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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament
Philippians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The loving, affectionate, and endearing compellations which St. Paul bestows upon his beloved Philippians: he calls them his brethern twice, in one verse, his dearly beloved and longed for, his joy and crown; thereby testifying his fervent affection towards them, his passionate longing for their spiritual welfare, and that their conversion by his preaching was matter of great joy and comfort to him, yea, the crown and honour of his ministry, My joy and crown; that is, my chief joy, and crown of rejoicing, that which he rejoiced in more than he could in an earthly crown.

Behold in this glass the heart of every faithful ambassador of Jesus Christ: it would not please them so much to have an imperial crown set upon their heads, and to be made the emperors of the world, as to see souls brought off from the world, by their ministry, to the obedience of the word. This made the Philippians St. Paul's joy and crown at present, and gave him hopes they would be his crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ. May the same mind be in us which was in this great apostle.

Observe, 2. The great and important duty which St. Paul here exhorts the Philippians to; and that is, steadfastness in the faith and doctrine of the gospel in general: and in particular, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, without obliging themselves to observe circumcision, or any part of the ceremonial law: Stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved, my joy and crown.

Learn hence, 1. That steadfastness in the true religion, and perseverance in the faith of Christ, is the great and indespensable duty of every Christian that has a due regard to his salvation. That such a steadiness in the faith of Christ, and his holy religion, is a present joy, and will be an eternal crown of rejoicing to the ministers of God.


Verse 2

The former verse was an exhortation to constancy; this to concord.

Here observe, 1. The persons exhorted to the duty; two women of eminent note in the church, Euodias and Syntyche, who laboured with him in the gospel, that is, in offices proper to their sex, not in public preaching, but in private teaching of youth, and instructing other women in the principles of religion. Between these two good women it seems there was some difference, a want of love and unanimity; it is but too frequent for persons truly pious, and painful in the work of the Lord, to be at odds among themselves: and such are the fatal consequences of such differences, though between two persons only, that they are looked upon as worthy to be taken notice of by a great apostle.

Observe, 2. The great care and pains which St. Paul takes, timely to compose this petty difference between these two persons: he writes to an emiment minister in the church at Philippi, whom he calls his true yoke-fellow, (because they had faithfully laboured togither in planting a Christian church in that city,) to exert his utmost endeavours in reconciling these two disagreeing parties.

Such as are sensible of the dangerous mischiefs of strife and contention, of discord and division, will account it their duty to look to breaches betimes, to quench such fires at their first kindling, and will call in all the help they can, by engaging the prayers and tears of God's ministers, and the endeavours of all faithful Christians, in order thereunto: and all this care, God knows, is little enough.

Observe, 3. The charitable thoughts and good opinion which St. Paul had of his fellow-labours at Philippi: he believed their names were in the book of life; that is, he adjudged them truly gracious persons, and in a state of salvation: though none can pass a certain and infallible judgment upon others, yet such as are holy in conversation themselves, and contrite in their utmost endeavours to promote holiness in others, nay, in the judgment of charity, be pronounced persons whose names are in the book of life.


Verse 4

Observe here, 1. The duty exhorted to: Christian cheerfulness and joy; a duty which glorifies God, adorns religion, is beneficial to ourselves, by enabling us to bear afflictions, to glory in them, and to triumph over them.

Observe, 2. The object of this duty, a glorious and replenishing object; Christ the Lord: Rejoice in the Lord.

3. The perpetuity and constancy of the duty: Rejoice alway; that is, at all times, and in all conditions.

4. The difficulty of the duty, implied in the repetition of the command: Again, I say, Rejoice.

From the whole note, 1. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the great, sure, and perpetual joy of his children and people.

2. That it is their duty to be joying in him always, and always rejoicing for him, and to rejoice in their knowledge fo him, in his undertaking for them, in their interest in him, in their influences of grace and comfort derived from him, in their hopes fo glory to be eternally enjoyed with him.

3. That to get the heart up to this duty, at all times, and in all conditions, is no easy work: therefore the exhortation is doubled: Rejoice alway; and again I say, Rejoice; pointing out how averse we are to this spiritual and very beneficial duty.


Verse 5

That is, let your mildness and gentleness towards others, your meekness and patience under your own trials, be very conspicuous, because the Lord is at hand to execute judgment on his own crucifiers, and on the persecutors of his own people.

