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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Philippians 4

Introduction

Philippians 4

In the second chapter the apostle has presented Christ coming down from the glory to the cross, setting forth the lowly mind that should mark believers, enabling us to be true witnesses for Christ in the world we are passing through. In the third chapter he has directed our gaze to Christ exalted in glory as Lord, our Object in Whom we see the glorious end to which we are journeying. In this closing chapter he gives us exhortations as to the practice that should mark the every-day life of those who have Christ before them as their perfect Pattern, and their one Object, and he presents Christ as the One Who can strengthen us for all things.

(V. 1). Firstly, we are exhorted to "stand fast in the Lord." The evils we have to meet, whether from the flesh within, the devil without, or the world around, are too strong for us, but the Lord is able "to subdue all things unto Himself." We are not asked, or expected, to overcome in our own strength, or by our wisdom, but to "stand fast in the Lord" - in the power of His might.

(Vv. 2, 3). Secondly, we are exhorted to "be of the same mind in the Lord." There was a difference of judgment between two devoted women at Philippi, and the apostle foresaw how a circumstance that the saints might judge to be of small import could easily lead to great sorrow and weakness in the assembly. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth" ( Jam_3:5 ). The apostle, however, who knows how to take the precious from the vile, does not overlook the devotedness of these sisters, who had stood with him in contending for the gospel in the face of opposition, insults and persecutions. Their very devotedness would surely only add to his grief that there should be any difference between them in the Lord's interests. He, therefore, not only beseeches them to be of the same mind, but entreats Epaphroditus to assist them. In seeking to help them, let him remember that their names are "in the book of life." Amongst the people of God there may not be "many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" that are called, but can we think lightly of any "whose names are in the book of life"?

(V. 4). Thirdly, we are exhorted to "Rejoice in the Lord alway." Already the apostle has exhorted us to rejoice in the Lord, but now again he can say, not only "Rejoice," but rejoice always. However painful our circumstances, however great the opposition of the enemy, and however heartbreaking the failure among the Lord's people, in the Lord we can always rejoice. Of Him we can say "Thou remainest" and "Thou art the Same."

(V. 5). Fourthly, in reference to the world we are passing through, with all its violence and corruption, the exhortation is "Let your gentleness be known unto all men" (N. Tr.). In His own time the Lord will deal with all the evil and bring in all the blessing, and His coming is near. It is not for believers, then, to interfere with the government of the world, nor to assert their rights and fight for them. Our privilege and responsibility is to represent Christ, and thus exhibit the gentleness that marked the Lord. The Psalmist could say, "Thy gentleness hath made me great" ( Psa_18:35 ). We belittle ourselves in the eyes of the world if we assert ourselves and oppose its government. If we exhibit the gentleness of Christ, the world itself will hardly be able to condemn, for, as it has been said, "Gentleness is irresistible."

(Vv. 6, 7). Fifthly, as regards the trials by the way, the daily necessities and bodily needs in connection with the present life, we are to find relief from all anxiety by making them all known to God. If our gentleness is to be made known to all men, our requests are to be made known to God. The result will be, not perhaps that all our requests will be answered, for this might not be for our good or God's glory, but that the heart will be relieved from its burden of anxiety, and be kept in calm peace - "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding." To be "careful for nothing" does not mean that we are careless about anything, but that, instead of being continually worried by the cares of the day and the fear of to-morrow, we pour out our cares to God, and He pours the balm of peace into our souls. And it is "through Christ Jesus" we can draw near to God, and through Him God can grant His blessing.

(V. 8). Sixthly, being relieved of our cares, our minds will not only be kept in peace but set free to be occupied with all those things in which God delights. The world we are passing through is marked by violence and corruption, and we are called to refuse the evil; but we are to beware lest our minds become defiled by dwelling upon its evil. Good for us to have a hatred of evil and a dread of it, and the love of good and the choice of it. If our thoughts were controlled by the Spirit of God would they not be occupied with, and delighting in, all those blessed things which were seen in perfection in Christ? Was He not true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and the One in Whom there was everything to call forth praise? May we not say that to be occupied with these things will mean that our minds are delighting in Christ?

(V.9). Seventhly, having exhorted us as to the things of which we should think, Paul passes on to exhort us as to that which we should do. In our practical life we are to "do" even as the apostle. Already he has told us, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark" for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus. So walking, we shall not only enjoy in our souls the peace of God while passing through a world of turmoil, but we shall have the God of peace with us - the peace of God preserving our souls in calmness, and the presence of God supporting us in our weakness.

