For people to live together in community is not easy. We are all human. We have our likes and dislikes, our preferences and our aversions. We are all at different levels of maturity – socially and spiritually. We don’t all like the same foods (I like Mexican and Chinese – some like neither.) Not all like the same music, the same movies, the same sports or even the same teams in specific sports. We don’t have an identical sense of humor – some are clowns and some seldom smile. We don’t all like the same styles of clothes nor do we all drive the same kind of car. Not everyone looks at the world alike – some are politically liberal, some are conservative. All these simply are the way life is. These things in and of themselves are neither right nor wrong.
And for whatever reason, we all do not see the Bible exactly alike. This, too, should be expected. We are all at different levels of development due to age, experience, mental capability or level of exertion in study. In spite of the claims of some, none of us are completely objective in our study of the Bible. We come from different backgrounds and bring with us to the discussion of the Bible certain prior assumptions. This, too, cannot be helped. It simply is the result of being human and living in an imperfect world. The best we can do is to recognize and try the best we can to compensate for these influences.
The fact there are all these different influences is all the more reason we need to approach the study of the Bible as a community, sharing in the wisdom of the elderly, being tempered by the caution of others, gently and lovingly persuading and correcting one another and being challenged and stirred by the enthusiasm of those who are younger. We need one another, not to be carbon copies of each other, but to be genuinely men and women of faith who bring with them all their various gifts.
Sometimes this can be difficult to realize and even harder to achieve. There are bound to be differences between us – and that is all right. But we need to learn how to deal with those differences. We don’t really deal with differences by attempting to force everyone into the same size box. Unity among the Lord’s people doesn’t require uniformity. Just as we are diverse as individuals, we are going to be diverse as Christians. To think the likeness of Christ can only be seen in one dimension is to have a very limited view of him. For him to be seen best by the world he needs to be seen in the lives of real people with all their wonderful, multifaceted differences!
When real, problematic differences do arise within our number as they do from time to time, how do we deal with those differences? How many times have you heard of trouble among brothers and sisters in the family of God with the explanation given that it is “just personal” in nature? Is there any other kind of trouble? That a thing that disrupts the peace between people is personal in nature does not excuse them or us for not dealing with it.
How do Christians with differences between themselves settle those differences? Are they simply swept under the rug and left to molder and rot? Problems will not rot away – the rot will only spread until the contagion affects the whole community. So how to deal with such problems? How do we prevent someone’s personal differences from creating greater problems and ultimately from absorbing the energy and influence of a whole community of believers?
Let’s consider a case of this nature found in scripture. In Philippians 4:2 Paul utters a plea to two women in Philippi who had some sort of problem between themselves to “agree in the Lord.” That sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But wait, he is not through with this issue. He next asks someone whom he only identifies as his “true companion” or “true yokefellow” to help these women (vs. 3). When people have differences between themselves other Christians need to step in and lovingly and gently help them overcome those differences.
Then he tells them to “rejoice in the Lord always” and repeats that instruction, doubling the emphasis on having the right attitude – a joyful attitude toward their relationship with the Lord. Their hope lies in that relationship. There is nothing more important than being in Christ. And they were both in him and were by that fact sisters to one another. If they were to rejoice for being in Christ themselves they should rejoice for the other being in him also.
Paul appeals for these sisters to show a reasonable spirit. (Philippians 4:5) …
“The Greek word denotes the generous spirit that rises above offenses, or a forbearing spirit, of which Jesus provides the supreme example (2 Cor. 10:1). Such a person does not insist on his rights (2:1–4). Only such persons learn the secret of joy. (BibleGateway.com/Show resources).
He reminds them of the nearness of the Lord and to not be anxious over anything but to pray and give thanks instead with the promise that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He then gives them what might be called the “Philippian Key,” a “yardstick” by which to measure their problem. Philippians 4:8 …
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The Common English Bible renders the first part of this verse, “From now on, brothers and sisters,” Philippians 4:8 (CEB).
I do not believe there are any portions of scripture just gratuitously or randomly thrown into the Bible. This verse is not just thrown in as a list of nice things with which to occupy our minds or to meditate upon when we don’t have anything better to do. (“Isn’t that a pretty sunset?” “Don’t they make a lovely couple?” etc.) The apostle is giving a method for solving personal (and scriptural) problems – something very practical and useful.
(I give credit to my son, Darrell, for the following explanation of this text. As a biology professor he is familiar with a little “tool” called a “Dichotomous Key” used for biological identification purposes. This text is a essentially a dichotomous key. Actually this approach can be used in any matter of controversy in regard to scriptural questions, not just personal problems.)
Now look at each of these things named in this verse. There is a reason this list begins with “true.” Everything must begin with truth. Truth is the foundation of all things. Suppose we substitute the converse, “not false”, which is a valid definition of “true.” If the thing between them (or the question between us) is not false or not forbidden, then continue to the next step. If it is false or untrue, then stop.
“Is it honorable (in intent, in motive, in practice)? If not, stop. If it is honorable, then consider, “Is it just?” Are all equally considered, without favoritism, without prejudice? If it is just, then proceed. Otherwise, stop.
“Is it pure”? Is it “exciting reverence, venerable, sacred; pure from carnality, chaste, modest; pure from every fault, immaculate; clean”? If not, stop. If it is pure, continue.
“Is it lovely?” Does it incite to love, does it “stir up one another to love and good works?” (Heb 10:24). If no, let it go. If it does, then go on.
“Does it have a good report, or is it commendable?” This is the only occurrence of “eupheme” in the New Testament. Does it, “sound well; utter words of good omen, speak auspiciously.” If something just doesn’t quite “ring true”, if it has no particular benefit, leave it alone. If it does, then proceed.
The last two are essentially referring to the same thing: “Is this of any virtue, any “mental excellence or moral quality or physical power?” The word, “arete” is very vague in its meaning, and may even be used in the sense of “praise”, hence the “any” repetition with “worthy of praise.”
Paul’s last word to these women is found in verse 9. I especially like the way this is rendered in the J.B. Phillips New Testament …
“Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9 (PHILLIPS).
This shows that this remark by the apostle was intended to be an exhortation to the people involved in this dispute and not a catch all for all apostolic examples and inferences. Paul had taught them and showed them how to get along together. He had both taught them and demonstrated by his own life how to live together with one another so as to be able to enjoy the peace that comes from God. In these verses he shows US how to get along together. Now, “think on these things!”