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STANDING FIRM (2): BY MAINTAINING UNITY

(Phil. 4:2-3)
November 18, 2018

Read Phil 4:1-3 – “Stand firm.” Be a rock in your Xn walk. That’s the
command that drives everything in Phil 4. In a chaotic world we need some
rocks – people unphased by adverse circumstances. How do we become such
people? “Therefore” points us back to chapter 3 – by remembering we are
citizens of heaven. We live, think, act, and speak differently because we
belong to a place far greater than this world. Know who you are; whose you
are and who loves you. That’s the framework. That gives strength of certainty.

But then Paul says, “stand firm thus”. As “therefore” points us back to the big
picture, “thus” points us forward to 7 elements of standing firm. The first vv.
2-3 – Be unified. Be together. If you’re holding a grudge against another
believer, you’re not standing firm. First in the list; first in importance! Unity.

Too often we’re like the woman who told a gun shop clerk, “I’m looking for a
gun for my husband.” The clerk asked, “Did your husband tell you what
kind of gun to get?” The woman replied, “No! He doesn’t even know I’m
going to shoot him.” We’ve got to be careful that’s not us. God’s not with us
when we are taking potshots at each other! He excused Himself long ago.

Is conflict ever valid? Yes – when issues of morality or essential truth are at
stake – as when someone is defending an adulterous relationship or denying
the atonement. But most church conflicts are personality conflicts -- someone
defending their “rights” against someone. Those are not defensible to God.

If there is conflict, we must each heal the breach – not widen it. That’s what
Paul’s doing here with 2 wonderful ladies who have gotten sideways with
each other. About what? It wasn’t even important enough to mention! But it
held them captive. So having set the stage throughout this letter, Paul gets
specific. His approach is instructive, and it covers both sides – Paul’s Part as
a healer – and the Participants’ Part in need of an attitude adjustment.

I. Paul’s Part

A. Confront Lovingly – This conflict threatens to rip the church


apart. People are no doubt lining up on sides behind these women, so Paul
confronts it – in dramatic fashion. Imagine sitting in church one Sunday when
suddenly your name is read out loud to the whole group – in a letter sent by
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your hero in the faith. That would be tough! These women perhaps were
among those Paul met on the first Sabbath in Philippi. Acts 16:13 And on the
Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed
there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who
had come together.” Whether then or later they met Christ thru Paul and then
helped bring others to faith. And now – they are being called out – in public!
This had gone public. If it’d been private, it would have been handled
privately. They must have been looking for a hole to crawl into! It may hurt,
but leaders have the painful responsibility to confront personality conflicts.

Yet Paul is as gentle as possible. He says, “I entreat” – not “I demand”.


“Please ladies. Reconsider and “agree in the Lord”. Paul’s applying Eph 4:15
to be “speaking the truth in love.” It is easy to get off-balance either way. We
avoid speaking the truth out of fear. Or we speak harshly, self-righteously,
insensitively. Not Paul. He confronted – lovingly. Gal 6:1: “Brothers, if
anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore
him in a spirit of gentleness.” It’s easy to get on our high horse when
confronting conflict. But our approach must always be kind – with a desire to
restore peace, not win! Confront requires sensitivity and gentleness.

Russell Moore in Onward tells of one angry man who was always criticizing
something! He defended his quarrelsome spirit by producing a “spiritual gifts
inventory” which revealed he had the gift of prophecy. He seemed to feel that
excused his crankiness. It didn’t. Paul would never have gone there, nor does
the Lord lead anyone there. Confront, when required, lovingly.

B. Stay Neutral – Whether it’s a fight over carpet color or music


style, leaders need perspective. Paul provides that. 2I entreat Euodia and I
entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” He uses “entreat” before both names
indicating he’s not taking sides – maintaining neutrality – pleading for unity.
If this were a moral or truth issue, he’d have taken a side – but not here. It’s
trivial and both need to stand down for the sake of the gospel. It is so easy to
get pulled into the orbit of someone who thinks they have been wronged. But
the moment neutrality is lost, objectivity is lost.

I’ve discovered something interesting in counseling. Most people are not


seeking advice, but affirmation. They want to be told that they are right and
the other person is wrong. They are looking for support, not help. The proof is,
they often walk away from good advice. Taking sides enables, not helps!

