat to our corners and take potshots at one another while we defend our own turf. When we believe honor is a limited quantity there’s never enough to go around.
The danger of all this is that grumbling against one another tarnishes our witness and and can cause us to miss out on our inheritance. Take look at what Paul says starting in verse fourteen:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-17) .
That word Paul uses for “grumbling” in verse fourteen is an interesting choice. It’s not the normal word used for grumbling or complaining in the New Testament. Instead, it’s the word Greek translations of the Old Testament used to describe the complaints of Israel as they wandered in the desert during the Exodus. They complained they didn’t have any food. So God gave them manna. They complained they didn’t have meat. God sent them quail. They complained Moses wasn’t a good leader. They complained they didn’t have water. And though God repeatedly showed that they could trust him, they continued to complain and grumble that what God had provided wasn’t good enough. When the Israelites finally came to the edge of Canaan, they refused to trust God’s promise that he would help them take the land. They grumbled against Moses, said that God had only brought them to Canaan to kill them, and decided it would be better to go back to Egypt. And so an entire generation missed their inheritance (Numbers 14:1-4, 20-25).
We face the same risk. We are called to inherit a greater kingdom–not just keeping it to ourselves but inviting others to join in. When we live in unity and honor, we shine like lights in the world. Grumbling and complaining dims that light. The world gets it when we honor people who have something to offer us–entertainment; power; the promise of a better life; the dream that we can one day be like them. Honoring people not because of what we gain but because of their worth as children of God; honoring even when it costs us something, when we disagree, when it raises their status instead of our own–that looks different. Recognizing that honor is something to be shared rather then held on to? Yeah, that looks like Jesus.
Let’s resolve to love one another well. Speak well of one another. Listen. Make that mind shift where we’re not just thinking about what’s best for me–we’re seeking out what’s best for us. Seniors considering the needs of young families. Parents of preschoolers trying to see through the eyes of parents of teens. Teenagers honoring those who have gone before them in the faith, and all of us looking out for one another in an attitude of service and love. Do that well, and the world takes notice. Do it well, and we shine like stars.
And we look like Jesus.