When the Apostle Paul Called Out Two Women in Church

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I’ve always wondered who was more right: Euodia or Syntyche—the two women Paul mentions in his letter to the Philippians.

What would it have been like to be present in the service on the first Sunday morning the letter was read to the small gathering of believers? The parchment from Paul arrived, and those early followers of Jesus were likely gathered in someone’s house, waiting impatiently to hear the words the apostle had written down for them. And what a letter! Joyful from the start, centered on the gospel of Jesus, the expansion of the church’s mission—a letter filled with wise counsel, rich theology, and beautiful truth.

But near the end, Paul got specific. He called out two women in the church by name: Euodia and Syntyche.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2-3)

I feel sorry for these women. Partly because the apostle Paul called them out by name (and they wound up immortalized as the feuding females of the Philippian church). Partly because these poor women had to go by these names in the first place. (I take that back. It’s not as a difficult a name as Epaphroditus!)

Paul’s willingness to call out two women when he knew the letter would be read to the whole congregation demonstrates the fact that he cared more about the unity of the church than about the church having a superficial, “everything is going to be alright” sentimental warmth. Paul’s most joyful letter expresses his willingness to do the hard work of pursuing unity rather than just papering over problems.

It’s easy to stay quiet in church or at work or in your family life when serious relationship problems exist. When tension remains under the surface, it’s often easier to paper over the problem. It’s like a wall that’s falling apart, but you just keep painting over it, hoping maybe this will keep people from noticing. The paint is peeling, the wall is cracking, the foundation has shifted, and you think: Time for another paint job! Just cover the problem. Keep it from looking too bad!

Paul has a different approach. He recognizes the root issue. And so he says, “I urge them to agree.” Strangely, he doesn’t take a side. I know if I were in that church, I’d be saying, But Paul? Who is right? Should I be on Euodia’s side or Syntyche’s side?

Whatever the disagreement was about, it must not have been a major doctrinal issue. It wasn’t something so serious that it compromised the gospel. What’s happened here is that the intensity of this disagreement is compromising the gospel—not the issue itself. There’s a difference.

Sometimes, we have to draw lines in the sand and say, “This is against the gospel. We can walk no further with you.” When someone compromises the authority of God’s Word, or takes a stand against a foundational truth of the church—whether it be our teaching on who Christ is, what salvation is, or something of that magnitude—there is one side that is right and one side that is wrong. That kind of disagreement can’t be resolved the way Paul describes here.

In this case, when Paul decides he won’t take sides but still urges the women to “agree,” he’s showing us that the bigger issue in this church was the level of hostility. The fallout was bigger than the initial problem! The women had become the problem, not the problem itself.

So Paul tells these women to come to agreement in the Lord. I don’t think that means that they had to find middle ground. It meant they shouldn’t let whatever dispute they’re having harm their friendship. They can be sisters and not be the same.

Even today, we don’t have to agree on everything in order to be friends, to be brothers and sisters in the faith. We can be likeminded without being perfectly united on every last detail. You may not agree with people in your church about everything. But you can still pursue unity. You can still be likeminded. We can have unity without uniformity.

Paul tells them to agree in the Lord. And he urges the church to help them. He doesn’t say, “Hey everyone else, stay out of it. It’s none of your business!” He expects the church to be involved in bringing about reconciliation. Why? Because of the gospel. The church is made up of the servants of the Lord. We are servants of Jesus Christ. We should be of the same mind because we love the same God. We believe in the same Jesus. We’re indwelled by the same Spirit.

Reconciliation isn’t easy, but pursuing it says something about the power of the gospel. So let’s be Christians who are so steeped in grace that we pursue unity in the church and with other people. Let’s be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of reconciliation or to get involved and help other people reconcile because we want people to see what it looks like when grace reigns supreme.

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