Euodia and Syntyche, Syzygus and me

I recently coordinated the development of a Bible study on some of the overlooked women in Scripture. It turns out someone has counted them – just the ones whose names we are given – and there are 181 of them! Such a shock! How many can we name off the top of our heads? 20? 30? 40?  Eliminating Mary, Martha, Hannah, Eve, and other commonly studied women, I divided the women into groups depending on general context. I made a small group of women who were pivotal and critical in the life of the church – women such as those listed in the last chapter of Romans. There was a group of women who were known for how they used their gifts, like Lydia and Dorcas. Women who were mistreated and women who stood up against injustice, and women who were known by whose mother they were and their impact on generations. Each of the groups was taught by a separate woman from our local church, speaking for 30-40 minutes morning and evening, and writing 5 days’ of homework. I set aside for myself just two ladies – a pair in the book of Philippians – named Euodia and Syntyche. Mentioned only once, their story was the one I most needed to study and remember for my own life, and I am one beggar telling the other beggars where to find the bread. If you like, you can turn to Philippians 4:2-3 with me and let’s look at this little reference with the huge context, but I’m going to print it out here like an amplified version: I’m interjecting alternative translations from all the other versions, so you can get the full impact of what is said. “I plead with [urge; entreat; beseech; exhort; beg of] Euodia and Syntyche to agree [to live in harmony; to be of the same mind; to settle their disagreement; to have the same attitude] in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, [Syzygus] my true companion [yokefellow, partner] help these women, who have labored [worked hard, shared my struggle, struggled] side by side with me in the gospel.” This is a letter to the young church of Philippi established in a Roman colony by Paul and Timothy on the second missionary journey. Remember Lydia in Week Two?  The seller of purple cloth? She was the first convert in all of Europe! And a new little church was born here in Philippi. Fast forward a few years. Paul is writing a letter of encouragement to them. And he includes this reproof! By this time Euodia and Syntyche were important women in this church. But they’re bickering! We don’t know what Euodia and Syntyche’s beef was about, but we know it was petty, we know it was bad, and it wasn’t getting better. It was bad enough that Paul said here publicly “I BEG you, ladies, I beg BOTH of you: KNOCK IT OFF! NOW! And Syzygus, dear yokefellow, please be a dear friend and help them out! Make sure they reconcile and start living in unity!” This is in a letter meant for public distribution, addressed “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” This makes all the believers accountable for Euodia and Syntyche’s reconciliation! It was THAT important. To bring this home, imagine if two of our College Ministry leaders got into a tiff, maybe a disagreement on how things should be done, or on a crabby day one offended the other, and were emotionally dueling whenever they had a chance to get in a snide comment, a subtle jab, or a sarcastic joke about the other. How would that affect College Ministry? It is important to remember that these verses have to be examined in the larger context of the epistle. It’s a pretty short, parental, intimate letter, not a formal one. Paul is pouring out encouragement for these young believers; He speaks repeatedly of GROWING in faith, and of having a proper spiritual perspective so they CAN grow. He encourages the believers there to see themselves more and more not primarily citizens of the Roman colony but citizens of a Heavenly colony where believers are bound together in unity and love. The bottom-line of Paul’s letter here is humility, servanthood, and unity out of love for God and for each other, as demonstrated by Christ Himself. In fact it is interesting to note that this is one of the few epistles where Paul doesn’t introduce himself as an apostle of Christ’s but only as a SERVANT.  In fact – he speaks of himself and Timothy as Bondservants/SLAVES!) but calls the young believers SAINTS. So in the Sweet Spot of the letter, Paul reminds them of the example Jesus set. He put aside His own glory and His “rights” and put on a Servant’s robe. Let’s read it, Philippians 2:1-8: “So if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition (rivalry) or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better (more significant) than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (the most degrading and cursed form of death to a Jew.) Eternal Perspective: This then is the eternal perspective Paul gives us to look at the spat between Euodia and Syntyche, and then at the conflict in our own lives, the daily offences, hurt feelings, rude people, the ones sometimes kindly called “sensitive” but whom C.S. Lewis calls “domestic tyrants.” Dale and I liked to visit old cemeteries when we travelled. We were always planning our funerals and gravestones, and trying to glean wisdom from those who had gone the