home > Pastor’s Desk > 2020 > December > WHAT A PETTY


Photo: A page of a biblical manuscript known as Papyrus 46 [p46]. This page contains portions of Galatians and Philippians, and has been dated to around A.D. 150.

Photo: A page of a biblical manuscript known as Papyrus 46 [“P46”]. This page contains portions of Galatians and Philippians, and has been dated to around A.D. 150.

Nearly all of Paul’s epistles were an attempt to correct a series of problems. Except one. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians was full of warmth and affection. He loved this church more than most. Of all the churches that Paul pioneered, only the Philippian church maintained financial support for him. Paul had no need to correct any doctrinal error there. But the seeds of a looming problem were beginning to germinate. This is why Paul’s epistle to the Philippians stands apart from his doctrinal corrective epistles — because he is speaking to hearts not just minds.  

¶ I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Philippians 1:3-5


When Paul corrected doctrinal error in his other epistles he drew upon glories of Old Covenant theological truths to illustrate the wondrously surpassing glories of the New Covenant. But in writing to the Philippians with a view to guarding their hearts from the poison of envy and dissension, Paul draws on the greatest example of a right heart and attitude. 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Philippians 2:5-7

Paul sought to vaccinate the hearts of the Philippians from the spiritually deadly virus of contention by drawing their attention to the Perfect Heart

And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:8



Euodia and Syntyche

A depiction of Euodia and Syntyche

Several people in Philippi were very dear to Paul. These people laboured with Paul  and Timothy and had suffered along side him as he endured cruel opposition. These included: Mr. Epaphroditus (Phi. 2:25), Mr. Clement (Phi. 4:3), and Ms. Euodia (Phi. 4:2) and Ms. Syntyche (Phi. 4:3). But something had been simmering then festering between Ms. Euodia and Ms. Syntyche. It threatened the entire church at Philippi because it is apparent that Euodia and Syntyche were the co-pastoral leaders of the Philippian church. They may have been sisters, we can only speculate, but at the very least they were fictive sisters. It seems to me that the entire purpose of this epistle was to gently address this brewing problem between these two strong women particularly because the health of a church rarely ever surpasses that of its leaders, and Paul knew that for this dear church to flourish — let alone survive — it needed its leaders to reconcile. 

¶ 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.
Philippians 4:2-3

What could have come between these two precious sisters? The history of similar disputes tells us that chances are it wasn’t anything particularly important. It certainly wouldn’t have been the last disagreement that caused the fracture in their relationship. Probably, as with nearly all offences and grudges it happened much much earlier as a very little – almost inconsequential incident – that was never forgiven, and then subsequent offences simply compounded the unnecessary problem.

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:2-4

Paul in chainsPaul seems to instruct all of the Philippians, not Euodia and Syntyche, to remember that they represent Christ to a broken world and that the day will soon come when they will all kneel before Christ and give an account of how they stewarded their witness for Christ. Such things as envy, contention, and petty unforgiveness, if allowed to become septic, could jeopardise the Philippians from enjoying God’s best and lead to Christ being misrepresented to their already spiritually wounded community (idolatry always wounds its deluded).

So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ¶ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
Philippians 2:10-12



Our expression of worship to God is our demonstration of surrender to God. This is why Christian worship from its inception has involved singing. When we sing it forces our minds to focus on what we are singing. When we sing together we are reminded that true Christianity is not about me and the Lord, it’s about us and the Lord. When we sing to the Lord we are rejoicing and this is good for our soul. Worship realigns our vision onto Christ. Worship resets our hearts toward Christ. To learn to get along with each other and settle petty disputes, we must worship together so that we glorify Christ together.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Philippians 3:7-8

Paul concludes his epistle to the Philippians with a tender exhortation to worship God with their whole mind by choosing to dwell on the beauty of Christ and what He has done for us. His exhortation is a wonderful injunction for us today lest we too risk missing out on God’s best for us because we chose instead to dwell on a petty dispute. What a pity if we ever became distracted by the petty.

¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9


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