Steadfastness and Unity (Philippians 4:1-3)
Having concluded the long parenthesis of chapter 3, the apostle again exhorted believers to strive for steadfastness and unity. It is evident that there was incipient division in the assembly of believers at Philippi. The Epistle to the Philippians was written in order to deal with this problem, but Paul did not put his finger on the difficulty immediately. The ministry of chapters 1-3 was an attempt to prepare the hearts of the offenders for a final word of exhortation. Then in chapter 4 he called them by name and pleaded with them not to let self-interest hinder the work of the Lord.
With expressions of deepest affection he addressed the assembly as a whole. They were his dearly beloved brethren, for whom he yearned. They would be his “joy and crown” at the judgment seat of Christ. Notice that this expression in Philippians 4:1 is analogous to that of 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. There, addressing the saints who had been won to Christ through his ministry, he could say, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.”
Paul was saying that when he stands at the judgment seat of Christ as His servant, that which will fill his heart with gladness will be the sight of those for whose eternal blessing he labored on earth. Rutherford beautifully expressed the same thought when, speaking of the town in which he had labored so long, he cried:
Oh, if one soul from Anwoth Meet me at God’s right hand, My heaven will be two heavens, In Immanuel’s land.
At the judgment seat of Christ, he who sows and he who reaps will rejoice together. Each servant will come bringing in his sheaves and, looking up into the face of the Lord, will be able to say, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me” (Hebrews 2:13).
The crown of rejoicing is the soul-winner’s garland composed of those he has won for Christ. (A Christian must always stand in a more precious relationship to the one who was used for his conversion than to any other.) Those the soul-winner has won are his children in the faith, his sons and daughters in Christ Jesus. Their happy progress in the Christian life gladdens his heart and is rich reward for his service on their behalf. On the other hand, their failure—as evidenced by loss of interest in divine things, by dissension, or by resumption of worldly ways—must rend his heart with grief and fill him with a sense of shame.
“Now we live,” wrote Paul in 1 Thessalonians 3:8, “if ye stand fast in the Lord.” A brother-servant, the apostle John, wrote to his converts, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Notice that John said “that…we…may not be ashamed” (italics added), not
they. He was not referring to the shame of converts who failed, but to the shame of those who were instrumental in leading them to Christ.
So Paul earnestly exhorted his beloved Philippians to “stand fast” in the faith. Satan is always trying to hinder the people of God from clinging steadfastly together and presenting a united front to the enemy. It is unfortunate that his efforts to introduce dissension so readily succeed because of the flesh.
In Philippians 4:2, without further delay and with perfect frankness, the apostle spoke directly to the two offenders against unity (whom he had in mind from the beginning of the letter). There is no sternness, no lording it over their consciences; instead there is pleading. As though Christ Himself were beseeching, Paul entreated Euodias and Syntyche. They had been earnest laborers in the gospel, but they had quarreled, so Paul exhorted them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.”
Paul certainly did not mean by that they had to think alike in everything or see all things from the same standpoint. That would have been asking for the impossible. The very possession of mind, which distinguishes men from animals, gives occasion for differences of judgment and so calls for much patience. No two people ever see the same rainbow. The slightest difference of position gives each a view at a different angle. The formation and contour of the eye also affect the view. One person may be able to discern every distinct shade while another person may be colorblind. No amount of argument or persuasion will enable the second person to see what is so clear to the first.
We might even say that no two people have ever read the same Bible. Of course there is not one book from God for one person and a different book for another, but there is a difference in our understanding. We are so influenced by our environment and our education that we are prejudiced without realizing it. Even when we try to be open-minded, we are often misled by our impressions and the limitations of our comprehension. Therefore we need to be patient with each other.
But if what we have been saying is true, how can we be of one mind? Philippians 4:2 makes the answer plain, for Paul beseeched Euodias and Syntyche to “be of the same mind
in the Lord”
(italics added). If both had the lowly mind of Christ, if both sought to be subject to the Lord even though there were differences of judgment, each would respect the other’s viewpoint and neither would try to control the other’s conscience. Then there would be no reason for dissension.
