Copyright © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
All rights reserved. Scripture quotes from KJV
As Paul brings his letter to the Philippians to a close, he provides a very practical summary of his message to this faithful fellowship. Paul has been very encouraged by the faith of this body, and though they are not perfect, they are perfectly positioned to be used of God to reach the people of their region of Europe with the good news of the redemption from sin that comes through faith in Him. With this in mind, Paul writes to encourage the church and give them some very sound advice on how to accomplish this purpose, a purpose that is realized in the peace of the knowledge of one’s obedience to God, and the joy of realizing the changes in the lives of others as they receive the blessing of God’s grace.
This may beg the question: are you positioned to be used of God for His kingdom purposes? When one considers one’s position, we might use the word, “attitude.” One’s attitude is determined by their position. For example, one’s physical attitude refers to where they are placed and physically oriented. The physical tasks that you may accomplish are determined by that attitude. Likewise, one’s emotional and spiritual attitude determines what one can accomplish, as that attitude shapes one’s responses to the events that take place around them. The responses of a person of faith are to be brought under the authority and leadership of the Holy Spirit, necessitating an entirely different physical, emotional, and spiritual attitude than is found when one is securely immersed in this pagan and secular modern culture.
The fourth chapter of the letter to the Philippians contain some of the more familiar of Paul’s imperatives, providing both encouragement and direct instruction.
1. LABOR IN UNITY WITH THE SPIRIT
Philippians 4:1. Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
Paul clearly indicates his love for the Philippian church. When he thinks of the friends he has nurtured in the fellowship he longs for the opportunity to be with them. When he observes their faith, a product of his evangelistic ministry, he is filled with the joy that comes from witnessing the impact that he has had, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in their lives. Many people miss out on this blessing when they fail to minister to others for any number of rationalized reasons, but when they finally do break down the walls of fear and realize the blessing that Paul speaks of, their ministry to others begins to flow.
Likewise, Paul also refers to the church as his “crown.” This word is often used in scripture to refer to authority that is given to the one who wears it. However, this is not the case in this passage. Paul is referring, not to authority that he has been given, but to a reward that he has received for running a race.
Again, referring to the love that Paul has for the church, he requests that they “stand fast,” a common command in Paul’s letters. He knows of their faith, and encourages them to apply that faith to stand firm against those forces that would challenge it. Paul gives a similar admonition to the church in Ephesus as a preface to his description of the spiritual armor that a person of faith wears that empowers that strength.  As Paul did in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul follows with advice and suggestions that would serve to help the Philippians to stand firm in their faith.
Philippians 4:2. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.
It is curious that the very first recommendation that Paul makes as he is leading the Philippian church toward spiritual strength refers to an apparent conflict in the body that is being created by two of its leaders. The experience in the Philippian church may be one of the most common and debilitating experiences in the church body today: leaders who are not in unity as they are out of sync with what the Holy Spirit is doing in the body. By nature, leaders attempt to apply their own desires and agenda in the church fellowship, and such behavior always creates conflict since such attitudes usurp the authority of the LORD in the body. The Holy Spirit speaks through all of the members of the body, not just a select one or few. It is apparent that these two leaders, Euodias and Syntyche, are in disagreement with one another. Such behavior divides the congregation as they force its members to align and choose the position of one of these. It is evident that neither of these is sensitive to the desire of the LORD concerning the body.
Paul’s advice is simple, and should be heard by every church leader who has ever taken authority for themselves in the church body: return the Lordship of the church to the Holy Spirit and strive to serve Him in unity with one another. Unity is found by loving one another and trusting one another, surrendering one’s own desires for the good of the body. Unity is not found in agreement, since we will all never agree on every issue. However, we can choose to be united when we do not demand that others agree with us, and we do not place demands upon the body to do things “our way.” The alternative is a prideful and destructive behavior that does not allow the Holy Spirit to work through all of the church members, leading the church away from God’s intended purpose.
