This blog was written by Edmund Chan of Singapore, Leadership Mentor at Covenant EFC and Founder of the Global Alliance of Intentional Disciplemaking Churches
“Oh, for God’s sake, stop it!”
That’s what the Apostle Paul said, with compassionate apostolic authority. And he meant it. Well yes, Paul didn’t put it exactly like that. But I think it captures rather accurately his keen sentiments.
[And by putting it in street vernacular, I don’t mean that Paul was using the Lord’s name in vain! It was quite literally “for God’s sake”, and theirs!]
You see, these were two Christian women. One was named “Smell Good” and the other was named “Look Great”. Both were friends of the Apostle Paul. And both couldn’t get along; such that it was affecting the church. Perhaps you know them by their Greek names: Euodia (“Smell Good”) and Syntyche (“Look Great”)!
With great names like “Smell Good” and “Look Great”, and being persecuted Christians in the first century church (and being friends and co-labourers with Paul), I would be rather surprised if I were told that there was a dark rivalry and relational friction between them.
Fact is, there was!
They couldn’t get along with each other; in spite of the common trials they face and the common faith they share! The Bible is silent on the exact nature of the disagreement. Euodia and Syntyche were probably in some sort of power struggle over an issue that boiled down to influence, or perhaps a preferred comfort zone; simply a personal preference for how something should be done. [Often, big quarrels stem from small things!]
Even though Paul did not treat this matter as he would false doctrine or teaching, neither did the Apostle ignore this fracture within the fellowship. Phil. 4:2-3 “I ENTREAT Euodia and I ENTREAT Syntyche TO AGREE IN THE LORD. 3 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.” (emphasis mine).
The word “entreat” is “parakaleo” in the Greek (used 109 times in the NT). “Parakaleo” is often used to mean “encourage” or “exhort”. But in this case, the ESV has captured the nuance rightly with “I entreat (beg!) you”.
The point of this passage is more than just about Paul wanting two women to get along. Rather, it about the Gospel.
The revelation of the Gospel comes with the GRACE and CALLING of God to live and labour as a redeemed and transformed covenant community. This call is vital and congruent with the responsibility to proclaim this Gospel of LOVE. And just how can they do so when there is bitterness and divisiveness? In Philippians 4, Paul asks these women to ‘be of the same mind IN THE LORD’.
We might disagree but never disengage. Disagreement happens. It’s not wrong. The diversity of views is healthy; it’s the divisiveness of personalities that is troublesome. Neither be discouraged by the diversity not disrupted by the divisiveness.
The important thing is to deal compassionately (and humbly!) with the differences and be reconciled “with one mind” over what’s important! Whatever the dispute was, it was not to sidetrack them from the work of the Gospel and the unity of faith in it. No dispute is worth the division.
Euodia and Syntyche had to learn from their apostolic mentor about getting along. About taking responsibility for their part in their dispute. About laying down their pride, without the self-righteous attitude: ‘well, I hope she’s listening!’ We might ‘look great’ or even ‘smell good’. But if we do not embrace a MEEKNESS that brings a fragrance and not a fracture to the covenant community, they are but empty accolades. Don’t be divisive.
For God’s sake, stop it!