David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 4:1-23 - PEACE AND JOY IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
A. Instructions to specific saints.
1. (Philippians 4:1) A general exhortation: in light of your destiny in Christ, stand fast.
Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
a. Therefore: This links together what Paul wrote here with what he wrote before. Because of the promise of resurrection (Philippians 3:21), they have all the more reason to stand fast in the Lord.
b. My joy and crown: Paul used the ancient Greek word for crown that described the crown given to an athlete who had won the race. It was a crown of achievement (a stephanos); not the crown that was given to a king (a diadema). The Philippians, as they stand fast in the Lord, were Paul’s trophy.
c. So stand fast in the Lord, beloved: We can only stand fast when we are in the Lord; any other place is not a secure place to stand.
2. (Philippians 4:2) Instructions to Euodia and Syntyche.
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
a. Euodia and . . . Syntyche: Apparently these two women were the source of some sort of quarrel in the church. Instead of taking sides or trying to solve their problem, Paul simply told them to be of the same mind in the Lord.
b. To be of the same mind in the Lord: Whatever the dispute was about, Euodia and Syntyche had forgotten that they have a greater common ground in Jesus Christ. They forgot that everything else was less important than that common ground.
3. (Philippians 4:3) Instructions to the true companion.
And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
a. I urge you also, true companion: Whoever this was, Paul instructed them to help these women who labored with me in the gospel. The true companion was supposed to help them by helping them to reconcile and come to one mind in the Lord.
i. These women who labored with me in the gospel is a telling phrase. These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were faithful workers with Paul in the work of the gospel. Yet, they had a falling out with each other. Paul knew that this unfortunate dispute needed to be cleared up.
b. With Clement also: There was a notable Clement in the early church who was the leader of the church in Rome and wrote two preserved letters to the church in Corinth. Yet we don’t know if this is the same Clement. It was a common name in the Roman world.
i. We can contrast the brief mention of Euodia and Syntyche with the brief mention of Clement. If you had to have your whole life summed up in one sentence, would you like it to be summed up like Clement or like Euodia and Syntyche?
c. And the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life: There were others in Philippi who also helped Paul. They had the greatest honor in the world: to have their names in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15).
B. More instruction on walking the walk.
1. (Philippians 4:4) Paul repeats a major theme of the letter.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
a. Rejoice: Despite the circumstance from which it was written, joy is all over the letter to the Philippians. Examples of this are in Philippians 1:4; Philippians 1:18; Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:16-18; Philippians 2:28; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:3; Philippians 4:1; Philippians 4:4.
i. “I am glad that we do not know what the quarrel was about; I am usually thankful for ignorance on such subjects; - but as a cure for disagreements, the apostle says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.” (Spurgeon)
b. Rejoice in the Lord always: Again, Paul’s joy wasn’t based in a sunny optimism or positive mental attitude as much as it was the confidence that God was in control. It really was a joy in the Lord.
i. “What a gracious God we serve, who makes delight to be a duty, and who commands us to rejoice! Should we not at once be obedient to such a command as this? It is intended that we should be happy.” (Spurgeon)
2. (Philippians 4:5) Show a gentle disposition to all men.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
a. Let your gentleness be known: Paul used an interesting ancient Greek word (epieikeia) that is translated gentleness here. Other translations of the Bible translate epieikeia as patience, softness, the patient mind, modesty, forbearance, the forbearing spirit, or magnanimity.
i. “The word epieikes is of very extensive signification; it means the same as epieikeia, mildness, patience, yieldingness, gentleness, clemency, moderation, unwillingness to litigate or contend; but moderation is expressive enough as a general term.” (Clarke)
ii. A good example of this quality is when Jesus showed gentleness with the woman who was taken in adultery in a set-up and brought to Jesus. He knew how to show a holy gentleness to her.
iii. This word describes the heart of a person who will let the Lord fight his battles. They know that vengeance is Mine, says the Lord (Romans 12:19). It describes a person who is really free to let go of His anxieties and all the things that cause him stress, because he knows that the Lord will take up his cause.
b. Be known to all men: The sphere is broad. We show this gentleness to all men, not just to whom we please.
c. The Lord is at hand: When we live with the awareness of Jesus’ soon return, it makes it all the more easy to rejoice in the Lord and to show gentleness to all men. We know that Jesus will settle every wrong at His return, and we can trust Him to make things right in our falling-apart world.
3. (Philippians 4:6) A living prayer life.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
a. Be anxious for nothing: This is a command, not an option. Undue care is an intrusion into an arena that belongs to God alone. It makes us the father of the household instead of being a child.
b. But in everything by prayer and supplication: Paul wrote that everything is the proper subject of prayer. There are not some areas of our lives that are of no concern to God.
c. Prayer and supplication: These two aspects of prayer are similar, but distinct. Prayer is a broader word that can mean all of our communication with God, but supplication directly asks God to do something.
i. Many of our prayers go unanswered because we do not ask God for anything. Here God invites us simply to let your requests be made known. He wants to know.
d. Be made known: God already knows our requests before we pray them; yet He will often wait for our participation through prayer before granting that which we request.
e. With thanksgiving: This guards against a whining, complaining spirit before God when we let our requests be made known. We really can be anxious for nothing, pray about everything, and be thankful for anything.