This is a hurdle that the Philippian church needs to overcome before then can truly stand fast in their faith. The conflict that these two have brought to the body is diminishing their effectiveness as a church and defeating its work. Often, before our own church fellowships can clearly serve as God would desire, our leadership must step to the side and allow the LORD to lead as He reveals his purpose to all of the members of the fellowship. The church cannot serve as God would desire when His Lordship has been usurped by its leadership.
Philippians 5:3. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.
Often when the “rule” of a church is held in a few hands, as it is apparently being held in the Philippian church, those who are truly working hard, contributing to the LORD’s ministry in the church, often do so in the obscure shadows cast by the more dominant leaders. Where Paul chastises the dominant leaders for their prideful domination, he encourages the church to recognize those saints who are actually laboring without the limelight. It is evident that his call to entreat the workers refers to both men and women who served with him in the work of planting and nurturing the church. Note that all of the examples of Apostolic leadership always holds both men and women in equal esteem in the church, as Jesus also always held men and women in equal esteem. The denigration of women was (and still is today) a characteristic of their godless and pagan culture.
Likewise, we should always encourage those who actually do the work of ministry in the church fellowship, usually a base of individuals far broader than the vocal leadership. The latter have received their reward: power and recognition that they desire. However, those whose names are not in the daily headlines of church drama also need encouragement as they try to serve the LORD against a culture that would choose to discourage them. Often the vocal leadership also chooses to discourage those who do the ministry of the church. As you pray for your church leadership, do not be remiss in praying for the remainder of those in the fellowship who demonstrate faithfulness to the LORD in their lives.
Philippians 4:4. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Even though the church is not perfect, and our circumstances are usually quite short of perfect, we should never forget to continue to rejoice in the LORD in everything. It is very easy to get distracted by the issues of the day, including these that Paul has been referring to, and develop an attitude that forgets or ignores the true riches of God’s continual blessing, and the amazing gift of grace that we have received and are receiving every moment of every day. When we set side those distractions and focus on the LORD, we will find ourselves filled with the joy of salvation, finding encouragement as we deal with the stresses of the day.
Philippians 4:5a. Let your moderation be known unto all men.
The word that is rendered “moderation” in the KJV “expresses a state of mind opposed to the eagerness that overrates the worth of our personal objects, and to the arrogance that insists on our own will about them. Some would render it “considerateness.” It is a temper which dictates a gentle and forbearing way of dealing with men. This is the appropriate evidence that the impetuosity of the heart about earthly things has been assuaged by the unseen presence and the influence of Christ. Christ seen, felt, and rejoiced in, is the secret of this moderation.” Your generous and sincere consideration for others should be so much a part of your nature that those who know you recognize it as a basic component of your personality.
Philippians 4:5b. The Lord is at hand.
We sometimes act as if the LORD is not present with us as we treat one another in prideful and inconsiderate ways. Taken out of context we can understand this statement to refer to the immediacy of the coming of Christ, certainly an accurate indication of Paul’s anticipation. However, taken in context, we can note that there is an immediacy to the presence of the LORD that even supersedes His coming: Jesus is here with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit, witnessing all of our attitudes and behaviors. It is useful to be reminded of the Holy Spirit’s presence every where we go and in everything we do.
THE SOURCE OF TRUE PEACE.
Philippians 4:6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Paul offers an alternative to trying to accomplish everything ourselves. When we fully recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and His purpose of counsel, and when we truly surrender to Him the Lordship of our lives, everything changes. The rendering of the word, “careful” may be unfortunate. A word that may fit better in today’s language is “anxious.” The joy that God makes available to us is often overwhelmed by anxieties when we rely on our own power to deal with the difficulties of life. Paul reminds us that God provides for our every need and encourages us to bring our needs to Him in prayer.
Philippians 4:7. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Tied to the last verse concerning anxieties that characterize a life that is bereft of the Holy Spirit’s Lordship, Paul notes that when we surrender our lives to the LORD, that anxiety is replaced with a peace that is beyond understanding. Much of the labor of our lives is expended as we chase after some form of peace and joy that the world cannot provide. When we use the same model in the life of our church fellowship we make the same mistakes and find ourselves immersed in the same set of anxieties. Paul reminds us that when we turn our lives and the life of the church over to His Lordship, the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ will provide every measure of peace and joy that we seek.
