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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

‘For which reason, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved.’

‘For which reason.’ This means, ‘Because of what I have just been saying, and because of what is in the whole of this letter --.’ Paul then follows this by stressing his deep affection for them as he puts his whole heart into calling on them to ‘stand fast in the Lord’. The affection is emphasised in a fourfold way, ‘my brothers (and sisters)’, ‘beloved and longed for’, my joy and crown’, --- ‘my beloved’. He is holding nothing back. It is quite clear that the Philippians were very close to his heart, and that he thus wanted the very best for them.

‘My brothers and sisters.’ The word adelphoi, while masculine, was inclusive of both male and female Christians. It was a term which indicated the close tie that he felt for his fellow-believers. They were united with him in one Spirit, and together with him were ‘in Christ’, made one by participation in His body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). They were his kin in Christ (Galatians 3:28), with Jesus in His humanity as their elder brother (Hebrews 1:11-14). And as such he loved them.

‘Beloved and longed for.’ He had described them as beloved in Philippians 2:12, and had spoken of his longing to be with them once again, and for their spiritual growth, in Philippians 1:8 (compare Philippians 1:7 ‘and have you in my heart’). And it was this that moved him to pray so earnestly for their spiritual wellbeing (Philippians 1:9-11). Furthermore it was a love that he wanted them also to have for each other (Philippians 2:2).

‘My joy and crown.’ We must not see this as simply indicating Paul’s hope that he would receive recognition and applause for himself on the day of judgment because they were his trophies. He did not see it like that. Rather he saw them as coming with him into the Lord’s presence daily (as he lifted them up before God) as his cause for joy, and as the crown on his work for God. As he prayed they were the cause of his joy, and the crown on his prayers. For he is delighting in the fact that they are at present ‘his joy’ as he approaches the Lord, and as he enters in prayer and praise for them into the presence of the Lord, and are the crown on his ministry, the extra garnish which gives it extra taste, as they come in triumph together. And he rejoices that ‘in that Day’ he will also be able to joy in them and ‘show them off’, as they too enjoy the blessing of the Day (see 1 Thessalonians 2:19). They will be there with him as evidences of the Lord’s triumphant work (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:13). They will be his cause for rejoicing because of the steadfastness of their faith, and they will be his crown because he sees them as coming with him into the presence of the Lord, acting as a seal on God’s activity through his ministry, adding to the glory that comes to the Lord as a result of it. They were the present proof that he had indeed not run in vain, and were the guarantee of the genuineness of God’s work through him. And in the future when he came before God’s judgment seat he would joy in them and as it were ‘wear’ them (by their presence along with him) as a token of the Lord’s victory through him, so that God might be glorified, and they might all be blessed.

‘My beloved.’ Note the twice repeated beloved. He yearns for them to recognise the love that he has for them.

And because of his love for them he wants them to ‘stand fast in the Lord.’ ‘In/by the Lord’ could indicate standing fast along with Him, in His strength (Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:16-17), or their standing fast because they are one with each other and with Him ‘within the sphere of Christ’ (in Christ). But if we take the latter meaning we must not overlook that fact that to be ‘in the Lord’ (or ‘in Christ’), is to be as closely united with Him as it is possible to be (‘Your life is hid with Christ in God’ - Colossians 3:3). Standing fast has in mind their opponents, both spiritual (Satan and his minions - Ephesians 6:10-18) and physical (including worldly persecutors and heretical teachers). He is not promising that life will be easy, only victorious if they are truly ‘in the Lord’.

There is a reminder here that we are in a warfare during which we often have to plant our feet firmly and stand up to what is thrown against us (compare 1 Corinthians 16:13). There is no promise that being a Christian will be easy, rather the opposite. But as Paul makes clear, at such times we are never alone. We stand fast ‘in the LORD’. And we are provided with the wherewithal to stand (Ephesians 6:10-18). And this standing fast also includes standing fast against false teaching, and holding firmly to the truth (Galatians 5:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:15), which in view of chapter 3 may well be in mind here.


Verses 1-9

Final Words Of Admonition And Guidance (Philippians 4:1-9).

