I always write with you in my mind and in my heart because you want to know about the women in the Bible.
Yes, I have not forgotten, however briefly, the time we have spent together, pouring out our hearts on the words of God, searching and studying the Bible, the enthusiasm and passion for the words of God, and the rich revelations we received in our quests.
As promised, I have started a new season to study and write more about specific women in the Bible. This is an urgent need. Many churches consist of mainly women (if not all). The Bible records the active and positive participation and contribution of women in both the Old Testament time and in the New Testament churches. New Testament church leaders like Lydia, Phoebe, Junia and Priscilla have received increasingly more attention. There are also other lesser-known women who are equally important leaders and serve in the capacity of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
I recently wrote about one whom Jesus singles out to praise in my blog titled “Do you see this woman?” (1) https://kingdomofgodaughter.wordpress.com/2020/05/21/do-you-see-this-woman-1/
Do you remember that one morning you told me you had a strange dream in which you were told to read Philippians 4:8? I told you it is Paul’s letter to two very important women. They were not just any women in the congregation. They were both loving, giving, mature church leaders and Paul’s valued co-laborers for the Gospel.
I didn’t manage to tell you much about them at that time. So today I would highlight these two women, Euodia ( Greek Εὐοδία, meaning possibly “sweet fragrance” or “prosperous journey”) and Syntyche (Συντύχη, “fortunate,” literally “with fate”). One is called “prosperous journey” and another is called “Serendipity”. Such auspicious names!
Having such nice names and being capable and hardworking leaders in the important Philippians church do not exempt them from being reminded to reconcile their disagreements. Paul’s letter actually pleads with them to agree in the Lord. (4:2). The two appeared in strife. Let us find out what happened by reading the whole letter. Paul’s appeal to them was written in Philippians 4:2-3 (HCSB) Reading the mere context in 4:1-9 will not help us to fully understand the two women. These are two real persons in life and not two-dimensional caricatures. Paul’s whole letter is meant for them and I would read the whole letter as the background and dig out more details about the two.
- The two women are important leaders in the church: First, we can note Paul’s appreciative and respectful attitude towards Christian women co-workers. He works with them and values their contribution, recognizes their diligent efforts in telling others the Good News, and affirms that their names are written in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:2-3). He addresses the letter specifically to God’s holy people, church bishops, and overseers/deacons. (1:1) (Note: The Letter to the Philippians is different from Paul’s other letters because he specifically includes the episkopoi (supervisors/overseers/bishops) and diakonoi (ministers/deacons) in his opening greeting.)
- Women founded this church: When Paul responded to the visionary call to Macedonia, instead of meeting a man as he thought, because there were not even ten Jewish men (the required quorum) to start a synagogue, he met a rich business woman, Lydia, who was leading a women prayer group and she was converted by Paul and immediately started the first house church in Europe, in her house in Philippi!
- The status of women in Philippi is high: Philippi was the chief Greek city of Macedonia (Acts 16:12) under the Roman Empire and it has been well documented that Macedonian women enjoyed greater freedoms, rights and powers than many other women of that time.
- Paul describes these two women Euodia and Syntyche in the same terms he describes prominent church leaders like Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:22,25), as those who have contended for the Gospel at his side, with a worthy ministry comparable to that of the men. Paul uses words that carry a metaphorical reference to gladiators fighting side by side in the arena. Far from demeaning women, Paul is actually declaring them capable and valuable for his ministry. Paul does not have gender prejudices or stereotyping women’s role in his ministry.
- Paul is in prison and his chief concern is maintaining unity among his co-workers. This is exactly the same concern of Jesus before He left Earth. In John 17:11-12 Jesus asks the Father to protect Jesus’ disciples by the power of His name so that they will be united just as the Father and Jesus, so that no one was lost. There is a supernatural power for Jesus’ disciples in being one just as the Father and Jesus are one. Disunity among leaders can cause their sheep to go astray. Paul explains to them what it means to have unity: “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (2:1-2)
In practice, how to achieve this unity? Paul gives them two main action points:
- Do not be self-centered: 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 2:4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
- Do renew their mind by thinking good thoughts about the other. 4:8
Paul gives them two real life models to follow:
1. Chapter two: focus on Christ’s example of an attitude that can lead to reconciliation. 2:5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
2. Chapter three: Follow Paul’s example. he focuses on Jesus and the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (3:14)
Can the two women do it? Yes, definitely. Because Paul says confidently in 3:15 “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” He knows these two mature sisters in Christ love God and have the fervency and diligence to serve God and obey God’s words. Paul has discipled them well and trusts them to do as he urges, to reconcile.
Lastly, Paul sums it up by saying, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (4:9)
You see, the consequence of their disagreement and strife in the church has caused the loss of God’s peace in them and affected the others in the otherwise exemplary church.
At the end of the letter, Paul brings up a praiseworthy uniqueness about this church led by women leaders. They are a loving and giving church to Paul’s ministry! They themselves in turn are experiencing the richness of God’s supplies for their generous sowing into Paul’s ministry. (4:19)
Postscript: These women are well-connected high society people. Even the royalty —the Roman Emperor, Caesar’s household send them greetings through Paul. Their networking is important to Paul’s ministry. (4:22)