Philippians 4:8. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
As Paul encourages the church in Philippi, he notes the importance of our pattern of thinking. Our attitudes and actions are entirely shaped by our world view and the impact that this view has on our thought patterns. We can certainly wander away from God’s purpose in our lives when we allow our thoughts to dwell on inappropriate or destructive subjects. In what has become one of the most well-known imperatives of Paul’s writings, he submits a list of “things” that will shape positive attitudes. He states that we should focus our minds on truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, integrity, godly virtue, and praise of God. If we focus on these things, rather than the things of this world or on our own personal desires, we will find our attitudes and actions following that pattern. The hope is that our lives will become characterized by truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, integrity, godly virtue, and praise of God. It may be worthwhile to focus on each of these “thought-virtues” and assess how we might make these a consistent part of our lives. Certainly such focus can help us to maintain a life that is more faithful to the obedience of the LORD.
Philippians 4:9. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
It is evident that, though the church in Philippi had many virtues, it was not experiencing complete peace. Paul has addressed the issues that have been challenging their pursuit of peace, and has provided some advice on how to gain (or regain) that desired peace. The Philippians, as well as Christians today, have received this instruction through scripture. Paul notes that the message has been learned, received, and heard, as well as being modeled in his own life. As we seek true peace in our lives, Paul notes that his instruction in this letter, and similar instruction from other sources, will bring that true and lasting peace that all people seek.
THE SOURCE OF TRUE STRENGTH.
Philippians 4:10-12. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12I 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.
Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, in part, to thank them for a sacrificial gift that the church sent to Paul, brought to him by Epaphroditus. Unlike modern prisons where the State provides for all of the physical needs of the inmate, the early Roman system had no such policy. Under house arrest, chained to a Roman guard, Paul was dependent upon others to meet all of his physical needs. This is why he was continually accompanied by others such as Timothy, Luke, Crescens, Titus, John Mark, Aristarchus, and Demas. Paul finds great joy in the support that he has received from these who are ministering to him at a trying time in his life. Sometimes we may find it difficult, because of our own pride that demands self-sufficiency, to accept help from others. Paul’s example to us is valuable. He is overjoyed to be receiving help from others. At the same time, by submitting their offers for help (1) he receives needed strength and sustenance, and (2) those who are ministering to him receive the blessing of being used of the LORD to meet Paul’s needs.
Often those who resist assistance from others are the first to sacrifice in order to strengthen someone else. The is a very self-centered form of sacrifice that literally robs others of the opportunity to minister. Not only was Paul humble enough to receive strength from others, he found great joy in receiving that help as he observes that all participants in the exchange are blessed.
Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
In another of the most well-known of Paul’s statements, we are reminded of the blessing of God’s grace, given to all who place their faith and trust in Him. When Paul considers the nature of all of his labors, he gives the LORD full credit for all that he receives. It may be useful to note that Paul did not say, “I can do anything!” as some have understood. Paul is not stating that Christ has turned him into a super-hero. Paul simply states that the strength that he has to accomplish all of what he does comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Jesus Christ is the sole source, and the fully sufficient source, of his strength.
It should also be noted that this verse is framed between two statements that clearly refer to the assistance that he has received from the church in Philippi. He has received support from this church, support that encouraged and strengthened him. This support was provided to him, not because of the philanthropy of this church, but rather as a product of their agape love, as they are serving God by serving Paul. God does indeed provide all of the resources needed to accomplish His purpose through those who obediently submit to Him. Those resources often come from those who, through their love and obedience to the LORD, serve one another to help meet needs. People of faith strengthen one another when they minister to one another, and when that ministry is a product of agape love, it indeed has Jesus Christ as its source.
