As believers, we are united to one another through the blood of Christ. We’ve been adopted into the family of God making other church members our brothers and sisters in the Lord. These relationships even supplant familial ties (Luke 14:26, Matthew 12:48-50). This is why in some churches, members refer to each other as ‘Brother ____’ and ‘Sister ____.’ “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
When you think of women in the Bible, who comes to mind? Perhaps you think of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Or maybe Esther, the queen who saved her people from destruction. There’s also Ruth, the young widow who left the land and people she knew to be with her mother-in-law. We remember these women because of their important role in redemptive history.
But there are two women who are only mentioned in one place, and their story isn’t romantic, brave, or remarkable. Rather, they are included in Scripture as an example of a problem in the church. Who are these women? Euodia and Syntyche.
Conflict in the Church
These two women make an appearance in the book of Philippians. Paul admonishes them to get along, “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). Their conflict was serious enough to cause Paul to point it out to the whole church at Philippi to read. And for every Bible reader after that as well.
These two women served with Paul in ministry. He urged them to do what he wrote in Philippians 2:2, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He wanted them to remember their unity in Christ and with each other. He also asked some unnamed “true companion” to help these women resolve their conflict.
This passage in Philippians is not the only one in Scripture that mentions conflict in the church. In Galatians 2, Paul mentions a conflict he had with Peter, “But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (vs. 11-13). There was also some disagreement between Paul and Mark in Acts 15. Paul did not want Mark to join them on a missionary journey because he had abandoned them on a previous trip. So Paul and Silas went one way and Mark and Barnabas another. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul references a division in the Corinthian church where some were saying they followed Paul and others Apollos, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (vs. 3-4).
Perhaps as you read through these examples of church conflict, you were reminded of conflicts you’ve seen in churches of which you’ve been a part. Perhaps your mind recalled memories of church divisions, of people who have not spoken to each other in years, and of members who have left the church due to wounds inflicted by other believers. If you’ve been in the church any length of time, you’ve probably seen fellow church members, whom you love, hurt one another. You’ve seen people draw lines in the sand and take sides.