STANDING STILL WHILE MOVING FORWARD: Philippians 4:1-3 June 23, 2020
STANDING STILL WHILE MOVING FORWARD
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 4, specifically, Philippians 4:1 – 3.
Reflection | In the previous section of this letter, Paul cast a vision of the Christian life, of following and becoming like Jesus, as more of a marathon than a sprint. Now, with his final exhortation, Paul points back, one last time, to this picture of our faith journey as he writes, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters…stand firm in the Lord in this way” (v. 1). Initially, it appears as if Paul has employed an image that contradicts the illustration that he spent the bulk of the last chapter developing.
Just a few verses back, he urged the Philippians to “press forward” and now he has encouraged them to “stand firm.” The first image invokes the exertion of effort and of movement. The other image conveys the idea of a different kind of effort so as not to move but instead to remain rooted in place. How are these contrasting pictures to be reconciled?
First, we need to recognize “stand firm” is a common phrase used by Paul in his letters. He consistently applies this expression not in terms of physical movement as much as remaining steadfast in the living out of one’s belief. The second key to understanding Paul’s meaning here is to pay attention to the rest of the phrase or where he is telling us to stay fixed – “in the Lord.” In other words, he is calling the Philippians to abide in their relationship with Jesus.
Life moves pretty fast. Repeated demands, new challenges, and persistent temptations can be put upon us at every turn. The clock is ticking, and we are aging with every second. One way or another, we are in motion because life moves us forward. Before this inescapable and undeniable reality, Paul is commending us to move with a purpose, to press forward with intentionality, by taking hold and standing firm in the person of Jesus within us through the Holy Spirit.
Rather than exercising our life as our own, Paul is redirecting us to live the full, abundant, and everlasting life of Christ we have received. Instead of trying to do or make something of our lives, Paul is imploring us to yield to what Jesus is capable of doing in and through our lives. Viewed in this way, the Christian life is then something of a paradox. We “stand firm in the Lord” only by “pressing on” to become more like Jesus. Likewise, if we are not becoming more like Jesus, then our rootedness in Christ is suspect. To be standing still in the Lord is actually to be falling backwards!
The practical application of living in this way, of being transformed by Jesus, comes into view as Paul pleads with two church leaders who appear to be in conflict with each other (vs. 2). The two women specifically mentioned are Euodia and Syntyche. Paul also references a man called Clement, of whom we know little, save for that he worked with Paul, these two women, and other unnamed ministry colleagues (v. 3).
While not much is also known about Euodia and Syntyche, what Paul does share is very telling. Interestingly, Paul describes their ministry in the same terms that he earlier spoke of his partnership with Timothy and Epaphroditus. Like these two men, Euodia and Syntyche, are spoken of as having “contended” at Paul’s side “in the cause of the Gospel.” Paul goes on to include these two women as part of his “co-workers.” Both that Paul directly addresses these two women in this letter as well as how he does so, strongly indicates Euodia and Syntyche were leaders of considerable influence in the Philippian church.
It’s worth remembering that the church in Philippi was first founded as Paul shared the Gospel with some Jewish women who were gathered together by the river at “the place of prayer” (Acts 16:12 – 15). Lydia, a woman, was its very first member. In fact, as recorded in the Bible, Lydia, was the first convert to Christianity not only in Philippi but in Europe.
A wealthy, businesswoman, Lydia opened her likely spacious home as a gathering place for the first congregation to be formed in that region. Given this, it is likely Lydia was not just the host of the first house church in Philippi but the leader of it as well. Were Euodia and Syntyche, like Lydia, among the first followers of Jesus led to Christ by Paul when he came to Philippi? Or were they brought to the Lord and later discipled into positions of leadership within the Philippian church by Lydia?
We can only speculate about this. But we do know is that there was some form of division between these two leaders in the church. Whether it was a full-blown quarrel (often assumed but not directly stated) or just a matter of differing opinions on a particular issue is unclear. Either way, Paul calls for reconciliation to be made between them. Paul’s plea for Euodia and Syntyche “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (v. 2) draws upon his earlier appeal for all the Philippians to have “the mind of Christ” (2:1-5).
Notice, Paul does not tell them to agree with each other. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can, and we will have differing perspectives and opinions like all siblings do. Paul’s entreaty is for their like-mindedness in Christ to bring them together in the midst of their differences. In other words, Paul is stressing that their connectedness – their common gift of grace thanks to Jesus and their shared work in spreading the good news of Christ – is greater than whatever separates them from each other.
As Christians, we may not always see things alike, but we are united in the fact that we are mutually dependent upon and equally called in following Jesus – together. Our unity as the Body of Christ is vital as reflection of the truth of the Gospel and for its continued spread. We don’t need to agree on everything but agreeing in the Lord means that we value the things we agree upon because of our shared connection to Christ more than we value the things we disagree upon.
Consider & Discuss | How do you respond to disagreements within our church and/or with other Christians? Have you ever allowed a dispute to damage or even ruin a relationship between yourself and another Christian? Did you, have you ever made any attempt at reconciliation? Why or why not? Have you ever had a relationship reconciled and healed out of a mutual submission to Christ? What does it mean to “agree in the Lord” or “be of the same mind in the Lord”? What would that look like in your relationships with other Christians?
Prayer Focus | Reconciling God, we recognize how quickly we can let what divides us become greater than You, the One who unites us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. As you repeatedly nudge us to abide in Your presence, spur us forward in relying more and more on Your strength and wisdom. Break down the walls we construct between each other. Burden us to release the petty and inconsequential differences that lead us to separate and isolate from each other. Teach us to be increasingly empathetic – to listen to each other first and to seek understanding even when we do not agree. Remind us daily, of our common and shared bond rooted in Your forgiveness, love, and grace. Continue to make us one as You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one. Amen.