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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Philippians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

STAND FAST

‘Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my jog and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.’

Philippians 4:1

The life that we are to live as Christians is expressed in these words, ‘Stand fast.’ Let me call your attention to seven passages from God’s holy Word which show what will be our life if we stand fast in the Lord.

I. Stand fast in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13).

II. Stand fast in Christian liberty (Galatians 5:1).

III. Stand fast in all the armour of God (Ephesians 6:11-14).

IV. Stand fast in one spirit (Philippians 1:27).

V. Stand fast in the will of God (Colossians 4:12).

VI. Stand fast in the Word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

VII. Stand fast in the grace of God (1 Peter 5:12).

What can we ask more? These seven things comprise every possible want that can rise in our hearts, and they are all supplied in Christ Jesus.

—Rev. Prebendary Webb-Peploe.

Illustration

‘A young man said, “Formerly, my highest wish was to be a manly Christian; now, I have come to desire to be a Christly man, a man taken possession of by Christ.” It is true that you take possession of Christ here for acceptance and salvation, but to win a crown, Christ must take possession of you.’


Verse 4

TRUE JOY

‘Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.’

Philippians 4:4

The bright and joyous tone of this Epistle is well expressed by the frequent repetition of the word ‘rejoice.’ It is the key-note, all its exhortations conclude with this one expression; but here especially the Apostle is very earnest. He is not satisfied with saying, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ but adds, ‘again I say, Rejoice.’ And observe the subject of this rejoicing is said to be the Lord, our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I. It is then in a constant spirit of thankfulness that the Christian is to live.—His whole soul ought to be penetrated with a deep sense of what God is doing, what He has done for man, and especially of the supreme effort wherein He commended His love towards us. But it may be questioned, is not St. Paul insisting too strongly upon thankfulness when he commands every one to exercise this feeling? Are not some dispositions naturally despondent; are not lives so crushed with penury, want, and pain, that they are divorced from joy, and never hope to be reunited? Do we not daily see great sufferers, to whom it seems a mockery to say, Rejoice? It might be so if happiness or sorrow were dependent on external circumstances. True, they exercise a certain influence, but it is possible to be independent of them.

II. The peace which passes understanding is not born of wealth, or prosperity, or honour, or any of those thousand advantages for which men toil and clamour. It is buried in the unseen life; it is in the heart. So long as there is constant intercourse with God, it matters not what happens, joy is in the Lord; it rests upon a firm, immovable rock against which the waves of adversity may dash themselves in vain.

III. If, however, the spirit of true thankfulness is greatly independent of circumstances, it needs encouragement; it will not expand and grow without care.—All affections require to be trained. As with the body, so with the soil; the limb which is continually exercised acquires increased strength; faculties are sharpened by use; the arm becomes stronger, the eye more keen, the ear more acute, as demands are made upon their powers. So with the feelings and affections, if they be turned to self and one’s own peculiar interests, they will develop selfishness. If God, on the other hand, is in all the thoughts; if we go apart and think of what He has done for us, of the mercies He has showered upon the world, there will grow up an abiding sense of His goodness; we shall find our affections reaching out towards Him, and silently but forcibly influencing our whole being. To this point every faithful Christian must turn; we must encourage a thankful spirit, that it may burn within our hearts continually; and here it is that outward circumstances lend a certain legitimate aid. They are not the sources of happiness, but they are helpful; they may not be despised.

—Rev. Prebendary Richards.

Illustration

‘Some time ago I read a description of a French picture called “The Evening of Life.” There is a boat on a river, and a company dancing some way off. Others are gathering flowers, or splashing their hot hands in the water. But on the far bank there is an old man sadly surveying the pleasures of the young. He is near a withered tree. A lyre with slack strings is thrown down. The shadows are falling; the moon rises, and the swallows are just flitting across the evening sky. Not so, indeed, must we paint the evening of a Christian’s life. When the setting sun comes full on his face, and the evening bell calls him home, great peace has he who loves God’s law, like the stillness of an autumn day when the harvest is gathered. “At evening time it shall be light.” For to the believer in Christ the best joys come last.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

JOY IN THE LORD

St. Paul does not bid us rejoice in: (1) our wealth; (2) our strength; or (3) our pleasures. But ‘in the Lord’ as—

I. A real Brother.—All my temptations, my trials, my spiritual conflicts have been undergone by my Lord, and therefore I can cast myself upon His considerate love and compassion, for He knows exactly what I have to go through.