Approaching the end of his letter on the glorious note found in the previous verses Paul now takes them back in Philippians 4:1 to that revelation, and also at the same time to his admonition in Philippians 1:27 to ‘stand fast in one Spirit’, although now wording the admonition as to ‘stand fast in the Lord’. Thus the urge to ‘stand fast’, and the basis on which to do so, can be seen as one underlying theme of the letter. Indeed we have been given every reason for standing fast in that way based on the power available to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The paralleling of ‘the Spirit’ with ‘the Lord’ in this way is similarly prominent also in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, which warns us against making too separate a distinction between Their activities. Indeed Jesus Himself makes clear that we make a grave error if we distinguish the Spirit from the Lord too decisively or vice versa, for in John 14:16-17, where He promises the coming of the Holy Spirit as ‘the Helper (Paraclete)’ Jesus also promised that, ‘I will not leave you without help, I will come to you’ (John 14:18). And He then went on to point out that ‘he who loves Me will be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him’ (John 14:21), immediately adding, ‘and WE (the Father and the Son) will come to him and make our abode with him’ (John 14:23). This should cause us to recognise with joy that while the Spirit has come, and we have all been united together in one Spirit, Jesus Christ Himself is not an absent landlord. In His own words both He and the Father also dwell within us (the plurality emphasised by the ‘we’) and live through us. And in Matthew 28:20 He emphasises, ‘Lo, I am with you always’.Thus we are not only the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19), but also the temple of the Triune God. This is emphasised in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 where we are told that we are ‘the temple of the living God, as God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they will be by My People” --- and I will receive you and will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and My daughters, says the Lord God Almighty.’ Thus while there are certainly personal distinctions within the Godhead, there is also a unity of action, with all acting together.

Meanwhile we should note again that, while certainly looking back to Philippians 1:27 and what follows, Philippians 4:1 also specifically connects back with Philippians 3:10-21, indicating that one reason why they can stand fast in the Lord with the utmost confidence is because they are empowered by His resurrection and are citizens of Heaven, looking for their Lord and Saviour to come visibly from Heaven to transform them beyond their dreams.

Furthermore, we may see the whole of this passage in Philippians 4:1-9 as a kind of summing up of the letter, for it very much has in mind many of the things that have been said in it. Consider, for example, the following:

· The call to ‘stand fast’ has in mind Philippians 1:27, which as we saw was preparation for the main body of the letter.

· ‘My brothers’ parallels Philippians 1:12; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:13; Philippians 3:17.

· ‘Beloved’, twice repeated, parallels Philippians 2:12, and all Paul’s indications of affection for the Philippians (e.g. Philippians 1:4-5; Philippians 1:7-8).

· ‘Longed for’ parallels Philippians 1:8, where Paul ‘longs for’ their spiritual growth, and also to see them again.

· ‘My joy and crown’ parallels the idea in Philippians 2:16 where Paul expected ‘in the Day of Christ’ that he would prove not to have ‘run and laboured in vain’ because he was looking forward to ‘the prize’ of the high calling of God (Philippians 3:14). See in this respect Corinthians Philippians 3:10-15 where he outlines what awaits the faithful servant of Christ, and compare also 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:9 where the Thessalonians were also his hope and joy and crown of rejoicing.

· ‘To be of the same mind in the Lord’ parallels Philippians 2:2 where the Philippians were urged to ‘be of the same mind in everything’. Compare the references to mind in Philippians 1:7; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15; Philippians 3:19.

· ‘For they laboured with me in the Gospel’ parallels Philippians 1:5, ‘for you are all partakers with me of grace -- in my defence and confirmation of the Gospel’ and 1. 27, ‘with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel’.

· For reference to ‘The Gospel’ compare Philippians 1:5; Philippians 1:7; Philippians 1:12; Philippians 1:16; Philippians 1:22; Philippians 2:22.

· ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4) parallels Philippians 2:17-18; Philippians 3:1 a, and the whole atmosphere of the letter (as described in the introduction).

· For ‘Let your forbearance (gentleness) be known to all men’ (Philippians 4:5), compare ‘do all things without grumbling and questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent -- in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you shine as lights in the world’ (Philippians 2:14-15).

· For ‘in nothing be anxious’ (Philippians 4:6) compare ‘in nothing be frightened’ in Philippians 1:28.

· For ‘whatever things are true, whatever things are honourable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, weigh up these things’ (Philippians 4:8), compare ‘so that you may approve what is excellent’ (Philippians 1:10).

· For ‘the things which you both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do’, compare ‘brothers, join in imitating me’ (Philippians 3:17).

· We should also note the use of ‘the Lord’ as a designation of Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:1-2; Philippians 4:4-5; Philippians 4:10), a use apparent throughout the letter (see Philippians 1:14; Philippians 2:24; Philippians 2:29; Philippians 3:1).

With this in mind we can now consider the verses in more detail.

Analysis Of Philippians 4:1-9.

a For which reason, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved (Philippians 4:1).

bI exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I beseech you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2-3).

c Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

d Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:5).

c In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

b Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honourable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, weigh up these things (Philippians 4:8).

a The things which you both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).

Note that in ‘a’ they are to have their attention fixed on the Lord as they stand fast in Him, while in the parallel in typical Pauline fashion they are to use Paul as a living example by which they can do this. In ‘b’ they are to be of one mind and to help each other, and in the parallel their minds are to be on all that is good, while considering one another’s praiseworthiness. In ‘c’ they are to doubly rejoice in the Lord, and in the parallel they are to rely wholly on Him, avoiding anxiety by keeping in close touch with Him. Centrally in ‘d’ they are to live remembering that that ‘the Lord is at hand’.


Verse 2

‘I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord.’

