2014 Lent 3

Philippians 4:1-9

Continuing with Paul and the theme of humility of the past couple of days, today’s reading encourages us to see just how petty disagreements can be in the big scheme of things.

Paul is about to die and he knows it.  He therefore writes this letter to the church at Philippi, which knows about his impending death too, as a consolation.  Paul has started this church.  He has been intimately involved in its life and growth.  He is a beloved pastor to this body of believers.  And now he’s facing death!

This is big, sure.  But Paul encourages the people in Philippi that there is something bigger, upon which he has placed his hope, toward which he can still strive (even with death facing him squarely in the face!); in which and toward which they all should hope and strive too.  This something bigger is the resurrection.

Death is not the end, Paul conveys.  We know this truth from Christ himself, who died and was buried but rose again.  Like Christ, our bodies of humility will be changed into incorruptible bodies of glory.  There is indeed great hope in this, for Paul, for the people who make up the church at Philippi, and, by extension, for all Christians.  (Whether this hope extends to all peoples, regardless of faith, is not addressed here and is therefore another question for another day.)

All this beautiful and glorious theologizing, then, is abruptly interrupted with these words: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (v. 2).

But what kind of interruption is it?  Is it an actual non sequitur, like when my brother Andy used to look for any and every opportunity for turning a conversation toward surfing (someone asks, “Did you understand the trigonometry assignment?” to which Andy interrupts, “That reminds me, there was this awesome wave I caught yesterday . . .”), kind of like this question?  Or is it more of an illustration, an interruption to make a point?

Indeed, Paul has become a dear pastor to these people.  Indeed, he is facing his death and everyone knows it.  Indeed, Paul consoles them all, himself included, with the deep truth of the resurrection, a truth that applies to them all.  So why not then take the opportunity to address two women who are apparently in a  present disagreement of some sort–women whom he has worked alongside as a comrade for the advancement of the Gospel?

And we get the impression that all, or certainly most, disagreements are really petty trifles in comparison to the infinite love of God and the truths seen in and through Christ.

This impression tends toward indelibility when we continue reading.  It’s not the disagreements we should focus on–that the carpet in the narthex should be red instead of green; whether or not women should be ordained; whether or not I can get someone else to see my position on homosexuality and the church; or how to interpret end times.  Rather, Paul says, we should focus on the positive (vv. 8-9):

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things . . . and the God of peace will be with you.”

In other words, disagreements such as the one experienced by Euodia and Syntyche (and by extension Paul, the church at Philippi, and us) are not even worthy of our attention.

So it’s time to stop focusing on this one now. 😉

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