Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Personalities and the Church

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:02-03, NKJV).

Euodia ("Fragrant"), Syntyche ("Fateful"), Clement ("Merciful") and an unnamed "true companion" (or perhaps someone named Syszugus, which means "true companion" or "genuine yokefellow") are addressed personally in this beginning of Paul's closing chapter. The subject is, once more, unity of mind. Clearly there were three or four strong and notable personalities in the church at Philippi, who, if their disunity became more pronounced, could become a disruptive or even divisive force in the church. This is always the risk of having dynamic people in places of influence in the family of God. While superficial conformity is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament, doctrinal unity is repeatedly emphasized. Without it, as we see today, the Church loses its effectiveness in a world increasingly lured into darkness.

The only antidote is for each one of us to be humbly teachable, sitting under the authoritative instruction of the whole counsel of God. Nothing else, neither politics nor persuasion, will be a lasting remedy. Only hearts and minds transformed by God's Word can foster the necessary atmosphere of unity so vital to a thriving fellowship. And it is not that these dominant personality types in view meant evil, for that seems unlikely given the apostle's gentle chiding. But without strong leadership grounded fully on sound doctrine, the gentle, refreshing breezes of individual differences can evolve into full-blown storms of discord.

Paul's strategy in addressing this issue was to gently remind each of the participants of their beginnings in the gospel; their first love of Jesus; their laboring to spread the good news. It is likely that whatever doctrinal or faith-practice issues that were in dispute between these two powerful and godly women, underlying the conflict was something else. That is not to say the contention was not real, or was invalid. It is to say that in requiring direct intervention by the Apostle Paul, these women were symptomatic of not "esteeming others as better than themselves", and of failing to "let nothing be done with selfish ambition." Contention and strife are not natural byproducts of agape love. These are, however, benchmarks of conceit, ambition and pride. All ugly things in a church.

There is plenty of room in a well-grounded fellowship for amicable disagreement on non-essentials. If all such are handled with love and tolerance, and under solid teaching and leadership, disruption is unlikely to occur. But when these escalate, when emotions run high, and factions get created, the result can be disastrous. More than one vibrant church has split and died. Consequently, in addition to reminding them of their humble start in the faith, Paul solicited the help of a syszugus

This was someone who walked in agreement with Paul, and had proven to be steadfast and reliable. The description, "true companion" says it all. He or she was literally a "genuine yokefellow" who had taken up the yoke of Jesus Christ in such a way that they were able to bear, not only their own burdens, but the burdens of others within the church family. And, in this instance, the burden of like-mindedness in the church, corporately. How wise Paul was to enlist the aid of others to come alongside the disputatious pair, and defuse the situation by the injection of calmer, less invested, and likely more rational thinking. His goal was to re-instill unity; not by compulsion, but by an appeal to a deeper fellowship, mentioning Clement, and the rest of my fellow workers.

Paul subtly and profoundly emphasized not the differences, but the underlying cohesion of the church everywhere and throughout the ages. It is this: our names being written in the Book of Life. This is instructive for us today, when the church has been fractured and splintered on the shoals of denominationalism, doctrinal liberalism, and moral compromise. Being one in sound doctrine is the only prescription that effects a cure to the natural divisiveness of fallen human beings saved by grace through faith. And upon that foundation is built mutual respect, self-sacrificing love, and remembrance of Who we really serve, and to Whom we owe all.

And it is so important to have a Syszugus upon whom the church leadership can rely to sincerely smooth ruffled feathers, and calm the storms of emotionalism that sometimes comes upon the church. A person (or persons) who do not add their own fallen fuel to the fire, but keep their eyes on Jesus, to Whom the church owes ultimate allegiance.

No single person can be all necessary things to all people within a fellowship all the time. And in perfect anticipation of the needs of the church throughout the ages, Christ has gifted each committed member of each church family a subset of the required tools to edify the body of Christ, to express His mercy, diligence, leadership and love. A thriving church is a place where these gifts are allowed to grow and blossom, and come to full fruition under the guidance and administration of the Holy Spirit.

When such is in place, I believe that that Body of Christ, however large or small, rich or poor, well-known or unknown, shines a light in the darkness that makes the Enemy and his minions tremble and quake with fear, and that brings  joy unspeakable to the One who died to save us, and who lives forever more.