However trying the circumstances we may have to pass through, however terrible the evils in the world, the corruptions of Christendom, the failure amongst the people of God, however great the opposition of the enemy, and whatever insults and reproaches we may have to meet, how blessed our lives would be if lived in accord with these exhortations: -

(1) To stand fast in the Lord;

(2) To have one mind in the Lord;

(3) To rejoice in the Lord always;

(4) To exhibit the gentleness of the Lord to all men;

(5) To cast all our care upon God by prayer;

(6) To have our thoughts occupied with that which is good as expressed in Christ;

(7) To be governed in all that we do by Christ our one Object.

(Vv. 10-13). In the closing verses of the epistle we see in Paul one who was superior to all circumstances. He had rolled all his cares upon God, and now he could rejoice that the Lord had given these saints the love and the opportunity to care for him in his affliction by helping to meet his needs.

Nevertheless, we are permitted to see in the apostle a saint who was lifted above circumstances, for he knew how to be abased and how to abound, how to be full and how to be hungry, how to abound and how to suffer need. Such knowledge he had gained by experience and divine guidance, for he can say, "I have learned" and "I am instructed." If God allows us to pass through testing circumstances, it is to instruct us. One has said, "If full, He keeps me from being careless, and indifferent, and self-satisfied: if hungry, He keeps me from being cast down and dissatisfied" (J.N.D.).

Paul can thus say, "I have strength for all things", but, he adds, this strength is "in Christ". He does not say "I have strength in myself ", but "in Him that gives me power."

(Vv. 14-18). Through this dependence upon Christ to meet all his needs, he was lifted above being influenced by men in order to obtain their favour and help. Nonetheless, the Philippian saints had "done well" in helping to meet the needs of the apostle. The love that promoted this gift would ascend as fruit to God and abound to their account, for it was a sacrifice on their part, "well-pleasing to God."

(Vv. 19, 20). From his own experience of the goodness of God, he can say with all confidence, "My God shall abundantly supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. " We can find relief from all anxiety by making known all our needs to God by Christ Jesus; and God will abundantly meet our needs by Christ Jesus. Well may we say with the apostle, "Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

(Vv. 21-23). The closing salutation gives a beautiful picture of Christian fellowship in the early church, and the esteem in which these saints were held by the apostle, for he not only says that he saluted "every saint in Christ Jesus", but "all the saints salute you." He closes by saying, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (N. Tr.). We need the mercy of God to meet the needs of our bodies, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep our spirits.

How blessedly is Christ kept before us from the commencement to the end of this beautiful epistle. In the first chapter it is Christ our Life, leading the believer to view everything in connection with Him ( Php_1:21 ). In the second chapter it is Christ our Pattern in lowliness, to unite us together in one mind ( Php_2:5 ). In the third chapter it is Christ our Object in the glory, to enable us to overcome all opposition ( Php_3:14 ). In the last chapter it is Christ our Strength, to meet all our needs ( Php_4:13 ).

Moreover, in the course of the epistle we learn the experience we should enjoy if, in the power of the Spirit, we took our journey through this world with Christ before us. We should, with the apostle, experience joy in the Lord ( Php_1:4 ; Php_3:1-3 ; Php_4:4 ; Php_4:10 ); confidence in the Lord ( Php_1:6 ); peace that passeth all understanding (4: 7); love to one another ( Php_1:8 ; Php_2:1 ; Php_4:1 ); hope that waits for the coming of the Lord Jesus ( Php_3:20 ); and faith that counts upon the Lord's support ( Php_4:12 ; Php_4:13 ).

Jesus! Thou art enough

The mind and heart to fill;

Thy patient life - to calm the soul;

Thy love - its fear dispel.

Verses 1-23

Philippians 4 .

Christ our Power.

In the former chapters Christ has been presented as our life, our pattern, and our object in glory: our life to govern our path through this world, our pattern to characterize our walk, and our object in glory to give energy in pressing on. In this closing chapter, Christ is presented as our power to make us superior to all the circumstances of this present life. The Christian is viewed in the Epistle as passing through an adverse world, opposed by a vigilant and unscrupulous enemy ever ready to use every means to turn the pilgrim from the heavenly path.