Learn, That the consideration of the certainty and suddenness of Christ's coming to judgment, ought to be improved by us as an argument to all mildness and gentleness towards others, and to all meekness and patience under our present sufferings. Let your moderation be known unto all men, &c.


Verse 6

Observe here, 1. The duty exhorted to, namely, to be anxiously and solicitously careful for nothing; it is not care, but carefulness, that is, inordinate care, heart-cutting, distracting, and soul-rending care, and solicitude, which is here forbidden: there is a prudent, provident care for the things of this life, which is an unquestionable duty.

Observe, 2. The remedy prescribed for the prevention of solicitous care; and that is, fervent prayer: In every thing by prayer, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known. The people of God may and ought to have recourse to him in every thing.

Observe, 3. The apostle directs to thanksgiving in every thing, as well as to prayer: In every thing by prayer, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known. When afflicted, we are to be thankful for the expected benefit of afflictions; when tempted, to be thankful that God will not leave us to be tempted above what we are able; when we fall into sin, there is cause for thankfulness that we are not left to run into all sin, that we were not cut off in the very act of sin, and did not die in our sins: thus are we in everything to give thanks.

Observe, 4. The benefit and advantage which St. Paul assures them would redound unto them, by the practice of the fore-mentioned duties, namely, sweet peace which passeth all understanding; that is, which none can conceive that have not felt it, and none can express that have experienced it. This peace, he tells them, will keep and guard their hearts and minds; a sound peace is the soul's guard against all inward terrors and outward troubles: as the persons of princes are secured by guards of armed and valiant men, who watch while they sleep; so are christians guarded and secured by the peace of God, better than any prince ever was by a guard of forty thousand men. The peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; that is, through the assistance of Christ Jesus.


Verse 8

Here we have a very comprehensive precept, describing the duties of all christians: Whatsoever things are true; truth is the principal character of our profession, and is to be expressed in our words and actions.

Whatsoever things are honest, venerable, or grave; that is, answer the dignity of our high calling, and agree with the gravity and comeliness of the christian profession.

Whatsoever things are just, according to divine and human laws.

Whatsoever things are pure and chaste; intimating that we must preserve the heart, the hand, the tongue, the eye, from all impurity.

Whatsoever things are lovely, and of good report; as easiness to pardon, readiness to oblige, compassion to the afflicted, liberality to the distressed, sweetness of conversation, without gall and bitterness; these are of universal esteem with mankind, and soften the most savage tempers and dispositions.

Note here, 1. That there are things naturally honest, just, and lovely, in their own nature, and praise-worthy in themselves, which do raise and refine the human nature; and, without a command, their goodness is a strong obligation to observe them.

Note, 2. That christianity doth adopt morality, or precepts of good life and manners, into its frame and constitution, and it is indeed an integral part of the christian religion; not that any moral precepts, though never so good, can raise a soul from the death of sin to a life of holiness, without faith in Christ, and assistance from his Spirit; but the morality which the scriptures teach us, is founded not barely upon principles of reason, but divine revelation, and obliges us to the practice of moral duties, in obedience to Christ's command, in conformity to his example, in the strength of his assistance, and with an eye to his glory.


Verse 9

Observe, 1. With what great confidence and good assurance St. Paul here recommended his own practice and example to his people's imitation: all those things which he had by his doctrine and life commended to them, were to be carefully observed and imitated by them. It is a blessed thing, when a people's eyes are taught by their minister's holiness of life, and their ears by the soundness of his doctrine.

Our people have eyes to see how we walk, as well as ears to hear what we preach; therefore it is a minister's great duty, by strictness and gravity of deportment, to maintain his esteem in the consciences of his people, yet always tempering gravity with a condescending affability. That minister only can go off the stage with honor and comfort, who has left behind him the good seed of sound doctrine, and the good savour of an holy example; that can say with our apostle, The things which you have both heard and seen in me, do.

Observe, 2. The promise annexed to the foregoing precept, These things do, and the God of peace shall be with you.

Where note, 1. Who will be with us: the God of peace: now he that is the God of peace, is the God of power; he that is the God of peace, is the God of patience, who, though he can punish, yet he will pardon the infirmities of his people.

