STUDY 11: PHILIPPIANS 4 – Part 1

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

The final chapter of Paul’s letter contains a number of specific instructions, and various comments issuing from a recent gift received by Paul from the Philippians.

A. VARIOUS INSTRUCTIONS

A.1 To Euodia and Syntyche
In Philippians 2:1 – 11 Paul wrote strongly about the kind of attitude that we should have as followers of Jesus Christ – that the same encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion that we experience from Christ and from the Spirit should be expressed in compassion and humble consideration of each other. He also stressed that we should have the same humble, self-denying attitude seen in Jesus Christ in his incarnation and crucifixion.

Now in 4:2 & 3 he speaks directly to two women in the church who have worked beside him and others in faithfully proclaiming the Gospel in difficult circumstances. And he even enlists the assistance of another fellow-worker to help these two women.

Questions:
What does Paul command these two women to do?

Suggest why he had to tell them this.

What does his command mean?

How strong or urgent do you think his command is?

Suggest why such divisive disagreements are out of place between believers.

 

Suggest how Clement and the others could help these two Christian women?

 

How relevant are Paul’s words to Euodia and Syntyche to you and your relationships with other Christians?

 

A.2 ... whose names are in the book of life
The names of Euodia, Syntyche, Clement and ‘the rest’ of Paul’s fellow workers are, Paul says, ‘in the book of life’ (Philippians 4:3). This is the only place outside of Revelation where we find the term ‘the book of life’.

Read these verses in Revelation. What do you learn about the ‘book of life’?
3:5

13:8

17:8

20:12 – 15

21:27

The term ‘book of life’ is a figurative and instructive way of referring to God’s knowledge of those who are his, and the security of their salvation. We find other similarly physical pictures, for example (1) Jesus referred to those who believe in him as being safe in his hand and in his Father’s hand (John 10:28, 29), or (2) as a Shepherd, Jesus carries us close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11).

From the Revelation references, we learn that:

The names of genuine believers will never be removed from the book.

Those whose names are not in the book are the ones who worship the ‘beast’.

That the ‘book of life’ belongs to ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.’

Those whose names are in the book cannot be seduced by the ‘beast’.

The names in the book of life have been there from the foundation of the world.

Those whose names are in the book will not be exposed to the final judgement.

Only those whose names are in the book are in the ‘Holy City’, the ‘bride’ of Christ.

Those whose names are in the book of life, that is, the genuine believers, are in contrast to those Paul has just been describing in Philippians 3:18 & 19. Then Paul’s encouragement in 4:1 to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ comes as a warning against the kind of life that would suggest a lack of genuine faith in Christ. Those whose names are in the book stand firm. They do not give up their faith.

A.3 Rejoice in the Lord always
In 4:4 Paul states again the important perspective that he spent 3:1 – 11 explaining: that we should rejoice in the Lord. And he adds ‘always’. Then he deliberately repeats it ‘Rejoice!’

For Paul, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ is not a Christian platitude. It is not a throw-away phrase to be ladled out as a bit of comfort to someone having a bad day.

It is, for Paul, packed with significance, as he has explained in chapter 3. We saw there, rejoicing in the Lord is:

The opposite of having confidence in our own perceived religious credit points.
The opposite of bragging/boasting/glorying in ourselves.

Rejoicing in ourselves, putting our confidence in ourselves, is inevitably headed for a letdown. In ourselves:

We will never be qualified for acceptance with God.
We will never keep his law.
We will never have total confidence that we are ‘good enough’, or have prayed enough, or have obeyed enough.
We will never be assured that our service is acceptable to him.

But when our confidence is in Christ alone, always in Christ alone, then we live with that joyous reality that:

We have guaranteed acceptance with God.
Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us.
All that God requires of us he has provided in Christ.
There is no condemnation, because in Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and death.
Nothing we do or fail to do can ever undo what Christ has done for us.

 

Questions for you to answer/discuss:
Does your concept of ‘the Lord’ generate anxious fear rather than joy?

Explain your answer.

 

On whom are you depending for your relationship with God today?

Is your relationship with God, through Christ, a cause of joy?

If not, (1) are you looking at your own ‘bad’ instead of rejoicing in what Christ has done for you?

Or, (2) do you not really believe that the righteousness of Christ is credited to you, by faith?

 

What do you need to do to be able to obey Paul’s command to ‘rejoice in the Lord’?

 

Suggest why the ‘always’ is important.

