The church at Philippi was troubled by some contentious women—Euodia and Syntyche. 

The temptation to contentiousness, which finds its expression in nagging, fault-finding, chastising, complaining, emoting and the like, is a particularly strong temptation for women. The Bible does not contain a counterpart referring to men when it comes to the book of Proverbs, where, in verses 21:19, 25:24, and 27:15, those addressed repeatedly are contentious women. Now, men are specifically singled out in the Bible in a warning about “anger and quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8), the masculine temptation here to be avoided being the desire to punch one another, which is why men need to lift holy hands to God, as opposed to doing that. Moreover, men are not exempt from any biblical warnings against any such things (Titus 3:9-11), but the biblical warnings about contentiousness do more often concern women when they are expressed specifically about one sex or the other. 

Our passage today (Philippians 4) refers to two contentious women—Euodia and Synthyche. Contentiousness is an especially strong temptation for women, and particularly in the home and in the church, where women are told to submit to masculine authority (Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). 

It is not against nature that when boys are playing basketball and one of them complains too much about getting fouled, or when he argues every call, or when he blames teammates, or when he flops like Lebron James, the other boys will say, “stop acting like a girl.” Boys have said this while playing sports since long before the invention of basketball. We said it when I was growing up. When I was a missionary in the inner city, the boys would say, “stop girling.” And I even hear it in the men’s basketball leagues amongst guys in their 40’s and up, although more unsavory language is usually employed to communicate the same idea. It’s everywhere, and, without these crass expressions of the concept, it is entirely biblical! Boys should tell their contentious comrades to “act like men.” If you don’t believe me, then look it up in 1 Corinthians 16:13. And if you don’t like that, don’t complain to me; God wrote it.

Women are prone to contentiousness, not because of any inherent fault in the sex, but precisely because God designed there to be two sexes. After the fall (Genesis 3), sin twists and perverts the very things that God designed to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 

The average man is 40% muscle; the average woman is 20% muscle. That 20% of herself is spread across what is already a smaller frame. So, on average, men have more than double the muscle mass that women have. This difference is not a product of the fall, but part of God’s good design. Conversely, the average woman experiences more than twice the emotion than the average man experiences. This is not symptomatic of the fall, because emotion is not categorically bad. Rather, differences between men and women reflect God’s good design for the different roles men and women are to occupy. In the home, God has designed for the man to be the head (1 Corinthians 11:3). But the woman is the heart of the home! Her God-given emotion is essential for the proper rearing of children (1 Timothy 2:15). A man’s muscle is fitting to him in his role as the head of the home, because he must provide and protect, and a woman’s emotion is fitting to her in her role as the heart of the home, because she must nurture and care.

Enter sin. Even before the fall, because women are the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), they have less control. Less control and more emotion…this combination wouldn’t be a problem at all, if there were no sin in the world. But in a fallen world, dangers abound. Where dangers abound, there will be fear, and fear can be the strongest emotion of all. Moreover, the men who God calls to lead are now themselves fallen creatures, each one being prone to err. And when erring, rather than being open to correction, men will tend to be prone to self justification, rationalization, and the like,  more cerebral manifestations of sin. Men tend to be dismissive of anyone who corrects them. So, the fallen world can be a place of danger and frustration for women. Since women are built to be emotional, it will be very hard for her not to become contentious. 

Didn’t God know this? Of course He did. When He said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16), the context was not one of blessing. This was to be the result of sin in the world. Just 15 verses later God will use the same exact Hebrew constructions to say that sin’s desire is “for you,” that is, a desire to control you, and “you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). 

According to Genesis 3:16, when sin entered the world, women became fearful of male headship, that is, fearful of men being in control and fearful of the feeling of being out of control. She will have to control her fearful emotions rather than trying to control her head. This is why when Peter gives instruction to women, he says, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). Notice that Peter understands that it is fear that makes a woman contentious toward her husband.

Perfectly in keeping with Peter’s instruction, Paul, in Philippians 4:4-7, gives what has become his most famous teaching on joy. The context (Philippians 4:2-3) is about the pastor of the church being called to help two contentious women in the church to be more agreeable. But Paul’s prescription is needed by men and women alike:

“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious 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.” —Philippians 4:4-7

First read Philippians 4:2-3 to apprehend that the context of this injunction is the contentiousness of two women. Then, the reader can make a key connection, one that applies especially but not exclusively to women. It is that the great enemy of joy is the emotion of fear. 

The two—joy and fear—are incompatible. Each displaces the other when it arrives. When Philippians 4:6 says, “do not be anxious,” it means don’t be afraid. More than that, it means don’t be even a little bit afraid. Instead, “Rejoice in the Lord” (4:4).

Anxiety is like a toxin in your bloodstream that saps your strength. Anxiety pulls the joy right out of your life. Anxiety makes a person unreasonable, contentious, and quarrelsome. That is why Paul says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (4:5).

Euodia and Synthyche were the particular contentious women that Paul was addressing in Philippians 4:2-7. But all women should give careful heed to this passage, listening as if God were speaking directly to them. And men need to hear this too.

Develop the habit of identifying the things that are causing anxiety. Perhaps write them down. Then bring them to the Lord! “Let your requests be made known to God” indicates that we are to consecrate a dedicated prayer time. We are to lay all our concerns at God’s feet. This is our only hope of not carrying them ourselves. This is the only bloodletting that will get anxiety out of the bloodstream. 

Men usually do not struggle with anxiety to the same level that women do. But men do struggle with it, and on the flip side, a masculine confidence can manifest in an ungodly lack of concern. This too can lead to prayerlessness! Overconfidence makes a lot of guys unconcerned, feeling no need to pray.

So, Philippians 4:4-7 was written to both sexes, even if Paul was making an immediate application to two contentious women. Understanding the fall, it is easy to see how a nasty cycle of contentiousness and dismissiveness can develop between women and men. We’re all prone to wander; Lord, we feel it. The root of all this disfunction is sin.

This is now the seventh of eight installments on this series on joy. If you have not yet entered the joy of the Lord, then time is running out. Next week’s lesson will be the last. But here again, the seventh section of Philippians (3:12-4:9) makes “joy” a central theme. Are you taking time to really hear the Word of the Lord? Are you listening carefully to what God says about joy? Paul speaks by the Holy Spirit when he calls his brothers at Philippi his “joy and crown” (4:1). Paul experiences joy while trampling on fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul speaks for God when he tells us that we should be like he is (Philippians 3:17). Are you like Paul? Is your life characterized by joy?

Joy is the reward promised to those who obey the Word of the Lord. God promises a “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” That’s more than calm and quiet in the soul; it is joy in the soul. This kind of peace and joy will “guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” when we pray with great regularity, always bringing our requests and always expressing thanks to God for the good things He has given us. The married should thank God especially for their spouses. The singles should thank God for this season, even while making request for a spouse. In all circumstances, we all need to pray.

When we pray for unity in our church (Ephesians 4:3), we are praying against a spirit of contentiousness, against a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:7-9). When you pray for Cornerstone, pray for the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). 

All Christians should thank God daily for the gift of His Son, by whose stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5), and “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Prayer with thanksgiving is crucial for our joy.