His love now spills over in his exhortation to two women who were clearly prominent in the church. In that area of the Empire women had a special prominence and held positions of leadership and authority. Thus in neighbouring Thessalonica there were ‘chief women’ (Acts 17:4), while in Berea there were ‘honourable women’ (Acts 17:12). Thus for these two women to be prominent in the church should come as no surprise in such an environment. Indeed wealthy and influential Christian women contributed much to the respectability and success of the church in the early days, often making available a large house at which the church could meet. Sadly, however, these two appear to have been causing a certain amount of friction (although not serious division), and so Paul calls on them to share the mind of the Lord, as in Philippians 2:5. Then they will be united in humility and love. Note how prominent ‘the Lord’ is in the passage (Philippians 4:1-2; Philippians 4:4-5; Philippians 4:10). In the Old Testament ‘the Lord’ was YHWH. In Empire worship ‘the Lord’ was the divine Emperor. Its application to Jesus Christ without any accompanying explanatory phrase is therefore very significant. He is Lord over all. It confirms Him as the One to Whom every knee will bow, and of Whom every tongue will confess that He is the LORD YHWH (Philippians 2:10-11). It is a reminder that wherever we find Him called ‘Lord’ it indicates both His total sovereignty and His divine nature. It is the New Testament (and Greek Old Testament) equivalent of YHWH.

The names Euodia and Syntyche are recognisable Greek names, but we know nothing about these two women except for the fact that they had laboured with Paul in the Gospel (Philippians 4:3), how we are not told. Possibly it was by using their influence to bring others to hear him when he was at Philippi, and by urging them to respond; possibly it was by helping to finance his work; or possibly it was by using their influence with the authorities. We can compare the influence of Lydia (Acts 16:1-15). His appeal to them is gently, but firmly, put, as became a friend. He, as it were, calls each of them to his side (parakaleo - to call alongside) in his earnest appeal to them, seeking to direct their minds firmly on the Lord so that they may be of one mind with Him (Philippians 2:5). The same call comes to us. There should be no conflict in the body of Christ.


Verse 3

‘Yes, I ask you also, true yoke-fellow, help these women, for they laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.’

Paul now seeks a mediator in one whom he calls ‘a true yoke-fellow ’ (gnesie sunzuge) or alternatively one whom he names as Syzygos, (but if so the name is not witnessed anywhere else in the Greek world). We do not know who this was. Perhaps Luke had gone to them again. He was certainly Paul’s yoke-fellow. In this regard note how the ‘we’ passage in Acts 16 becomes ‘they’ in chapter 17, returning to ‘we’ when Paul returned to Philippi (Acts 20:6), possibly suggesting that Luke remained at Philippi for a time assisting the infant church, although we should note that he joined Paul again later. However, he may well have been a native of the area, and thus now labouring among them again. But however that may be, the important thing for us to note is that Paul expected a true yoke-fellow to strive for the unity of the church. This is one test of a true yoke-fellow of Christ. And Paul’s plea was that he would help these women who had laboured with him in the Gospel, labouring alongside Clement (otherwise unknown. It was a very common name) and ‘the rest of my fellow-workers’. This possibly refers to the whole church of believers, for they are identified as those whose names are in the book of life. This is the book of life in which the names of all true believers were written from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8, compare Revelation 13:8). Compare how the disciples were to rejoice because their names were ‘written in Heaven’ (Luke 10:20).

The appeal does not appear to suggest a serious situation, only one that could have developed into one if left to fester. It is one of concern for the unity of the church.


Verse 4

‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.’

The first exhortation is a call to ‘rejoice in the Lord’. It is addressed to the whole church, being repeated from Philippians 3:1. It is not a call just to sing a few hymns, but one that calls on them to face the hardships of the future with confident joy (compare Acts 13:52). Note especially the dual emphasis. Paul did not want to be seen as giving simply an idle exhortation, but desired rather to emphasise the perseverance in rejoicing that would be required. For he was well aware that the Philippians were facing trials and persecution. On the other hand he knew that they were facing these precisely because of the value that they put on knowing the Lord. Thus he turns their eyes from their troubles to the One in Whose Name they will be suffering. The point he is making is that Christ Jesus and what He has done for them is worth it. Let them then consider all that Paul has written to them concerning Him, and all that they have learned from his fellow-workers, and rejoice continually in Him, as they press on towards the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Let their eyes be fixed firmly on the LORD.

And as their eyes are fixed on the Lord they are especially to be fixed on His own triumphant progress of faith in the face of suffering (Philippians 2:5-11), a progress into which they are to enter by setting their minds in line with His, and receiving His mind, taking the way of humility and the way of the cross so that finally they might receive the crown (Philippians 2:5-11; Philippians 3:10-21). Having their minds set on Him involves entering in to all that He entered into, just as having the mind of the Spirit involves full participation in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-16).


Verses 4-7

Paul Now Gives Final Instructions To His Beloved Philippians (Philippians 4:4-7).

