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Leaving the hurt behind

MICHAEL J. BROOKS / Guest Columnist 

Note: This is an opinion column.

Alabama writer Rick Bragg told about speaking to a group of Southerners, mentioning to them that the South was wrong on the Civil War and on civil rights. One man rose from his seat and noisily left the lecture, his displeasure obvious. Bragg remarked that the ’60s had been so long ago, he was surprised the man was still angry.

“Oh, no,” one of the man’s friends replied. “He’s still mad about the war.”

The Apostle Paul found himself amongst two angry women in Philippi. Their names were Euodia and Syntyche.

After founding the church in obedience to his call to Macedonia, the northernmost state in Greece, Paul wrote a letter to encourage the congregation. Philippians has been called “the joy letter” since his preeminent talking point was joy. This is even more striking when we realize Philippians is one of the four prison letters. It’s not often we find joy in jail. Nevertheless in encouraging the church, the writer felt compelled to identify these two women who weren’t getting along, insisting their discord was affecting the entire congregation.

It’s not like Euodia and Syntyche were evil women. They probably co-directed the woman’s missionary society and sang together in the church choir. But we remember them today because they were angry enough with one another to merit a “shout out” from the church’s founder. Since the letters of Paul were read aloud to the congregation, and then became circular letters shared with other churches, it’s interesting that the pettiness of these women became known to their church and other churches in the area, and to us 2000 years later.

We don’t know the nature of their disagreement. Paul didn’t mention the cause and may not have known it. Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche themselves had forgotten what they fought about.

I’ve heard a number of stories over the years from people who were angry with someone in their church. And often the explanations seem so inconsequential. One lady told me another family was displeased when her son won an award in high school rather than their son. This alleged slight occurred 20 years before. I’m not sure how she knew this, or why it mattered after so long. But it’s amazing how trivial some of the things are that separate us from one another.

In the same letter, Paul wrote, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that you may be blameless and harmless…in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).

Our light is brighter when we learn to leave the hurt behind and live together in harmony as sons and daughters of God.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is Siluriabaptist.com.

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