By Cade Campbell
As part of a class at SBTS I recently had to submit an expository sermon manuscript from a specific passage concerning reconciliation and peacemaking within friendships and families. I’m providing it here for you as an example of one of my own sermons as well as an example of how a particular passage so clearly provides the instruction on reconciliation within relationships. – Cade
The Text: Philippians 4:1-3
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (ESV)
Introduction and Textual Background
On September 17, 1978 the United States, and particularly the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, arbitrated what would become one of the iconic peace agreements in modern history. In the late summer of that year, what became known as the Camp David Accords provided a bridge of formal and pledged peace between the Middle Eastern nations of Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the agreement in a formal ceremony at the White House.
The Camp David Accords were hailed immediately as a success for Mid-East peace policies. Sadat and Begin shared a Nobel Peace Prize. Additional peace treaties followed up on the initial progress that had been brokered by President Carter. In some ways, the talks and agreements that were reached were about as successful as anyone could hope. And yet they were not without their complications or without their unforeseen consequences. In spite of overwhelming support by the people of Israel, some pushed back against the surrender of The Sinai Peninsula. For Egypt’s Sadat things were worse. In large part due to the outrage by some portions of the Egyptian populace at the burgeoning peace process, Sadat was assassinated in October of 1981. To say the least, for all its promise and all its accomplishment, the accords were not without casualties.
Just as that is the case for international politics, so it is also the case for interpersonal relationships between men and women, even men and women who exist in relationship within a local church, within a body of believers. One of the cruelest effects of sin is that it always results in the fracturing and erosion of relationships, primarily our relationship with God and secondarily our relationship with one another.
In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God resulted in the implosion of their marital relationship. Adam passively allowed his wife to eat the fruit. Eve provided Adam with the opportunity to follow her into disobedience. Adam shifted the blame to his wife. Eve diverted the blame to the snake. In their shame they bundled the foliage of Eden’s forest into dramatically inadequate clothing. They hid. They accused. They ran. They were divided. Sin leads to the slavery of schism, division at the deepest levels of our being.
And the continuing ramifications of that first disobedience all those years ago remain the reality in which we live our lives. That first sin has snowballed into our own schedules. That rebellion has borne fruit in our bedrooms. That snake still coils itself into the spaces between us and everyone else, and like a crack in a dam, it spreads its instability and its growing cracks splinter into divisions, disagreements, and disunity.
Husbands retreat into patterns of passive silence and distraction. Wives lash out in frustration and fear. Parents lead from a posture of power, guilt, and compulsion. Children rebel out of anger and bitterness. Friends turn on one another in accusation and blame, sometimes walking away from friends and loved ones that have always been a part of their lives. Ty Cobb once said that baseball was “a kind of war.” Well, relationships at every level (family and friends) are too often a kind of war as well.
And it doesn’t take very long for these patterns of division to begin to undermine relationships. I hadn’t been dating my wife Amy for very long, just a few weeks, and we went out one evening to get ice cream from Dairy Queen, because if you’re dating in Natchez, Mississippi then you pretty much have to get ice cream at Dairy Queen. Your options aren’t limitless! Amy was driving. I was riding in the passenger seat. We got our ice cream cones. I had one of their amazing dipped cones, and Amy pulled back out onto the highway and for some unknown reason slammed on breaks and swerved, thinking something was in the road. There wasn’t. But now ice cream was all down the front of my shirt. Amy turned and looked at me and asked what, at the time, I thought was one of the strangest questions I’d ever heard: “What happened?” My reply was sharper and angrier and louder than I want to really admit. I turned…and with ice cream all down my front and with a now empty cone in my hand I shouted, “You did this!”
Wow. It was a gift of mercy and grace that Amy accepted my apology and even agreed to another date. In that instant, in that split second, I was far more concerned with my ice cream than I was with my sister in Christ and future wife. Granted, ice cream is serious business, but it isn’t as serious as loving one another. It isn’t as serious as I made it. I lashed out in anger and selfishness. It was a young relationship, and it was a stupidly small event. So how much more do we sometimes find ourselves on opposing sides, divided lines of hostility with men and women who we have known far longer and over issues that are far more serious and far more fundamental than a dipped cone?