distance. We were in Scotland, and in the cemeteries on the west side, Glasgow area, the stones pretty much had only names and dates, but OH, on the EAST side, near Edinburgh – sites of great Reformation passion and martyrdom – the stones were wonderful! Filled with wisdom and proclamations of faith! One of our very favorite said this: “ONE EYE ON HEAVEN, AND ONE EYE ON THE GRAVE, BECOMES A MAN BOTH MORTAL AND IMMORTAL” That, my dear sisters, is an eternal perspective! We and the people we interact with are mortal – we have wounds and fears and insecurities and bad days; and we are also IMmortal, and have eternal value, cherished by God. If we treat each other as having eternal value to God, and as having heavy burdens we cannot see, we will be kinder. And when we see the results of our own mortality – see how our pain and sin and failure and fear  result in OTHER people needing to forgive us – AND we remember our own immortal worth, how much God has forgiven us – taking the log out of our own eye – then the resulting humility will bring out compassion, mercy, and grace in us, making us kinder, able to forgive more quickly, able to pity pain’s consequences in our sisters, and it will make us able to offer to share their pain, to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 Forgive and Forget: That leads me to my second point for today: In addition to an eternal perspective we need a better understanding of Forgiveness. We need to learn to get it and give it. I have observed both in my own heart, and in the stories of those who have confided in me or raged at me, that one of the foundational reasons it is so hard to forgive others is because it seems like a breach of justice. You will look at that more in your homework, because I wanted it as part of the written study, but I want to expand upon it here a bit. It’s a huge subject, one that could be a whole week’s study in itself! And it’s clearly one Syzygus had to have discussed with Euodia and Syntyche in helping them reconcile! We are created in the image of God, and in ourselves we have some of the wonderful characteristics of God, but they are broken, bent, imperfect versions. One of these is JUSTICE. God is perfectly JUST! It is His perfect justice which demanded that our sin be paid for and not just overlooked. It is the reason His only son, Jesus, who had no sin of His own to die for, suffered and died for us! God could NOT have just overlooked our sin, or said “That’s okay.” He couldn’t have done that and remained just. He could have left us to die, and remained perfectly just, but He is also a God of MERCY, so Jesus willingly lay down His life for us to bridge that gap. Now when we are the offended ones, we want justice! But when we are the offenders, we want mercy! In Jesus we have both. But it’s this desire for justice that makes it so hard to forgive someone when they have hurt us, especially when it seems intentional, repeated, or done for selfish reasons, not caring about its effect on us. I’m not talking today about true unavoidable accidents – Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you! Are you okay? But I’m dealing today with offense! With sin and its effects. I think there is one misconception we have that makes forgiveness even harder. It feels like to forgive someone is to say “What you did is actually okay.” When it’s NOT OKAY! It’s important to remember that TO FORGIVE IS TO ACCUSE. You don’t forgive someone treating you for lunch or paying you a complement. In Scripture, forgiveness is always related to SIN. Let’s look at just a few of the many Scriptures about this: Ex 34:7: “The Lord…forgiving INIQUITY & TRANSGRESSION & SIN.” Ps 25:18: “Oh Lord, forgive all my SINS” Ps 103:3: “The Lord forgives all your INIQUITY” Jer 31:34: “I will forgive their INIQUITY” Luke 7:49: “Who is this who even forgives SIN?” Heb. 9:22: “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of SINS” 1 Jn 1:19: “If we confess our SINS, He is faithful and just to forgive us our SINS, and to cleanse us from all UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.” Nowhere in Scripture is sin minimized by euphemisms like “missing the mark” or “making poor choices.” But what whitewashing sin results in is not being able to forgive others and not feeling forgiven, by God or man. What a mess our concept of forgiveness is! To simplify the seeing, let’s look at children.  We –  as Christian adults – often command our children to lie, telling them to say “I’m sorry” when they aren’t. They know Johnny deserved what he got because he knocked down mine on purpose just to be mean! But the child either lies that he’s sorry or gets in trouble, so he lies. He might spit out “SORRY!” or hiss “Sorrrreee!”.  Then we order the other child to say “It’s okay.”  