I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.
—from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 3:2-3
In 45 years I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on this Bible passage. I wouldn’t expect to, really: it’s a cryptic message about a specific situation, intended for three people who lived centuries ago in an ancient city. Better to spend our time on more relevant verses, right?
Not so fast. Let’s linger a bit over the tale of these two women.
It’s reasonable to assume Euodia and Syntyche held positions of influence in the church, since they worked with Paul directly to spread the Christian message. Some commentators suggest they were church leaders. And it appears they weren’t getting along. In fact the conflict was severe or long-standing or publicly visible or a combination thereof—enough for Paul to have heard about it from a distance.
I’m hearing two lessons from this story. See what you think.
Lesson 1: if people at this level of faith can’t get along, why should we expect ourselves to be conflict-free? Sure, harmony and mutual affection are guiding lights for people of faith. But we all fall way short, and that’s just part of life.
Lesson 2 stems from the instructions to the “loyal companion.” Paul asks this person to help Euodia and Syntyche work out their problems. So, not only will we conflict with others, but we can’t always resolve, or even manage, the conflicts ourselves. Sometimes we need help, and it’s OK to accept it.
These are good lessons for me personally. I don’t get over conflict easily, and that inability leaves a lot of guilt in its wake. I could undoubtedly use help at times to address it. But what form would that help take in today’s world?
Maybe I’m at a loss because I live in the U.S., and we treasure our privacy (our tendency to give away personal data online notwithstanding). There’s a lot to be said in favor of privacy. It gives us a safe haven from emotional intrusion. It shields embryonic ideas until they can take full form (and, at that point, withstand critique from outside). It provides a generous space for us to meet God: the Jesus of the gospels suggested that when we pray, we go into our closet (Matthew 6:6, King James Version).
Sure, there are a few obvious ways to access relational help in today’s world: mediation and therapy come to mind. But are those the only avenues open to us? Have we, as Americans, closed ourselves off from less formal avenues—consulting a friend or a clergy person, say—by building our lives around privacy?
What about you? Have you ever asked someone to help resolve conflict for you? How did it work out? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.