Keeping “In Tune” With One Another

July/August, 1998
Volume 33, Number 4

When we read the book of Philippians, we get the impression that on the whole, a spirit of unity seemed to characterize the church in that city. The problems in the church at Philippi seem to be minor. The book describes joyous Christian experience. The key verse is Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.”

The Apostle Paul did find it necessary to admonish two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, to agree in the Lord (Philippians 4:2). One unschooled preacher had trouble pronouncing the names of the two women mentioned in Philippians 4:2. When he read the text, he called them “Odious” and “Soon touchy.” Those words may be very appropriate descriptions for the two women.

We read in Romans 12:16 that we are to “be of the same mind toward one another.” The NIV translation says we are to “live in harmony with one another.” The word “harmony” means to maintain peaceable and friendly relations. Getting along well with other persons requires effort on our part. Each of us is a unique personality. Our experiences and tastes and viewpoints differ. Sometimes people bother us, or disagree with us, or criticize us–and we end up in conflict with each other. We need not give up firm Bible convictions in order to get along well with others. There is a difference between “giving in” and “getting along.”

Getting along peaceably with others is a skill that can be learned. There are some basic rules that should help us “pursue the things that make for peace” (Romans 14:19):

1) Resolve to be humble in attitude.

2) Pray that God will bring change.

3) Try to see the other person’s point of view.

4) Guard carefully the use of the tongue.

5) Learn the art of communicating charitably.

6) Practice forbearance and forgiveness.

If you try to reconcile differences, and the other person does not cooperate, you may have to accept the fact that, at least for now, the tension will continue. But don’t give up. Keep on trying to get along with your critic. Never stop treating the other person kindly. Nothing will disarm an enemy like love and kindness in return for an insult!

–Harold S. Martin

Keeping “In Tune” With One Another

By Douglas Wantz

Harmony within a church body is essential if it is to carry out the work of Christ. Too often however, Christians find that harmony is disrupted by conflict. Such was the case in the early church at Philippi. The congregation was a growing church that had a wide ministry for the Lord. Yet Paul had received a report that two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, were “out of tune” with one another. The Scripture says, “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, stand fast in the Lord. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also … 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 4:1-3).

The conflict between the two women at Philippi was one that potentially could lead the entire church to become spiritually “off key.” What could be done in this situation to maintain harmony? How could these two women, and the Philippian church, deal with this conflict so that their ministry for Christ would not be disrupted? Paul gives several principles, which if followed, can help guide all believers through times of conflict. Where there is a willingness to follow these principles, a spirit of unity can be achieved and maintained.


Even among the “pillars of the church,” differing ideas or backgrounds may lead to conflict. In fact, it may even be safe to say that the more involved people are in ministering for Christ, the more likely they are to encounter conflict. Why? It is because a majority of conflicts occur when someone is trying to do something. When anyone takes a particular action, there are usually some others in the church who will object. They may view the other person as invading “their turf” (doing something they have always seen as “their ministry”). There may be differences of opinion regarding what ministries are needed. There may be disagreement on methods (“We’ve never done it that way before,” or “We tried that ten years ago and it didn’t work”).

That no one is immune from getting “out of tune” with someone else in the church is seen in Paul’s words to Euodia and Syntyche. Not much is known abut these two women. The few verses in Philippians are the only reference to them in all of Scripture. There is a clue about them in the text, however. Paul says that these women ‘labored with me in the gospel,” implying that they may have been among the original members of the church. After coming to know Jesus as their Savior, they in turn become actively involved in reaching others with the gospel message. It is possible that they were deaconesses. At any rate, they were highly respected, involved in the church’s ministry, and therefore were known by the larger church–and that visibility allowed everyone to see that they were in disagreement with one another.

Realizing that conflict will become more likely as one’s involvement in the Lord’s service increases, how is a Christian to respond? Unfortunately, some choose to withdraw. They form the opinion which says, “I don’t need all this grief. I’ll just drop out and do nothing so I won’t have to worry about conflict or criticism.” What they fail to see, however, is that such withdrawal is of no benefit, for when you drop out to avoid the negative, you are also avoiding the positive input that involvement in the church can offer. Knowing the inevitability of conflict should not be an excuse for failing to be involved. It should, instead, be a caution against idealism. Do not be caught in the trap of thinking, “Since I’m doing the Lord’s work, everything will naturally run smoothly and yield tremendous results.” That will only set you up for a hard fall. Instead, have the attitude that acknowledges the possibility of difficulties (or even opposition) arising, and prepare to handle such situations in a godly manner.

