Philippians 4:1–3

Philippians 4:1–3

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

In an astonishing article entitled, “One Japanese Soldier Continued to Fight for 30 Years After WWII,” James Barber of tells the story of Hiroo Onoda.

When Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda was deployed to Lubang in the Philippines in 1944, he was instructed to hold the remote island until the Japanese Army returned. Onoda took the orders very seriously and fought a guerrilla war on the island for more than 10,000 days until he finally surrendered in 1974.

This is an absolutely true story. It’s not like his country forgot him. Search parties could not convince Onoda that Japan had lost the war. They carried photos from Onoda’s family members, but he thought they were fakes because, since his hometown had been bombed and rebuilt, the buildings in the images didn’t match his memories.

For most of his lonely war, Onoda served alongside fellow Japanese soldier Kinshichi Kozuka, but Kozuka fell in 1972 when he was shot by the local Filipino police. When Onoda returned to Japan, he wrote a bestselling memoir, married and lived quietly until he died at age 91 in 2014.[1]

Again, this is astonishing! In the article, Barber asks, “How does a soldier know when the war is over?” It is a good question.

In many ways, a lot of us are like Hiroo Onoda. We are born into a world of conflict and we are conditioned by our fallen nature and the world to maintain combat readiness and, indeed, combative engagement. But when we come to Jesus, He tells us that all of that is over. Jesus brings us peace. Jesus tells His disciples that the war is over between them. But sometimes it takes some time for followers of Jesus to learn that they really can lay their arms down and embrace the peace that Christ has won. Sometimes we have to learn over time a new posture, a new mindset.

This fact is demonstrated in our text. Here, Paul is going to encourage two women in the church to stand together in unity and peace. What is more, he is going to encourage the church to help them lay down their arms.

Small fractures in a church’s unity can become crippling, whole-church breaks if not addressed.

We begin with Paul’s acknowledgment of a delicate situation in the church of Philippi.

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Here is what we can surmise from our text:

  • In the church of Philippi, there were two women: Eudoia and Syntyche.
  • These women were Christians and genuine followers of Jesus.
  • They were seen as leaders and were respected.
  • They worked alongside Paul and helped in the advancement of the gospel.
  • Some unknown form of conflict or disagreement had arisen between them.
  • An unknown third person is asked to mediate and help these ladies.

I repeat—because this is important: Eudoia and Syntyche were good women and good Christians and faithful followers of Jesus. Paul loves them both and respects them both. The church father, John Chrysostom, wrote of them:

Do you see how great is the virtue of these women, according to his testimony?…Did they toil with him? Yes, he says. They contributed in no small part…Great therefore was the cohesion of the church at that time when the most respected, whether men or women, enjoyed such honor from the rest.[2]

These are the bare facts of the case. But there is another fact, one that is not openly acknowledged here but is elsewhere, and it is this: This letter would have been read aloud before the entire church of Philippi. This was the normal custom for Paul’s letters, though we should stop short, perhaps, of saying it happened in every case. Regardless, we see the public reading of Paul’s letters acknowledged in Colossians 4, where we read:

16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

What is more, the same is asserted in 1 Thessalonians 5.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

The letter to the Philippians would likewise have been read before the whole church. And the fact that Paul names names in a letter that would have been read publicly to the church points to a great truth: Small fractures in a church’s unity can become crippling, whole-church breaks if not addressed.

Little conflicts can become big conflicts.

A clash of two can quickly become a clash of two hundred.

Paul names names publicly because he realizes that it is in the nature of conflict to grow and spill the banks into congregational life if the conflict is not rightly handled.

Fred Craddock helpfully writes of this:

Paul mentions these two in a letter to be read to the church because he expects the church to help with the healing. Notice that Paul does not, as some pastors do, regard matters such as this as private, to be settled outside the church lest anyone be disturbed. No, in Paul’s view, this is precisely the nature and function of the congregation as a partnership. Being members of one another means laying before each other joys, sorrows, and burdens, but also issues to be settled (I Cor. 6:1–6). Since the whole congregation is to share in such work, there will be, as in the case here, occasions when the membership ministers to its leaders. What a compliment to the maturity of the church that Paul gives them this opportunity; we can hope Euodia and Syntyche were mature enough to accept the church’s help.[3]

So, this is where we begin: Conflicts in the church are whole-church concerns. No, we do not want to meddle where we need not meddle, but a genuine conflict is like a small spark. Small sparks can threaten whole cities if not tended to.

Do you see your brother and sister in conflict? Lovingly, carefully help them! Do you see friction between the brethren? Lovingly, carefully help to resolve it!

Refusing to take sides unless one party is clearly in the wrong is crucial to effective peacemaking.

There is something else very important here that is likewise not outright acknowledged but is plain to see: Paul’s efforts at fairness in addressing the conflict. I am speaking of this little phrase:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

You will notice that the sentence is structured with repeated terminology and phrasing:

  • I entreat Euodia.
  • I entreat Syntyche.

There is balance and symmetry to the way Paul wrote this.

Paul is clearly making an effort here to treat these women the exact same without insinuating guilt or siding with one over the other.

Frank Thielman writes of this:

He addresses each woman equally. The repetition of the word “plead” [“entreat” in the ESV] is not grammatically necessary and produces a slightly ponderous sentence, but the use of the term before each name communicates a desire to be evenhanded—not to take sides but to exhort each participant in the dispute with equal firmness. In a letter that would have been read to the entire congregation, Paul probably considered such evenhandedness of paramount importance.[4]

Gordon Fee sees the same dynamic at play in Paul’s structuring of this sentence.

