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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Philippians 4

Verses 1-23

THERE ARE TWO words in the first verse which direct our thoughts to what has gone before: “Therefore” and “so.” We are to stand fast in the Lord therefore, that is, because of, or in view of, what has just been stated. Well, what has been stated? Our heavenly calling, our heavenly citizenship, our expectation of that body of glory, fashioned like unto Christ’s in which we shall enter into our heavenly portion. No uncertainty here! And no disappointment when the moment of realization comes! We may well stand fast in the Lord!

But we are to stand fast so, that is, in like manner to the way in which Paul himself stood fast as delineated in chapter 3. We are to be “followers together” of him, and have him “for an ensample,” as he told us. If we too find in the knowledge of Christ an excellency that far outshines all else, we shall indeed “stand fast in the Lord.” Our affections, our very beings will be so rooted in Him that nothing can move us.

As we have previously noticed the adversary was attempting to mar the testimony through the Philippians by means of dissension. In verse Philippians 4:2 we discover that at the moment the trouble largely centred in two excellent women who were in their midst. The Apostle now turns to them, naming them with the entreaty that they be of the same mind in the Lord. The three words emphasized are of all importance. If both came thoroughly under the domination of the Lord, having their hearts set for Him as Paul’s was, differences of mind, which existed at that moment, would disappear. The mind of Euodias as to the matter, and Syntyche’s mind, would disappear and the mind of the Lord would remain. Thus they would be of the same mind by having the Lord’s mind.

Verse Philippians 4:3 appears to be a request to Epaphroditus, who was returning to Philippi bearing this letter, that he would help these two women in the matter, for they had been in the past devoted labourers in the Gospel along with the Apostle himself, Clement and others. If they could be helped the main root of dissension would be removed.

With verse Philippians 4:4 we come back to the exhortation of the first verse of Philippians 3:1-21. There we were told to rejoice in the Lord. Here we are to rejoice in the Lord alway; for nothing is to be allowed to divert us from it. Further, he emphasizes by repeating the word, that we are to rejoice. We are not merely to believe and to trust, we are also to rejoice.

This leads to the consideration of things that would hinder our rejoicing in the Lord. The harsh unyielding spirit that always insists on its own rights is one of these things, for it is a fruitful source of discontent and self-occupation. In contrast thereto we are to be characterized by moderation and gentleness, for the Lord is near and He will undertake our cause.

Then again there are the varied testings and worries of life, things which have a tendency to fill our hearts with anxious care. In regard to these prayer is our resource. We should mingle thanksgivings with our prayers, for we should ever be mindful of the abundant mercies of the past. And the scope of our prayers is only limited by the word, “everything.”

This scripture invites us to turn everything into a matter of prayer, and freely make known our requests to God. There is no guarantee, you notice, that all our requests will be granted. That would never do for our understanding is very limited and consequently we often ask for that which, if granted to us, would be neither to the glory of our Lord nor to our own blessing. What is guaranteed is that our hearts and minds shall be guarded by the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. Again and again when Christians have passed through trials, from which they had in vain requested to be exempted, we find them looking back and saying, “I am a wonder to myself. How I could have passed through so heavy a trial, and yet have been lifted above it into such serenity, I cannot understand.”

“The peace of God,” must be distinguished from “peace with God,” of which we read in Romans 5:1. That is the peace in relation to God, which comes from the knowledge of being justified before Him. This is the peace, in character like unto God’s own peace, which fills our hearts when having committed everything to Him in prayer, we trust in His love and wisdom on our behalf, and consequently have anxious care as to nothing.

It may also be helpful to distinguish between prayer as presented in this passage and as presented in John 14:13, John 14:14. There the Lord was speaking more particularly to the Apostolic band, in their character as the representatives that He was leaving behind Him in the world, and He gives them plenary powers as regards prayer in His Name. The force of “in My Name,” is “as My representatives.” This praying in His Name is a tremendously responsible and solemn thing. Every cheque drawn really in His Name on the Bank of Heaven will be honoured. Only we must be very careful that we do not draw cheques for purely personal purposes of our own, under cover of drawing in His Name. That would be a kind of misappropriation of trust funds! And let us remember that in the Bank of Heaven there is a penetrating vision which can infallibly discriminate between the cheque which is genuinely in His Name and the one which is not.

Still, though there are a thousand and one matters in our lives that we could hardly present to God in prayer as being directly connected with the Name and interests of Christ, yet we have full liberty to present them to God, and indeed are bidden to do so. As we do so we may be in the enjoyment of the peace of God. We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything.

Anxious care being driven out of our hearts there is room for all that is good to come in. Of this verse Philippians 4:8 speaks. One can hardly exaggerate the importance of having the mind filled with all that is true and pure and lovely, the highest expression of which is found in Christ. Our lives are so largely controlled by our thoughts, and hence it says, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Hence to have our minds filled with what is true and just and pure is like a high road leading to a life marked by truth and justice and purity. We have of necessity to come into contact with much that is evil, but needlessly to occupy ourselves with it is disastrous, and a source of spiritual weakness.