Paul knew our tendency to turn on one another. That’s one of the major issues he’s addressing in this prison letter to Philippi. He wants to encourage the young church there and also tenderly confront the roots of sin’s sickness that were already creating tensions and troubles within their fellowship. He wants to rejuvenate their joy in Jesus. He wants to grow their gladness in the gospel, the good news of all that Jesus is and has done for his people. That’s his aim, and since that’s his aim he has to target the diseases of division and disobedience and disturbance and deadly doctrine that were spreading. Like a doctor might take aim at cancer cells or a tumor, Paul the apostle zeroes in on the cancerous cells of conflict that were wreaking havoc on the fellowship between men and women, families, the congregation at Philippi.
In chapter 1:19-30 he countered the tendency to value lesser things as of greater worth than the greatest of things, namely Christ himself. In 2:1-30 he took on attitudes of selfishness and pride that infected their church life. In 3:1-21 he targeted the false teachings of an “almost-gospel” of legalism and self-righteousness that may make us feel good about ourselves for a season but that would ultimately condemn us if we trusted to it.
Now, as he begins to bring his letter to a close he takes final aim at the anxieties and divisions that are the predators to our peace, personally and corporately, individually and relationally. The gospel brings joy and a necessary consequence of the joy that Jesus gives is the shalom that only exists by his power. The Philippians weren’t a church at peace. They weren’t a congregation resting in the calm confidence and contentment of their crucified yet risen Christ. They were a church that was being ravaged by conflict and chaos. So before he closes, that’s what he confronts.
He will famously call the Philippians to a prayerful trust in Christ flowing from their joy in the gospel (Philippians 4:4-9) that leads to personal peace. He also famously displays the contentment of provisional peace in the abundant God who provides for the needs of his people (Philippians 4:10-20), and yet that’s not where he starts. He begins by calling the Philippians to make their relationships with one another right. Before he will address individual peace he must first dig into the mess of the disagreements and divisions between individuals, and in the process he shows each of us how the gospel bridges the gaps that grow in our relationships between friends and families. He shows us how the redemptive work of the cross provides radical reconciliation, and he shows us why it all matters so much. In the time that we have left, I want to show you the five truths about the gospel accords, the reconciliation that is to be the reality for the redeemed that these three verses deploy to make war on the conflict and divisions that rear their ugly heads and create dissension and disunity. Paul shows us five truths about reconciliation between men and women in the church, five calls to peace between those who are believers in Jesus Christ.
The Position in Christ (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
First, reconciliation among believers is born out of our position in Christ. Why should believers love one another? Why should Christians be intentional about cultivating relationships of love and forgiveness? Why should men and women, families, husbands, wives, parents, and children who claim to follow Jesus live out of relationships of grace and forgiveness? Well, because believers belong to Jesus.
The first fundamental truth that must radically reorient your world may sound like the strangest thing in the world. Your life isn’t all about you. You are not the center of the world. You are not the king or queen of your castle. The solar system doesn’t have you at its center. For men and women who would claim to be associated with Jesus Christ, we must continually reorient everything we are to revolve around him. A measure of how we understand Jesus is seen in where he is in our lives. If we think we can live with him on the perimeter, idly revolving like Pluto on the distant edges of orbit around us, then we do not know him rightly. The gospel does not allow us to see ourselves as the center of gravity. Jesus is.
Notice how Paul begins in Philippians 4:1. He says, “Therefore, my brothers.” That little phrase lets us know that the conclusion that he is reaching in this passage flows out of something he has just said. So what has he written just prior to this conclusion? To see that, we must read back in Philippians 3:20-21. Notice that there Paul claims that our citizenship is in heaven. He says we are awaiting his coming. He says that Christ has subjected all things to himself.
Let this sink in: Only when you are living your life within a right understanding of who you are in relationship to Jesus Christ will your understanding of both yourself and your other relationships fit into their proper places. The enemy of peace is the misguided lie that we belong in first place, that we deserve to be above everyone and everything. That’s a sly and venomous whisper from a snake with bad breath. Jesus alone is in first place. He will not settle for second. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are citizens of his kingdom. We are living under his rule and reign. We are awaiting his appearing. Our focus is on his coming. Our hearts are beating for his presence. He has subjected all things to himself, and we are included in the phrase “all things.” We do not have the right as men and women who claim to have already bowed the knee and confessed that Christ is Lord, to live in lingering divisions and disunity among one another.