Paul now commences a series of injunctions in staccato form which are not directly connected in the Greek. In a sense each is separate so as to give it emphasis, although we should recognise that that does not necessarily mean that Paul wanted them to be seen as totally independent of each other. The first is ‘upward’, looking towards the Lord (Philippians 4:4), the second is outward, looking towards the world (Philippians 4:5), and the third is inward, looking at themselves (Philippians 4:6). Philippians 4:7 possibly applies to them all.

His rapid-fire statements are:

· Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4).

· Let your forbearance be known to all men (Philippians 4:5 a).

· The Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:5 b).

· Be anxious in nothing, but let your prayers and supplications be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).

And the consequence will be that ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard their hearts and minds by faith in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7).


Verse 5

‘Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.’

The second exhortation is that their forbearance and neighbourliness and unjudgmental attitude in the face of persecution should be demonstrated towards the whole world. In one sense this command stands by itself as the equivalent of the command to love their neighbours as themselves, but there is also a very real sense in which it connects up with their rejoicing in the Lord. It will be their rejoicing in the Lord, and their fixing their eye on Him, which will affect their whole behaviour and attitude towards all men in this way, for they will walk as He walked. It should result in them behaving with forbearance, gentleness and due regard for others (epieikes). And this because ‘the Lord is at hand.’ The idea behind the word for ‘forbearance’ is of a balanced, intelligent and decent outlook which will be admired by all right thinking people, as pre-eminently revealed in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1; compare Matthew 11:28-30), for the church is not just to be caught up with itself, it is to be open in its attitude to the world (compare Philippians 2:15-16).

‘The Lord is at hand (‘ho kurios eggus’).’ It has been suggested that this may be a citation from Psalm 144:18 LXX (Psalms 145:18), although in LXX the Psalm reads ‘eggus kurios’ (however, other Greek texts may have been closer to the Hebrew) and makes it part of a longer sentence, ‘the Lord is at hand to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth’. The idea would then be that because the Lord was beside them and with them it should affect their daily attitude towards the whole world. This would certainly tie in with the surrounding context, and with the exhortation to pray in Philippians 4:8. On the other hand the phrase could equally be a reminder of the closeness of the Lord’s return, as in Philippians 3:20, as though he was saying, ‘the Lord’s coming is imminent’, possibly being seen by him as echoing the apocalyptic language of Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 1:14 ("the day of the LORD is near" - ‘eggus he hemera tou kuriou’), language which is picked up in James 5:8 (‘the day of the Lord is at hand’) and is probably in Paul’s mind in Romans 13:12. Such a significance would provide a powerful incentive to them in respect of their behaviour towards the world, and it would tie in with the idea expressed in the Aramaic ‘marana tha’, ‘the Lord comes’ (1 Corinthians 16:22).

It may indeed well be that the Lord’s imminence in both ways is in mind. Compare Revelation 3:20 where the true believers are to recognise that He is continually at the very door to succour and comfort them, while they are also to look for His return when they would eat and drink with Him at His table.


Verse 6

‘In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’

The third exhortation is that they should not be filled with anxiety about anything. That too would go with rejoicing in the Lord, and with the recognition that He was coming. Note the contrast, ‘in nothing be anxious -- in everything by prayer’. Thus freedom from anxiety was to be on the basis of dependence ‘God’, that is on their Heavenly Father Who had promised to supply all their real needs (see Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:31; Matthew 6:34). Notice also the threefold combination of ‘prayer (general prayer and worship), supplication (asking in respect, especially, of spiritual needs) and thanksgiving’. Worship and gratitude were not to be forgotten or sidelined, and would aid their supplication and increase their rejoicing. And the implication was that as they made their requests known to God, and worshipped and expressed their gratitude, they could be sure that He would hear them and respond. Furthermore, if we take Matthew 6 as our guide the emphasis is on supplication in respect of spiritual things (as in the Lord’s prayer), for in Matthew 6:8; Matthew 6:31-34 Jesus made clear that, if our minds are set on His Kingly Rule, we can leave our need for physical things in the hands of our Heavenly Father without needing to ask because He is fully aware of what we really need (Matthew 6:31-32). Our great concern is rather to be one of asking for God’s Name to be hallowed, for God’s Kingly Rule over men’s hearts to come, and for God’s will to be done on earth as in Heaven, then everything else would be added to them.

Thus the emphasis here is on the fact that we do not have to be anxious about anything, because we know that having committed everything to Him, we can leave it all in the hands of our heavenly Father.


Verse 7

‘And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.’

This may well be intended to apply to all three exhortations. By continually rejoicing in the Lord and His nearness to them, by living rightly before the world, and by making their requests known to God with all prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, they could avoid anxiety and let the peace of God possess their lives. Take away one pillar and the situation might well be different.