Know also that having a conflict arise between you and another believer does not immediately make you unspiritual. That stage only comes if there is a time when there is a refusal to work out whatever differences there may be. This can be seen when contrasting the verses in Philippians 4 with the words of Paul’s response to a conflict in- Corinth. There were carnal divisions that separated believers in Corinth, and to them, these words were written: “For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). The Corinthians had reached a point where they were not concerned about working out their differences; they were content to choose which group they wanted to side with and oppose the rest. This attitude was deserving of a rebuke; it did make them unspiritual because they were no longer focusing their efforts on doing God’s will. They simply wanted their wills to be done, and were willing to engage in bitter struggles to prove their own will was


In contrast, we notice that Paul did not give the same sort of rebuke to the two women in Philippi. To Euodia and Syntyche, he only saw it necessary to instruct them to “have the same mind in the Lord.” Some versions translate the words “have the same mind” with the phrase “live in harmony.” Paul never questioned their salvation or spirituality; he did not tell them they were carnal. Instead, he sought to build up their spiritual character, reminding them (and the church) that their names were in the Book of Life and he affirmed the value of their service. He was saying in effect, “You ladies have found something you differ on; let’s get it settled so that the church’s ministry can continue unhindered.”

Disagreements can be expected because everyone is different. If handled rightly, disagreements can even strengthen believers spirituality. They lead us to take a closer look at our faith by forcing us to think about what we believe and why we believe it. They also lead us to ask, “What does God think about this?” As a result, we are enabled to stand more firmly upon the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Disagreements become abnormal and unspiritual only when the are allowed to degenerate into divisiveness and personal attacks.


The sooner a situation is addressed, the easier it will be to work out a solution. The lack of detailed instruction given by Paul seems to indicate that this situation in Philippi was in the early stages. There was still time to handle the situation quickly and efficiently. The best time to handle any conflict situation is now, because the number of issues, and the intensity of the disagreement, will never be smaller than the present.

The longer a conflict drags on, the deeper and more widespread the potential hurt will be.

To illustrate this, it may be helpful to picture rust on a car’s fender. It always begins with a small spot. If that spot of rust is removed and the metal surface Is quickly repainted, the problem is solved and rust is prevented from returning. If left unattended, however, the spot of rust always grows. The surrounding paint may begin to bubble up because the rust is creeping underneath it. There may eventually be a hole (or several holes) which develop in the fender. And if allowed to continue long enough, the corrosion may become so great that the fender begins to crumble, flapping In the wind as the vehicle goes down the road.

Conflict increases in the same manner. When allowed to go unresolved, persons continue to think about what is happening. There is a tendency to dwell on the hurt or the wrong they are experiencing. As a result, the feelings of hurt only grow stronger. Resentment builds, and the relationship between the people involved disintegrates just like the rusty fender. As the conflict continues, the deterioration also spreads to other people. Those on each side, feeling they are “wronged” in some manner, begin talking to friends who they think will be supportive. Without knowing all the facts (both sides of the story), additional people get drawn into the conflict and hinder relationships within the Body of Christ. At best, people begin to “tolerate” one another-still willing to be around the others who differ, but there is no desire to be involved in their lives. At worst, people avoid or attack those with whom they disagree–causing division and distrust which may lead to a potential split. For the benefit of all involved, a conflict should be handled before it ever gets near such a critical stage.


To resolve a conflict, those involved must first be sure to avoid a win-lose mentality that divides rather than unites. Where there are “winners” and “losers” declared, issues may seem settled on the surface, but feelings on both sides may not be glorifying to the Lord. Where those perceived as being “winners” are concerned, them is a temptation to yield to spiritual pride (“I guess this proved to everyone that I was right!”). For those feeling like the ‘losers,” there may be the tendency to yield to bitterness. The decision of the majority is accepted outwardly because there seems to be no other choice, but on the inside, anger and hostility may be brewing. There may also be a secret desire to see the “opponent” fail, so that the verbal jab of, “See, I told you so,” can be inserted. The only thing such an attitude produces is a critical spirit that can never glorify God.

Notice in Philippians 4 that Paul refused to set up a win/lose situation as he addressed the two women. He addressed both women on equal terms, and called for a solution in the same manner. He let both sides (and the whole church) know of his love for them, and that he held them in high regard (verse 1). This was done before he ever mentioned the problem, and conveyed an attitude of love and respect. Such an attitude will always do far more to resolve a conflict than addressing an issue out of personal prejudice.

