Philippians chapter 4 verses 2 & 3 indicate that two Christian women have been quarrelling. This must have been some spat since it found its way into Paul’s correspondence and hence into Holy Writ. I don’t suppose the women concerned Euodia and Syntyche ever imagined that their bitching would be read about by almost the whole population of the world throughout the centuries. But churches have always had quarrelling people. Indeed some people actually enjoy quarrelling and make a profession of it in churches. As an Ayrshire Church organist put it many years ago “If you want a good fight - join the Kirk”. So - here is Euodia saying the equivalent in Greek of “See that Syntyche - she comes in tae oor Kirk Session meeting wi’ a face that wid frichten the rats aff a coup”. And Syntyche is saying something like “See that Euodia - thinks she kens everything - Ah fair cracked her enamel, two faced bitch”. Maybe not! Maybe these women were more subtle and poisonous in their battle with one another. The late American author Dorothy Parker had a caustic wit. She said of a rival “She realizes she doesn’t know as much as God but feels she knows as much as God knew when he was her age.” At any rate Paul introduced language used in evangelical churches ever since. “I plead with them to agree in the Lord”. Note that Paul pleads, he does not ask or demand or order. Even Paul is conciliatory in the face of a hen fight.
These were prominent women in the Philippian Church. Greek society at the time gave no such place or status to women. In Macedonia where Philippi was however, women had greater social freedoms and these are reflected in these verses. The Church is often thought to have kept women down but in fact from its earliest days, women had leading roles although when the Church became organised as an institution women did not find places as clergy. Acts 16:11ff tells us about a prominent Philippian business woman called Lydia who was converted to Jesus Christ. These women, Euodia and Syntyche says Paul, at their best, had contended for the Gospel at his side. They had been witnesses to Jesus and had publicly confessed Jesus Christ and evangelised in His Name. The words suggest equality of task and calling in Philippi. Women had social authority there and were listened to – and also as Christian speakers.
But there had been a fair old spat and Paul seeks to involve everyone in trying to bring reconciliation and peace. Paul knew the dangers of a quarrelling Church. He knew that a congregation divided against itself will suffer and even fall. Congregations have always had cliques and divisions, quarrels and fights, arguments and misunderstandings. It’s not just parish churches with their nominal Christians who behave in this way. Many evangelical congregations have disagreements and splits and walkings out and fracturing and schism.
The Anglican world wide Church is riven at present by two significant issues, the status of openly homosexual men in the priesthood and episcopacy and the consecration of women priests as bishops. It is difficult to keep a single community of faith through such troubles. Throughout the centuries, the Church of Scotland has split and reformed and split again and re-formed. As you know there was a falling out after 2009 in the Church of Scotland with conservative evangelicals leaving over the ordination of homosexuality issue. The reasons that in small towns there are two and three churches within 200 yards of each other is due to that history of disagreement and departure. Although the great Disruption of 1843 was about the principle of the congregation’s right to call a minister. It remains as true for this church as for all churches. If we are divided among ourselves we will fail and we will fall. A divided house cannot stand. Divided political parties lose elections. Divided families become estranged. Divided football teams lose games. Divided businesses go bankrupt. Maintaining peace and unity is our calling together and we make promises to do just that when we join the Church and when we are ordained as elders. The real test comes when something happens that you don’t like or agree with and you have to decide how to react and continue. So these two women in the Church at Philippi have gone down in history as quarrelling women. Our lives in the Church are also measured and known for good or ill not only by the Living Lord of course, but also in the quality and longevity of the Church in which we worship and serve. Our conduct gives the congregation its character. Children grow better where the family atmosphere is peaceful and respectful. A congregation can grow also only where there is harmony and a united vision and sense of purpose.
Paul orders the members of the Church at Philippi to rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Our brand of Christianity in Scotland has not perhaps encouraged us to rejoice over much. Joyful enthusiasm for God is not something we are world famous for. But Paul wants people to forget their squabbles and disagreements and focus on the big picture of Christian faith. Compared to what we are given through Jesus Christ, our own agendas in church circles are very much less important and not worth destroying the Church for, says Paul. This is the power of positive thinking, to be sure, but it is also good practice. Imagine if we had a set time devoted to rejoicing at every Kirk Session meeting!