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Joan Rivers was once asked if she had ever seen a psychiatrist. She replied,
“No. It would straighten me out – and there goes my act.” There’s truth in
that humor! You can’t help someone in a personality conflict by taking their
side. You can only help by staying neutral and thus objective. Then they must
decide whether or not they really want to straighten out their act. Don’t get
pulled into someone else’s downward spiral of self-justification. It won’t help.

C. Appeal to the Big Picture – The final thing Paul does is


brilliant. He appeals to the big picture. 3b: “help these women who have
labored side by side with me in the gospel.” What’s he doing? He’s pointing
them higher. They’re in the gutter squabbling about petty things. Bigger issues
are at stake. The gospel is at stake. They are undermining their past labors in
the greatest cause of all – the gospel. Before, they labored for the gospel; now
they are consumed with trivia. He’s urging – remember the big picture. Does
it really matter whether the walls are blue or green? Not much. But does it
matter whether or not people see Jesus in us?! Absolutely. That’s the priority.

Jesus says in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you
love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for

one another.” Paul is saying, “That’s our heritage. We labored to love each
other and bring others to Christ. That’s your past; it needs to be your future
as well. But it won’t be if what the world sees is a bunch of squabbling.”

We must remember why we’re here! Former NBC anchor, Tom Brokaw, said
this to 2005 University grads: "Here is a secret that no one has told you: Real
life is junior high. The world that you are about to enter is filled with junior
high, adolescent pettiness; pubescent rivalries; the insecurities of 13-year-
olds; and the false bravado of 14-year-olds,” That is the natural inclination of
the human heart. But that’s living for trivialities, winning petty victories.
Better to lose trivial battles in order to win the war!? Put Jesus first, not you!

II. Participants Part

A. Seek God’s Interests – Paul immediately sets a high bar:


“Agree in the Lord.” He doesn’t say, “Get along!” He doesn’t say, “Seek
mediation” or “Play nice together.” Those just encourage people to find
kinder ways to impose their own will. Paul urges, “Seek God’s will?” That’s a
whole different mindset! “Get God front and center instead of Me.”

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That doesn’t mean they won’t still differ on trivialities. They well may. But
having expressed their opinion, it’s time to look at the big picture – to seek
harmony above personal rights; the gospel above winning an argument; Christ
above self. Instead of focusing on the trivial, focus on the eternal. When we
give up our rights, God has space to work. And don’t we pray for that? “Your
will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.” Personal rights must go!

In late 1861, Abe Lincoln and Sec of State Seward went to see Genrl
McClellan at home. They were told he was attending a wedding but would be
home soon. After waiting an hour the men heard the general return, heard a
servant tell him the president was there, and heard McClellan go upstairs.
Supposing he was refreshing himself, the men waited, but after half an hour,
the president asked again that McClellan be informed the president as waiting.
The servant returned to announce, “The General has retired for the night.”
Seward was livid and wanted McClellan fired on the spot. But Lincoln gently
replied, “All I want from General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his
horse would bring it, I would gladly hold his horse.” That is what it means to
give up personal rights for the greater good. And when those are given to God,
that’s how we “agree in the Lord.” Tough assignment. But Godly living!

B. Accept Help

It’s humbling to accept help. But we all need help at times. None of us is a
perfectly round wheel in our intelligence of personality. We all have flat spots.
That’s why God gifts us with each other. Prov 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.” That doesn’t mean all advice is good, but it
is all worth considering. If you want to stay a flat tire, just ignore the various
people that God has put into your life specifically to help round you out!

Look how Paul does that. 3) Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these
women.” Who is the true companion? We don’t know. Epaphroditus,
Timothy, Luke, a leading elder? But why not just name them? The word
“companion” is literally “yoke-fellow” – one of two partners yoked together
as oxen would be to perform a common task. It could be a name. I think it
probable there was in Philippi a respected fellow named Sudzugos. In calling
him “true” or “genuine” Sudzugos Paul is saying, “Sudzugos, be a true yoke-
fellow – live up to your name – harness yourself to these ladies and help
them out.” It’s a play on words. Paul does it also in Philemon 10–11, “I
appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my
imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful [Onesimus

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means “useful”].” In any case, Paul is appealing to a trusted person, known to
the Philippians, to help these women make peace.