But everyone involved knows it’s NOT okay! It was wrong! Neither party feels good about any of it. And we carry over this harmful language, this watered down hypocrisy of inadequate repentance into adulthood. So it’s no wonder we as adults have a hard time forgiving! And we even whitewash our sin to God, because the core sins, the right names for what we’ve done, are too hard to look at and admit, so we softpedal what we’ve done and then only feel partially forgiven. So we had to invent the phrase “forgive ourselves” when what we really need is confidence that we have truly repented for the whole exposed nasty mess, nothing hidden or whitewashed, and that God has seen it all and truly forgiven it ALL! We don’t understand the dynamics of sin, repentance, and forgiveness! And Oh! how harmful the results are! So if I may, I’d like to suggest we begin to use more Biblical albeit politically incorrect! language – with God, with each other, and with our children. Let’s help our children – with our instruction and example – to name their sin, to understand WHY it was wrong, and to realize that it’s still wrong no matter how justified or good it felt. Let’s model and teach, saying “I was mean to call you DoodooHead.” And then teach them to ask the victim to “Please forgive me.” “It was wrong for me to hit you. Please forgive me. Are you okay?” Or “I was wrong to knock down your tower. I shouldn’t have done that. Will you forgive me?”  And then instead of “It’s okay” let’s encourage – but not order – the other to say “I forgive you.” We will teach that by modeling it. It’s easier when the child has been asked directly for forgiveness. We and they need to recognize that forgiveness can be given regardless of FEELINGS, and we can help the child learn that forgiveness is a CHOICE, an act of the will. A decision. A legal contract if you will. Feelings will come and go, before and after the pronouncement of forgiveness, but the will to forgive is an unmerited decision. Grasping these concepts will be a gift to them  – to have an accurate and Biblical view of sin, repentance, and forgiveness will help them all their life. We can then help them learn what that forgiveness looks like lived out. And what DOES forgiveness look like? Are we really required to “forgive and forget?”  How do we forget when we hurt so much? especially if the pain was intentional, or selfishly inflicted? Does God forgive and forget? How can GOD forget??? Doesn’t He know everything??? I am NOT a theologian. I have, however, read and read on this, and there are lots of opinions. I have spent many years struggling to learn how to forgive when the other person doesn’t repent, how to resolve conflict, what the Scriptures say about how to ward off bitter roots which “defile many.” I also spent years struggling to grasp God’s forgiveness of me. This whole week’s study is a taste of what I have learned. So – Does God forgive and forget? Let’s look at the Scriptures most quoted about this: Isaiah 43:25: “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake,  and I will not remember your sins.” Hebrews 8:12- “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”   Isaiah 38:17- “in love You have delivered my life from the pit of destruction for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”  Psalm 103:8-12 – The Lord … does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities … as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Do you notice the willfulness in the wording of God regarding “forgetting” our sin. He doesn’t ever say He won’t be able to remember them. But He says “I WILL NOT remember them.” One translation puts it that “I will no longer hold their sins against them.” And another: “I will not call to mind your sins anymore.” Our sins will no longer be in God’s ledger as open debts. They are cancelled and will be remembered against us NEVERMORE. In Christ’s death on the cross, our sins were wiped clean, our debt forgiven, and atonement made complete. God hasn’t forgotten why His Son was put to death! But because He was, our debt is now marked “PAID IN FULL.” In Romans 8:1 Paul explains, “There is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God has chosen to leave forgiven sins in the past, to not hold them against us ever again, but consider them like sealed legal records. He paid for them, then cast them behind His back. This is Divine will, not divine amnesia. It’s painful to forgive. It was painful for Jesus. It’s painful for us. Especially again. And again. And yet isn’t this exactly what God does for us every day? Don’t we tend to fall into the same old pit every time we fall? Don’t we each have our particular area of weakness, our own “pet sin” that we don’t really want to relinquish? Don’t we each tend to walk away from certain sins but leave a forwarding address? Don’t we all have what the puritans called “a traitor within” who causes us to say with Paul “That which I know to do, I don’t!  And that which I don’t want to do, I DO.” And every time – every time – 70 times 7 (in other words “To infinity, and Beyond!”) God forgives us again. He never tells us it’s okay to do what we did, but He does say He forgives us and puts it in the past, covered with the blood of His precious Son. And in the same way, it’s painful for us to forgive others, because we set them free, but then still carry the pain and memory of the person’s sin against us. Forgiveness means we willingly lay down our rights to hold it against the sinner, or complain, or hold onto it and get bitter. We can, however, take their sins, remembering God’s forgiveness of us, and lay their sins at the foot of the cross, and trust Jesus to make things right in the end. This is an act of faith in the goodness, grace, justice, power and love of God to forgive us, and to deal with our enemies. In fact, with every difficult person or conflict we are forced to make a choice.. We have basically 3 choices! We can sin right back at them! (And we know they deserve it!) Or we can purse our lips and become bitter. Or we can become conduits – we can choose to let God’s grace flow through us to them, and can take their offenses and carry them to Jesus, Who nailed them to the cross. “Let it go! Let it go!” 