4. (Philippians 4:7) The promise of peace.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
a. And the peace of God: The Bible describes three great aspects of peace that relate to God.
· Peace from God: Paul continually used this as an introduction to his letters; it reminds us that our peace comes to us as a gift from God.
· Peace with God: This describes a relationship that we enter into with God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
· The peace of God: This is the peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7. It is beyond “all mind”; that is, beyond our power of thinking.
i. “What is God’s peace? The unruffled serenity of the infinitely-happy God, the eternal composure of the absolutely well-contented God.” (Spurgeon)
b. Which surpasses all understanding: It isn’t that it is senseless and therefore impossible to understand, but that it is beyond our ability understand and to explain - therefore it must be experienced.
i. This peace doesn’t just surpass the understanding of the worldly man; it surpasses all understanding. Even the godly man can not comprehend this peace.
c. Guard your hearts and minds: The word guard speaks of a military action. This is something that the peace of God does for us; it is a peace that is on guard over our heart and mind.
i. “Shall keep them as in a strong place or a castle.” (Clarke)
ii. When people seem to “lose” their heart or mind, it often is connected to an absence of the peace of God in their life. The peace of God then does not act as a guard for their hearts and minds.
6. (Philippians 4:8) The right place to put our minds.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things.
a. Whatever things are true: Paul’s list of things on which we should meditate translates well from the Greek to the English; there is no great need for elaboration upon each item.
b. Noble . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . good report . . . virtue . . . praiseworthy: These, Paul would say, are the fruit and the food of the mind that is guarded by the peace of God. When we put these good things into our mind, they stay in our mind and then come forth from us.
c. Meditate on these things: Much of the Christian life comes down to the mind. Romans 12:2 speaks of the essential place of being transformed by the renewing of your mind and 2 Corinthians 10:5 speaks of the importance of casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. What we choose to meditate on matters.
i. What Paul describes here is a practical way to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
7. (Philippians 4:9) A return to the idea of following Paul’s example.
The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
a. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do: Paul had the integrity to present himself as an example of all these things to the Philippians. He really could say, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”
b. And the God of peace will be with you: If the Philippians did as Paul has instructed, not only would they have the peace of God, but the God of peace would also be with them.
C. Paul comments on the giving of the Philippians.
1. (Philippians 4:10-14) Paul’s perspective on the gift from the Philippians.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.
a. Your care for me has flourished again: This refers to the financial support brought by Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). Paul didn’t want to imply that the Philippians didn’t care before, only that before they lacked opportunity. When they had the opportunity then their care for Paul flourished again.
b. Not that I speak in regard to need: Paul reminded the Philippians that his thankfulness for the Philippians’ giving wasn’t because he was needy (though he was in fact in need), but because it was good for them to be givers.
c. I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: This was how Paul could say that his thankfulness was not based upon his own need. Even though Paul was in need, he was content where he was at - even in his Roman imprisonment.
i. I have learned: Paul had to learn contentment; it isn’t natural to mankind.
ii. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound: Paul reminds us that his contentment was not only theoretical. He actually lived this. Paul had been financially well-off; he had been financially needy.
iii. Paul knew how to be abased. “See here the state to which God permitted his chief apostle to be reduced! And see how powerfully the grace of Christ supported him under the whole! How few of those who are called Christian ministers or Christian men have learned this important lesson! When want or affliction comes, their complaints are loud and frequent; and they are soon at the end of their patience.” (Clarke)
iv. Paul also knew how to abound. “There are a great many men that know a little how to be abased, that do not know at all how to abound. When they are put down into the pit with Joseph, they look up and see the starry promise, and they hope for an escape. But when they are put on the top of a pinnacle, their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall.” (Spurgeon)
d. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me: This refers to Paul’s ability to be content in all things. To achieve this contentment, he needed the strength of Jesus Christ.
i. Unfortunately, many people take this verse out of context and use it to reinforce a “triumphalist” or “super-Christian” mentality, instead of seeing that the strength of Jesus in Paul’s life was evident in his ability to be content when he did suffer need.
ii. We must always also put this precious statement of faith in connection with John 15:5 : for without Me you can do nothing. With Jesus we can do all things, without Him we can’t do anything.
e. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress: In speaking about his ability to be content, Paul did not want to give the impression that the Philippians had somehow done something wrong in supporting Paul. But there was a real sense in which the giving of the Philippians was better for them than it was for Paul (you have done well). Godly giving actually does more good for the giver than for the one that receives.
2. (Philippians 4:15-18) Thanks for the past and present giving of the Philippians.
Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
a. The beginning of the gospel: This refers to Paul’s pioneering missionary efforts in Europe, recorded in Acts 16:1-40 and following.
b. No church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only: The Philippians were the only ones to support Paul during this particular period. Paul especially remembered how they supported him when he was in Thessalonica.
i. “Probably the gift does not come to very much, if estimated in Roman coin; but he makes a great deal of it, and sits down to write a letter of thanks abounding in rich expressions like these.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “While labouring to plant the church there, he was supported partly by working with his hands, 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; and partly by the contributions sent him from Philippi. Even the Thessalonians had contributed little to his maintenance: this is not spoken to their credit.” (Clarke)
c. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account: Paul wasn’t so much interested in the gift on his own behalf, but in the fruit that abounds to your account. Their giving increased the fruit in their account before God.
i. “It is not the actual gift put into Paul’s hands which has brought him joy, but the giving and the meaning of that giving. It is the truest index to the abiding reality of his work.” (Expositors)
ii. This reflects one of the most important principles regarding giving in the Scriptures: that we are never the poorer for having given. God will never be our debtor, and we can never out-give God.
d. A sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God: Paul described the gift of the Philippians in terms that remind us of sacrifices in the Old Testament (Genesis 8:21, Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:25, and Exodus 29:41). Our giving to God’s work is similar to Old Testament sacrifices, which also cost the person bringing the sacrifice a lot. Bulls and rams did not come cheaply in that day.
i. Ephesians 5:2 uses the same terminology in reference to Jesus’ sacrifice for us; our sacrifices are likewise pleasing to God as a sweet-smelling aroma.
ii. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul boasted about the Philippians as an example of the right kind of giving. He describes how they gave willingly, out of their own need, and they gave after first having given themselves to the Lord.
3. (Philippians 4:19) Paul declares a promise to the Philippians regarding their own financial needs.
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
a. My God shall supply all your need: We shouldn’t think that the Philippians were wealthy benefactors of Paul who could easily spare the money. As Paul described them in 2 Corinthians 8:1-24, it is plain that their giving was sacrificial. This promise meant something to them!
i. “He says to them, ‘You have helped me; but my God shall supply you. You have helped me in one of my needs-my need of clothing and of food: I have other needs in which you could not help me; but my God shall supply all your need. You have helped me, some of you, out of your deep poverty, taking from your scanty store; but my God shall supply all your need out of his riches in glory.’” (Spurgeon)
b. Shall supply all your need: The promise is to supply all your need; but it is all your need (not a promise to go beyond needs) In this, the promise is both broad and yet restricted.
c. According to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus: This is a staggering measure of giving. Since there is no lack in God’s riches in glory, we should anticipate that there would be no lack in God’s supply.
i. “The rewarding will not be merely from His wealth, but also in a manner that befits His wealth - on a scale worthy of His wealth.” (Martin)
ii. Spurgeon thought that this verse was a great illustration of that wonderful miracle in 2 Kings 4:1-7, where Elisha told the widow to gather empty vessels, set them out and pour forth the oil from the one small vessel of oil she had into the empty vessels. She filled and filled and miraculously filled until every empty vessel was full.
· All our need is like the empty vessels.
· God is the one who fills the empty vessels.
· According to His riches in glory describes the style in which God fills the empty vessels - the oil keeps flowing until every available vessel is filled.
· By Christ Jesus describes the how God meets our needs - our empty vessels are filled with Jesus in all His glory.
d. All your need: We also notice that this promise was made to the Philippians - those who had surrendered their finances and material possessions to God’s service, and who knew how to give with the right kind of heart.
i. This promise simply expresses what Jesus said in Luke 6:38 : Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
D. Conclusion to the letter.
1. (Philippians 4:20) A brief doxology.
Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
a. Be glory forever and ever: It is wrong to think of this as an unthinking comment made by Paul, in the way that we throw off comments like “glory to God” or “praise the Lord” in our Christian culture. Paul genuinely wanted God to be glorified, and was willing to be used in whatever way God saw fit to glorify Himself (Philippians 1:20).
b. Amen: This was a word borrowed from Hebrew meaning, “So be it.” It is an expression of confident and joyful affirmation.
2. (Philippians 4:21-22) Mutual greetings expressed.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.
a. Greet every saint: Paul did not here give specific greetings to individuals as he did in other letters. Rather he greeted every saint in Christ Jesus. This also is another example of the fact that the title saint applies to all Christians, not just to an elite few.
b. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household: This special greeting is evidence that Paul was still used by God during his Roman imprisonment, when the gospel extended even into the household of Caesar.
i. Those who are of Caesar’s household: “By this he designates the functionaries and servants and slaves of the Emperor’s household, with whom Paul, as a prisoner for several years, undoubtedly came in contact on several occasions.” (Muller)
ii. “Nero was at this time emperor of Rome: a more worthless, cruel, and diabolic wretch never disgraced the name or form of man; yet in his family there were Christians: but whether this relates to the members of the imperial family, or to guards, or courtiers, or to servants, we cannot tell.” (Clarke)
3. (Philippians 4:23) Final words.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
a. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all: Paul did not say this to simply fill up space at the end of his letter. To him, the Christian life begins and ends with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so it was appropriate that his letters began and ended with grace also.
b. Amen: This was a fitting word of affirmation. Paul knew that what he wrote to the Philippians was fitting to be agreed with.
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