Philippians 4:14. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
So that there is no misunderstanding of Paul’s statement concerning the source of his strength, he makes it clear that as the strength needed to deal with his daily challenges comes from Jesus Christ, much of that strength comes to him through the generosity and prayers of the fellowship in the Philippian church. At a time when Paul has very significant and specific needs, the LORD used the church in Philippi to meet them, both through the sacrificial gifts that they sent, and also in their sending Epaphroditus to minister to him. We can see that God uses the faithful to minister one to another, one of the many ways that God strengthens those who trust Him. Likewise, every believer can realize that they are called by God to love, support, and strengthen one another as all people meet the challenges of living a life of faith in a faithless world.
Philippians 4:15-19. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. 18But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. 19But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
It is evident that, at least from the time that Paul left the newly planted church in Philippi, that theirs was the only church to substantially support Paul’s continued ministry, as well as support him in his times of need. This spirit of generosity is a rare and beautiful fruit of the Holy Spirit that not only blessed Paul, but also brought great blessing upon those who gave so sacrificially. Some have said, “you cannot out-give God,” and the experience of the Philippian church is an example of this. All of the early New Testament churches struggled to meet their own needs, so there is not a lot of evidence of sharing between congregations, with the church in Philippi providing most of that form of giving. Yet, in their poverty, this generous church would want for nothing. Paul reminds them of how, even in their sacrifice, God will continue to supply all their needs.
Churches that are the most blessed are those that are the most generous. When churches give a large and sacrificial portion of their assets to Kingdom work, in the support of missionary and pastoral ministries, not only is God able to use the congregation in a significant way to edify the Kingdom of God, but He is also able to bless the church by meeting its own needs. Churches that spend their assets entirely, or largely, on themselves receive no such blessing. Such churches tend to be self-centered, and do little to substantially impact the Kingdom of God on this earth. Such churches are typically failing in their call by the LORD to engage, with Him, in the task of the “Great Commission,” spreading the good news of the Gospel in their own community, their own region, and around the world.
The generosity of the Philippian church in meeting the needs of Paul, as well as taking part in the support of other ministries, including the struggling church in Jerusalem can be a great example to us. Often we offer an excuse that our church cannot “afford” to do the work of the gospel, but without fail, the members of those churches are not giving generously to the work of the LORD. For the church congregation to take part actively in the Great Commission, each of its members must recognize and participate in the blessing that comes from a generous attitude, giving sacrificially so that they can be part of God’s work, and be reciprocally blessed by Him.
Philippians 4:20-23. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 21Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. 22All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. 23The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Like the others, the church is not perfect, and Paul provided them with an exposure of the issues and some sound advice that the church can follow to continue to grow more and more into the church that can both bless the LORD and be blessed by Him. This can be encouraging to us as we look at our own imperfect churches, and like Paul, expose the issues that stand between us and where the LORD wants us, and implement wise and sound solutions so that the church, as well as each of its individual members, can continue to grow closer and closer in their relationship with the LORD. Many a blessing is missed when the individuals in the church, and the corporate fellowship as a body, become self-centered, and give only lip service to true sacrificial service to the LORD.
In this letter, Paul teaches us how to develop a godly attitude by focusing upon, not the things of this world or the things that bring us personal or corporate gratification, but rather focusing on the Kingdom of God, drawing upon the Holy Spirit for the resources to become vitally engaged in His Kingdom purpose. This may mean that we need to change our mind-set to bring it more in line with God’s. This may mean that we need to turn from that which is behind us, and press toward the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ as we realign our priorities, noting the true excellency of Christ, and how His calling illuminates our lives, fulfills our purpose, and sets the things of this world into their proper perspective.
The church in Philippi is unique among the early churches in that, though not perfect, it was still a stellar example of faith, love, and generosity each expressed for the right reasons. We can, by studying the character of this church, and by appropriating for ourselves the attitudes that Paul calls upon the church to adopt, grow closer to the LORD as individuals and as a church fellowship.
This lost world desperately needs the LORD. This lost world desperately needs each Christian to take seriously their high calling of Christ, and become vitally engaged in His kingdom work through the generous giving of time, talents, gifts, and resources in order to bring the Gospel message to everyone within range of our touch. In today’s technically competent world, this is a world-wide ministry. It is time that we break down the walls that surround our churches and bring the light of God’s love to our communities, and to the world.