Paul refuses to take sides, thus maintaining friendship with all. He appeals to both women—indeed the identical repetition of their names followed by the verb has rhetorical effect…[5]

We all know that in the sensitive situations of conflict in which we find ourselves, great care is needed in our phraseology, in our tone, and in approach. I say with a wink and a nod that Paul even lists their names in alphabetical order to avoid the appearance of taking sides: Euodia! Syntyche!

There is no clear “right” or “wrong,” is would seem, in this conflict. It is just, apparently, a disagreement. Moisés Silva is likely correct when he observes:

Most likely, however, what we have here is not a personal quarrel between cantankerous old ladies, but rather a substantive division within the church leadership, which from the very beginning consisted largely of faithful women. The evidence is too vague to help us specify the nature of their leadership (even the suggestion that they were deaconesses cannot be proved), but one must not minimize the force of Paul’s description of those two women as “coworkers” (συνεργῶν, synergōn; but see the second additional note on 4:3) who shared in the apostolic struggle (συνήθλησαν, synēthlēsan; see on 1:27, 30). They were surely mainstays of the believing Philippian community (cf. Chrysostom: “These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there”).[6]

And when addressing a conflict in which there is no right or wrong, we must be careful not to accuse one person or the other of being in the right or the wrong. So, this calls for extreme efforts at balance and fairness. Let us heed the example of Paul in how we approach conflicts in the church!

Between a small dispute and a whole-church fight stands an intentional peacemaker.

There is also a little mystery in our text, but it points to a big truth. Listen closely to what Paul says.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

That seems clear enough. There are three people in verse 2: Paul, who is entreating, and Euodia and Syntyche, who are entreated. And, of course, the Lord God is present, the one in whom they are to agree. But listen to verse three:

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Did you catch it? Paul addresses an unknown member of the church of Philippi, who he refers to as “true companion,” to “help these women.” Numerous efforts have been made to name and identify the mediator, yet the reality remains that we simply do not know who this unnamed “true companion” is. But this we do know: This unnamed person was a peacemaker. Paul saw in him or her a person who prized peace, loved the body of Christ, and was willing to do whatever was needed to help conflicted parties restore unity.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, “for they shall be called sons of God.”

In Romans 14, Paul writes:

19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul writes:

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Brothers. Sisters. Peace is beautiful. Peace is of God. Peace must be cultivated. Peace should hold sway in and over the body of Christ.

There is a powerful little phrase back up in verse 2:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

This is not a fake peace, a plastic peace, a veneer of peace. This is Holy Spirit peace, peace “in the Lord.” This is the peace of Christ being set loose in the church of Christ. This is the unity of Jesus. This is the body of Christ!

Believer: Be the unnamed “true companion” that people turn to for peace! Be a peacemaker in the body of Christ! Do not be an instigator. Be a person of peace. Strive for peace! Love the peace of Christ! Bring the peace of Jesus into the conflicts you encounter!

I am struck by a memory that the late R.C. Sproul shared in his book Holiness.

I remember the sultry summer day in 1945 when I was busy paying stickball in the streets of Chicago. At that time my word consisted of the piece of real estate that extended form one manhole cover to the next. A that was important to me was that my turn at bat had finally come. I was most annoyed when the first pitch was interrupted by an outbreak of chaos and noise all around me. People started running out of apartment doors, screaming and beating dishpans with wooden spoons. I thought for a moment it might be the end of the world. It was certainly the end of my stickball game. In the riotous confusion I saw my mother rushing toward me with tears streaming down her face. She scooped me up in her arms and squeezed me, sobbing over and over again, “It’s over. It’s over. It’s over!”

            It was VJ Day, 1945. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but one think was clear. It meant that the war had ended and that my father was coming home. No more airmail to faraway countries. No more listening to the daily news report about casualties. No more silk banners adorned with stars hanging in the window. No more crushing of tin soup cans. No more ration coupons. The war was over, and peace had come to us at last.

            That moment of jubilation left a lasting impression on my childhood brain. I learned that peace is an important thing, a cause for unbridled celebration when it was established and for bitter remorse when it was lost.[7]

That is a beautiful way of putting it. Peace:

  • is an important thing;
  • is a cause for unbridled celebration when it is established;
  • is a cause for bitter remorse when it is lost.

Paul clearly believed in these truths.

The Lord Jesus has come to establish His peace in His church so that we can show the world what it means to be one people alive together through the power of the Spirit.

In Jesus, the war has ended between us. Let us live at peace with one another.



[2] Edwards, Mark J. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.280.

[3] Craddock, Fred B.; Craddock, Fred B. Philippians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (p. 70). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[4] Thielman, Frank S. Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 11) (p. 216). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

[5] Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)) (p. 392). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[6] Silva, Moisés. Philippians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 192). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[7] R.C. Sproul, Holiness (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), p.149-150.

One thought on “Philippians 4:1–3

  1. Thank you for the reminder that the call to be a peacemaker is constant and an abiding call each and every day, one day at a time and sadly some of our feeble attempts sometimes lack the balance & wisdom the Spirit granted to Phillipi through Paul’s letter of encouragement. It is a wee bit sobering to see Thomas go out farther so may God grant you all a renewed since of purpose going forward. One of the best expositions of three verses me has heard in a while. Far too much speculation and conjecture from “commentaries” most of which seem like gueses to me. We agree that the cost of Peace is often humility and yes, often the women are far braver than us on going out on mission. Happy to see so many grown ups about ya. Kudos to CBCNLR & Wym also. 🙂

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