II. A Saviour.—What I believe God likes to see in us who believe in the full redemption wrought out for us on the Cross, is brightness, cheeriness, gladness, and joy. If I really believe that my sins are forgiven, if I am conscious of the witness of the Spirit bearing testimony within me that I am a child of God, if I can find in Christ all that I now need—pardon, comfort, peace, joy, guidance for my daily life; if, moreover, I can look forward into the future, and can believe that He Who has begun the good work in my soul will carry it on to a triumphant end, why should I give way to sadness? I ought to be as happy as the day is long.

III. The Giver of our future happiness.—Our faith in Christ brings us within sight of the shores of our dear fatherland—heaven. We are nearing it, God be thanked, day by day. Who is it that gives us such a happy ending to our perilous voyage? Who is it that will be the first to welcome us to shore? Who is it that has prepared such unspeakable joys for those that love Him—but Jesus?

At all times and in all places, under whatsoever circumstances you may be placed, you are to rejoice. It is easy enough to rejoice when the heart is light and the way pleasant, when all goes well with us; but when troubles, trials, and afflictions overtake us, then is the true testing-time of our faith. And yet, as you have seen the dark background of a picture throws out into bold relief those portions that were painted in lighter colours, so the dark, sombre background of human suffering and sorrow throws out into prominence the love and kindness of Jesus.


Verse 6

A DIVINE PRESCRIPTION

‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests he made known unto God.’

Philippians 4:6

What a simple prescription it is—prayer, supplication, thanksgiving; just those three ingredients and nothing more.

I. There is the first ingredient, prayer.—We have often heard the advice given to the anxious and careworn: ‘You must forget yourself; you must not think of your affairs, but occupy your mind with something that will divert it from its worries.’ How can a man do this more effectually than in prayer? Prayer draws our eyes away from self and fixes them upon God. Prayer weans our thoughts from our own weakness and leads them to rest upon His power. Instead of dwelling upon the worries of our lot or the difficulties of our position, we contemplate in prayer His faithfulness, His promises, and His love.

II. The second ingredient is supplication.—A distinction may be drawn between the two words. Prayer is the more general term; supplication is petition brought to a focus and carried into detail. You stand at a parting of the ways, and must follow one path or the other. Don’t make up your mind first and then ask God’s blessing when the step has been definitely taken. Consult Him from the very beginning and seek your earliest directions from heaven. ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.’ And that burden of yours, whatever it may be, cast it upon the Lord. Tell Him point by point and item by item all the difficulty and all your need. ‘Roll it’ upon Him—that is the force of the original—roll it upon Him wholly and completely, and when you have done so do not attempt by want of faith to fix it upon your own shoulders again.

III. The third ingredient is thanksgiving.—One of the most powerful spiritual tonics we can use in moments of depression is to think of the mercies we have received at the hands of our Heavenly Father. For thinking soon leads to thanking.

Illustration

‘When General Gordon desired to commune with God he would drop his handkerchief at the door of his tent, and no one would disturb him then. Each soldier knew by the handkerchief lying on the ground that the General was at prayer, and none dare cross the threshold until he came forth again refreshed by his intercourse with God. And what was the result of this habit? Prayerful in everything, he was careful in nothing. When he was appointed to govern the Soudan, a post of manifold difficulty and peril, he wrote: “No man ever had a harder task than I have before me; but it is all as a feather to me. My work is great, but it does not weigh me down. I feel my own weakness, and look to Him Who is mighty, and I leave the issue, without inordinate care, to Him.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

GOD’S CARE

The mind of any one of us would be soon broken down if we had to bear our own troubles and to work our own works without the thought of an overruling Providence—a loving and merciful Father—caring for us. And thus, looking at the question on the human side—from the needs of our own nature—we see how good and how necessary it is that ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we should let our requests be made known unto God.’