In his path, as set before us in this chapter, he finds the enemy against him; dissensions within the Christian circle; special trials peculiar to the Christian as such; the ordinary cares of life common to all; the evil and unlovely things of a world without God, and the adverse or prosperous circumstances of life. It will not, indeed, be found that all these things are specifically mentioned, but they are involved by the exhortations.

Furthermore, we have very blessedly set before us the One who alone can lift us above every trial and keep our feet in the heavenly path. Christ is our unfailing resource. His hand of power can alone enable us to walk in superiority to the dangers and snares of an adverse world, even as His mighty power enabled Peter to walk upon the water. Again and again the apostle delights to keep the Lord before us. He says," Stand fast in the Lord," "be of the same mind in the Lord," Rejoice in the Lord alway." Again he says, "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly," and, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

1. The Opposition of the Enemy (Verse 1).

The chapter opens with the exhortation, "Stand fast in the Lord." This supposes all the power of the enemy arrayed against us, and that the Christian profession no longer walks at the height of the Christian calling. With the devil opposing, true saints giving up the heavenly calling, and mere professors denying the Cross of Christ, what hope is there that any will remain true to Christ, be preserved from giving up the heavenly path, and drifting into an easy-going and lifeless profession? Our one hope, our unfailing resource, is Christ. We cannot "stand fast" in our own strength. We cannot stand fast in our brethren. They, like ourselves, are weak and failing. We can "stand fast in the Lord." He will never fail us; and in Him we shall find strength to stand against the enemy and all his wiles.

2. The Dissensions of Believers (Verses 2, 3).

We have not only to meet the unceasing hostility of the enemy, but the ever present dissensions amongst the people of God. Even in the bright Philippian assembly the spirit of dissension was at work. Two sisters were not of the same mind. Nothing is more distressing, disheartening and wearying to the spirit, than the constant dissensions amongst the Lord's people. How often have such dissensions given the enemy an occasion, which he has not been slow to use, to turn aside a weak believer from the separate path of the heavenly calling, to settle down in some easy-going religious system of men's devising!

Again, however, our true resource in the presence of our dissensions is the Lord. Why should we turn aside from the heavenly path, when difficulties rise, if we have the Lord to whom we can turn? Our differences will never be settled by mere discussion, or by way of compromise, or even by seeking to arrive at a common judgment, which might indeed be "one mind" and yet only our own mind. The only way to end dissension is for those who differ to turn to the Lord, seeking His mind. This, however, supposes the judgment of the flesh, the refusal of self-will, and subjection to the authority of the Lord. Thus only shall we arrive at the same mind in the Lord.

3. The Special Trials of Believers (Verses 4, 5).

There are special trials that are peculiar to the believer as such. There are sufferings for Christ's sake, and sorrow of heart over the condition of the Christian profession. Paul, when writing this Epistle, was in prison for Christ's sake. He was sorrowing over those who were turning aside to their own things, and weeping over others whose low walk made them enemies of the cross of Christ.

In the presence of these special sorrows we are exhorted to "Rejoice in the Lord alway." Thus only shall we be sustained whether the days be dark or bright. We cannot always rejoice in our circumstances or in the saints, we can always rejoice in the Lord. Others change, others pass away; He remains, and He is the same.

Paul had known the Lord when a free man, and he had proved the Lord when a prisoner, and, from his own experience of the Lord's sufficiency, he can say, "Rejoice in the Lord alway again I say rejoice."

Moreover, this delight in the Lord delivers from the power of present things. If rejoicing in the Lord, and all the resources in Him; if confident that He is at hand, and that at His coming He will right every wrong; we shall not be over-troubled with the confusions in the world or the professing Church. We shall not be asserting our rights, or vehemently expressing our opinions on this world's affairs. We can afford to be quiet if the Lord is at hand, and thus be known by all men for gentleness and moderation.

4. The Cares of this Life (Verses 6, 7).

Not only are there special trials peculiar to the Christian, but also there are the ordinary trials of life common to mankind. There are the everyday anxieties connected with our homes, our families, our health, our callings, and our circumstances. How are we made superior to these varied cares? It is evident that God would have his children to be free from all worry and anxiety. This, the word clearly tells us, can only be brought about by taking everything to God in prayer. It is not simply the great trials that we are to take to God, but the small worries. The little thing that worries might appear foolish or fanciful to others, nevertheless let us not weary ourselves with reasoning about it in our minds, but by prayer and supplication make it known to God. He knows all about the burden before we go to Him. We cannot tell Him anything that He does not know; but making it known we know that He knows. In result we are relieved from anxiety. It does not follow that we get our request, but we obtain the peace of God to garrison our hearts.

