Christianity for Dummies: Philippians 4:2-3

by Katie N. and Josh S.

In many spheres of life, unity is a key to excellence. This is readily apparent in the world of sports. For example, if the Cedarville men’s soccer team, due to a terrible argument among the athletes, was to suddenly turn into eleven solo players who refused to cooperate and pass during the match, a team of much lesser talent and ability would be able to soundly defeat them. Even though the eleven players on the field would still be quite talented individually, their refusal to pursue a common goal together would make them no match for the eleven opponents.

However, the same exact thing can and, all too often, does happen in the body of Christ. Relationships between otherwise “talented” Christians too often strain and break over the pettiest of issues, and whether we realize it or not, this damages the body just as much as any individual sin, impeding the advance of the gospel through the Church. Perhaps our focus on individual and private piety has led us to neglect the importance of unity when it comes to following Christ.

This is exactly the kind of issue that Paul seeks to address in Philippians 4:2-9, to which we now turn.

The following is a translation of our passage,

based on the NASB with minor revisions to reflect our interpretive decisions.

2 I beg Euodia and I beg Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women [because] they have struggled together with me in [the cause of] the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names [are in] the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The “big idea” of our passage is this:

In order to experience vertical and horizontal peace for the advance of the gospel,

Euodia, Syntyche, and the Philippian saints

are to rejoice in the Lord,

leading to reasonableness and thankfully avoiding anxiety through prayer,

and to dwell on that which is excellent and praiseworthy,

imitating Paul’s Christ-following instruction and example.

With that “big idea” in mind, we now turn to the exegetical outline of our passage,
which begins with a Case Study: Euodia and Syntyche (in 4:2-3)

At first glance, the first two verses of our passage stick out like a sore thumb from that which precedes and that which follows. Having concluded a positive vs. negative analysis of what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” in 3:1-21, Paul then uses some of the richest terms of endearment for the Philippian saints in 4:1, calling them “my beloved brothers whom I long to see, my joy and crown…my beloved.” This verse functions as a transition from the exposition of 3:1-21 to the case study and exhortations found here in 4:2-9. Paul urges his beloved brothers and sisters to “stand firm in the Lord” in the ways he has just finished describing.

However, a jarring transition comes with the very first word of 4:2. In most English translations, it is the word “I,” referring to Paul. However, in the Greek text this passage begins with the proper name Euodia, mentioned nowhere else in this epistle or in any of Paul’s extant writings, for that matter. Another proper name, Syntyche, appears a mere two words later, and it is clear that Paul is now discussing a unique situation. It is our labor today to show how this “sore thumb” passage, with its strange placement in the thought-flow of the book and odd use of proper names, actually serves as a case study which transcends the specific parties involved, synthesizing Paul’s teaching throughout the entire book of Philippians.

Paul begins by stating The Problem and The Desired Solution (in 4:2)

Addressing two women in the Philippian community, Paul even-handedly urges them both towards unity and harmony in their common bond in the Lord Jesus.

Who were Euodia and Syntyche? What was their conflict?

Although these names were common in that day, these women are mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament, and their exact identity remains unknown.

Furthermore, it is surprising that Paul here specifically names the two people involved in the conflict he is trying to resolve, as this was not his common practice. According to Fee, Paul rarely mentions anyone by name unless it is in the context of greetings and the mention of coworkers or envoys (for example, “Clement” in 4:3). [1] When combined with the enlisting of a third party’s help in 4:3, this seems to reveal the urgency of Paul’s request for unity. However, it might be illegitimate to read this in terms of Paul calling two people out in a direct and somewhat harsh pastoral confrontation, as some commentators have done. Fee sees Paul naming these two as an evidence of their close friendship. [2] That is, the fact that Paul actually does call them by name reveals his intimate knowledge of them and their situation, and that he is confident that his intervention will solve the problem.

However, this does not mitigate the urgency of the request. Paul obviously views the unity between these women, who were probably influential members of the Philippian church (according to Hawthorne, [3] Fee, [4] O’Brien,[5] and others), to have a weighty influence on the advancement of the gospel by the Philippian church.