But if the supreme and perfect expression of all these good things was found in Christ, there was also a very real exhibition of them in the life of the Apostle himself. The Philippians had not only learned and received and heard them, but also seen them in Paul, and what they had seen they themselves were to do. To DO, notice, for the excellent things that fill our minds are to come into practical display in our lives. Then indeed the God of peace shall be with us, which is something beyond the peace of God filling our hearts.

With verse Philippians 4:10 the closing messages of the epistle begin, and Paul again refers to the gift which the Philippians had sent him. That gift had been a cause of great rejoicing to him in his imprisonment. He knew that he had not been out of their thoughts, but they had not had opportunity to send help until this occasion of the journey of Epaphroditus. It had now arrived most opportunely; yet his joy was not primarily because it relieved him of privation, as the beginning of verse Philippians 4:11 shows, but because he knew it meant more fruit towards God, which would be to their credit in the coming day, as verse Philippians 4:17 shows.

Speaking of want or privation leads the Apostle to give us a wonderful insight into the way in which he faced his sufferings and imprisonment. These tragic circumstances had become to him a fountain of practical instruction, for he had learned to be content. To be content in present circumstances, no matter what they be, was not natural to Paul any more than it is to us. But he had learned it. And learned it, not as a matter of theory, but in experimental fashion by passing through the most adverse circumstances, with his heart full of Christ, as we see in chapter 3. Hence he was able to face changes of the most violent sort. Abasement or abounding, fulness or hunger, abounding or acute privation, all was the same to Paul, for Christ was the same, and all Paul’s resources and joys were in Him.

In Christ Paul had strength for all things, and the same strength in the same way is available for every one of us. If only we exploited all that is in Christ for us we could do all things. But Paul did not simply say, “I could,” but rather, “I can.” It is easy to admire the wonderful fortitude, the serene superiority to circumstances which marked the Apostle, and it is not difficult to discern the source of his power, but it is another thing to tread in his steps. That is hardly possible except we go through his circumstances, or similar ones. Here it is that our weakness is so manifest. We conform to the world, we lack spiritual vigour and aggressiveness, we avoid the suffering, and we miss the spiritual education. We cannot say, “I have learned... I know... I am instructed... I can do,” as Paul could. It is just as well that we should candidly face these defects that mark us, lest we should think that we are “rich and increased with goods,” that we are picked Christians of the twentieth century, and consequently as to “spiritual intelligence” almost the last word as to what Christians ought to be.

The Apostle then was not in any sense dependent on the gifts of the Philippian saints or of others, and he would have them know it; yet though this was so he assures them, and that in a very delicate and beautiful way, that he was fully alive to the love and devotion both towards the Lord and himself that had prompted their gift. He recognized that the Philippians peculiarly shone in this grace, and had done so from the first moment that the Gospel had reached them. They had thought of him in the past, when no other assemblies had done so, both in Macedonia and Thessalonica, and now again in Rome.

The devotion of the Philippians in this respect was heightened by the fact that they were very poor. We are enlightened as to this in 2 Corinthians 8:2. They also had been in much affliction themselves, and they had experienced much joy in the Lord. All this is very instructive for us. Oftentimes we are unsympathetic and stingy because our own experiences both of suffering and spiritual refreshment are so very shallow.

Having received of their bounty through Epaphroditus, Paul would have them know that now he had a full supply and was enjoying abundance. But their gift had not only met his need, it was in the nature of a sacrifice acceptable to God, like to those sacrifices of a sweet smelling odour of which the Old Testament speaks. This was a greater thing still.

But what of the Philippians themselves? They had further impoverished themselves, further reduced their already slender resources by their gifts in favour of an aged prisoner who could in no wise reciprocate or help them. Paul felt this and in verse Philippians 4:19 he expresses his confidence as to them. God would supply all their need. Notice how he speaks of Him as, “My God,”—the God whom Paul knew and had practically tested for himself. That God would be their Supplier, not according to their need, nor even according to Paul’s ardent desires on their behalf, but according to His own riches in glory in Christ Jesus. It would have been a wonderful thing had God engaged to supply them according to His riches on earth in Christ Jesus. His riches in glory are more wonderful still. The Philippians or ourselves may never be rich in the things of earth and yet be enriched in the things of glory. If so we shall indeed respond, in attributing glory to God our Father for ever and ever.

It is interesting to note in the closing word of salutation that there were saints found even in Caesar’s household. The first chapter told us that his bonds had been manifested as being in Christ in all the palace, and if in all the palace even to Caesar himself, we suppose. But with some of his attendants and servants things had gone further than that, and they had been converted. In a great stronghold of the adversary’s power souls had been translated from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

Such triumphs does grace effect! How fittingly comes the closing desire, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Philippians 4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.