I. These words show us how, and in what spirit, we should do this.—We should do it with full and childlike trust. We should attempt no concealments from God; that is, we should be frank and open in our prayers. The danger generally is that we should conceal our wishes and our cares from God; should, perhaps, think that they are too trifling, or that there is no help for them. And if we act thus, the burden of them remains upon us; we receive no comfort nor relief. If we desire God’s help and God’s support under our cares, we must take those cares to Him and tell them to Him.

II. The text describes what ought to be the habit of our lives.—Most persons bring their burdens to God sometimes, at some periods of their lives; at times of special trouble or grief, when it seems as though their trouble was too heavy to bear alone. Most persons do this. But this is a very different thing from living habitually in openness of mind and confidence with God. That is what the Christian must aim at.

III. How different must be the feeling of him who has no such loving trust in God—who keeps his own counsel—bears his own burdens—and thinks it somewhat weak to trust his purposes and his troubles to God! He thinks himself wise enough and strong enough to guide and protect himself and his belongings. Such a claim may be sustained, though imperfectly, in the time of health and strength; but what becomes of it in the time of age and of sickness, when the strong arm becomes weak as an infant’s, and the clear brain and the resolute will are utterly useless and powerless?


Verse 7

GOD’S PEACE IN THE HEART

‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 4:7

A quietness of soul, a tranquil habit of mind, is the only safe condition for a man.

I. This calm and balanced state is exactly what that man has who feels that God loves him; that He has undertaken for him; that he carries about with him an indwelling presence; that he is in a state of acceptance; that he has a mind at leisure, which can throw itself into the present, because he has a future which is perfectly secure. This is what nothing but really deep, personal religion ever gives a man.

II. It ‘keeps’ him.—All happiness is a security. We almost always do things best when we are very happy. But ‘the peace of God’ is not like other happinesses. It is a happiness which feels it leaves no room for wants and fancies; therefore it secures the mind against the breaking in of wrong desires and foolish imaginations. We have all found it a great security to right being and right conduct, if we have only some earthly object, where our affections thoroughly rest; but what must it be to have the felt possession of the love of Christ? That is ‘keeping.’

III. ‘The peace of God’ is not to be measured by the ordinary tranquillising of a common joy.—‘The peace of God’ is the indwelling in the man of the Holy Ghost—therefore its great power. That holy quietude is the voice of One Who is always walking upon the waters, and saying, ‘Peace, be still!’ Who calms every wave, and hushes every rude wind.

Rev. James Vaughan.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CHRISTIANITY AND WAR

Christianity has not left war as it found it. Nay! It tried to transform it under the influence of the Christian Spirit, and this in three divers ways.

I. It attempted to humanise it, to strip it of its barbarities, to care for the wounded and the dying, to strengthen those elements which make for nobility of character, for courage, obedience, self-discipline, and to repress all the ignoble elements of cowardice, money-making, selfishness, which hang round the fringes of a campaign, and which made an American general declare that ‘War is hell.’

II. It has strengthened the tendency which already prevailed, especially at Rome, to give men a conscience about the use of war.—The aim of the Roman fetiales was to mediate, to arrange differences, to avoid war, if there was hope of justice by more peaceful methods. This tendency Christian civilisation has strengthened; it has insisted on the justice of the cause; it has thought it better to adopt the aim which Milton ascribes to our Lord:—

By winning words to conquer willing hearts

And make persuasion take the place of fear.

It has insisted, and will insist even more, that all arts of diplomacy and of arbitration shall be exhausted before recourse is had to this most terrible of weapons. By deepening the sense of the value of each individual life, it has pushed war into the background.

III. It has tried to divert the true instincts which led to war into a higher channel; they have become the righteous indignation against oppression and cruelty, the nobility of the struggle against evil and against sin. Meanwhile, the great principles of the Sermon on the Mount are not abolished; they remain as the ideal up to which the Church hopes to lift the world—the standard to which we turn back from century to century to test our achievement and to give us fresh hope for future progress.

Rev. Walter Lock.

