By Summerlee Staten, Trinity NY
“Last April (2023), Trinity (NY) pilgrims visited Philippi (shown in the image), where the Apostle Paul founded the church that received his letter to the Philippians. Visiting the site of Lydia’s baptism, we celebrated the ministry of women in the early church. Lydia and her household were the first Christian converts of St. Paul in Europe. Link to Trinity’s trip
“Wherever I go these days, both inside and outside the church, I hear people talk about how disheartened and nervous they are. Our news feeds and social media pages barrage us with stories of displacement, war, racial violence, and families torn apart by political disagreements. We are filled with grief at the losses we see around us, but also afraid for our own security in a world that feels inherently insecure. Divisiveness is everywhere, and with this discord comes a profound lack of trust in community.
“As it turns out, the Apostle Paul was no stranger to the problems of divisiveness and worry. This past summer at Trinity, in an intensive Bible study on his letter to the Philippians, we saw how Paul encouraged the early church to be of one “mind,” or phroneo in Greek, a word that indicates a wise pattern of thought. Paul uses this word repeatedly to indicate that the transformation of our minds — our very ways of thinking — only occurs when we are rooted in our unity with Christ.
“For Paul, salvation is communal, not just individual; which means the body of Christ must strive for unity, even as it is made up of diverse individual members, each with necessary gifts and contributions to the larger whole. Paul therefore says, “…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:2–5). He goes on to show that this “mind” — the mind of God — is bent on self-sacrifice, self-giving, and overflowing love.
“Our passage for this Sunday, then, in which Paul endorses unity between two women in the church at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, functions as a real-world, on-the-ground example of what Paul is calling for. The idea of unity is not just some pie-in-the-sky idea that sounds nice on paper. For Paul, unity in Christ is a metaphysical reality that has the power to transform the world. Accord between these two women is no small matter — rather, it is part and parcel of Paul’s larger mission.
“While we don’t know more about these women than what Paul tells us — they are in leadership roles and have a disagreement of some kind — we know Paul takes their rift seriously. Perhaps their squabble is theological. But as is often the case, a practical or political matter was likely at issue. Maybe they worried about how to run the church or were nervous about their own security, disputing how Christians should interact with political entities in Philippi, a Roman military colony where dissidence was not tolerated. They might have even disagreed over how the gospel message was being spread.
“Whatever the case, Paul’s concern is two-fold. First, he endorses the women’s ministries. This passage is striking for its affirmation of women’s leadership in the early church. Euodia and Syntyche are noted as Paul’s “co-workers” in proclaiming the gospel. He indicates they have struggled and suffered as he has. His concern about their disagreement does not overshadow his compliment of them.
“Second, he reminds them to be of “one mind.” This movement towards unity is seen as a communal effort, which is why Paul tells his “loyal companion” to help these women. He assumes that it is the duty of all the members of the church to foster unity, helping these women to resolve their disagreement.
“Paul encourages the Philippians not to worry about anything, but to take their concerns to God. In doing so, they return to their rootedness in Christ and can focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable.” They are to have a mind that can “think on these things.”
“To think on these things presupposes a mind connected to the mind of Christ, so that we learn to communally focus our attention on the highest goods, striving for the true and the beautiful. In so doing, we find our ultimate security rests in God, and, by extension, in the love we exhibit for one another.