Note, 2. How he will be with us: the heart of God will be with us, and the help and presence of God will be with us, to guide and direct us, to lead and conduct us, to cover and protect us; and, if God be with us, we shall shortly be with him.

Learn hence, That those which obey the gospel, whatsoever or whomsoever they want, shall ever abide in a peaceful and blessed condition: These things do, and the God of peace shall be with you.


Verse 10

Our apostle being now come to the conclusion of this epistle, acquaints the Philippians with what great joy he had received their charity sent unto him; and that it came no sooner, he believed did not proceed from any disrespect towards him, but only for want of either ability or opportunity of sending to him: yet withal gives them to understand, that he could bear want, or a strait condition, very well, for, having Christ for his teacher, he had learned in whatsoever state he was, therein to be content; he could bear either plenty or scarcity, fulness or want; yea, could do all things through Christ that strengthened him.

Observe here, 1. The vicissitude and great uncertainty of St. Paul's outward condition: at one time he abounds, at another time he is abased; at one time he abounds, at another time he is abased; at one time he is full, at another in want; teaching us, that the dearest of God's children, in regard of their outward condition, are subject to variety of changes.

Observe, 2. The general lesson which they have learnt, with reference to this variety of conditions, and that is, the lesson of contentment: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Observe, 3. The particular lessons learnt by him: Both how to abound, and how to be abased. They are both hard lessons, but, of the two, perhaps it is harder to know how to abound, than how to be abased.

Quest. 1. When may man be said to know how to abound?

Ans. When he sets a due value and right esteem upon the things of the world, and neither prizes them too high nor too low: when a man so uses his abundance as to avoid the temptations which do attend and accompany that abundance; when he is willing to part with his abundance at the call and command of God; and, in a word, when he attends more to the duties of his prosperous state, than to the sensual pleasures and satisfaction of it.

Quest. 2. What is it to know how to be abased?

Ans. Not to be discouraged, or suffer the spirit to sink or faint in the day of adversity: to be not only humbled by affliction, but humble under it; to suffer what God inflicts, without impatience or complaint, without sourness of spirit or discontent; to believe the hand of a Father: that whatever we part with, is but a perishing creature; that God is able to restore all our lost comfort with advantage to us, and will do it if it be good for us, either in kind or equivalency: this is to know how to be abased.

Quest. 3. How doth it appear harder to know how to abound, than how to be abased?

Ans. Thus: there are more duties, and harder duties, required of those that abound, than of them that want. There are more temptations, and stronger temptations, which attend those in abundance than them that want.

Hence it is that God gives so many solemn charges and commands to those that abound, to take heed to themselves, more than those that are in want. When thou art full, then beware lest thou forget the Lord thy God,, and thy heart be lifted up. Deuteronomy 6:12

In a word, I do not remember one instance in all the scripture of a full or prosperous condition, which was ever so much as the remote occasion of the sinner's conversion unto God; but I find in scripture that an afflicted condition has been blessed to many for this end, 2 Chronicles 33:12.

Observe, 4. The school which St. Paul learnt this great lesson in, to know how to be abased, and how to abound, and to be thoroughly content in every condition: it was not at Gamaliel's feet, but Christ's feet: I can do all things through Christ strengthening me. Christ was both his tutor and his strengthener, he taught him his lesson, and enabled him to practise it.

See here, 1. That a real Christian is able to do all things, all things that concern a Christian, all things that belong to the glory of God, and his soul's salvation; all things, not in a legal, but evangelical sense; not all things, nor indeed any thing, with a sinless perfection, but all things in respect of his love to the whole law, in respect of his purpose and resolution, in respect of his desire and endeavours.

Again, I can do all things; understand it in an active sense, I can deny myself, believe in a withdrawing God, conquer the world, subdue unmortified corruption, and live a life of evangelical perfection: take it also in a passive sense, I can suffer all things, I can bear Christ's cross, wear his yoke, endure any thing for him, or from him, when called forth to suffer.

Note, 2. That as a Christian can do all things, so his ability to do all things lies not in himself, but in Christ. A believer receives an active power from Christ, to enable him to do whatever he requires him to do: ability to subdue corruption, to conquer temptation, to bear affliction, and to glorify God in every condition: all this is from Christ; and the sincere Christian may say with this eminent saint, I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.