Unfortunately we do not always have the lowly mind and often we insist on what seems to be an exceedingly important truth when nothing vital is at stake. An equally honest and earnest brother or sister in Christ may fail to see things as we see them. At the judgment seat of Christ, it may be revealed that they, not we, were right—or perhaps that both of us were wrong.
Philippians 4:3 was probably spoken by Paul directly to Epaphroditus, to whom the apostle was, I presume, dictating this letter. Epaphroditus, having fulfilled his mission and having regained strength after his illness, was about to return to Philippi and he was to be the bearer of this Epistle. The apostle entreated him as a true yokefellow to help Euodias and Syntyche reach the unity of mind about which he had been writing.
Paul mentioned that the two women had labored “in the gospel” with him, with Clement, and with others whose names, though not given here, are in the book of life. We are not to understand from Paul’s words that the women had occupied the public platform, taught in the assembly of God’s people, or participated in public testimony, for this would contradict the words of the Holy Ghost given through Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
There are many Scriptural ways in which devoted women can serve the Lord “in the gospel.” In oriental as well as occidental lands, the gospel work done by women is of tremendous importance. Godly women may have free access to many places where men cannot go. Laboring “in the gospel” implies a great deal more than simply speaking from a platform. In many instances speaking from a platform may be of lesser value than individual heart-to-heart work.
Epaphroditus evidently caught the note of inspiration in Paul’s personal words to him, and so he included them in the Epistle. We can be thankful to God that these words have come down to us. They give us deeper insight into the working of the spirit of grace in the mind of Paul, and until the church’s history on earth has ended, these words will be valuable to all who seek to serve the Lord.
Joy and Confidence (Philippians 4:4-7)
In Philippians 3:1 Paul wrote, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Undoubtedly, as far as his own mind was concerned, the apostle was ready to bring his letter to a close. But, as we have already seen, this was not the mind of the Spirit. Like his brother-apostle Jude, Paul was led to exhort the saints to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered” (Jude 3).
Now in Philippians 4:4 Paul again referred to that which was so much on his heart: he exhorted the saints to “rejoice in the Lord.” Joy and holiness are inseparable. Holy Christians are able to rejoice even when passing through the deepest afflictions. But believers who through lack of watchfulness have permitted themselves to fall into unholy ways, lose immediately the joy of the Lord, which is the strength of those who walk in communion with Christ.
A second exhortation (see Philippians 4:5) is one we should earnestly heed: “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Moderation is a most commendable Christian virtue, but the word translated “moderation” has other meanings. The word has been rendered “yieldingness” by some. This translation is excellent and suggests that Paul is urging resilience of character, which many of us sadly lack. Rotherham translated the word as “considerateness” and the Revised Version renders it as “forbearance” or “gentleness.” All these various meanings are summed up, I think, in Matthew Arnold’s rendering. This English critic translated the passage, “Let your sweet reasonableness be manifested to all men.” He pointed out the interesting fact that the original word is unknown in classical Greek; it was his impression that Paul coined the word for the occasion.
Sweet reasonableness is a lovely trait in a Christian. It is the very opposite of that unyielding, harshly dogmatic, self-determined spirit which so often dominates in place of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. “I beseech you, my brethren,” wrote Cromwell to the warring theologians of his day, “remember that it is possible you
may be wrong.” We are apt to forget this when we are engaged in discussions about doctrines, methods of service, or church principles.
Sweet reasonableness does not indicate a lack in intensity of conviction or a lack of assurance about the correctness of doctrines, principles, or practices that one believes he has learned from the Word of God. But it does imply a kindly consideration for the judgment of others who may be equally sincere and equally devoted—and possibly even more enlightened. Nothing is ever lost by recognizing this and by remembering that we all know only “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
How apt is the brief sentence that follows the exhortation to sweet reasonableness: “The Lord is at hand.” I take it that the thought here is not exactly that the Lord is coming; rather it is that the Lord is standing by, looking on, hearing every word spoken, taking note of every action. “Closer is He than breathing, / Nearer than hands or feet.” If believers truly realized that He is “at hand,” strife and dissension would quickly cease and the forbearance and grace exhibited in Christ would be seen in His followers.
