Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Euodia and Syntyche

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Here are the comments by Gordon D. Fee, IVPNTC.

Paul proceeds directly to his final appeal. Given its verbatim repetition of Philippians 2:2 and its specific naming of persons, very likely this is where much of the letter has been heading right along. In a media-saturated culture like ours, where naming the guilty or the grand is a way of life, it is hard for us to sense how extraordinary this moment is. Apart from greetings and the occasional mention of his coworkers or envoys, Paul rarely ever mentions anyone by name. But here he does, and not because Euodia and Syntyche are the “bad ones” who need to be singled out—precisely the opposite. That he names them at all is evidence of friendship, since one of the marks of enmity in polemical letters is that enemies are left unnamed, thus denigrated by anonymity.

These longtime friends and coworkers, who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, are no longer seeing eye to eye with each other. We know very little more about them. Syntyche was named after the goddess of fortune, indicating pagan origins; both were given names (roughly “Success” and “Lucky”) indicative of parental desire for their making good in the world. That Paul had women as coworkers in Philippi should surprise us none, since the church there had its origins among some Gentile women who, as “God-fearers,” met by the river on the Jewish sabbath for prayer (Acts 16:13-15). The evidence from Acts indicates that at her conversion Lydia became patron both of the small apostolic band and of the nascent Christian community. By the very nature of things, that meant she was also a leader in the church, since heads of households automatically assumed the same role in the church that was centered in that household. Moreover, Macedonian women in general had a much larger role in public life than one finds elsewhere in the Empire; in Philippi in particular they were also well-known for their religious devotion.

Paul now entreats these two leaders to agree with each other (phronein = “have the same mindset”) in the Lord. Given (a) the brevity of this letter, (b) that the letter would have been read aloud in the gathered community in a single sitting, and (c) that appeals to “have the same mindset” are part of the stuff of letters of friendship, one can be sure that the present appeal is to be understood as the specific application of the earlier ones in Philippians 2:2 and Philippians 3:15. Given its position at the end, it is also probably related to the foregoing warning and appeal (Philippians 3:1-21).

Paul refuses to take sides, thus maintaining friendship with all. He appeals to both women—indeed the identical repetition of their names followed by the verb has rhetorical effect—to bury their differences by adopting the “same mindset.” As in the immediately preceding appeal, it is qualified in the Lord, evidence that we are not dealing with a personal matter but with “doing the gospel” in Philippi. Having “the same mindset” in the Lord has been specifically spelled out in the preceding paradigmatic narratives, where Christ (Philippians 2:6-11) has humbled himself by taking the “form of a slave” and thus becoming obedient unto death on a cross, and Paul (Philippians 3:4-14) has expressed his longing to know Christ in a cruciform way.

In another intriguing moment, Paul turns momentarily to address another coworker, asking him to help Euodia and Syntyche respond to the appeal: Yes, and I ask you [singular] also, loyal yokefellow (= “genuine companion”), help these women. What intrigues is that in a letter addressed to the whole church he should single out one person in this way (which he does nowhere else in his community-directed letters). Since the Philippians knew him well, rather than naming him Paul “authorizes” his assistance with the epithet “genuine companion.” The appellation yokefellow, along with the adjective “genuine” (which he uses elsewhere to refer to intimate coworkers), indicates the closest kind of partnership between him and Paul. Although well-known and currently living there, he is almost certainly not a native of Philippi (since the others named and unnamed certainly are). Most likely he is one of Paul’s itinerant coworkers who is presently on the scene there. Luke would fit the description perfectly. Not only was he such a “true companion,” but in Acts 16 the “we” narrative takes Luke to Philippi, where it leaves off until Paul’s return to Philippi some four to six years later in Acts 20:1-5. The author of Acts surely intends his readers to understand that he had spent these intervening years in Philippi. If so, then as one of Paul’s most trusted companions, he had given oversight to that work for some years in the past.

Paul’s erstwhile companion is thus asked to help Euodia and Syntyche, obviously to “be of the same mind” in the Lord. It is perhaps significant for our day to note the mediatorial role that Paul’s yokefellow was expected to play, rather than leaving the two women to work out the problem on their own. Even so, Paul’s focus is still on Euodia and Syntyche, not on his yokefellow, and especially, as throughout the letter, their (including the whole community) partnership with him in the gospel. His word order tells the story: inasmuch as in the gospel they have contended by my side. (On the athletic/military metaphor contended at my side, see commentary on 1:27; cf. Philippians 2:13-14.)

About Clement and the rest of my fellow workers we know nothing. The context demands that they are fellow Philippians. Why Paul should single out Clement is a singular mystery, made all the more so by the unusual way the phrase is attached to the former clause, along with Clement and the rest. This can only mean that these have also contended at my side along with Euodia and Syntyche in the cause of the gospel in Philippi. This is probably as close to an “aside” as one gets in Paul’s letters. Having just mentioned Euodia and Syntyche in particular, he includes the others who were with him in that ministry from the beginning, for some good reason mentioning Clement in particular, perhaps not wanting to mention the rest by name lest he exclude any. In its own way, therefore, the clause probably functions as a gentle reminder to all who lead the believing community in Philippi to “have the same mindset in the Lord,” even though that is not specifically said of or to them.

As so often in this letter, even here Paul concludes on an eschatological note. The ultimate reason for all of them (Euodia, Syntyche, Clement and the rest) to get it together in Philippi, as they await from heaven the coming of their Lord and Savior (Philippians 3:20), is that their names are in the book of life. This unusual (for Paul) language is common stock from his Jewish heritage, where the faithful were understood to have their names recorded in the heavenly “book of the living,” meaning the book that has recorded in it those who have received divine life (thus “the book of the living,” Ps 68:29) and are thus destined for glory. With these words Paul brings the specific hortatory sections of the letter to conclusion. In both verses Philippians 4:1 and Philippians 4:2-3 he has picked up the eschatological note from Philippians 3:20-21 that immediately precedes; and in both cases the note is affirmation and reassurance. If his concern in these exhortations is with the present—the believers’ steadfastness and unity for the sake of the gospel in Philippi—his focus has regularly been on their certain future. He and they together have their names recorded in the book of life, and for that reason, as a colony of heaven in the Roman colony of Philippi, they need to live the life of the future now as they await its consummation.

When the dust clears and one gets beyond the specifics about names and “women in leadership,” it is hard to imagine New Testament exhortations that are more contemporary—for every age and clime—than these. To stand firm in the Lord is not just a word for the individual believer, as such words are often taken, but for any local body of believers. The gospel is ever and always at stake in our world, and the call to God’s people, whose names are written in the book of life, is to live that life now in whatever “Philippi” and in the face of whatever opposition it is found. But to do so effectively, its people, especially those in leadership, must learn to subordinate personal agendas to the larger agenda of the gospel, “to have the same mindset in the Lord.” This means humbling, sacrificial giving of oneself for the sake of others; but then that is what the gospel is all about. So in effect these exhortations merely call us to genuine Christian life in the face of every form of pagan and religious opposition.

At the same time, here is one of those pieces of “mute” evidence for women in leadership in the New Testament, significant in this case for its offhanded, presuppositional way of speaking about them. To deny women’s role in the church in Philippi is to fly full in the face of the text. Here is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is gender-blind, that he gifts as he wills. Our task is to recognize his gifting and to assist all such people, male and female, to “have the same mindset in the Lord,” so that together they will be effective in doing the gospel.
posted from Bloggeroid

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