That being said, Paul refuses to take sides in his appeal, which can be seen in the very even-handed syntax: Εὐοδίαν παρακαλῶ καὶ Συντύχην παρακαλῶ, using the verb παρακαλέω, which can here be rendered “appeal to, urge, exhort, or encourage.” He addresses them both directly in turn, which reinforces his request for them to abandon their differences and live in harmony in the Lord. This is a very personal appeal. To read it in any other way goes against the terms of affection Paul uses for the Philippians throughout the letter, especially in 4:1. In an attempt to capture this sense, we have chosen to render παρακαλῶ as “beg.”

In order to get a better idea of what their conflict was, however, we must continue to look at the rest of this “case study.”

What was Paul’s Desired Solution? τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν ἐν κυρίῳ:

Paul desires that these two women abandon their differences and live in harmony in the Lord, touching on a main theme of the letter up to this point.

τ
αὐτὸ φρονεῖν: This present active infinitive form of φρονέω has a semantic range which includes (according to BAGD): “to think, form/hold an opinion, judge; set one’s mind on, be intent on; and have thoughts/attitudes, be minded or disposed.” Literally, this entire phrase means “to think the same thing.” But what does this mean?

Contextually, the most important occurrences of φρονέω are in 2:2, where Paul says: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” This use of φρονέω in an appeal for unity parallels the use in 4:2. Euodia and Syntyche are being urged toward the same humility-based unity described in chapter 2. Although this most literally means having the same mindset, this mindset was supposed to influence both their inward dispositions and their outward actions, so that the church might remain unified and that the gospel might be effectively advanced. Therefore, we have translated this phrase “live in harmony.”

ἐν κυρίῳ: Euodia and Syntyche are not only to live in harmony with one another, but to do so in the Lord, that is, Christ Jesus. Euodia and Syntyche are to live in harmony because doing so is fitting and proper for those who have submitted themselves to Christ’s lordship. This points us back to 2:6-11, which spells out the kind of Lord they are called to submit to, and to 3:4-14, which gives us a real-life example of this submission.

Paul then address The Specific Means to the Desired Solution (in 4:3)

Having urged both Euodia and Syntyche toward the desired goal, Paul now enlists an unnamed “true companion” to help these women live in harmony, revealing the urgency of his exhortation in the previous verse. The “true companion” is to help these women because they have contended in the gospel’s cause along with Paul and other fellow gospel workers, who all have the promised inheritance of eternal life.

Who is this “True Companion”? – (γνήσιε σύζυγε)

Many different answers have been proposed to answer this question. Clement of Alexandria conjectured that this was Paul’s wife, whom Renan suggested was Lydia of Acts 16. Chrysostom said that this was the husband or brother of either Euodia or Syntyche. Some say Epaphroditus, others say Timothy. Others suggest Silas, Luke, the chief bishop at Philippi, Christ himself, or a person with the proper name Syzygus.[6]

However, according to O’Brien, the only tenable conclusion that we can presently come to is that this “true companion” was a well-known member of the Philippian church who partnered with Paul in the gospel’s cause, and who most likely possessed both tact and influence.[7]

But why should he help these women?

The reason why the “true companion” needs to help these women resolve their conflict is that they “have struggled together with [Paul] in [the cause of] the gospel,” revealing the link between their unity and the church’s effectiveness in advancing the gospel. This clause hearkens back to 1:27, where Paul urges the Philippians to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” by “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The verb used for “striving together” is the third person plural aorist active indicative form of συναθλέω, originally an athletic/gladiatorial metaphor meaning “to contend, struggle along with.” The sphere in which Euodia and Syntyche have struggled along with Paul is “in the gospel,” and the clear prediction of suffering in the gospel’s cause found in 1:30 explains why participation in it is described as such a battle.

In answer to our previous question, it is impossible today to know for sure what the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche entailed. However, we can ascertain that the main issue for Paul was the advance of the gospel through the Philippian church. Euodia and Syntyche’s important participation with Paul in the gospel mission is the basis for the urgency of his request for harmony. The problem needed to be resolved because a failure to do so would have impeded the gospel’s progress.


[1] Fee, 389.

[2] Ibid., 389-92.

[3] Hawthorne, 179.

[4] Fee, 390-91.

[5] O’Brien, 477-83.

[6] Hawthorne, 179-80.

[7] O’Brien, 481.

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