The goal of resolving conflict is to get everyone working together again. The best possible solution is a win/win situation, where everyone can be happy about the decision reached, and the relationship between people is not only kept in tact, but strengthened. This was Paul’s desire for Euodia and Syntyche. He wanted them to be in harmony again so their previous good work for God could continue. Even after coming to terms with their problem, they may still think differently at times, but the challenge presented to them (and to all others in the church) was to blend their gifts and talents to work harmoniously as God’s team.

The second principle when seeking mutually beneficial resolution to a conflict, is to seek the help of a mediator when you can make no further progress on your own. This was Paul’s desire for the church in Philippi. There was a person there who is identified only as “my true companion” (or “yokefellow”). He was a person who shared Paul’s love for the Philippians, and would likewise desire to see harmony restored. He was also someone specially gifted by God in the ability to be a mediator (or a peacemaker).

Finding a gifted mediator to help resolve conflicts is crucial, for someone who has no peacemaking skills would likely only increase the friction. (Paul speaks of appropriate mediators in 1 Corinthians 6:4-5, and Jesus alludes to additional persons to help settle differences in Matthew 18:16-17.) This person (or in some cases, a group of persons) should be able to sit down with both parties and sort through the various opinions to discern the facts, and then recommend a solution. Such objectivity is extremely valuable, for it can often lead to both parties receiving a fresh perspective on their situation. Rather than have opinions that would continually be clouded by emotions, both sides might be led to common points of agreement that could restore the relationship. The overriding principle is, “If help is needed, don’t hesitate to ask for it.”


Ongoing conflict must not be allowed to sap the strength needed to grow in faith. Paul’s command to the Philippians to ‘stand fast in the Lord” (verse 1) is a call for them to hold their ground against forces that stunt spiritual growth or make a Christian ineffective in ministry. The picture Paul gives is that of a soldier holding his post in the heat of battle. The enemy might be surging down upon him, but the soldier does not cower or run. Where faith is concerned, Christians need that type of resolve, for the enemies of faith and spiritual growth are many. There will need to be a resistance against false teaching and pagan ideas, as well as resistance to personal desires that potentially might pull us away from God’s will. Orchestrating the attack on a believer’s faith is Satan, who acts as “the general,” and his demonic forces that make up ‘his army.” Paul reminded us of the spiritual battle which every growing believer will face, when he said, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand” (Ephesians 6:12-13). Satan is a powerful foe, and he will take over every inch of our lives that we give up, regardless of whether it is given up purposely or because of neglect.

Make no mistake about it, resolving conflict between believers will take time and effort–but it will take much more time and effort if the conflict is allowed to “drag on” unresolved. Effort that is put into resolution will have positive effects. Relationships can be restored. Needs and ideas and hurts that had previously remained hidden can be revealed and addressed. However, where no effort has been made to resolve differences, those involved in conflict find themselves stewing, fretting, and worrying constantly over the situation. Persons involved find their spiritual energy sapped, and they may even begin neglecting their walk with the Lord. The difference is clear: Resolving conflict promotes spiritual growth and stronger relationships. When differences are not resolved, growth is stunted, and lack of resolution leads to a backslidden condition.

As the Body of Christ, members of a local church must realize that significant ministry continues only as Christians ‘stand fast” together. Paul’s charge, “Stand fast in the Lord,” is not just a call to “go to church,” but to “be the church.” “Going to church” involves personal benefit (you go for what you can get out of it). “Being the church,” on the other hand, involves a spirit of dedication and commitment (worshiping God and making your life a living sacrifice to God). Persons who seek to “be the church” aim to allow Christ to rule in their lives constantly. If conflict arises in the life of someone who only “goes to church,” the problem is often solved by that person’s simply staying away (dropping out). But the person who wants to “be the church” will ask, “How would Jesus want me to handle the situation so that my relationship with the other person can be restored?”

When the focus is on the Lord, people help hold each other up, and do not tear each other down. Such a church is looking in the right direction. There is an outward focus for ministry, rather than a focus on inner rivalries. When people in our churches stand fast in the Lord together, we discover that the Lord is glorified. When there is ongoing conflict and rivalry, the Spirit is being grieved.

Harmony within a church will not always be easy. There must be a willingness to put forth the necessary effort, a willingness to set aside personal preferences at times. And perhaps most difficult of all, there must be a willingness to set aside selfish pride. For the sake of the Gospel, as well as for the benefit of those whom God desires to hear it, let us resolve to stop being “out of tune,” and instead, to be “in harmony.” Let us resolve, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to be working together with a common purpose and a common goal–lifting up the name of our Lord and sharing His love.

Douglas Wantz is pastor of the Chippewa Church of the Brethren in the Northern Ohio District, and is a member of the BRF Advisory Committee.
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