In Philippians 4:6 a wonderful promise in connection with prayer is based on a third exhortation. Our Lord warned against anxious thoughts, and the Holy Spirit expanded His teaching by saying here, “Be careful [anxious] for nothing.”
But how am I to obey an exhortation like this when troubles are surging around me and my restless mind will not be at peace? I need to talk to someone, but like the psalmist, “I am so agitated, that I cannot speak” (F. W. Grant’s translation of Psalm 77:4). What should I do? To whom should I turn? It is natural to worry and fret in circumstances such as these, even though I tell myself over and over again that nothing is gained by worrying, and my trouble only seems to become exaggerated as I try to carry my own burdens.
The Spirit of God points the way out. He wants me to bring everything—the great things and the little things, the perplexing conditions and the trying circumstances—into the presence of God and leave them there. “By prayer and supplication,” not forgetting thanksgiving for past and present mercies, He wants me to pour out my requests to God. I may feel that I do not know the mind of the Lord in regard to them, but that need not stop me. I am to make known my requests, counting on His wisdom to do for me what is best both for time and for eternity. If I cast my cares on Him and leave everything in His own blessed hands, the peace of God will guard my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This peace is that which He Himself always enjoys, even though storms and darkness may be round about. It is a peace that passes all understanding.
I cannot obtain this peace for myself. I may tell myself over and over not to fret, but my thoughts, like untamed horses with bits in their teeth, run away with me. Or like an attacking army, worries crowd into the citadel of my mind and threaten to overwhelm me. But God, by the Holy Spirit, has promised to garrison my mind and protect my restless heart so that my thoughts will neither run away with me nor overwhelm me. Every thought will be brought into captivity to the obedience to Christ.
I will enjoy the peace of God, a peace beyond all human comprehension, as I leave my burdens where faith delights to cast every care. I leave them at the feet of Him who, having not withheld His own Son, has now declared that through Him He will freely give me all things. I can rest in this promise because He cannot deny Himself.
Holiness and Peace (Philippians 4:8-9)
Philippians 4:8-9 concludes the apostle’s instructions. All that follows (verses 10-23) is a postscript of much practical value, although not addressed directly to the saints as homiletic teaching.
Throughout the Epistle, Paul presented Christ to his readers in many different aspects. Now in Philippians 4:8-9 the apostle summed his presentation up in a brief exhortation to think on holy things. He thus recognized the Old Testament principle, “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
Thinking of “these things” in an abstract way, many have missed the point Paul was making. The apostle was not just urging us to fill our minds with beautiful sentiments and poetic ideals. It would be exceedingly difficult to think on things true, honest, just, pure, and lovely without focusing on a concrete example. We have an example before us in our Lord Jesus Christ (the perfect man), in whom all these qualities are found. And to a certain degree these qualities are reproduced by the Holy Spirit in all who have been made partakers of the divine nature.
When we link Philippians 4:8-9 with 4:2, we realize that Euodias and Syntyche needed to see what the Spirit had accomplished in each other. If Euodias looked critically on Syntyche and dwelt on what was contrary to the virtues mentioned in verse 8, the breach between them would be widened immeasurably. If Syntyche retorted by exaggerating every defect or shortcoming in Euodias, she would soon become so alienated from her sister in Christ that reconciliation would be almost impossible.
If, on the other hand, Euodias and Syntyche, realized that they both had been redeemed to God by the same precious blood and were indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, they would be determined to think of each other’s virtues, to recognize in each other anything worthy of praise, and to refuse to indulge in unkind criticism. As each magnified the other’s graces and minimized her faults, each would be so attracted to what was of Christ in the other that she would find herself linked in heart to the one from whom she previously had turned coldly away.
Is not this kind of thinking what we all need in our dealings with one another? In every truly converted soul can be found virtues produced by the Spirit of God, evidences of the new nature: things that are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. If we think on these things instead of dwelling on the failures to which we all are liable, our fellowship will become increasingly precious as the days go by. Even when there is actual cause for blame, we should stop to consider the circumstances that may have led up to that which seems so blameworthy. Then Christian pity and compassion will take the place of criticism and unkind judgment. Criticism cannot restore the erring one; it only drives him further into sin. “To err is human; to forgive divine” (Alexander Pope).