Paul then goes on to talk about showing gentleness in Church. I have often thought that gentleness does not get anyone anywhere. It seems that even in Christ’s Church, gentleness doesn’t get you very far. Maybe I haven’t tried it well enough or often enough. But the Church of Scotland is not dominated by gentle people but by would be ecclesiastical managers and career ministers and they certainly may not be characterised by gentleness in their life and work in the Church. Ego rivalries and bullies have been too influential in the ministry of the Church of Scotland at all levels. On the other hand, I remember listening to a certain man who was speaking about the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation which is based in Hampshire in England. He was gentle and unassuming but his presence was one of quiet authority. It can be true that in any gathering once the loud-mouths and bullies have had their say, when someone quiet starts to speak wisely, everyone takes note and listens. Paul’s idea of gentleness is not uselessness or ineffectiveness and it is not being a door mat either. It is a way of relating which is helpful to everyone and builds up community rather than destroys it. It is a way of meeting people in a positive and reconciling manner hoping to provide or seek and agree solutions to problems and issues.
When Paul says “The Lord is near” that may not necessarily mean the Lord is about to appear, that is, as in the Second Coming. It may simply mean that all Christians have to remember that the Lord Jesus is close to us in our Church life and in our meetings. We are not on our own - out of hearing or out of sight of our Lord. ‘What does the Lord think of my conduct in my Church’ is a good question for everyone to be asking.
Paul advises Christians not to be anxious about anything. That echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Christians are to pray for what they need and want with a positive sense of God’s care and providence for them. Anxiety does no-one any good. Worry for its own sake is destructive. Over-anxiety suggests internalised problems, history, guilt, fear, longing in the one who is over anxious. We are to have great faith and a lot of trust that if we are fully committed Christians, we will find a way through every and all difficulties and problems. That extends to the large issues of life as well, watching family members and wondering about their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
The next words are used at many funeral services but they mean much, much more. “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. What a wonderful piece of spiritual intelligence! This peace is not something we manufacture through self-discipline or meditation. It is the peace of heaven, the peace of our Maker, the peace of the risen Jesus that is given to us to insulate us from unnecessary worry and anxiety. It is a way of life offered and available for the asking. So - when we hand over to the Lord our griefs and worries and concerns and problems, and if we are open to His leading and guiding, we should receive this peace that is sourced from beyond our human capacity. Christians do not live two feet off the ground. We hurt and suffer as everyone does, sometimes a lot more as we see sin from God’s perspective. We have the same responsibilities and struggles as everyone else. But - there is a difference - we can repair to the Lord Jesus Christ for His peace. Every day - if necessary - or whenever we feel we are being overtaken by events and crushed by problems - losing perspective and worrying ourselves ill. It is not necessary and it is not good.
Christians are to think high thoughts not base thoughts. They are not to let themselves be broken by negativity and depression. Yes! The world is in a mess. We worry about the future and about the future of our children and theirs. We would die of worry if we thought only of how bad things could be. That is not how we are meant to be. Christianity is an affirming faith and a saving faith. You have a responsibility to find eternal life for yourself and then you can do what you can to show others the way. The rest must be left to them and to the Lord.
Paul is content whether he is financially comfortable or whether he has nothing. If he has food and shelter or if he has not his faith is not damaged either way, he tells us. The Philippians have been generous in their support of Paul and he acknowledges that fact. Paul emphasises that if we are generous to God, God will not see us ever in want.
Philippians closes with the usual formal signings off of letter writing at the time. Paul mentions “those of Caesar’s household”. This is interesting. This was the Imperial Civil Service of the Roman Empire. These were top notch First Division people high up in government circles and they were Christians. They are not named however. Some may have been in danger for their Faith. It was another 250 years before such presence and anonymous influence was turned into visible political acknowledgement and power when Constantine legalised Christianity and made it the official faith of the Roman Empire.
We have hindsight. We know Jesus was victorious and we know Paul was victorious and we know Christianity was victorious. Let us therefore rejoice always. I say again Rejoice! Let us cast of all hindrance and doubt and negative thoughts and fears and anxieties. Rejoice! Again I say Rejoice