😉 I have three little exercises that help me when I am struggling to forgive someone. You will look at the first two in more depth in your homework. One is to pray FOR the other person. The second is to do seek out acts of kindness you can do for that person. The third is simple, but oh so hard.  It’s just this: Take a good look at the log in your eye. Make a list on paper of your own sins. Take a hard look at your intentional and unintentional sin. Then take a huge marker and write “PAID IN FULL” across it all. Spend time thanking the Lord for all He has forgiven. Tear up the list, or burn it. Or use a red marker and cross it all out. PAID IN FULL. Making this list and thanking Him really does make it easier to forgive others. Colossians 3:23 tells us: “forgive WHATEVER grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” And in Luke 7:47 Jesus said that the person who has been forgiven little, loves little. I’m reminded of a simple childrens’ song from “Bullfrogs and Butterflies,” – it’s a song on patience, but the lesson still applies. ♪ “Remember!  that God is patient too, and think of all the times when others had to wait for you.” But what about when I’m the OFFENDER?: What if I’m the one who offended another? There is only one solution: I have to REPENT. Whether it was intentional and malicious, or a Mr. Magoo accident as a result of being self-consumed, I can and must REPENT of any part I played in it, no matter how small. I have to identify my part, try to name the sin involved accurately, and ask the person to forgive me. I have to offer to make things right (it’s called restitution!) I have to be willing for the other person to respond in anger or self-righteous gloating. I have to be willing to be wrongfully accused, as Jesus was, and He didn’t say a word in His own defense. So whatever you do, don’t defend yourself, or make excuses for your part. That always makes things worse! There are few more powerful words in this life than a simple, heartfelt “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”  “Please forgive me.” “I care about you.” “What can I do to make it better?” But there are also hopeless cases: Sometimes, I realize that I’m just not Godly enough to be around that person without offending her or being offended, and my mere presence puts us both at risk of sinning or becoming bitter. Sometimes, the Scripture tells us, we just have to FLEE temptation. Not all relationships can be salvaged. Romans 12:18 tells us: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are accountable for our part before God – we are responsible for our own obedience – but we are not responsible for the consequences! That is God’s work. We can’t make people forgive us – or like us. Sometimes the wisest and kindest thing to do is to walk away. But whether I overlook, confront, go the distance and work things out, or walk away, I have to do it without sin, do it with kindness and respect and gentle words. Because forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation are commanded by God! And they aren’t really about me and that other person anyway, they’re really about me and God. He is faithful. I can trust Him. You can trust Him. We can leave room for Him to work. Conclusion: So I hope studying the lessons presented by Euodia and Syntyche’s story will give you some glimpse of an eternal perspective on conflict and unity in the Body of Christ. I hope you gain some tools and words to use to resolve conflict in your own life or in the lives of others. I hope God can use it to bring about more unity in His Body, the Church, and in your families and friendships, in your workplace and in your neighborhoods.  Whether we find ourselves as a Euodia or a Syntyche, or maybe a Syzygus, I hope that we can do better at our clear calling to be peacemakers. Did you know you are all ordained ministers? Yes, we all have been ordained to carry out the ministry of reconciliation – helping people reconcile to God, and to each other. Again, I speak all this to myself as well as to you, because for many many years I have needed repeated reminders of God’s desire and requirement that we live at peace with each other, and that we walk together in unity – one in purpose and love, and how that must be done. So thank you for reading! May the Lord grant you a life of grace and peace! Please pray with me: Oh Lord, thank You for Your Word. It is hard, Lord, but it’s life-giving! Help us to grow more and more like You and the example You set of laying down Your deserved glory, becoming a humble Servant, and calling us to be One, even as You and Your Father are One. We need Your help. We love You and long to please You. Help us go out this week with renewed desire to be peacemakers. In Your holy and loving name we ask.  AMEN.