Even the secular world recognizes the folly of judging that which the eye cannot see. A Scottish poet taught us: “We only ken the wrang that’s dune, / We ken na’ what’s resisted.” We may blame a wrongdoer for things that have already deeply troubled his heart and conscience and have already been cleansed away by “the washing of water by the word” as applied by the Lord Jesus Himself (Ephesians 5:26).
Of course it is important that we never permit our minds to feed like carrion vultures on the wicked, filthy, and unholy things of the flesh, as the carnal man naturally does. The carnal mind is still present in believers, and will be until the day our bodies of humiliation are changed and made like Christ’s body of glory. But we are not to allow the carnal mind to dominate us, since the Holy Spirit dwells in us to control us for Christ. There is so much that is honest, so much that is just or righteous, so much that is pure, so much that is lovely and lovable, so much that is of good report, so much that is virtuous and trustworthy, that it would be foolish for us to be occupied with their opposites.
As we meditate on things that are positive and good, we “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), for all the beautiful traits Paul mentioned were fully exemplified in Him. As noted before, they have also been imparted in measure to each of His servants—probably in larger measure to Paul than to anyone else. So without pride but as an example to the flock of Christ, the apostle could add, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do.”
As we walk the Christian path according to the power of the indwelling Spirit, we have the sweet assurance that “the God of peace shall be with you.” These words of assurance connect all the exhortations in Philippians 4:8-9 with the promise of 4:7, where we are told that the peace of God will guard the minds and hearts of all who cast their cares on Him. In 4:9 we learn that the God of peace will walk with those who seek to walk before Him in piety and holiness of mind and practice.
Gratitude and Assurance (Philippians 4:10-23)
In this closing section of the Epistle, Paul thanked the assembly of believers at Philippi for the practical way in which they had demonstrated their fellowship in the gospel. They were not like those who are willing to profit eternally through the gospel ministry, but have very little concern about the temporal welfare of the servants of Christ to whom they owe the knowledge of that truth which has made them free. From the beginning of their Christian lives, the Philippian saints had cared for the needs of the apostle as opportunities arose. They even sent funds to him when he was laboring in Thessalonica, where he and his companions had gone after being released from the Philippian jail.
But years had elapsed since then and Paul had traveled far and passed through many varied experiences. Often he had found it impossible to keep in close touch with the different churches he had been used of God to establish. Consequently it was not strange that at times it seemed as if his dearest friends had forgotten him. But they had not forgotten him. The love was there, but they had lacked opportunity to display it. When the Philippians learned that he was in Rome and that he was a prisoner for the truth’s sake, they hastened to show their fellowship in his sufferings by sending Epaphroditus with a gift of love.
In acknowledging their kindness, Paul took the occasion to glorify God for His care of him even when the churches had forgotten their indebtedness to him. The apostle had known cold neglect, but such indifference had never soured his spirit or led him to complain. Paul noted the coldheartedness, but he did not find fault. He left it all with the Lord and committed his circumstances to Him. Assured that He never forgot and was never an unconcerned spectator of His servant’s sufferings, Paul accepted people’s neglect as a lesson in the school of God. The apostle could say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11 ).The Lord was his portion, and he could rest in the knowledge of Christ’s unchanging love and care.
Paul had not in a moment learned to be content. Like all disciples in God’s school, he had to advance in the life of faith by learning practically the things he later taught to others. But he had earned his degree, so to speak, and he could now declare, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12). These are blessed lessons. The soul is never really at rest in the trials and testings of life until these precious secrets have been learned.