 

This rejoicing in the Lord that Paul commands both here and in chapter 3 does not mean that there will be no sorrow or sadness in our lives. The Christian faith is lived out in the context of sin and suffering. As long as we are in this world we suffer, and we sin. And both of these generate sadness and sorrow.

But the joy of the Lord, this rejoicing in the Lord that Paul commands, is present, or should be present, all the time. Even we are mourning the loss of a loved one, even when we grieve because we have failed to honour the Lord, even then, this joy in Christ supersedes the grief. It is a fundamental, over-arching joy that nothing can take away or diminish.

Check these verses. How do they express the strength and permanence of this joy, even in the midst of sadness?
John 15:11

John 16:19 – 24

John 17:13

Romans 5:3 – 5

Romans 15:13

2Corinthians 8:2

1Thessalonians 1:6

It is when we rejoice in the Lord that we are strong – ‘the joy of the LORD is your strength’. Even when the weight of our sin and our failures is heavy, and causes us to grieve, the joy of the Lord, grounded on his mercy and grace, gives us strength. With the knowledge of his grace and his goodness joy is always appropriate. (Read Nehemiah 8:1 – 12.)

 

A.4 Evident gentleness
Paul’s next command is ‘let your gentleness be evident to all.

The word translated ‘gentleness’ is used in four other places in the New Testament:

1Timothy 3:3, which instructs ‘overseers’ to be ‘not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money’.

Titus 3:2, where everyone is commanded ‘to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men’.

James 3:17, which tells us that ’the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’

1Peter 2:18, which refers to ‘masters who are considerate’ and ‘those who are harsh.’

While many of the New Testament commands tell us how we should relate to other believers, this one very clearly refers to the way we behave in the presence of, and towards, ‘all men’, where ‘men’ translates anthropos, which refers to the members of the human race. ‘Man’ as distinct from animals.

From the above verses – look at the positive qualities which are similar, and the negative qualities which are outlawed – and list the kinds of attitudes and actions that Paul means by ‘gentleness’.

 

 

 

 

These verses help us to understand the kind of people we should be, not only in the church, but also, importantly, in the community.

William Hendriksen understands ‘gentleness’ as ‘big-heartedness’. He writes:

‘For big-heartedness one may substitute any of the following: forbearance, yieldedness, geniality, kindliness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, magnanimity, generosity. All of these qualities are combined in the adjective-noun that is used in the original. Taken together they show the real meaning. When each of these would-be-English-equivalents is taken by itself alone, it becomes clear that there is not a single word in the English language that fully expresses the meaning of the original.’ p193, New Testament Commentary – Exposition of Philippians, Baker, 1962.

This ‘gentleness’ (this ‘big-heartedness) should be evident to all. As Paul has stated in 1:27, we are to conduct ourselves ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’

Read these verses (we looked at some of them in Study 2, Section C). How do they express the same truth – that how we live in our communities, as followers of Christ in the unbelieving world, is important?
Matthew 5:13 – 16

1Corinthians 10:31

Ephesians 4:1

Ephesians 5:15 – 17

Colossians 4:5, 6

1Peter 2:9, 12

 

Questions to consider: (not including talking about Jesus)
In what ways does your life in your community make it ‘evident’ that you are a follower of Jesus?

 

In what ways is his gentleness, his compassion, ‘evident’ in the way to treat your fellow human beings?

 

In what ways his grace ‘evident’ in your manner?

 

In what ways could you be showing the unbelieving world the forgiveness of God?

 

Read John 13:35. How does it connect with Philippians 4:5?

 

Suggest how rejoicing in the Lord (being confident in the Lord and in the salvation he has given to you) would motivate you to ‘gentleness’ towards others.

 

 

A.5 The Lord is near
Paul then says ‘The Lord is near.’ Why did he say this? And what does he mean?

Does he say this to encourage us to be gentle?
Or does he say this because of what he says next – to not be anxious about anything?

Does he mean the Lord is close to us all the time?
Or does he mean the Lord could return at any time – that his return is near?

In the rest of the New Testament we find that Christ’s return, which could be at any moment, is used as a motivation for godly living.

Read these verses. How do they use the return of Christ as an urgent reminder to live lives that honour God?
Matthew 24:45 – 51

 

1Thessalonians 5:1 – 11

 

Hebrews 10:23 – 25

 

James 5:7 – 9

 

1Peter 4:7, 8

 

2Peter 3:10 – 12

 

We will return now to the four questions at the beginning of this sub-section. Here are a few comments:

The word translated ‘near’ (engus) is used in the New Testament about both time and place. So in itself it could be a reference to either the Lord being always present with us (‘near’ meaning ‘close to us’), or the Lord’s future return (‘near’ meaning ‘soon’).

