Have you ever been in a bad fight? For whatever reason, you just can’t get along with someone. Maybe you both love one another but don’t agree on an important decision. Or maybe, your feelings of dislike are much more personal. You don’t like the way she chews her food or the way that he laughs. His scent bothers you, and you don’t like her clothes. In truth, some people are difficult to love. People can make bad decisions, despite your good advice. They can be rude and mean. And sometimes, they can just bother you, for reasons you can’t quite explain. Until one day, the relational stress erupts, and you find yourself consumed in an explosive fight.
The effects of conflict are intense. When you fight, severe conflict does more than just bring division. Your heart hurts. Your body aches. Your mind is constantly distracted, replaying past hurts and conversations. You feel overwhelmingly angry or hopelessly defeated. Reconciliation feels impossible. But thankfully, God is not silent about human conflict. Instead, Scripture often speaks about this kind of problem.
Paul’s encouragement to those in conflict
In the book of Philippians, for example, Paul mentions two women who are fighting. We don’t know exactly what is happening between Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4, but we do know that they were once unified, on mission together for Jesus. But now, their fighting is bad enough that the apostle Paul is getting involved. And not only that, but their conflict makes it into the words of Scripture for all eternity.
Here’s what Paul says,
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2–3).
In summary, Euodia and Syntyche are two Christian women whose names are written in the book of life. In the past, they had labored together with Paul in gospel ministry, but now, they are fighting. As a result, Paul encourages Euodia and Syntyche “to agree in the Lord.”
What it means to agree in the Lord
But what does “to agree in the Lord” mean? And what if we, as Christians, disagree with other believers about very important things—about how we spend our money, how we educate our children, or what kinds of food we feed our kids? Is Paul saying we can only be unified with those who are exactly like us, agreeing with us about everything?
As we look at these verses, it’s important to note what Paul doesn’t say. Paul is not calling out these women for doctrinal errors but rather for relational division. Presumably, they are still believing the core doctrines of the gospel and not promoting heresies. Also, Paul isn’t telling these women to “agree with one another.” They may never change their minds about whatever it is they are fighting about. Even so, Paul emphasizes that there is still a way for them “to agree in the Lord.”
Therefore, “to agree in the Lord” means to take on an attitude of respect and love, even when we disagree with someone about secondary or tertiary issues. It means to take on the mind of Christ and to have the humility of Jesus that says, “We can be united in the gospel, even when we disagree about other issues from time to time.” In this way, we are called to unity, charity, and love. As the famous saying goes, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”
How Christians can agree in the Lord
Just as Paul encourages these women, so he calls all Christians to have unity with other brothers and sisters in the faith. He reminds us that because Christ has saved us, we are to love others. We are to be unified with other believers not primarily because of similar gross incomes, outfit preferences, senses of humor, or tastes in TV shows. We are to be united in the gospel because Jesus saved us.
Throughout the rest of the book of Philippians, Paul often talks about this theme of unity. He speaks about being of one mind and one spirit (Philippians 1:27, 2:1-2, 2:5). Because of Christ, we are to have one spirit and one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 2:1-2). We are to put others above ourselves and to be agreeable, not prickly (Philippians 2:3). We are to be patient and tender with one another, compassionate and full of grace.
The truth is, we probably all have our own Euodia or Syntyche—someone who just feels difficult to love. Maybe it’s someone you used to worship with at church. Or maybe it’s a family member or co-worker. But in any case, you can relate to the nebulous fighting of these two women.
Paul models another way—not of hopeless fighting and division, but of humility and unity in the Lord. So the question remains: Who is difficult for you to love? Who are you currently fighting with, and how can you be growing in unity with him or her this week? What would it look like for you to practically put this person above yourself, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, counting him or her as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3)?
Even today, we can be unified with other brothers and sisters because we have one Spirit, one God, and one hope. Let us seek unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Additional resources on handing conflict with believers