‘The peace of God’ is that peace which is in the heart of God. In God there is no anxiety or worry, for He is over all and all things are under His total control. So the thought is that His peace should become our peace as we rest content in the fact that He has full control and all things will finally work according to His will. That is why we can recognise that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, even to those who are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Nothing can ultimately go wrong with God in charge.

This ‘peace which passes all understanding’ is a special peace from God spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (compare the love in Romans 5:1-5). It is beyond this world’s ability to comprehend, just as God is beyond the world’s ability to comprehend. But it comes to those who rejoice in Him, who obey Him in all their ways, and who entrust to him their needs in genuine faith. They also do not fully understand, but they do know Him and that they are yoked together with Him, and they therefore do not need to understand. They can safely leave the worrying to God. All they have to do is walk beside Him and trust Him (as sheep trust their shepherd - John 10:27-28). As a result they will:

· Enjoy the peace of God Himself within them as they walk beside Him and with Him (2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Corinthians 6:18).

· Have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ because the condemnation for their sins has been removed (Romans 5:1).

· Enjoy the ‘peace from God’ with which He will flood their hearts as their confidence is fully in Him (Romans 1:7 and often).

This is seen as a peace which ‘stands guard’ over their lives, so that nothing can throw them, guarding their hearts and minds, (their whole inner being of emotions, thoughts and will), ‘in Christ Jesus’ (Who is their citadel in which they are safe) from all the attacks of the Enemy. And they know that they need not doubt in anything because, ‘if God be for us, who can be against us? He Who spared not His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:31-32). Having been willing to give His Son He will not withhold anything.


Verse 8

‘Finally, brothers, whatever things are true , whatever things are honourable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are winsome (of good report); if there be any excellence, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’

And all this will be maintained continually as they set their minds on what is good, righteous, true and pure. The true Christian does not allow his mind and heart to wander after what is unsuitable and displeasing to God. He rather concentrates his thoughts on what is true (genuine through and through - Proverbs 22:21 LXX John 7:18), and honourable (highly thought of morally - Proverbs 15:26 LXX), and just (right according to God’s Law - as often in Proverbs; a word regularly used by Jesus of ‘the righteous’), and pure (chaste, innocent and morally upright - Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 20:9; Proverbs 21:8 LXX James 3:17), and lovely (delightful and spiritually desirable, spiritually and morally attractive, especially in speech - Sirach 4:7 a; Sirach 20:13) and winsome (the winsomeness that results from ‘speaking well of others’ i.e. is ‘well speaking, a giver of good report about others’, consider Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 16:24 for the idea), all this rather like the teacher of wisdom in Proverbs who sought to turn men’s minds from what was base, but above all, like Jesus Christ Himself. While Paul may well have called on the ideas of current ethical wisdom for some of the terminology, for much of it was current at the time, the whole concept is transformed for Paul on the basis of the finest teaching of the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and of the teaching of Jesus. He has in mind the walk of the truly righteous man, ‘the way of holiness’ (Isaiah 35:8). He is not urging that they follow the path of the moral philosopher, but rather urging that they walk in accordance with Old Testament precepts, and that they walk as Jesus walked, Who was the perfect exemplar of all such ideas.

Similarly today, whatever the Christian reads, whatever he watches on TV, whatever he talks about, should all be determined by what he knows will please his Father. He should not be doing anything that he would not want to be caught doing if the Lord comes unexpectedly at such a time as he does not expect. Indeed if there is anything that is ‘morally excellent’ (Isaiah 43:21 LXX 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Peter 1:5), or if there is anything that is ‘worthy of praise’, he is to think on these things. For he is to be a light shining among men as one who is blameless, and who causes no harm (Philippians 2:15). Thus he does not ask, ‘how can I find enjoyment or benefit for myself?’ He rather asks, ‘what can I do that will please the Lord?’, often in terms of ‘what would Jesus do in my place?’, and ‘how can I encourage my brothers and sister in Christ’. His whole concern is for others.

The idea behind ‘continually thinking’ is that the Christian continually sets his mind on such good things and continually keeps good things and good thoughts in view. Such an attitude almost becomes second nature to him as he prays and reads God’s word, and seeks first God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 6:33). But he must never become complacemt. Anything that will mar the picture, or that he would not want Jesus to catch him doing, he must deliberately turn his back on. His one aim must be to please the Master.


Verse 9

‘The things which you both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do, and the God of peace will be with you.’

Paul then makes a practical application by pointing them to what he and others have taught them and to his own example, something only possible because he knows that his whole life is aimed only at pleasing God. We may perhaps analyse I as follows:

· ‘The things which you have learned.’ This has in mind what Paul had taught them, and what others of Paul’s retinue have taught them since.

· ‘The things which you have received.’ ‘Received’ was a technical term for receiving sacred tradition that had been handed on. Thus the idea here is of the traditions about Jesus conveyed by Apostolic teaching (and now recorded in the Gospels).

· ‘The things which you have heard.’ This would appear to have in mind what they had heard about the lives of Paul and others who had been called by God to the work of the Gospel, and especially what they had learned about Paul from his fellow-workers (and possibly from copies of his letters which had been passed around the churches).

