This sermon will focus particularly on verses one through three.
Here Saint Paul talks about two women, Euodia and Syntyche who apparently were not seeing eye to eye. As he speaks about them, he says that they labored with him in the Gospel.
You can probably guess what many people make of this passage. “Aha!” they say. “These were women pastors!”
You know, if you really, really want to find women pastors in Scripture, you will find evidence for them – not that it is real evidence. The human mind will find ways to interpret passages to support whatever heresy a person wants to find.
But think of how difficult it would be for this text in Philippians to be an example of Paul encouraging two women pastors. This is the same Paul who said, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence,” and “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” There is no rational way for this same Paul to turn around and praise two women as being pastors with him.
In fact, the New Testament never says that there were women pastors. None of the twelve were women. The Word of God never calls a woman a pastor or elder or bishop. Some women are pointed to as women pastors – often Priscilla, Junia, and these two today, Euodia and Syntyche. Yet no passage explicitly states what modern people want to find there, leaving people to make much of what they see as subtle clues to a women’s ministry that was later suppressed by patriarchal men, allegedly.
But what would it look like if this were really true? You would find passages where Christ instituted women to be apostles. The twelve and those later would not dare to do so where their Lord refused. If there was going to be a big shift where suddenly there was a new kind of ministry where women could serve, Christ was the one to make it clear to us.
Yet there is no evidence in the Gospels whatsoever. He had women companions who went with Him on the road and heard His teachings and witnessed His resurrection. Yet He commissioned none of them to preach.
Well, we are told, maybe He did, but the patriarchal suppressors destroyed the documents that contained the accounts. That’s a theory with absolutely no evidence, never mind the fact that it proposes that God is completely impotent to preserve His holy Word for His people. Besides, the New Testament documents are so early that the patriarchal suppressors would have had to jump all over this issue in the very first generation. But I guess, despite their incredible speed and thoroughness, they missed these references to Euodia and Syntyche.
In the end it is not about evidence at all, but about reading modern feminist sensibilities into ancient texts.
So who were these two women? They labored with Paul in the Gospel, whatever that means. Perhaps they opened their houses for the proclamation of the Gospel, with all the hard work that went along with that. Perhaps they supported Paul’s work in the Gospel with their funds. Perhaps they invited many to church and engaged in personal evangelism with many. There are many possibilities for what their labor in the Gospel was. No need to interpret them as ancient pioneers for feminism.
Whoever they were, Paul implores them to be of the same mind in the Lord. This is much like what he said in Ephesians: “With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bear with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We Christians are all supposed to be united in thought and deed. This means to hold to the same doctrine as well as harmony in love, without quarrels or divisions.
We do not know exactly what form of disunity Euodia and Syntyche experienced. But we, like them, should strive to be as united as possible on this earth. We unite around the Word of God, which by its clear light and the work of the Spirit is able to make us one in doctrine. We unite in acts of love, which sometimes involves actively seeking reconciliation where harmony has faltered. We forgive where we have been wronged, and seek forgiveness where we have wronged.
It does not always work out that way in the Body of Christ. We do not always act in perfect unity. Sometimes, we insist on individualism at the expense of unity. Or we let pride guide us instead of humble servanthood. Or we allow ourselves to fall into a party spirit. There are often certain people that we are not as fond of. Instead of working to nurture unity in spite of our differences, we sometimes let distance grow between us.
But our attitude should be like Paul’s. He called the people his beloved and longed-for brothers, his joy and crown. As a spiritual father, he considered their faith to be his glory – not that he took credit for the Spirit’s work. But he rejoiced in the brotherhood of the saints and the privilege he enjoyed as one who brought the Gospel to them. He longed to be with them, he loved them, and took joy in them. He did not only hold affection for certain ones that were his favorites.
How could he do that? It is so hard for us sinners to love the body with equity. We naturally gravitate toward some, not others. But that is not Christ’s way, who did not die for some, but all. Christ did not redeem only the sinners who earned His favor. No, His favor was for all the lowly, thank heavens!
When we see that Christ died for the unworthy, and that means us, it helps us to get along with the brothers whom we would not ordinarily seek as friends. These also are the unworthy whom Christ loved in spite of their flaws. We also have flaws. We also should not have been loved. There are aspects to each one of us that should drive others away from us. But the grace of Christ helps us see past each other’s less attractive idiosyncrasies.
Therefore we stand fast in the Lord. We remain in our Baptismal grace and in the repentance that is God’s gift. We feed our faith with Word and Sacrament so that we do not waver and grow weak. We want a firm stand in the Gospel of Christ. He is the firm Rock, upon which we are built. His death and resurrection have earned for us a crown of glory. Why would we reject that crown for some cheap bauble or trinket on this earth that quickly perishes?
Instead, we stand firm in the Lord. We cling to Him, whatever scandals and offenses may urge us to leave. We feel the lures and threats around us, but we consider that only Christ our Lord matters. All else in this life is garbage compared to Him.
He is the Book of Life, in whom our names are written. He is the promise and seal of our salvation, as if God in heaven had written our names down as an eternal contract with us. Christ is the contract and the covenant of our life. He is the life that fills us, so that death cannot master us. Death may hurt us a little, but we will rise forth as conquerors even over the grave.
So we fix our eyes upon Christ, the Book of Life, and let nothing deter us from Him. By standing firm in Him, we are standing firm with our fellow brothers in faith. They, like us, are redeemed by grace through faith, which is God’s free and undeserved gift.
God keep us in this gift for all eternity. Amen.
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