But that would require that the women accept help! They must do what goes
most against human nature – accept help. Not easy – but wise. God says “The
way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov
12:15). Godly advice, of course. Only a fool would turn that down. Prov
13:10, “By insolence (insisting on one’s own way) comes nothing but strife,
but with those who take advice is wisdom.” God’s will? Accept help!

Here’s an example. Peter – leader of thousands in the early church after Jesus’
ascension. He heard about the highly fruitful ministry of Paul and Barnabas
among Gentiles in Antioch, so he went to see. Gal 2:12) For before certain men
came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles (highly significant act of
acceptance in that culture); but when they came he drew back and separated
himself, (why, Peter? Why withdraw?) fearing the circumcision party (the
Jews).” Jews despised Gentiles as uncircumcised pagans, and now, tho God
had clearly reached out, thru both Peter and Paul to Gentiles, Peter got cold
feet. Feared the delegation from Jerusalem would report that he was
consorting with pagans and his leadership would be undermined. Old
prejudices re-surfaced in brave Peter! And look further: 13) And the rest of the
Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led
astray by their hypocrisy.” As a man of immense influence, he took others
down, too, even Barnabas! Here was the whole unity of the early church about
to break into smithereens by the actions of on influential but fearful man.

Thank God for Paul. 14) But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with
the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew,
live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live
like Jews?” Paul is saying, “It’s not the Gentiles who are acting like ungodly
bigots, Peter. It’s you! And if you do that, how do you expect them to act?
Get your act together.” To Peter’s credit, he did. In II Pet 3:15 he refers to
“our beloved brother Paul.” He ceded his right of leadership to Paul’s Godly
advice! A flat spot in his perception was rounded out and the tragedy of
disunity was averted. If Peter needed and accepted help, so can we, right?

C. Remember the Priority

Notice how Paul keeps coming back to the big pix. “Help these women, who
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.” What’s he
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doing? Bringing them back to the gospel– reminding them what’s important is
not some petty personal preference but the fact they’re all in the book of life
together. He’s saying, “Rejoice in that, not in winning some trivial
argument. Remember who you are! You’re both there – in the book of life
(saved people) – secure in heaven. Who needs to win a personality clash?”

Jesus did exactly the same thing? Remember? He’d sent His disciples out – 72
of them in pairs and given them miraculous power. So they returned all jazzed
about their success: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”
(Lu 10:17). And Jesus rejoices with them, but then reminds them the authority
was His, and then points them even higher. Lu 10:20) Nevertheless, do not
rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names
are written in heaven.” His point is, the big thing about them is not that they
cast out demons; the big thing about them was their names written in heaven.

That’s exactly where Paul is pointing Euodia and Syntyche. “Ladies, what’s
important about you isn’t winning your little spat. What’s important about
you is that your name is written in heave – both of you. How’d you get in the
book in the first place? Your own doing? No! By grace – a lot of it. So give a
little grace to others. You’re going to be together forever, so no time like the
present to get over yourselves and get focused on Him.” That’s the message.
“Agree in the Lord.”

Conc – So Paul’s message here is simple. Stand firm. Be unified by getting


the focus off yourself and onto the Lord. Take a backseat to Him.

In 1956, a young man named Ken Fischer started a new church in a revamped
chicken coop in Anaheim, CA. By the time our family moved from KS and
started attending in 1965, it had grown to around 800. My life was profoundly
affected by time spent in that church. By 1972, the church was 1500 – a mega-
church in those days. But Pastor Ken left for NoCal, and another man
eventually came in.

It was touch sledding from the start. He was from S. Dakota, a little hoaky for
that sophisticated group. Soon everyone was having roast pastor for lunch
each Sunday. He didn’t preach right. Wasn’t varied enough. His main problem
– he wasn’t Pastor Ken. Within a couple of years, they had run him out of
town back to S. Dakota where he thrived. Meanwhile Magnolia continued as a
fine church, but it never again reached the pinnacle it once enjoyed. People
put personality over the gospel. We must never do that, Beloved. Let’s pray.
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