The Passion of God (4:1)
Second, reconciliation among believers is a passion of God. God is deeply devoted to his own glory, and as such he is deeply devoted, lovingly passionate about the love that is to be displayed between the men and women who claim to be his people. Peace in families and friendships is not merely an “add-on” to the transformation that the gospel produces. It’s not just a good idea. It’s not simply an idealistic goal. The gospel empowers the people of God to live in peace with one another because the loving peace between believers is a priority of God himself. God is passionate for the relational peace of his people.
Notice in verse one the affection with which Paul calls the Philippians to peace within their relationships. He calls them brothers. He loves them. He longs for them. He delights in them. He calls them beloved. Now granted, in its immediate context this is the heart of Paul the pastor and church planter. This is the affection between one believer for a body of believers. But do not overlook the fact that this is not a mere personal letter. Paul is writing this as an apostle of Jesus Christ, under the authority of Christ’s apostleship. Paul’s words, though fully his, are being spoken and delivered as the very words of God. Paul is making his plea as the personal representative of God himself. In that light, we hear the echoes of God’s own affection for his people in the tender words of Paul the apostle.
God loves his people. God takes pleasure in his people. God delights in his people. Jesus Christ, Hebrews tells us, is not ashamed to call us brothers. God accepts believers as family. God calls his people beloved in the Beloved. These affectionate words of the apostle are the very God-breathed words of Christ to his people. The call to peace in relationships arises out of the affection of God for his people.
Indeed, isn’t that what we find throughout the Bible? John tells us that we love because he has first loved us. All affection between men and women, friends and families alike, is birthed out of the fountain of God’s own previous love for us. His love is both the precedent and the power you and I to love, and his love is the pattern for the kind of love that we are to display.
And what is that pattern? Well, how did God love his people? He loved us by taking the initiative. He took the first step. He came to us when we would not come to him. He, the one who had been offended, the one who had been grieved, the one who had been wronged became the one who bore the burden of our reconciliation. He took the first step, and that step was not only previous to anything we had ever done, but it was also sacrificial. The book of Romans tells us that “God demonstrated his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love was shown in the sacrifice of himself.
We dare not take lightly that which God is passionate for. We dare not disregard that which his love creates. We dare not seek to display a false-gospel by not displaying the love that God has had for us from all eternity. True enough, some people are hard to love and some divisions are hard to bridge. Some hurts are huge, but peace is powered by the gospel because of the grace and forgiveness of God makes peace where peace would otherwise be impossible. God is passionate about reconciliation.
The Personal Demand (v.2)
Third, reconciliation among believers is a personal demand of discipleship. We love vagueness. We love blurred counsel, but that’s not what the gospel brings. The gospel is a personal confrontation. Paul does what to us might seem shocking. He names names! He isn’t content to say nice things about making amends and letting bygones be bygones. No. Division in relationships is explicitly personal and so his instruction is explicitly personal. He says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
Now, we don’t know a lot. We don’t know what the heart of their problem was. We don’t know what their relationship was. They may have been in the same physical family. They may have been friends and fellow church members. Paul doesn’t tell us, but he does tell us their names. Imagine the pointed tension that may have been felt when this letter was first read aloud in the church at Philippi. The Word of God does not allow us to hide in the shadows of anonymity. Paul knew their names. God knows yours, and by making this appeal so deliberately personal he is making the appeal to each of us deliberately personal. Notice also that Paul doesn’t merely treat Euodia and Syntyche as one issue. There is a dual entreaty. He is calling both of the women to seek reconciliation. He is calling both to the repentance and restoration of peace within their relationships, and he is calling out your name as well. This passage tells me that my own tendency to selfish division does not go unnoticed. Hear in the echoes of this verse the reverberating refrain, “I entreat Cade. I entreat Amy. I entreat you to agree.” Being a disciple is inherently all up in our business. As a teenager I once lashed out at my mama and told her to get out of my personal space. As a good mom, she replied, “You’re my son. I’m your mom. And I’ll camp out all up in your personal space.” So will the gospel.
