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Insights on Gospel Community Ethic from the Euodia-Syntyche Dispute

Gospel Community ethic occupies a lot of Paul's content in his letters. This should not surprise us considering how much the application of Gospel Community ethic impacts our everyday lives. How does my being a part of a local church impact the way I interact with others within that community? Of course, strictly looking at Paul's letters, you could answer that question many different ways (I explore these many different ways in a paper which you will find at the bottom of this page).

One of these elements of Gospel Community ethic that has really struck me is that Paul exhorts people to encourage one another toward godliness. That is, it is the responsibility of everyone involved in the local church (whether they are in leadership or not) to come alongside one another and encourage each other to follow Jesus and be conformed to his image more and more. We see this very exhortation in Phil 4 with the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche.

A Lesson from Philippians 4

At this point in the letter, it is obvious that unity is on Paul's mind (Phil 1:27, 2:3-4, 2:14). He then, in our text, brings to bear these rich theological truths with a real-life application from their church context. Two women (Euodia and Syntyche) are involved in some sort of dispute. We know this because Paul entreats them both to "agree in the Lord". It is fascinating how this "in the Lord" seems quite cleanly to apply to this unity from humility concept that Paul girds as having the "mind which is yours in Christ Jesus". It would seem that these two women were not employing this as they ought.

We do not know what this dispute was exactly but that doesn't matter as much as knowing that it was serious enough for Paul to have heard about it from Epaphroditus (the messenger who came to Paul from the Philippians) and feel compelled to write about it.

This all makes good rhetorical sense to us. Paul has this theological truth as well as the ethical implications of it and so he applies it. The head scratching move happens in verse 3 where Paul charges a "true companion" to help these women toward unity. It is a very puzzling shift from the plural addressee (the whole church at Philippi) to now this singular "true companion". Why does Paul make this grammatical move and why does it matter to us in Gospel Community?

Well, there are, as you may have already guessed, many different views as to why Paul makes this move from a plural addressee to a singular. Some have said it was Epaphroditus (J.B. Lightfoot), some have said it was Luke (G.D. Fee), some have even said that the Greek word σύζυγε (syzyge) should be understood as someone's name (Steven Lawson). Personally, I don't find these options very convincing for a number of reasons (one of which I mention in the paper). Rather, I think it makes more rhetorical sense for Paul to use this singular addressee not to switch his audience but to communicate that he views the Philippian Gospel Community as a unit in the endeavor of encouraging these women toward reconciliation. This was not just a job for the pastor. It was the community's responsibility to come alongside these women.

Encourage One Another Toward Godliness

It's really easy for us to think that discerning sin and encouraging repentance is the pastor's job. When we fall into that trap we miss out on so much that Gospel Community has to offer. Gospel Community is true community. Where we can be real about our struggles and sin and know that our brothers and sisters will be there beside us to point us to the cross and encourage us. Friends, life is too burdensome to do it alone. Venture in community.

All Together Now
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