John Wesley is reported to have said that he did not know which dishonored God the most: to worry (which really is to doubt His love and care) or to curse and swear. Every saint would shrink from the latter with abhorrence, but many of us have no sense of the wrong we do when we worry. Our attitude should always be to rest in faith on the knowledge that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Those who go forth to serve in entire dependence on the One who has sent them out as His ambassadors, are called on to exemplify the trusting attitude in a very special sense as they minister in Word and doctrine. This leads me to say something about the New Testament principle for the support of those who labor entirely in spiritual things. First let it be noted that there is no such thing in Scripture as putting the servant of God on the low level of a salary basis. In the Bible the only man hired by the year as a “minister” was the apostate Levite who was engaged by Micah of mount Ephraim and later by the Danites to be their father and priest (Judges 17-18). In the legal dispensation Jehovah was the portion of the Levites. They prospered and were cared for according to the measure in which God blessed His people and their hearts responded to His goodness. In the Christian economy we have no special clerical or extra-priestly class to be supported as professional men by their so-called lay brethren. The distinction between clergy and laity is utterly unscriptural; it is part of the Judaizing system that has perverted the truth of the church.
But there are those who are specially gifted as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and in many instances these believers are called on to separate themselves from secular pursuits in order to devote their time exclusively to spiritual service. In the early church such men “went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 7). They depended on the Lord to supply their needs and He cared for them through His own grateful people, who obeyed the injunction in Galatians 6:6: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” Inspired by the Spirit, John wrote, “We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers to the truth” (3 John 8). Such teachers have a claim on the people of God—not because they are official ministers, but because they are engaged in making known the truth. All believers are privileged to share in their service by supporting their work.
Observe carefully, however, that the servant of God is never to look to the saints for his support. He is to look directly to the Lord; he is to make his personal needs known only to Him. The servant of God should not hesitate to contact assemblies of believers to acquaint them with special opportunities for ministry to others as occasions arise. Paul did this frequently and earnestly. But rather than mention his personal needs, the apostle labored with his own hands. He did not feel he was degrading his calling by doing this. Rather, he felt that by laboring with his hands he was able to “provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17) and set an example to any who were inclined to seek an easy path and depend on support from those in better circumstances.
The principle is clear: The servant of Christ is to go forth in absolute dependence on the One who has commissioned him and who makes Himself responsible to meet his needs. At the same time, the people of God are called on to pray about what share they should have in the support of those who are engaged in full time ministry. No ministering brother has the right or authority to demand support from the saints. They, not he, must judge whether he is worthy of support. But if they benefit from his spiritual ministry, he should receive material benefits from them (see 1 Corinthians 9:11). ‘They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).
If a servant of the Lord finds fault because his support is small, he is showing that his dependence is on man rather than on God. But if the saints are callously indifferent to the temporal needs of one whom they recognize as a God-sent messenger, they show that they are out of touch with Him who has given them the privilege of helping financially in the spread of the truth. Both those who minister and those who are ministered to should seek direction from the Lord about their mutual responsibilities.
Paul had walked in dependence on the Lord for many years. As he looked back over the journey and saw how he had been sustained of God, he knew he could count on Him for the future. He faced the days to come with the assurance that he could do all things through Christ who was his strength. The One who was his life, example, and object was also his unfailing source of supply for every emergency that might arise, even a martyr’s death.
While Paul did not look to man for his supplies, he was truly grateful for those who ministered to him. He did not take for granted the gift of love sent by his dear Philippian children in the faith. He expressed himself in most appreciative terms as he thanked them for their fellowship. In his expression of gratitude he is an example to all of Christ’s servants, some of whom have been neglectful of courtesies that often mean more to the saints than they realize.
Paul did not receive the gift of the Philippians because he desired to profit from their generosity. He received the gift because he saw in it evidence of the working of the Spirit of grace in their souls. The Spirit was working for their blessing as well as his. And so he gladly accepted the gift, seeing in it “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
The Lord—for whose glory the Philippians ministered to His imprisoned servant—would not allow them to put Him in their debt. Instead He promised to supply all their need “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). When we have given to our utmost limit, we have only returned a little of His own, and even that He will abundantly repay.
The last three verses of the Epistle give the concluding salutation. Note how “every saint” is again greeted affectionately (Philippians 4:21; compare 1:1); Paul refused to recognize any factions. All the believers who were with Paul joined in the salutation. He particularly mentioned those “of Caesar’s household” who belonged to the imperial guard (4:22). Some of these were evidently new converts, having come to the faith as a result of their contact with Paul in his prison cell.
We close our meditations on this instructive Epistle with a message of grace ringing in our souls. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. A-men” (Philippians 4:23).