The story of Hannah in the Old Testament affords a striking example of the relief afforded by prayer. Wearied by a trial that made her fret and weep, there came a moment when she "poured out her soul before the Lord," with the result that, though her circumstances were not altered or her prayer answered, she went on her way "in peace," and was "no more sad" ( 1Sa_1:6 ; 1Sa_1:7 ; 1Sa_1:15-8 ).

David, in the day of his great sorrow, could say, "I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me"; with the result that he could add, "I laid me down and slept." His circumstances were not altered, but his heart was relieved by casting his care upon the Lord ( Psa_3:4-6 ).

Did not Mary of the eleventh of John learn the blessed effect of casting her sorrow upon the Lord when, having sent a message to the Lord concerning her trial, she was enabled to "sit still" in the house? ( Joh_2:3 ; Joh_2:20 ).

5. The Defilements of the World (Verses 8, 9).

The fallen world through which we are passing is characterized by things that are false, and mean, and wrong; things unholy and unlovely; things that are of evil report, vicious and to be condemned.

There is indeed much that is beautiful in nature, and the natural man is capable of producing and appreciating much that is beautiful in music and art and literature, and yet sets little value on that which is morally beautiful. How can it be otherwise in a world that could see no beauty in the One who is altogether lovely?

The evil of the world is ever present, flaunting itself in public, retailed by the daily press, and broadcasted by wireless. It is gloated over in fiction, depicted in places of entertainment, and exploited for gain.

How then is the Christian to be kept from the defiling influences of such a world? Only by having his mind occupied with things that are true, noble, just, pure and lovely; things that are of good report, virtuous and to be praised. These things find their perfect expression in Christ and in His people in the measure in which Christ is formed in them. Thus, again, Christ is our resource to lift us above the defiling influences of a world without God. The character is formed by what the mind feeds on. Hence the importance of the exhortation, "Think on these things."

The one whose mind is occupied with the things that are morally lovely, the things that Christ delights in, will be ready to do the things that are pleasing to Christ. Hence the "thinking" of verse 8 is followed by the "doing" of verse 9. Just as the evil thoughts of the heart find their expression in evil ways, so right thinking is followed by right acting. Thinking of things morally beautiful and doing that which is pleasing to God, we shall have, not only the peace of God in our hearts, but the God of peace with us in our walk.

6. The Circumstances of Life (Verses 10-13).

In his passage through this world the Christian may be tried through seasons of adversity, or tested by times of prosperity. Either condition has dangers for the believer. In adversity we may be tempted by the devil to lose confidence in God and question His ways or His love. It was thus Job was tested ( Job_1:20-22 ; Job_2:9 ; Job_2:10 ). In prosperity we may grow self-confident and forget God. It was so with David ( Psa_30:6 ). Moses warns God's people lest in days of temporal fulness the heart be lifted up and God be forgotten ( Deu_8:14 ).

Speaking from his own experience, the apostle instructs us how to escape both snares. Tested in every way he knew how "to be abased" without being cast down and losing confidence in God; and how to "abound" without being lifted up and forgetting God. What was it sustained Paul whether in fulness or hunger, whether abounding or suffering? His answer, in one word, is "Christ." He had experienced the support of Christ in days of need as in days of plenty and he proved that in Christ he had strength for all things.

7. The Need of Others (Verses 14-19)

If, like the apostle, we have "learned" and been "instructed" by the support of Christ to be lifted above our circumstances, be they adverse or prosperous, we shall be ready to communicate to others. If overcome by need we shall think only of ourselves; if overcome by prosperity we shall forget God and the people of God. If strengthened by Christ in every circumstance our hearts will go out to others in need. And as with the Philippians, so with ourselves, it is well to communicate in the afflictions of the needy. Such gifts comfort the needy, bear fruit to the giver, and rise up as an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.

Thus in this closing chapter the apostle anticipates the opposition of the enemy, the special trials of the believer, the cares of this life, the defiling influences of the world, circumstances whether adverse or prosperous, and turns us to the Lord as the One who is able to sustain through all and lift us above all, that we may be kept for the glory of our God and our Father (verse 20).

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Philippians 4". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/philippians-4.html. 1832.