Philippians 4:2-7: A Gospel-Shaped Peace
As a community on mission for Christ, the church faces the daily temptation to let internal conflict divert our focus away from the outward cause of our mission—to make Christ known to the glory of God. It was this very threat among the church in ancient Philippi that moved Paul to direct his attention in Philippians 4:2-7 to a dispute between two women who had been laboring side-by-side with him in the gospel, but whose disagreement apparently threatened to impede that work. This passage is a stark reminder that we never outgrow our need for the gospel of Jesus. Rather, being faithful to our gospel mission in the world requires believing and applying the gospel to our relationships within.
As long as we wait for Christ’s return and the resurrection to come (cf. 3:20-21), we will have conflict. We are sinners after all. We’re not told the precise nature of the conflict between Euodia and Synteche, but we can safely assume that it is not a dispute over the essential of doctrines of faith. If it were, we would have heard something similar to 3:2: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers . . .” Whatever it is, it affects more than just these two women. What’s at stake is nothing less than the Philippian church’s partnership in advancing the gospel of Jesus, in proclaiming Christ that others might know him.
And so Paul offers a passionate plea to both women, while also calling in reinforcements, to help these two gospel partners agree in the Lord, or share a common perspective in Christ (vv. 2-3). Even when we disagree, we are to approach our discussion from the perspective of Christ, focused on the gospel of his grace (which is what unites us) and reflecting an attitude of humility and self-giving love.
But he continues in vv. 4-7 to offer specific instructions for cultivating and expressing a common perspective in Christ. First, he wants these two women (and us) to rejoice in the Lord Jesus, that is, to be joyfully satisfied and enthralled with Christ (v. 4). This is where we see how being faithful to our gospel mission in the world requires believing and applying the gospel to our relationships within. It is the good news of Christ—who he is, what he’s done for us—that frees us to love one another even when we disagree.
Unless we’re dealing with the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity and the essentials of the gospel, what divides us is rarely the actual object we’re arguing about. It’s usually self. My idea, my reputation. We fight so hard not because the issue is worth it, but because we’ve bound our identity and significance up in the issue, so that to vindicate the issue is to vindicate me.
But when we believe and apply the gospel to our own lives and relationships, recognizing that our identity is in Christ and that he is all our satisfaction, then there is no room left for self.
Second, Paul tells us first to be known for our gentleness or reasonableness in such matters (v. 5). If we really see our own sin as utterly sinful, and God’s grace in Christ as absolutely sufficient, then there should be a humility in our hearts that causes us to be known for our gentleness or reasonableness in such matters, not for our edginess or manipulation.
Third, he tells us to turn our anxiety into prayer (v. 6). Our default amid dispute is to fight and obsess over the matter, clawing for control. But holding onto a situation and obsessing over it is my personal statement that I don’t trust God with the results. Or as a friend of mine once put it, worry or anxiety is “scraping your forehead against the brick wall of your own self-salvation program.” Ouch.
But when God’s people take the gospel seriously in their relationships, the peace of God—the wholeness and shalom of God for his people—guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (v. 7). It shores up and garrisons our perspectives and affections toward one another. It guards us from self-centered distractions and keeps us focused on our mission for Christ.
Join us tomorrow at Westgate Church (Feb. 12) as we take a fresh look at this passage and consider the power of the gospel to guard our hearts and frees us to lay our lives down in witness to Christ.
Update: Sermon text and discussion questions are available here: Phil 4.2-7 Westgate 2.12.12