· ‘The things which you have seen in me.’ That is, the things described in chapter 3, something of which they would have seen when he was among them.

So what they must do is ‘the things that they have learned and ‘received’ from him and others’, based on the Scriptures and the life and teaching of Jesus (what has been ‘received and handed on’ has in mind the Apostolic teaching concerning Jesus, now found in the Gospels), and what they have heard about him, and seen in him as he has carried such things into practical living. He wants them to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Then, he assures them, the God of peace will be with them.


Verse 10

‘But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you caused your thought for me to blossom, in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity.’

Paul commences his expression of gratitude by pointing out what joy it had brought him in the Lord because it had demonstrated that they were thinking of him, and had not forgotten him, although he assures them that he had never doubted that they had been thinking of him, and knew that they had simply lacked the opportunity to show it. There may have been a number of reasons for this;

· It may partly have been because of the hard persecution that the Philippian church were enduring from the citizens of Philippi, whose dislike against ‘foreign religions’ had been made clear in their comments about the Jewishness of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:20-21). This would have resulted in them having to support each other, and having little to spare.

· It may partly have been due to the problem of getting money to him when he was on his travels (his whereabouts may have been a mystery to them), especially if at the time he did not appear to be in great need.

· It may partly have been that they had been undergoing hard times wealthwise.

· It may partly have been because Paul had previously sought to dissuade churches from sending him gifts because of the false accusations that it resulted in (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10; 1 Corinthians 9:3-18; 2 Corinthians 12:13-18) and because he was concentrating on the ‘collection’ for the relief of famine in Judaea.

Whatever was the case Paul assured them that he accepted that they had had a good reason for their failure. There is no suggestion in the Greek of any dissatisfaction with their lack of response.

‘You caused your thought for me to blossom.’ The picture is of a plant blossoming after a period of dryness. There had necessarily been an arid time, but as soon as the opportunity came, they burst into flower in their attitude towards him

‘I rejoice in the Lord greatly.’ ‘Greatly’ is in an emphatic position demonstrating how great his joy had been, something which brings out how much the Philippians meant to him. ‘In the Lord’ brings out that he sees everything in the light of his association with the Lord. All that he did was ‘in the Lord’. The use of ‘rejoice’ instead of giving the expression of gratitude that we might have expected, emphasises that Paul’s major concern was for what it demonstrated about their spiritual status. Hewasgenuinely grateful, but it meant far, far more to him that what they had done had demonstrated their spiritual nature and their outflowing love.


Verses 10-19

A Final Expression Of Gratitude For Their Concern About Him As Revealed In The Gift That Epaphroditus Had Brought (Philippians 4:10-19).

Paul has taken the opportunity provided by Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi, to send what was very much a pastoral letter, and one which was also partly to smooth the way for Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi (Philippians 2:25-30). But in it he now expresses his gratitude for their thoughts concerning him, especially as it was revealed in a practical way by the gift that they had sent to him through Epaphroditus. But while doing so he appears to go out of his way to make sure that they recognise that his dependence was not on them but on the Lord, and that what he rejoiced in most was the credit that would be put to their account for their generosity to the Lord’s servant. It was not that he was ungrateful. It was because he wanted them to recognise that their gift had been given to God, and should be seen in that light. Thus he himself had received it as from God, and he wants them to recognise that had they not sent it God would have ensured that he was provided for in another way. He was not to be seen as alone. He was a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1). So he fluctuates between assuring them of his gratitude, and assuring them that God would certainly have made provision for him in some way or other to the extent that it was necessary. He wanted their giving to be to the Lord, and their dependence to be on Him.

What a difference there is between Paul’s attitude and our modern ways of raising money from Christians. Here he was, very much dependent in his prison on the generosity of God’s people (for prisoners of Rome received no official provision by Rome. They had to rely on the generosity of friends) and yet he has written the whole letter without once directly referring to their gift (although it might unquestionably be seen as indirectly included in Philippians 1:5), and now, rather than giving the hint that he would be pleased to receive more, he makes sure that they recognise that what pleases him most about the gift is the love that it reveals in their hearts. His words are almost off-putting, making absolutely clear where his true dependence lies. He wants them to recognise (and to inculcate in them the same attitude) that he is far more delighted with their standing and progress in the Gospel, than he is with monetary considerations, while at the same time wishing to commend them because of their right attitude of heart.

As we saw he began his letter by expressing his gratitude to God for their spiritual maturity and manner of life, and for their working together with him in the Gospel. There he rejoiced that they ‘shared in common with him’ in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5). And while the Philippians would no doubt have seen this as including a reference to their gift, his comments here make absolutely clear that that was not what he wants them to see as having been uppermost in his mind. His joy had rather been concerning their wellbeing and growth as the people of God (Philippians 1:7 c;9-11) as they lived out their heavenly citizenship (Philippians 1:27; Philippians 3:20), and gave of themselves in the cause of Christ. Their giving was only a small part of that, and, while gratefully received, was not the most important part. What was more important was the giving of themselves.