Illustration

‘If we want peace among the nations, there must also be peace within the Church and in loyal obedience to its laws. We must revive a noble conception of a Universal Church in which every nation shall preserve its own individuality, shall bring the tribute of its life under the blessing of God, and yet shall stand side by side with the representatives of all other nations, thanking God for their gifts as well as for its own. In the last resort nothing but Jesus Christ can be our peace. There can, I fear, be no permanent peace until the delegates of all the nations of the world have come to know that the God Whom they serve is one and the same God, and can all kneel together in a common homage at one altar.’


Verse 8

TIME TO THINK

‘Think on these things.’

Philippians 4:8

This age has been called an age of growth, and so in many ways it is—growth of empire, of commerce, of wealth, of population, and an improvement in physique.

But what of spiritual growth? There is a growth in organisations, in spiritual activities, in spiritual fuss, but this is only the scaffolding; the building itself grows but little. What is the remedy? We find it in the first word of our text, ‘Think.’

I. Get time to think.—It is more necessary than many realise; it is indeed absolutely necessary, for without time to think our spiritual life cannot grow. We hear too much of the voice of man. Get time to hear the voice of God.

II. Acquire the habit of thinking.—The mind quickly forms habits just as the body does, and if those habits are habits of idleness, or day-dreams, or vanity, the mind will soon become useless for thinking. Discipline your mind! Keep still and think. Think deeply, and so become deep. Think regularly, and so acquire the habit of thinking.

III. What shall we think?—It is a good thing to drive out wrong and impure thoughts from our hearts—we must do so; but unless we obtain good thoughts to fill their place the evil thoughts will return with sevenfold force. What, then, shall we think? ‘Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, if there be any virtue, any praise, think on these things.’ That is the great remedy for our lack of spiritual growth. The scaffolding is here; let us build up the spiritual building.

Bishop A. N. Thomas.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE CULTURE OF THE IDEAL

One party in the modern Church might wish the Apostle to have said, Think on your baptism and your covenanted privileges; and another, Think on your conversion. What he actually says is, Think on all things beautiful and good.

I. Thus to write, in the capacity of a teacher of religion, was distinctively Christian.—How vital a thing it is, for the great majority of men and women, whose only abstract thinking is about religion, to have purity and goodness consecrated.

II. It is another mighty corrective (and it is required for the efficiency of the first) that we should learn to appraise aright all things true and beautiful. To do this will rebuke our greed, and calm our passions, and strengthen every noble impulse and desire.

III. This advice becomes a Christian teacher still more, because all such thinking leads up straight to the Cross of the Redeemer.—For in the same proportion in which inward things predominate over show and the senses and the world—self-control over appetite, self-sacrifice over indulgence—as purity and love become precious, and vileness more terrible than pain, so does the great life, the great sacrifice, the supernatural personality of Jesus our Lord become at once credible and splendid; and the visage that was more marred than that of any man is seen to be the fairest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely.

IV. One cannot think long upon such matters and continue indifferent to Him.—No; nor fail to confess the need of Him.

Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Illustration

‘Wherever you discern moral obligation or moral charm, the Apostle says not, Do homage to this, nor even, Work this out in your external conduct, though he very certainly expects that both these results will follow. But rather he says, Let it sink in; take stock of it; reckon it up: let your intelligence play upon it—for such is the meaning of his expression. And this is the one thing which we most need to-day, a dominant interest in really high concerns.’


Verse 19

ALL NEED SUPPLIED

‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 4:19

The Apostle here puts in his personal claim upon God as his God. There is no doubt in his heart he has a right to say it. It solves a thousand questions when we can say ‘My God.’ Now here is a promise wide enough and broad enough to meet our case whatever it is.

I. How manifold are our needs.—What is your need?

(a) Is it pardon? That is the first on the list of spiritual blessings. Well, that need may be supplied.

(b) The soul needs not only the peace of pardon, but the peace of purity. And here let me say that purity and peace are very closely associated. There is a peace of pardon, and there is also a peace of purity.