Both of these are in fact true. The Lord Jesus is everywhere present with us. And the Lord Jesus’ return could be at any moment.

And both should motivate us to live godly lives that bring glory to the name of the Lord. His potentially imminent return as the glorious Lord and Judge of all the earth should not be a greater motivation than his on-going presence. He is still the same Lord. Our sins grieve him now, and offend him now. We do not see him, but he sees us. The fact that he is coming as Judge, and we shall then see him, should not scare us into greater godliness than his gracious, loving, caring, saving, protecting, unseen presence with us now.

He is who he is. Both now and then. And because he is who he is we are to honour him by the way we live.

His presence with us, and his promised return, are motivation for ‘gentleness’.

And his presence with us, and his promised return, are motivation to pray to him when our circumstances create anxiety.

Whatever was Paul’s intention in saying ‘The Lord is near’ it is biblically accurate to answer ‘Yes’ to each of the four questions above.

 

A.5 Anxiety
The word translated ‘do (not) be anxious’ is merimnao. The nao is a reference to our minds, our thinking. The merim a reference to division, or portioning out. The verb, and the related noun, are used in various ways, as both something positive and something negative, in the New Testament.

For example, positively:

Paul speaks of ‘my concern for all the churches’ (2Corinthians 11:28).
And ‘... an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs ...’ (2Corinthians 7:32).
And ‘ ... there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other’ (1Corinthians 12:25).
And, about Timothy, ‘I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare’ (Philippians 2:20).

And, negatively:

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear ...’ (Matthew 6:25).
‘Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow ...’ (Matthew 6:34).
‘... the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it ...’ (Matthew 13:22).
‘But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided’ (1Corinthians 7:33, 34).

 

What is it that Paul is outlawing by his ‘Do not be anxious about anything?’

He is not outlawing careful planning. God himself is a mega, macro, planner.
He is not outlawing compassionate concern about others. God himself overflows with compassionate concern.
He is not outlawing hard or diligent work and effort on our part. God is forever at work sustaining all that exists, bring good outcomes out of bad situations, fulfilling his word.
He is not outlawing rightful regret and repentance when we have sinned, indeed he commands it.
Nor is Paul suggesting that we simply pray to God then laze about in inactivity until God does something. He is not suggesting inaction or the dulling of our mind and emotions.

For as long as we live in this world we will be faced with situations that are concerning, situations that have the potential to generate anxiety. Indeed, anxiety is one of the mental/psychological/emotional problems facing the world today.

Anxiety has many expressions.

It may be at a basic level, focused on the physical necessities of life:

Will we have food and clothes for ourselves and our family?
How are we going to pay the rent, or the mortgage?
Will we be able to educate our children?
Will we be able to find a job?
Will our town be blown away by enemy attack?
Will a flood, fire, tornado or earthquake threaten us?
What if I have an accident?

Or it can be less tangible, but still destructive at a mental/emotional level:

What do people think about me?
Who am I?
What is the meaning of life?
Where is the world heading?
How will we survive global warming?

Or it can be spiritual:

Does God really love me?
Did Christ really die for all my sins?
Is salvation secure?
What if I lose my faith?
Am I good enough?

Our anxieties, in one way or another, seem to focus on survival – either personal or corporate, either physical or emotional or spiritual.

So, what is Paul saying in his ‘Do not be anxious about anything’? He is saying: Don’t have a divided mind.

Don’t have a mind that trusts in Christ’s saving death, but still fears it will lose its salvation.
Don’t have a mind that says it loves others, but is so consumed with self-preservation that it fails to see their need.
Don’t have a mind that believes in Christ as Lord, but still doubts both his presence and his promise to return.

There is a grand inter-connectedness in all that Paul has been saying:

If we are rejoicing in the Lord, as Paul has taught in 3:1 and again in 4:4 - we will not be at all anxious about our salvation. We will have absolute confidence that in Christ we have been credited with his perfect righteousness: our guilt has been taken by him, and his innocence declared ours. We are safe, totally safe, in Christ. But the extent to which we are still depending on our own religious merit will produce a parallel level of anxiety in terms of our relationship with God.

