Most of Paul’s letter to the Philippians consists of exhortations to his audience to view their suffering as a badge of honor, to serve one another selflessly, and to stand fast in the truths of the gospel (Phil. 1:27–4:1). To be sure, the Apostle does give doctrinal teaching in this letter on topics such as the incarnation and justification by faith alone (2:4–11; 3:2–11). Yet Paul does not present a sustained, progressive, and detailed argument for these doctrines like he does for the doctrines of justification and election in a letter such as Romans. In Philippians, he is concerned more to encourage a church that knew his gospel well, offering exhortation and gentle correction more than doctrinal exposition.
This main section of encouragement and correction concludes in today’s passage as Paul entreats Euodia and Syntyche “to agree in the Lord” (4:2–3). We do not know much about these women other than that they were probably prominent in the congregation and had the potential to cause greater trouble, for otherwise the Apostle would probably not have mentioned them by name. They may even have been two of the God-fearing women (Gentiles who believed in the one God Yahweh but who did not adopt the ceremonial laws of Judaism) who were among the initial group of people converted to Christ in Philippi (Acts 16:11–15). In any case, it seems that their arguments did not involve essential doctrinal matters. After all, the Apostle does not prefer one woman over the other, nor does he rebuke either one of them for doctrinal aberration. He also speaks of them as women whose names Christ has inscribed in His book of life (Phil. 4:2–3).
Of course, the fact that their disagreement likely did not involve essential Christian doctrines does not mean it was about unimportant matters. Furthermore, while believers may debate issues that do not touch the heart of the gospel, they may not do so in an overly contentious manner that denies the peace our Savior has brought to His people (Eph. 2:11–22). This was a lesson that Euodia and Syntyche needed to learn, and Paul even had to entreat one of his unnamed companions in Philippi — perhaps Luke? — to help bring about peace (Phil. 4:3). May we also work to help bring about peace where it is needed in the church today.
Agreeing in the Lord with other believers does not necessarily mean that we concur on every secondary or tertiary matter. It does mean, however, that we recognize other believers as true brothers and sisters in Christ when we agree on gospel essentials. It also means that we strive to debate and discuss respectfully, that is, in a manner that honors other people and shows the world that we are united in the gospel.