Monday, July 2, 2018
Philippians 4:2 – 3 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have 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.
“Man overboard!” Those words bring terror to the captain of a ship. Every effort is made to rescue the one in the water. The boat slows, and if necessary changes course, and all the people on the boat become focused on the rescue attempts. On the one hand, this is good, because it demonstrates the value of one life. On the other hand, it is bad because it interrupts the progress of the boat in reaching its destination.
I was in Louisiana in 2006 working on projects at our sister church on the Bayou. I had the privilege of going out on a shrimp boat and spending an afternoon and evening with Captain Quincy along with several other men from our church. We took turns manning the con (driving the boat) and doing other small chores in preparation for letting down the nets to catch shrimp and crabs. Prior to letting down the nets, we had stepped outside the wheelhouse onto the narrow ledge to get pictures. We had to be very careful not to fall overboard, but there wasn’t a lot of danger because we were only in 4-6 feet of water and the shrimp boat was traveling slowly. The Captain was not concerned.
After the nets had been let down, one of the men again stepped outside onto that narrow ledge. The captain came running to me from the back of the boat with terror in his eyes. He quickly explained that absolutely no one was allowed outside the wheelhouse in front of the nets, because if they fell overboard they would be trapped inside the nets and drown. There would not be enough time to raise the nets to rescue them. I quickly passed the word to the other men.
The Apostle Paul is shouting “Man overboard!” in today’s Scripture passage. Actually, in this case he is shouting “Women overboard!” Two women from the church in Philippi are no longer standing firm. Their boats have been swamped and they have been tossed into the water of the world. We don’t know for sure what the disagreement was about, but we do know that Paul sees it as being very destructive to the church of Jesus Christ. There is no longer unity of purpose in the church because two people can’t agree on some issue. It could be the color of carpet for the sanctuary, the pattern of silverware for the new kitchen, whether or not we should have drums in the sanctuary, whether or not there should be dances at weddings, or any other issue. All such issues are comparatively insignificant when people who have never been in the boat are drowning all around us. These two women have been knocked into the water of contention by a wave of pride and personal preference, and now the attention of everyone on the boat has become focused on them. The church slows, sometimes to a stop, because of the sinfulness of the saints.
The Captain of the ship, Jesus Christ, has given us the responsibility of letting down the nets to catch the unsaved. He has made us fishers of men. But that process is interrupted far too often by people in the church who fall overboard into some disagreement, contentious issue, or sin, and the whole focus of the church shifts from catching fish to solving problems. Of course, we will stop and attempt to rescue anyone who has fallen overboard, because we know the value God places on every saint’s life. But how many rescue attempts could be avoided if the saints would act like saints and keep their focus on the church’s purpose? Paul gives us two absolutely essential fundamentals to follow that will keep people from falling overboard:
- Stay focused on the Gospel. Paul says that before these women fell overboard into their disagreement, they had been strong workers at his side in the cause of the Gospel. There was unity between them because they were working toward a common goal. They obviously had taken their eyes off that goal and were now contending for something personal. Whenever the focus of our lives becomes personal rather than spiritual, we will fall overboard and hurt the progress of the church. Nothing we want can be allowed to interfere with what God wants, and what God wants is for lost people to be found through our efforts to seek them. Far too much time is spent in the church pulling up the nets to untangle a saint who has fallen into sin when we should be pulling up the nets to rescue a sinner who wants to be on the boat. How many sinners did we miss with the nets because they were out of the water when we had to rescue you when you fell overboard? We will rescue you if we can and if you want to be rescued, but could your fall have been avoided if you were focused on God’s purpose and not your personal pleasure or preferences?
- Remember that the one with whom you disagree has a name written in the book of life just like you do. So many disagreements and issues would be avoided if we would remember to see our brothers and sisters in Christ the way God sees them. It is so easy in our flesh to forget that the person with whom we are contending is a child of God. So much emphasis in the church today is placed on our distinctives and differences rather than on our common cure at the cross. We may see things differently, but we are all seen by God the same way. We could avoid a lot of overboard situations if we treasured the heart of people the way God does, rather than focus on the differences we have with people. To be perfectly honest we must admit that our focus on differences actually causes us to push people overboard. They wouldn’t have fallen if we had not pushed. But we would not push people we treasure. We don’t treasure them because we are not seeing them as equals, whose names have been written in the book of life just like ours. Their goal is the same as ours, so let’s work together.
Focus on the Gospel, and focus on the goal – the two fundamentals that keep us from falling overboard. Now, let down the nets again and let’s catch some fish.