Now, however, having satisfactorily fulfilled his pastoral responsibility in this regard, he does make absolutely clear what joy their gift brought him, firstly because he knew that it was the expression of the love in their hearts, and secondly because it had been the right thing for them to do. It was an indication that they had not forgotten him, and that they were sharing with him in his outreach for Christ. But he was equally concerned that they recognise that his physical dependence was not on them but on God, partly because if they ever entered into a similar experience he wanted them to have confidence that God would supply any need, and partly because he wanted to build up a right attitude within them. Furthermore he wanted them to know that his joy was as much in the credit that they would receive from God, and in what it actually revealed about them, as it was in the actual gift.

It would almost have been off-putting (it might appear so to the world) were it not for the fact that they would recognise what he was trying to say, and would no doubt have agreed wholeheartedly with him. It was a reminder to them all that what they gave, they gave to the Lord and not to men, while still having love in their hearts for His true servants).

Analysis.

a But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you caused your thought for me to blossom, in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity (Philippians 4:10).

b Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therein to be content (Philippians 4:11).

cI know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).

d However that may be you did well that you shared in common with my affliction (Philippians 4:14).

e And you yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had sharing in common with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only, for even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need (Philippians 4:15-16).

d Not that I seek for the gift, but I seek for the fruit which increases to your account (Philippians 4:17).

c But I have all things, and abound. I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18).

b And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

a Now to our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4:20).

Note that in ‘a’ he rejoices in the Lord greatly at what they had done, and in the parallel he gives glory to ‘our God and Father’. In ‘b’ he assures them that he is not in want because he has learned to be content whatever outward circumstances might be in the certainty that God will provide, and in the parallel he assures them that God will ensure that the same will be true for them out of His riches in glory. In ‘c’ he declares that he knows both how to be abased and how to abound, and in the parallel he declares that he has all things and abounds. In ‘d’ he commends their right attitude of heart, and in the parallel he assures them that what he is concerned about is that it will be set to their account. Centrally in ‘e’ he describes the extent of their generosity as being something that was outstanding.


Verse 11

‘Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therein to be content.’

Thus he makes clear that his rejoicing was not because of the benefit that it had brought to him, for he had in fact been quite content with his situation whatever it was. After all, it was that situation that was the one that his Father in Heaven had determined was best for him (Matthew 6:8; Matthew 6:25-34), and how could he argue with that? In view of that, physical hardship meant little to him. And that is why he could be content whatever the situation might be.


Verse 12-13

‘I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.’

And he takes the opportunity to strengthen the resolve of the Philippians in terms of his own example. Let them learn from his own behaviour, for who could know when they might be called on to face something of what he had faced? So he points out that he knows how to be abased (how to be humbled - compare Philippians 2:8) without it affecting him unduly or upsetting him too much, and in contrast how to abound without it being a hindrance to his work. The latter indeed could have been more spiritually dangerous, for he would often have been feted and adulated by the churches that he visited. But he had learned to cope with it. Indeed he had learned to cope with whatever situation he had to face. He had ‘learned the secret’ (the word regularly means being initiated into something as a novitiate) of both being filled (well feasted by those who had provided him with hospitality) and being hungry (when no hospitality was available), without it making any difference to him. It was something that God had initiated him into. And thereby he had learned to cope with ‘abounding’ at times when there was no shortage of money, (money which he could have called on for himself, but would not), and with being in want, when money was lacking and he had to fend for himself. Neither situation affected him, because he was able to do ‘anything’ through Christ Who strengthened and provisioned him whatever the circumstances. (And the indication was that the same was true for them). In that indeed lay his secret. It was that he had the mind of Christ. And all that he did, he did as one who walked continually with the all-sufficient Christ, so that he could boldly say, ‘I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me’.

‘I have learned the secret.’ The word was used of the initiation of a novitiate into the mysteries. Others boasted of divine mysteries learned. His boast was that God had taught him not to be concerned about whatever situation he was in, because God was active in the world.


Verse 14

‘However that may be, you did well that you shared in common with my affliction.’

On the other hand he did not want that to hide the fact that what the Philippians had done had been something worthy of praise. Thus he now makes clear that in sharing in common with him in his affliction as a prisoner, they had done well, and that he fully appreciated it.


Verse 15-16

‘And you yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had sharing in common with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only, for even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need.’

Indeed he wanted them to know that he had never forgotten that when he had begun his mission in Europe and had left Philippi for Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians alone who had provided him with support, not once but a number of times. He was thus emphasising that rather than being ungrateful he looked on them with especial gratitude.. ‘Giving and receiving’ may signify that they gave and Paul received. Alternately it might mean that they had given him material things and in return they had received from him spiritual things, probably through the ministry of his deputies.

