As we read through Scripture—especially the epistles—we can begin to detect certain patterns by authors. John, for example, loves symbolism. We see this throughout Revelation, but also in the Gospel of John. At the end of chapter 2, for example, John writes that Jesus didn’t entrust himself to those who “followed” him on account of his miracles, for he did not need anyone to tell him about man, “for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24–25). The meaning of “man” is clearly pejorative. The very next thing John says is “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus” (John 3:1). The reader is left with the distinct impression that good ol’ Nico was truly a man—with all the negative connotations John intended. When John mentions “man” the pattern he established comes into play in helping us understand his point. Interestingly Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2). Upon first reading this appears to simply be an indicator of the time of day. Later in that interaction John writes about light and darkness, with darkness being a metaphor for evil (John 3:19–20). Thus night and darkness go hand in hand. We see the same meaning when John writes about Judas leaving the meal with Jesus and his disciples in order to betray him:
So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.John 13:30 ESV
John is not simply indicating the time of day. He is telling the reader that darkness—evil—is about to be on full display. Jesus will be betrayed, wrongly accused, wrongly tried, wrongly convicted, and wrongly executed. We see similar patterns throughout John’s Gospel, his three letters, and, of course, Revelation. By paying attention to details such as these we can gain greater insight into an author’s meaning. When we read through Paul’s letters certain patterns also emerge. For example, Paul is unafraid to call out false teachers and enemies of the faith—by name. He names Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20) whom Paul has “handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”. He names Hymenaeus again, along with Philetus for having “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). Those he names are opponents of the church and of the gospel of Jesus. However, Paul also frequently wrote about various conflicts in the church, as well as calling out those in sin, yet he did not name them. They were not outsiders attacking the church, but insiders in conflict and thus attacking the church albeit unintentionally. In 1 Corinthians 3 he wrote about the division in the church with some lining up as fans of Apollos and others as fans of Paul, yet he didn’t call out the offenders by name. In the next chapter he wrote about the church tolerating a person living in sexual immorality yet he didn’t call that person out by name. This is Paul’s pattern in his letters. When he deviates from this something significant is being communicated. Consider what he wrote in Philippians 4.
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
Why would Paul call upon these two ladies to agree in the Lord unless they were in disagreement? A mom who walks into the living room with her children playing nicely together does not chastise them by telling them to not fight. (If anything she sneaks into the bathroom for a few quiet moments to herself!) We don’t know the nature of their disagreement but a few things stand out. First, it was significant enough for Paul to not only address it, but to call them out by name. They had been his co-laborers in ministry. They no doubt had prominent roles in the church in Philippi. Second, Paul recognizes that this a problem for the whole church. He was sending one letter to the church; he could easily have sent another brief letter addressed to these ladies alone. Instead, he adds this to a letter intended to be read to the entire church, and he names them. This tells us the significance of what he is saying to them and to the church regarding their disagreement.
He calls them to “agree in the Lord”. The word he uses for “agree” means to consider something in the same way, to think alike on a particular matter. He says “in the Lord” which indicates this is not a matter of private opinion. He’s not saying they should both like their steaks medium rare (which is probably wise anyway, as a medium rare ribeye is truly a steak done well, but not “well done”). There is some issue between them that is affecting the gospel ministry in Philippi. He used the same word for “agree” earlier in the letter. In 2:2 he told them to be “of the same mind” (think alike; agree), to be in full accord and “of one mind”. He then tells the church to have the mind of Christ, who though he was God in every way did not insist on his rights as God, for the good of his people. They should think the same way. At the end of chapter 1 he had written this:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”Philippians 1:27 ESV
Paul connects unity of mind with gospel ministry! He calls out Euodia and Syntyche to be of one mind in the Lord, to be unified in the gospel, and he invites an unnamed companion to assist them in their reconciliation. By including this in a letter to the whole church he is alerting the church of the importance of unity in the body of Christ, and of the church’s role in maintaining it.
As we’ve been seeing in the Gospel According to John, God calls us to join him in his mission and purposes in the world. We do not invite God into our lives; God invites us into his, and requires that we adjust ourselves and our values to align with his. This includes our interpersonal relationships in the church! We don’t have to be best friends and we certainly don’t have to like the same foods or music or even vote the same way. We must, however, agree in the Lord. We must be united in our purpose as we proclaim the gospel of our Lord, engaging in gospel ministry together as co-laborers. We must have the same mind.