(c) Then after purity, there is power—the power to win a soul to Christ,

II. The Fountain of the supply.—God Himself.

III. The measure of the supply.—‘According to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ.’ It has been well observed that it is not out of His riches. Think how rich God is.

(a) How rich He is in creation! He numbers the stars (Isaiah 40:26).

(b) How rich He is in providence. He controls everything by the word of His power, whether it is the destiny of an empire or the fall of a sparrow.

(c) How rich He is in mercy—‘For His great love wherewith He hath loved us.’

(d) And how rich He is in glory. It has been remarked that in the promises relating to our sanctification you generally find the expression ‘riches in glory,’ whereas in promises relating to our forgiveness and conversion you generally find the words ‘riches in grace.’

IV. The channel of the supply.—You must have a channel. Though floods were granted they would be wasted without a channel. Rivers may flow within reach of a wilderness, but if there is no conduit to carry the water into it, they will not fertilise it. So the floods of heavenly grace must have a channel, and that channel is found in Christ Jesus. ‘All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him amen to the glory of God by us.’

Rev. E. W. Moore.


Verse 22

SAINTS IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF CÆSAR

‘All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Cæsar’s household.’

Philippians 4:22

Who are these of whom the text speaks, ‘saints of Cæsar’s household’? We do not know. The Bible is silent. The history of the world has passed them over, the history of the Church knows them not. By chance, indeed, in the dark recesses of the Catacombs, amid the quaint symbols of the hope of immortality, their names may even now be deciphered, but beyond that we know them not.

I. Christians under adverse circumstances.—It is about them that I would fain say to you just two words. One is that if we can conceive of any place in the world more unlikely than another at that day in which to find a Christian man it was Nero’s palace. The encouragement to us is this, that, if there, then anywhere it is possible to be a follower of our Blessed Lord. The encouragement is, that there must surely be no difficulties of life, no post of duty, no situation of temptation, in which a Christian man, by the grace of God, may not work his life unharmed.

II. Our real danger.—The world in which we live, our domestic, professional, social, political world, it is to us Cæsar’s household. We have to live there, work there, wait there for our Blessed Master, and though of course superficially the world has changed, there is no arena, there is no garment of flaming pitch, there is no fierce cry of ‘Christians to the lions!’ nothing that could tempt to apostasy in our case, or offer excuse to weak human nature to compromise with sin and infidelity, yet our dangers are no less real. The world is, after all, though softer and gentler, no less dangerous to Christian men, because day by day they are brought in contact with those who neither serve nor know our Divine Master, and then zeal in duty brings its own temptation, earthly labour has its own peril.

III. Never despair of finding good men anywhere.—Moreover, I think that from these unknown saints in Cæsar’s household we may all of us, men and women, learn a lesson of charity, never to despair of finding good men anywhere. God sees not as we see, sufficient if He knows His own, and will one day bring them into the light. Depend upon it there will be many in heaven whom we did not expect to meet. For God’s servants are often hidden, sometimes from pure unobtrusiveness, sometimes from a shrinking fear lest they should after profession fall and bring dishonour on the cause, sometimes again from circumstances which have not brought out their character before those with whom they live. But let us comfort ourselves with the assurance that God knows them and will declare them one day.

Rev. Dr. H. G. Woods.

Illustration

‘There are few contrasts so startling as that which is suggested by this Epistle to the Philippians. We read our pagan history and we read our Bible, but it is not often that the two come so close together and that the lines of both histories touch for one moment to separate again. Here we have for the first time that union of sacred and profane history. Here seems to commence that long struggle between the religion of Christ and the Empire of Rome which ended by establishing the Gospel upon the ruins of the Eternal City. Here we read of Philippi, the advanced guard of the ambition of Macedonian kings, but now the seat of a Christian Church. Philippi, on whose battlefield the future of the world was decided just a hundred years before, now sending Epaphroditus to bear comfort and help to the Apostle in his Roman prison. Everything seems to point to the same contrast between the inspired word of Christian advice as written in this Epistle and the Roman Prætorian command, between the purity and piety of the writer and that golden palace of sin and shame outside the walls of which he wrote.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Philippians 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/philippians-4.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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