‘In the beginning of the Gospel’ is looking at the beginning from the Philippian (and European) viewpoint (compare ‘from the first dayuntil now’ in Philippians 1:5). ‘You Philippians’ is an affectionate expression indicating the special feeling that he has for them. Far from wanting them to feel that he disapproved of their action, he rather wanted them to recognise that he saw them as partners from the beginning, and acknowledged wholeheartedly their contribution to the European venture. Nevertheless overall it is apparent that he was very concerned that no one should feel that God had been dependent on them and could not have managed without them. That is why he makes clear that in Christ he had known that he had all-sufficiency, whoever sent him gifts (and even if no one did).


Verse 17

‘Not that I seek for the gift, but I seek for the fruit which increases to your account.’

So he stresses that they must not think from what he had said that he was one who sought for a gift. As we see from his other letters he was very concerned lest anyone thought that he was seeking to benefit materially from preaching the Gospel. He thus lets them know that his great hope in the matter was rather that their giving should be seen by God as ‘fruit which increased to their account’. In the end it was reward for them that he was seeking, not benefit for himself, something which is always the test of the true man of God.


Verse 18

‘But I have all things, and abound. I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.’

Nevertheless he finishes by acknowledging what a great blessing their gift has been to him in his current situation. He wants them to know that, in spite of his reservations previously expressed, he has not been unmindful of the benefit that he had received from them. It had meant that now he had ‘all things and abounded’. In consequence, rather than his imprisonment resulting in hardship from a physical point of view, it had resulted in plenty, and it was all thanks to the generous gift sent by the Philippians at the hands of Epaphroditus, a gift which could be likened to the odour of a sweet savour resulting from a dedicatory sacrifice (a whole offering), something which was acceptable and well-pleasing to God (compare Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:25; Exodus 29:41; Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17). There is a reminder for us here that our gifts also, when given for the extension of the Gospel and coming from a true heart, become in God’s eyes a dedicatory offering pleasing in His sight.


Verse 19

‘And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.’

So as they had supplied his need as a servant of God, they could now be sure that God would supply all their needs in accordance with His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. They would find that God too would be more than generous, and that was because by their generous attitude towards those in God’s service they had proved themselves to be His people. Furthermore God’s generosity would far outweigh theirs. For no greater riches could in fact be imagined than those described here, in which the source was ‘His riches in glory’ given to them as those who were ‘in Christ Jesus’. All that He had in eternity would be available to them, in the same way as they were available to His Son, and this would include both material and spiritual blessing. They had thus made the best of bargains. By giving little they would receive much, and that of a heavenly nature.

And this would be so because the same God Who supplied his needs as previously described, continually supplies the needs ofallHis true people because they are in Christ. That is in fact what he has been emphasising all the way through the passage, that God supplies the deepest needs of His own, whether it be Paul or the Philippians, or whoever, if they are walking faithfully with Him.


Verse 20

‘Now to our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

The very thought arouses him to praise and he immediately prays that everlasting glory be given to ‘our God and Father’, Who as a true Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8), and will surely supply all our need as we seek first His Kingly Rule and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). As Paul says, ‘To Him be glory for ever and ever, (because of His generosity and because of what it reveals Him to be). Amen.’ The joy which has been expressed throughout the letter now bursts out in this final declaration of praise.


Verse 21

‘The brothers who are with me salute you.’

He then passes on greetings from ‘the brothers who are with me’. This would indicate those who in one way or another were attendant with him in his imprisonment, and whom he saw especially as ‘his brothers’. As with the Philippian church itself no one person is selected out. All are on ‘common ground’ and are equally precious. And there is equal warmth from them to the Philippians as there is from Paul.


Verses 21-23

Final Greetings (Philippians 4:21-23).

His letter nearly completed Paul finishes it off in his usual manner with greetings and salutations, first those addressed to the addressees, and then the salutations from those who were with him in the place from which he was writing. He begins with a salutation to the whole Philippian church.


Verse 22

‘All the saints salute you, especially those who are of Caesar’s household.’

The greeting then widens to encompass the whole church in the city from which he was writing, probably Rome. ‘All the saints (true believers) salute you.’ It is noteworthy that no ‘notable’ is separated out. There was no separate hierarchy. They were all ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ. And he then adds, ‘especially those of Caesar’s household’. This was a bold declaration that even in the wider household of Caesar there were those who acknowledged Jesus Christ. This description would be a wide one and would include soldiers, servants and slaves who directly served Caesar, and wore his ‘uniform’. There would be such in many large cities throughout the empire. It was a reminder that the Kingly Rule of God had even extended over many in Caesar’s household. God was active at the very heart of the empire, and wooing even Caesar’s servants to Himself.


Verse 23

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.’

Compare Galatians 6:18. In this final greeting they are seen as sharing in one Spirit Who is the source of God’s grace (unmerited active favour) towards them, something which is manifested in their communal ‘spirit’. They are all one in Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Philippians 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/philippians-4.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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