Paul’s Advice to Euodia and Syntyche: “Agree with Each Other” (Philippians 4:1–3)

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.



Toward the end of the first chapter in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he called his brothers and sisters to let “their manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” What does that look like? This call is lived out as we are seen “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”! How does God bring us to that place?

Paul describes the attitudes of the Lord Jesus that we must embrace if we would live in this “manner worthy of the gospel.” As our Father builds into us the very heart of His own Son through the ministry of His Word and the power of His Spirit, we see how to live out this new Kingdom lifestyle in our church. Then God gives us the power of the indwelling Christ to make these relationships possible!

Later in his letter, just in case we are still confused about how to do this, the apostle gives us a real-life model to follow. Two women in the church at Philippi were struggling in their relationship with each other. Paul provides wise counsel for them, telling them how to navigate through this great difficulty:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side 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. (Philippians 4:2–3)

What is happening in Paul’s heart as he is reaching toward the conclusion of his letter? After writing about the strategic partnership they share, the glory of the gospel, and our willingness to suffer for its sake, the power of the cross and the surpassing worthiness of Jesus, does he just now remember that he did want to make a comment on this situation between these two ladies before finishing his letter?

Absolutely not! Two issues prompted the writing of this letter by Paul to the Philippian church. One was his desire to thank them for the deep and full partnership they shared in the gospel, not only financially but also suffering with him and confirming the gospel together before the eyes of the watching world. The other issue that prompted this letter was the division between Euodia and Syntyche.

Sins, Hurts, Disagreements, and Disappointments

We do not know what had happened between these women. It does seem obvious that they were not arguing about whether Jesus is truly God, or whether He had in fact risen from the dead. This was a personal issue. Something had happened, perhaps a hurt or disappointment, a failure or sin of one against the other.

Paul sets the solution clearly before them. He calls them to agree with each other. He then asks co-workers to help them to that place. He had begun what we have designated “chapter 4” with a second call to “stand firm.” Nothing shakes us quite like divisions in intimate relationships!

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)

Why is this personal issue so important to the apostle Paul? We have already seen in this letter that Paul is “all about the gospel.” He is discipling this wonderful church to orient all that they are and all that they have around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything that distracts us from the primacy of the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us is an enemy of the gospel.

Surely, you have seen in your own family, or perhaps your church, how great a distraction problems in relationships become. Issues with one another seem to immediately consume all the energy available to us. Every conversation, every prayer, every moment of time, and every resource of strength must now be focused on solving this problem.

Whatever had happened between Euodia and Syntyche was affecting not only their relationship with each other but also the unity of the church at Philippi. This issue was distracting them from the work of the gospel, and Paul tells them how they must get through this: they need to agree with each other.

We Cannot Do This

Why does Paul place this exhortation where he does in his letter? He has just portrayed so beautifully, with such eloquence and power, the humility of Jesus. The very Son of God did not grasp on to what was rightfully His; He came as a servant. He laid down His life. Jesus humbled Himself.

What would it take for Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other? They would need to humble themselves. When Paul calls them to agree with each other, this does not come across to these sisters as a mystical exhortation; there is no confusion about how they must respond. Jesus had modeled before them vividly how to do this, and now He lives within His people to make this possible and the normal response of His children.

But we know very well that we cannot do this. In our churches in the West, and even increasingly throughout the world, it is not possible for us to walk in what is most basically Christian. Why can’t we do what the apostle Paul is calling these two ladies to do—to agree with each other? There are two devastating reasons.

First of all, we highly value the independence of the system in which we live, and we have learned to see the gospel through the eyes of our culture. Our independent spirit and the individualism we so highly value make it very difficult to submit to one another. Alongside this reality is our commitment to what we have learned to see as our highest good: the need to be right. We pursue our “rightness” and defend the positions we hold at any cost.

How much will we sacrifice for the sake of maintaining our rightness? We will destroy our marriage; we will split our church; we will walk out of an intimate and treasured relationship, because being right is more valuable to us than anything else. In fact, there is nothing we will not give up for the sake of being right. It is our highest good.

God Is Other than What We Are

The second reason we cannot do this is because we love justice more than mercy. We are not like our God, whose holiness defines both His person and His nature. What does it mean for God to be holy? Surely He is pure and without sin. Yes, God is completely separated from everything evil. But the first definition of holiness is “other.”

God is “other” than what we are. In every way, His uniqueness and separation from everything that we are fills our eyes with wonder, just as it does the angels around His throne. Sometimes we celebrate this aspect of God’s holiness when we sing together, “there is none like you!”

This is the place where we see most clearly that “we are not like God”: He values mercy over justice, but we value justice over mercy. That is why we would not have promised mercy to Adam and Eve in the Garden when there was no repentance on their part, or confession of their sin, or any sense of responsibility for their actions. We would have reminded them about the consequences of their choices. We are not like God; He is other than all that we are, in every way.

This is why we cannot do what Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche to do. Our commitment to justice over mercy prevents us from humbling ourselves and agreeing with each other for the sake of the gospel. Being right is a higher good than the ministry of reconciliation, and at whatever cost, whether it is a broken marriage, a broken friendship, or a broken church, we will hold out to defend our “right position.”

You may well be struggling with much of what I am saying here. On one level, this is very confrontational concerning who we are and our culture as Christians. On another level, it might seem very confusing when we talk about the attributes of God like this.

When we list the attributes of God or the characteristics of His Person, we must know that He is forever, and at every moment, fully every one of those qualities. God does not diminish one attribute at the expense of another. He is always fully just, for example. In His justice, God’s wrath must be satisfied toward all His enemies. That is why the cross was so terrible. God’s hate-filled wrath toward His enemies and His righteous justice were poured out on His own Son.

But God is also always fully mercy. He loves mercy! He gave His own Son so He could cover us with His mercy. Because we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3–14) and because all our God’s affections are focused on His Son, He loves us, too, and pours His mercy upon us.

Bill Mills

Bill Mills was one of the founders of Leadership Resources International. His ministry began in youth work, where God gave him a heart for encouraging young people by teaching them the Bible. That same vision of teaching the Bible remained through the development of Leadership Resources' early church conferences and, later, with our pastoral training and work with missions. Bill’s passion was to bring the encouragement of the Scriptures to God’s people in order to equip them for ministry, and God graciously allowed him to fulfill that passion through many hundreds of conferences and workshops throughout the world. To learn more about Bill's life and ministry, visit our "Remembering Bill Mills" webpage.