Fellow Laborers

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Philippians 4:1-9

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Meditation

In the spirit of reflecting on what is true, honorable, commendable, and excellent, let us focus on St. Paul’s initial verses, which most of us glide past so easily whenever a biblical author starts rattling off names. There’s always that temptation to overlook the daily life details of Scripture to get to the “theological goods.” But there’s some pretty important theology right in the opening verses to this chapter.

Sometimes when preachers and teachers focus on the lives of Euodia and Syntyche, it’s to highlight them as an example of disagreement between believers and how to go about addressing it in a parish context. Obviously, there is much to learn from St. Paul’s approach. But our text also shows that these were women of significance in the ecclesial community at Philippi. Most significantly, St. Paul describes them as women “who have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel … whose names are in the book of life.”

I grew up in a low-church rural parish that, to this day, has never had a woman preach officially in the pulpit, serve as an elder, or pass the offering plates or Communion elements to the congregation. This despite so many women there who have been the most foundational laborers in the work of the gospel. Their work was rendered invisible by not being able to stand before the rest of the community as ministers or elders, yet they were always there in the background making the flourishing of our church community possible.

I am thankful to be a part of a tradition now that celebrates and foregrounds women who labor for the gospel, and that recognizes Euodia and Syntyche as inspirations for women serving Christ in every God-given capacity of the Church. The heavenly call of God in Christ comes to every person, woman and man. May we each humble our hearts to look at the person next to us with no further designation than being a “co-worker” for the gospel.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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