We like privacy. We want people to mind their own business. We don’t want people to meddle, but the gospel always meddles. It calls us by name. In Philippians 2:2-4 Paul had provided a blanket and general appeal for the church as a whole. Now in 4:2 he demonstrates the explicit and personal application of that instruction. Individual discipleship demands the personal application of unity.
The Priority of the Church (v. 3)
Fourth, reconciliation among believers is a priority for the local church. Within a local body of believers, the relationships between believers is a priority for all the members. Not only does the gospel get into our personal business, but it tells us that ultimately our business is never personal. The church itself is called to initiate the healing, peace, and reconciliation within the broken relationship of Euodia and Syntyche.
Notice what Paul says: “I ask you also, true companion, help these women.” Now, there is some debate among commentators as to who the “true companion” is that Paul refers to. Is it a single individual? Is it perhaps a lead pastor/elder who would have been the one responsible for reading the letter aloud and seeing that its instructions were carried out by the church? Is the “companion” a personified title for the local church as a whole? Regardless of what the answer might be, the point is clear. The church as a whole is being mustered to the ministry of relationship healing, reconciliation. Peace between believers, whether they are friends or family, is to be rooted and grounded in the life of love embodied in a local body of believers. It is not to be, nor can it be, orchestrated in isolation.
And herein are two implications. The first implication is that you and I together are in need of the church. We need each other. I need you and you need me. If I am going to have healthy and growing relationships, if I am going to live a life of forgiveness and grace, then I need the accountability and presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, the text not only implies but explicitly demands that the local church take the reconciliation between individuals seriously. Here is a command for family ministry, a command for biblical counseling, a command for the personal application of the gospel’s transformation. A church that does not take relationships seriously does not take the gospel seriously and does not take the God of the gospel seriously. Never forget, that in one of the few places where Christ explicitly mentions the church, he does so in the context of the church assuming the responsibility and authority to make reconciliation happen. Peace between believers is the business of the church.
Conclusion: The Proclamation of the Gospel (v. 3)
Fifth and finally, reconciliation among believers is grounded in the proclamation of the gospel. Why is Paul so intent on these two women being reconciled? Is it because he loves Euodia and Syntyche and wants what’s best for them? Well, sure. That’s certainly part of it. But there’s more to it than that. Paul is passionate for the peace between these two women because Paul is passionate about the gospel. Notice what he says at the end of verse three. He notes that the two individuals who were at odds are one another had “labored sided 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.” It’s not merely personal happiness that is at stake. The proclamation of the gospel was at stake. Division and disunity proclaimed a false-gospel, an anti-gospel. Their division, distrust, and disagreements were undermining the very message they had worked to spread.
For the church, this applies to us in that it demonstrates again that to be passionate about the gospel’s work in our communities and around the world means that we must be passionate about reconciliation on our front porches and in our pews, in our places of work and rest as well as in our places of worship. Believers must care about peace in their relationships because they care about how the labor of the gospel is being carried out.
For individuals, believers and unbelievers alike, this tells us that the gospel is the fuel, the catalyst for bridging the hurts and the fissures that have erupted in our relationships, in our marriages, in our parenting, in our friendships. The gospel compels us to the ministry of reconciliation, a reconciliation first between God and people, and second between people and one another.
If you are a believer here today and you are at odds with your brother or sister, the gospel demands and enables you to love like Christ, to display the love of the gospel. Take the first step. Take the initiative. Sacrifice your pride and your rights. Make the first move. Agree in the Lord.
If you are not a believer, then you know how powerless you seem to heal the deepest caverns within your own life and within the lives of the people you love. Before you can be reconciled to anyone else, your greatest need is to be reconciled to the one who you have offended the most, and that is God himself. He has done everything. He has come to you. He has given himself. He has died, and has been raised to life, and is even now calling you the guilty to a relationship with him. Repent, believe, and be reconciled. I entreat you.
Cade Campbell is the Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.