As kids in school, most of us got into trouble from time to time. Some of us even made that trouble. I was generally a good kid, but I remember once in the sixth grade when I got called down for passing notes. But we weren’t just passing them under the table (the teacher had already moved us apart for that)… we had folded our notes into little triangles and we were flicking them across the room to each other. It was tons of fun for us, but the teacher didn’t like it one bit. She reprimanded me loudly enough for everyone to hear and sent me down the hall to my favorite teacher and gave me instructions to tell her just what I had done. Being a very sensitive child, I cried all the way at the humiliation of being corrected in front of everyone. That was bad enough, but what if you were corrected in front of your whole congregation… in writing… from someone distinguished, well-liked and respected… and that writing was preserved for thousands of years… and studied by millions upon millions? That is just what happened to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2. So what did they do to call down such a reprimand?
Paul tells—in fact, he “urges”—these two ladies to be of the same mind. This word for “urge” or “implore” is a serious Bible word. This is a petition verb. Petition verbs are words that Biblical scholars are always on the watch for. On a recent episode of Engage! podcast, Dr. Denny Petrillo described these petition verbs as the ancient equivalent of bold text, underlining or using all capital letters. Just as we use these techniques today to draw attention to our main thoughts and emphasize what we’re trying to say, the ancients used these particular verbs to direct their readers and focus them in on the heart of the message. Did you catch the implication there? That means that Paul’s correction of these women was the very heart of the whole book of Philippians. Whatever they’re doing has earned a reprimand of historical proportions: an entire book of the Bible. So what is it they’ve done?
Honestly, we don’t have a whole lot of concrete information that tells us precisely what they’ve done. What we do have is the instructions Paul gives to the church that is meant to correct the wrong, and that’s sufficient for our purposes (2 Peter 1:3). If you hear me tell my son to clean his room, you can infer that he has made a mess. In this case, we have Paul telling the church time and time again to be of the same mind and to put others above themselves (this was discussed in the article “Got Peace” so we’ll not rehash it here). From this, we infer that Euodia and Syntyche have gotten the church divided. They’re each seeking their own and they’ve brought the church in on their dispute.
Some men find it hard to believe that any two women could bring the church into such a state that a God-inspired letter from the apostle Paul is necessary. Do you find it hard to believe? Now let’s be honest here. I don’t find it hard to believe at all. Not for a minute. As ladies, we are far more powerful than we like to admit. We work behind the scenes. The movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” portrays us as the neck beneath the head, turning that head whichever way we will. We are often the lobbyists, influencing, convincing, even cajoling into what we want to see happen. Now don’t get me wrong. That’s not always a bad thing. We lobby the other ladies to go to a local ladies day to support our sisters in other congregations and get a bit of edification. We influence our neighbors with our example. We convince our husbands that serving the Lord is worth the effort even when it isn’t fun. We cajole a young lady with gentle pleading and sincere compliments to believe that dressing modestly really is alright.
We must keep in mind, though, that these powers of persuasion can be used in sinister, unhelpful and even evil ways. We must also keep in mind that we are not those charged with leading; that is the men’s duty (1 Timothy 2:12-14). We are fully capable of leading, but it is not our job and we must not step in and prevent the men from doing what God has called them to do. In order to use these powers of persuasion for good and not ill, we must be of the mind that Philippians describes where others are put above self. We must be seeking God’s will above our own.
Euodia and Syntyche called down an historical reprimand on their own heads. Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians would abound and I’m sure he was praying for these ladies’ souls as well (1:9). Reprimands are often meant to be an example to others. My teacher, by calling me down for misbehavior, meant not only to reform my behavior, but send the message that such actions were not acceptable. The wise take heed to others’ correction (Proverbs 9:8, 12:1). We can choose to take Euodia & Syntyche’s reproof to heart, or we can choose to ignore it and, just as they did, suffer rebuke. Will you choose to be one who imparts harmony or discord? Will you put others above yourself?