Verse 14

Although our apostle had declared in the foregoing verses, that he had fully learnt the lesson of contentment in all conditions, and could bear poverty and want without complaining, yet withal he assures them here, that they did well in sending such supplies to him in prison by Epaphroditus, as they had done; and thereby testifying, by their Christian commisseration, that they shared with him in his afflictions and sufferings for Christ.

Where note, 1. The apostle's thankful acknowledgment of the Philippians' present liberality towards him, now in bonds for preaching the gospel to them; and how he takes occasion from thence to make an honourable mention of their former bounty towards him, even from his first preaching of the gospel to them; nay, when he was gone from them at Philippi, and preached to those at Thessalonica, yet did the Philippians send their bounty after him more than once, which no other church had then done besides themselves.

Learn hence, 1. That there is a rule of equity to be observed, as between other relations, so between ministers and people, that as they bestow labour and pains, so they should receive encouragement and maintenance, and this not barely as a gratuity, but as a due debt.

2. That the faithful ministers of Christ, though they may challenge a supply of temporal things from their people, for their spiritual things, as a due debt; yet do they fully receive it, and gratefully acknowledge it, to the honour and commendation of their people, with fervent prayer to God, that it may be a fruit redounding to their account in the great day of account. O ye Philippians, know, that when no church communicated with me, ye sent once and again to my necessities.


Verse 17

Here remark, 1. The modesty and great ingenuity of the apostle, in assuring them, that his praising their liberality so much was not upon design to get more: Not because I desire a gift; that is, any further gift for my own private advantage; I am far from the thought of spunging upon you: but I aim at your advantage in this that your liberality may afford you the fruits of a plentiful reward in the day of Christ, who will not forget your work and labour of love in ministering to the saints. Having thus guarded against all suspicion of greediness in himself, and evidenced that his commending of their liberality was not upon design, he proceeds again to praise their liberality yet farther, and extols it in such words as may cause admiration.

Note, 1. How abundantly satisfied the apostle was with what he had received, I have all, and abound, I am full; as if he had had the treasures of the Indies in his coffers. Grace is content with a little, and thinks that little an abundance; the contented man only is rich.

2. How St. Paul gives an acknowledgment, under his hand, that Epaphroditus had faithfully delivered to him the whole of their charity sent by him; I have received of Epaphroditus all the things which were sent from you. Epaphroditus was their chief minister, or bishop, a person of great reputation, whose fidelity none could suspect; yet St. Paul gives it under his hand, that he had executed his trust faithfully. Though a man be never so trust-worthy in himself, and be never so much entrusted by others, yet he ought, in wisdom, to guard against any suspicion which may be taken up against his honesty and faithfulness.

Note, 3. The high expressions which St. Paul makes use of, in setting forth the Philippians' charity towards him: he calls it an odour of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well-pleasing to God; the very same words here which he makes use of, Ephesians 5:2, where he calls the death of Christ, a sacrifice and sweet- smelling savour. The expression is borrowed from the Levitical sacrifices, which were of God's appointing and approving; and it imports, that our charity expressed towards the members, but especially the ministers, of Jesus Christ, now under the gospel, is as acceptable and well-pleasing unto God as the sweetest incense and the fattest sacrifices were under the law.

Here observe, That the Socinians, to lessen the meritoriousness of Christ's sacrifice, do parallel this text with that other, Ephesians 5:2, "Is the death of Christ (say they) called a sacrifice, and sweet-smelling savour? So is the Philippians' charity here called a sacrifice, but both in a figurative and metaphorical sense only."

But mark the difference, St. Paul, Ephesians 5:2 says, Christ gave himself a sacrifice, which, being once offered, was sufficient to take away sin, Hebrews 10:10 but the Philippians are not said to give themselves a sacrifice, but their alms were as grateful to God as incense.

