Joy is something that I must work at. It is a fruit, needs cultivation, water, fertilizer and more. Neglect can rob me of joy.
People can rob me of my joy. Paul was a prisoner in Rome, his friend Philemon was in Colossae, and the human link between them was a runaway slave named Onesimus. The details are not clear, but it appears that Onesimus robbed his master and then fled to Rome, hoping to be swallowed up in the crowded metropolis. But, in the providence of God, he met Paul and was converted!
For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. | Philemon 7
Paul was facing his problems with people at Rome as well as with people in Philippi, and it was the latter who concerned him the most. When Epaphroditus brought a generous gift from the church in Philippi, and good news of the church’s concern for Paul, he also brought the bad news of a possible division in the church family.
The secret of joy despite circumstances is the single mind. The secret of joy despite people is the submissive mind. The key verse is: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better [more important] than themselves”. In Philippians 1, it is “the Messiah first” and in Philippians 2 it is “others next.” Paul the soul winner in Philippians 1 becomes Paul the servant in Philippians 2.
Apparently, there was a double threat to the unity of the church going on at the time; false teachers coming in from without and disagreeing members within. What Euodia (“fragrance”) and Syntyche (“fortunate”) were debating about, Paul does not state. Perhaps they both wanted to be president of the missionary guild or the choir!
Paul knew what some church workers today do not know, that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. True spiritual unity comes from within; it is a matter of the heart. Uniformity is the result of pressure from without. Therefore Paul opens this section appealing to the highest possible spiritual motives.
Since the believers at Philippi are “in the Messiah,” this ought to encourage them to work toward unity and love, not division and rivalry. In a gracious way, Paul is saying to the church, “Your disagreements reveal that there is a spiritual problem in your fellowship. It isn’t going to be solved by rules or threats; it’s going to be solved when your hearts are right with Christ and with each other.” Paul wanted them to see that the basic cause was selfishness, and the cause of selfishness is pride. There can be no joy in the life of the Christian who puts himself above others.