Christian Mission and the Cure for Conflict

Those who labor together in the Lord’s work have a unique responsibility and opportunity to resolve strife.

“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 ESV)

We are all familiar with the notion that behind a great man lies a great woman. In the case of Philippi, behind a godly, mission-minded church were godly, mission-minded women.

Conceived through the evangelization of women (Acts 16:14) and born in an industrious woman’s home (Acts 16:15), this Macedonian church was blessed with multiple prominent ladies committed to the work of ministry. Among them were Euodia and Syntyche, of whom we know little aside from their participation in Paul’s missionary labors (Philippians 4:3). From Paul’s tone in this text, we can infer that he had great regard for these female coworkers.

Yet, as so often happens in the church, conflict entered this active fellowship. We are not told the nature of the disagreement between the two women, leaving us to infer that it was of the sort all too common to Christian relationships—a difference in style or personality, divergent convictions over some task to be done within the congregation, or perhaps a simple miscommunication snowballing into offense and resentment.

Paul does not concern himself with who caused the disagreement, the merits of each side, or the faults of any parties involved. He simply enjoins them: “agree in the Lord” (v. 2), once again invoking his familiar formula by which he calls his readers’ attention to their union with Christ. The vagueness of the text is an invitation to compare the petty strifes in Philippi with our own, and the solution is the same: unconditional reconciliation, premised on the reconciling power of the risen Lord. In keeping with his previous admonitions to be of “one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27) and to be “in full accord” (2:2), so here Paul urges these dear women to embody the unity of the faith.

Realizing this conflict would likely not be resolved without mediation, Paul also appeals to his “true yokefellow” (v. 3 KJV) to assist in its resolution. Though some commentators interpret this as addressing a believer in Philippi by his proper name (Syzygus), most translators have opted to render it as a term of endearment—perhaps referring to Epaphroditus, or possibly the apostle’s amanuensis, or scribe, and courier (see 2:25-30). Either way, this fellow laborer was beloved by Paul and yoked with him in joyful service to Christ, along with a man named Clement (whom some speculatively identify with Saint Clement of Rome) and the rest of the mission-minded believers Paul addresses in verse 3. Though these coworkers are not named in this epistle, they are named in a book of even greater consequence: the book of life, in which are inscribed the names of all God’s elect (see Daniel 12:1; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 20:12, 21:27).

Even the most healthy, mission-focused churches can be seedbeds of grievance and hostility, often by virtue of such zealous, even feverish activity. Private practitioners of religion hurt few because they help few. Souls mutually invested in ministry accomplish much more, yet do so in striking distance from each other. One Lord’s Day we are like Mary, listening intently at the feet of Jesus; the next Sunday we become like Martha, murmuring over who fumbled the doughnut signup sheet this week. This ought not be so. The same fount should not yield salty springs and fresh water (James 3:10-11).

Rather than permit the centrifugal force of service to pry peace from our fellowship, we must let the centripetal power of shared mission send us into one another’s supporting embrace. When one is tired, another should prop up his arms as Aaron and Hur supported Moses (Exodus 17:8-13). When one is hardened with sin, another should lovingly chisel away, surgically wielding hard words, for faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). It a glorious thing when the saints, whose names are inked in heaven’s book above, stay on the same page here below.


Heavenly Father,
I thank you for the fellowship of the saints. I thank you that your people, in Christ, purchased by his blood, are one with you and with each other. Help me to live in this light, walking in peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Keep me and my spiritual family from the many relational landmines that line the path of mission. Keep us devoted to serving you and striving for unity with one another.
In Jesus’ name,

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray for peace with your fellow believers. If the Lord brings to mind any way in which you may be out of fellowship with the saints, confess and rectify it.
  • Pray for your local church to be of one accord, striving together in the cause of the gospel and not distracted by petty personal grievances.
  • Pray for missionaries at home and abroad to maintain unity on their teams, devoting themselves together to faithful service.