If it be said from Romans 12:1 that believers are required to present themselves living sacrifices unto God, and acceptable: I answer, So they are, and so they do present themselves gratulatory, but not expiatory, sacrifices unto God, Ye are a royal priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God through Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 2:5 Christ's oblation and sacrifice was acceptable for itself; believers, and their eucharistical sacrifices, are acceptable to God only in, by, and through, our Lord Jesus Christ, By him set us offer the sacrifice of praise continually. Hebrews 13:15

Note lastly, The assurance which St. Paul gives the Philippians, that God would abundantly recompense their charity into their own bosoms, Philippians 4:19.My God will supply all your need, &c. As if he had said, "Do not think you shall want, because you have liberally supplied my wants; no, my God will supply you, for your supplying me: According to his riches in glory, that is, according to his rich mercy and glorious grace." There is no need to be supplied in the glory of the next life, but there is a glory in rich grace, which readily and plentifully supplies all the needs in this life.

Note, 1. That such as administer now to the wants of others, may fall into want, and be driven to straits themselves.

2. That the more forward they have been to supply the wants and administer to the necessities of others in the time of their abundance, the more may they expect from the bountiful hand of God, in the day of their necessity and distress: My God shall supply all your need, &c.


Verse 20

Note here, 1. The endearing title given to Almighty God, God our Father; the word Father is a title of great honour; the word our is a word of singular comfort. The appropriating positive terms, mine, thine, ours, have a great sweetness in them, and breathe abundance of affection. As Luther used to say, "The comfort of the gospel lay in pronouns possessive, when we can say with believing Thomas, My Lord and my God; with blessed Paul, Who loved me, and gave himself for me."

Learn, That God is a Father in a more peculiar and special manner to all that are interested in his Son Jesus Christ. The word Father implies spiritual generation, that we are begotten by him, and like unto him; it implies vehemency of affection, no bowels comparable unto a father's; it implies designed benefit by correction, that he exercises in unto profit.

And in the word our is implied, that God is the Father of every believer, the weakest as well as the strongest; we are all the children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus: and it points out our duty also, that as there is one God and Father of all, so all believers should be of one heart and of one mind among themselves.

Note, 2. What it is which our apostle attributes and ascribes unto God, namely, glory, and that for ever and ever. Glory, that is, the manifestation of all his glorious excellences and perfections.

Learn hence, That it is the fervent desire of all believers to have the worth and excellences of God everlastingly acknowledged, and in a boundless manner displayed: Unto God be glory for ever and ever.

This word, for ever and ever, is, upon different accounts, the saddest and sweetest word in all the Bible. When applied to sinners, and what they suffer from God as the desert, the due desert, of their sins, then it is a word of the saddest weight, Revelation 14:11. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever;

They shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 1:9

'Tis the word for ever and ever that sets all hell a roaring, and it is the same word that fills heaven with joy and rejoicing. To God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


Verse 21

Our apostle closes this letter with respectful salutations; he salutes in his own name all and every saint in Christ Jesus; the soul of the poorest and meanest saint was not neglected by this great apostle: he loved the brotherhood, the whole fraternity of believers, the whole society of saints. All church members are saints by external and visible profession, and ought to be so by internal renovation and spiritual regeneration, and one as well as the other are here saluted by the apostle. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus.

Next he sends the salutations of all the brethern that were with him, and of all the saints that were at Rome, all those whom he had there converted to Christianity, and particularly some of those that were in Nero's family, and called here Cesar's household.

Where note, 1. That such a mighty efficacy had the preaching of the gospel, accompanied with the influences of the Holy Spirit, that it entered the houses of the greatest persecutors, and changed the hearts of some who were most unlikely to receive and entertain it. Behold, here are some in bloody Nero's family converted to Christ by the preaching of the gospel; those of Cesar's household.

Note, 2. That sometimes God endues the professors of the gospel in general, and young converts in particular, with such a spirit of zeal and courage, magnanimity and holy resolution, that they dare lift up a banner for truth, and publicly own the despised members of Christ, without either shame or fear: Those of Cesar's household do greet and salute you.


Verse 23

He shuts up all with the usual apostolical valediction: by grace, we are to understand the free favour of God, as the fountain; and all good things, as so many streams flowing from that fountain; this is called the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, because purchased by his merit, and applied by his intercession.

This grace he prays may be with them in the sweet effects of it, and in the sensible apprehensions of it, to enlighten, sanctify, comfort,and quicken them more and more: knowing then the exceeding riches of grace which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord, let us glorify him, eminently, abundantly; and as we have all things by him, let us do all things for him, and to his glory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Philippians 4:4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/philippians-4.html. 1700-1703.

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