A church without conflicts. The ecclesiastical unicorn. Looks great in pictures but doesn’t actually exist. The right question isn’t so much, “How do we create a church without conflict?” but “What do we do when conflict comes?”
Here the Philippian church helps us greatly, particularly two Christian sisters, Euodia and Syntyche. These poor women have had their fight inscribed into God’s Word, and for the rest of this age we will be able to benefit from their disastrous disagreement.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2-3)
Let’s mark down a few lessons we can learn from these short verses.
- Unity in the church is much more important to God than it is to us. Several times throughout this letter, Paul urges the church to be united in spirit and mind, reflecting the unity of the Trinity and showing the gospel by how much they love each other. It is no understatement to say that God loves unity and that we should love it more.
- All relationships in the church are powerful. It’s surely significant that this troublesome argument was between two women in the church, removing the excuse that “It’s okay if we disagree, we’re not the ‘leadership.'” Although many are excluded from ordained leadership in the church, every relationship still has great power for good or bad. In fact, if leadership is essentially influence, then everyone is a leader within the realms of their own relationships.
- Unity does not belong only to the immature. We can see clearly that these weren’t young, immature women in the faith. Rather, they were part of the foundation of the Philippian church, having labored greatly alongside Paul himself for the cause of the gospel. When conflict comes, it doesn’t only come through the immature, but sometimes through the mature…which is often even more dangerous. Don’t think yourself past this danger. And don’t lose respect for those involved in conflict; it’s likely they’re still more spiritually mature than the rest of us.
- We often need to get and give help. Paul didn’t stop with the charge to Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord.” He recognized that if this fight was going to be solved well, they were going to need the help of others in the church. Many times conflict (including that conflict within marriages) will require some help. Often you who are spiritually mature will be called upon to give help. This isn’t a shameful thing, but how God built the church to work.
- Unity begins and ends with the gospel. The thing that made it so important for these two women to agree was that the gospel meant they were headed to the same eternal home (“…whose names are in the book of life”). And the thing that made it so possible for these women to agree in the gospel was that they had the exact same mission (“…labored side by side me with in the gospel…”). Because the gospel means we share the most important thing about ourselves with other Christians, we can and should be unified. Because the gospel means we share the same mission with other Christians (realizing that much conflict is simply different visions of serving that mission), we can and should be unified.
Can I be so bold as to encourage you the same way Paul encouraged these women? If you currently have conflict with another Christian brother or sister, go humbly to them. Agree about the biggest things (who we are and where we’re going). Carry with you a sincere willingness to be wrong. Get wise and godly help whenever needed. And agree in the Lord.
Few things we can do will beautify the gospel and proclaim God’s grace to an unbelieving world than by working hard to maintain the unity God has given us through His Spirit.