If we are each committed to the well-being of the other, as Paul has taught in several places in this letter, and particularly in 2:1 – 8, and again in 4:5; if we are committed to passing on the gentle compassion of Jesus, seeking to encourage and build each other up; then we will not be focused on ourselves, worrying about ourselves. (Everyone else will actually be focused on our well-being, while we are concerned about theirs!)

If we know the Lord, which also means knowing that he is near, both in terms of his presence and his promised return, we will live in confident awareness of that presence and that promise.

A.6 Prayer and peace
Read Philippians 4:6. Answer these questions:
What does Paul command as the answer to being anxious?

 

In these verses, what is the opposite of ‘anything’?

How does Paul describe prayer, and what do his words mean?

 

 

Paul’s antidote to the anxious/divided state of mind that so often ensnares us is talking to God about the things that distract us from trusting God and loving one another.

He says:

‘In everything’ ... whatever it is that is distracting us, bothering us, taking our minds and thoughts away from God and from the other. Whether it’s fear of losing our salvation, whether it’s our own timidity stopping us from helping someone in need, whether it’s doubts about his continuing presence with us, whatever it is ...

‘... by prayer ...’ The word is proseuche. It is the most common New Testament word for prayer/praying. Behind it is the assumption that God is indeed God, and thus it contains an element of worship and acknowledgement. We pray because God is the only one with the power and the authority to help us.

‘... and petition’ (‘supplication’ in some translations). The word assumes a deep awareness of need, and is derived from the verb deomai, which means to beg. We bring our petitions to God because we know we cannot survive physically, emotionally or spiritually without him and his help.

‘... with thanksgiving ...’ that is, with gratitude, which also includes a sense of worship. The word is eucharistia, from which the term ‘Eucharist’ (referring to the Holy Communion) is derived. Note the two elements in the word: eu – a prefix meaning ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’, and charis meaning ‘grace’. Our thanksgiving to God is our response to his good/beautiful grace towards us. It is an acknowledgement that we know that he is for us, not against us, that even in the predicament we are in that distracts us and evokes our prayers and petitions, he is still there, and he is still there for us. The life, death and resurrection of Christ has assured us of that.

‘... present your requests to God ...’ ‘requests’ simply refers to things asked for.

So Paul is saying: Acknowledging God as God who alone can help, with an awareness of your deep need and inability, and thankfully acknowledging his wonderful grace towards you, ask God for his help, tell him what you need him to do for you.

 

Check these verses for other similar commands about prayer. What do they teach about prayer?
Luke 18:1

Ephesians 5:20

Ephesians 6:18

Colossians 4:2

1Thessalonians 5:17, 18

 

Now answer these questions:
What does Paul expect to result?

 

What does Paul mean by these phrases –
(1) ‘the peace of God’

 

(2) ‘transcends all understanding’

 

(3) ‘guard your hearts and minds’

 

How often do you experience this peace?

 

 

Note that Paul did not say ‘And God will give you everything you ask him for.’ He promises ‘the peace of God’ -

Instead of a heart and mind tortured by the tension between fear and faith there is God’s peace.

Instead of a heart and mind caught in the tension between self-preservation and loving the other, there is God’s peace.

Instead of the heart and mind struggling to accept the certainty of the presence of Christ that it cannot see, and the promise of Christ that has yet to be kept, there is God’s peace.

A peace that ‘transcends all understanding’ – a peace that cannot be explained in mere human terms, a peace that overrides all that contradicts and stands against it. Not a peace dependent on peaceful circumstances. Not a peace that exists only when a raft of preconditions are met, and that could fall to pieces in a moment. Not a peace that comes from anything of this world. It is God’s peace. It is the peace that Jesus gives. (See below.)

This peace ‘will guard your hearts and minds’ – our hearts and minds that are so prone to anxious concerns, that are so prone to doubt and fear – this amazing, unexplainable peace of God will guard them.

‘In Christ Jesus’. It is only ‘in Christ Jesus’ that the peace of God is found. Those who are not united to Christ by faith cannot experience this peace. Almost every New Testament letter contains a greeting to believers that includes a prayer for ‘peace’ from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Study these verses about peace. What do you learn about the source and cause of this peace?
Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 26:3

Isaiah 53:5

Luke 2:14

John 14:27

John 16:33

Acts 10:36

Romans 5:1

Ephesians 2:14 – 17

 

It is this peace that guards our hearts and minds against anxiety concerning our salvation. It is this peace that guards our hearts and minds against anxiety regarding Christ’s return. It is this peace that is God’s good purpose and will for us.