Women had played a prominent role in the founding of the churches in Philippi where Lydia, a seller of purple, became Paul’s first convert on European soil, and a young slave girl became the first to be delivered from an evil spirit (Acts 16:14–18). At present the little church in Philippi was graced by two magnificent women, Euodia and Syntyche whom Paul memorably described here as having Phil 4:3 “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”. These two women, along with a certain Clement and other fellow workers, all had their names in the “book of life” —the great book that will be opened on the Day of Judgment, when only those found in its pages will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Rev21:27).
We do not know what the trouble was. In any event, they had a falling-out and were not of the same mind. This duo’s conflict was jeopardizing the witness of the very gospel for which they had fought. To live above with the saints we love, Oh, that will be glory. But to live below with the saints we know, Well, that’s another story.
Why A Plea for Peace (4:2, 3)? The news of the women’s falling-out had reached Paul in his Roman jail cell, and here he interrupted the flow of his thought with a personal plea to each,: Phil 4:2 “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” . Certainly Paul was gentle, diplomatic, and respectful, but to be named thus in the letter by the great apostle— all eyes were now upon the two women. There was more because Paul asked for intervention by a third party: Phil 4:3a “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women” . We don’t get to know who this “true companion” was, but his duty was most clear: he was to “help” “these women”. The apostle didn’t lay out a precise remedy for Euodia and Syntyche but handed it over to the church family in Philippi. Paul gave them tender guidelines and was encouraging. Did the women respond? We don’t know for sure, but very likely, Phil 4:4-7 KJV “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
What are the two Imperatives for Peaceful Living (Phil 4:4–5)? We meet the first command “to rejoice” first in 2:18 where Paul tells the Philippians that they “should be glad and rejoice” with him, and then again in Phil 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” And, lastly, here in Phil 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul’s unqualified “Rejoice” certainly does defy the thankless, complaining nature of humanity and human custom through all of history. We must never forget that Paul delivered his defiant command to rejoice whatever the circumstances when it was unsure whether he would live or die and while he was confined to prison. Paul was answering the question, “Should we really rejoice during afflictions?” So he stated twice in Phil 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Get it? Note also that the apostle’s words allow for no loopholes —“always”. Paul’s exhortation permits no exceptions regardless of how painful things might be. Similarly, the readers are commanded to find their joy “in the Lord” rather than in their circumstances. What is the Biblical reality about “joy”? Nehemiah 8:10 “the joy of the Lord is your strength”, and here Paul calls us to “Rejoice.” Those who set their hearts to Phil 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always” will not only Phil 4:1 “stand firm” but will be receive Phil 4:7 “the peace of God” Rejoicing in the Lord is not a luxury— it is a necessity! Because Christ has saved us, we concur with the Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 1:8,9 “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls”. And, of course, there is more to rejoice in because all of us have a history of sweet providences deliverances from harm and death, daily provisions for living, loved ones whom God has placed in our life all these are causes for ongoing rejoicing. So in this world of woe, God’s Word commands us to embrace a defiant Phil 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”. No exceptions. No muted praise. Because of what Christ has done, “we may rejoice, we will rejoice, we must rejoice, for we rejoice in the Lord … always” .
What is the second imperative that Paul commands— Phil 4:5a “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” The word behind “reasonableness” has been translated many ways. William Tyndale’s 1525 translation has it, “Let your softness be known to all men,” The esv has “reasonableness.” My favorite rendering is, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Paul was ordering the gentleness that comes from the character of Christ himself, as we see in 2 Corinthians 10:1 where Paul appeals to the Corinthians “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Indeed, Jesus used the same word to describe himself saying, Matt 11:29 “I am gentle and lowly in heart”. The sequence of Paul’s opening commands here in chapter 4 first to rejoice and second to be gentle tell us that the most immediate outward expression of a rejoicing heart is Christlike gentleness toward all people, which necessarily involves the patient bearing of abuse. Within the church this gentleness or kindness or sweet reasonableness will prevent the kind of rift that occurred between Euodia and Syntyche. A rejoicing spirit is a gentle spirit and a healing balm to the church and the world.