Everybody thinks that likemindedness is a wonderful thing, and everyone approves of it in the abstract. Behold how pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity. Oil in Aaron’s beard, and all that (133:1). But we then get caught in what might be called the likemindedness dilemma. We approve of likemindedness when we are not in any great need of the virtue that makes it possible. And when we are genuinely in need of that virtue, we start to feel like likemindedness is not really “realistic.”
“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:1–3).
Summary of the Text
Paul is now gearing up for his conclusion to the epistle. And so he addresses the Philippians as “brethren, dearly beloved and longed for” (v. 1). In addition, he calls them his “joy and crown,” just before he urges them to stand fast in the Lord—and then he calls them “dearly beloved” again (v. 1). He says something very similar to the Thessalonians (e.g. joy and crown): “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). The central reward of faithful ministry is found in relationship.
Paul then turns to a very practical problem in the church. Two women—who had been diligent co-laborers with Paul in the gospel—had had a falling out. We know their names—Euodias and Syntyche—and we know that they were dear to Paul, and that their names were in the book of life, together with some others (v. 3). What we don’t know is what the quarrel was about, or who was in the right. Paul doesn’t go into all of that, and yet urges them to like-mindedness anyhow (v. 2). They were good Christian women, and had helped Paul, together with Clement and others. The dispute was apparently one in which it was not necessary to go into the details. Their dispute is what could be called a sociological event, and not something radical like the desertion of Demas (2 Tim. 4:10; cf. Col. 4:14; Phm. 24).
The Galatians 6:1 Dilemma
Here is a basic principle to remember. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Quarrels erupt when a brother is overtaken in a fault, or when we think a brother is overtaken in a fault. But whether he is at fault, or we only think he is, the injunction that Paul gives us here applies. The erring brother should be restored by someone who is 1. spiritual 2. coming in a spirit of meekness, and 3. mindful of his own vulnerabilities.
The problem is that when you meet these requirements, you are qualified to correct—but have no motivation to correct. And when you are motivated to correct, it is usually because of a disqualification in one or more of these three areas. You are not spiritual, not meek, or not considering yourself.
This applies to child rearing, by the way. When you are motivated to let the kids have it, you are not qualified to do so. And when you are qualified, it does seem like kind of a hassle to get out of your chair and go deal with it. When you feel like yelling, you aren’t qualified, and when you are qualified to be yelling, you don’t want to. Child discipline must therefore be a matter of obedience, and not be something that runs on an emotional platform.
Faults, Real and Imagined
Now these situations are tough enough without us adding extra temptations to the pile. With this many sinners in the room, and in such a community as ours, there are bound to be thousands of bumps and bruises. Not only are there actual bumps and bruises, there are also the self-inflicted bumps and bruises. These occur when you imagine why your friend didn’t text you back, after you had texted her three times. You get yourself worked up into a state over it, because if you didn’t text somebody back after they had texted you three times, it would be because you were furious with them. Or perhaps it was because they went boating, and she dropped her phone in the lake (Prov 18:17).
We have enough work to do when we limit ourselves to real offenses. The Lord said that each day has enough trouble of its own, and so we shouldn’t create new and unnecessary ones. So in the same spirit, every relationship has enough troubles—sufficient unto the relationship are the grievances thereof. Love hopes all things, believes all things (1 Cor. 13:7). This means that before you know the whole story, the only speculation you should allow yourself to indulge in would be the speculation that is exculpatory. You should busy yourself making excuses for the other person. You will not always be correct, but the number of your quarrels will go way down.
But when the offense is real, what then? When your brother or sister really has sinned against you, how do we avoid quarrels then? The first way is to let love cover it (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8). This is to sweep things under the carpet . . . but it has to be a magic love carpet. This kind of carpet dissolves anything that is swept under it. The carpet doesn’t get lumpy over time. If the carpet gets lumpy over time, you have a non-confrontational carpet, not a charity carpet.
But if the sin is significant enough that it wouldn’t be healthy for anybody to let it ride, then what you do is follow the process laid out in Matthew 18:15-17. These are the only two legitimate options—cover or confront. What isn’t on the table is complaining about it to others.
Avoiding Quarrels as Gospel Proclamation
When we stay well away from rancor—whether over promotions, parking spots, or politics—we are doing so on the basis of gospel imitation.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).
How are we supposed to be toward one another? Kind. Tenderhearted. Forgiving. Then we are told this is the way Christ was with us. Because Christ was kind to us, because He was tenderhearted toward us, and because He forgave us, so we also as Christians are called to a life of imitation. As the master in the parable forgave his servant an enormous sum (Matt. 18:21-35), so also we are to forgive those comparatively small amounts that we may happen to owe one another.
As we do this, we are showing the world what the aroma of forgiveness though Christ is actually like. And that is a gospel aroma.