Philippians 4

Christ Our Strength: Joy in Relying on Christ in the Path
Philippians 4
Philippians 4. In the final chapter of Philippians we have the believer’s strength to rise above and endure through difficult circumstances.1 In chapter 1 we had Christ presented as our life. In chapter 4 we find that because Christ is our life, we can overcome obstacles. He addresses the practical things that will be a help to us in the pathway; the things that will help us stand fast. He addresses also the way we are to deal with difficult circumstances; i.e. by committing them to God in prayer, trusting His wisdom, and setting our thoughts on things that are good. Paul’s own life is set forward as a pattern in this regard, as one who had learned how to flourish in any circumstance.

Exhortation to Stand Fast, and Things Required to Stand Fast (4:1-9)

So that, my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, thus stand fast in the Lord, beloved. v.1 Exhortation to Stand Fast. He refers to the saints in Philippi as “my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown”. This follows on from ch.3, where Paul explained that mature believers have Christ as their only object or focus in life. This will result in affection for our brethren, as Paul exemplifies here. He loved them, he longed for their blessing, and he viewed their spiritual well-being as his greatest joy and reward. What the aged apostle wanted most for this beloved saints was that they would “stand fast in the Lord”. To stand fast in the Lord means to go on faithfully in a manner that is pleasing to Christ, under whose Lordship we are. The following verses explain how we are to do this, and what “standing fast” looks like. Paul speaks if them as his “joy and crown”, in the sense that their lives would be a commendation of Paul’s labors in the day of manifestation and reward (2 Thess. 2:19).
2 I exhort Euodia, and exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord; v.2 Being of One Mind. The first practical point Paul addresses is that of unity. This goes back to the beginning of chapter 2, where he said “fulfil my joy, that ye may think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking one thing”. Paul went on to give the practical solution to strife and vainglory, which is having the mind of Christ, by following His pattern of humility. Paul does not give any specifics in chapter 2, but rather waits to the end of the letter to mention names. Apparently there was a disagreement between two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, who were fellow-soldiers with Paul in the work of the gospel (v.3). Even in mentioning their names, Paul does not scold these dear sisters, but gently exhorts them to be of the same mind. He uses the word “exhort” twice, separating the names, and showing that each had something to do to restore unity. Even if only one of them humbled themselves, the trouble could be avoided. Some have accused Euodia and Syntyche of being ornery and disagreeable over trivial matters; for example, disagreeing over paint colors, or some such thing. I don’t think that fits with the context of v.3. These sisters were devoted servants of Christ, contenders for the gospel, and laborers with the apostle Paul. To charge them with pettiness and triviality is completely uncalled for. To be sure, disunity can arise from trivial things, and we need to be on guard against that. But here it was something non-trivial, although it was obviously not a disagreement over vital doctrine, because he tells them to be of the same mind. That being said, we are not told what the disagreement was, and we are not meant to know. Perhaps it had to do with what they were doing to help Paul, or the way they were doing it. Disagreements can come in whenever we insist on our own way, or think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. One tends to think his or her own line of things is more important than what others are doing. Satan cannot destroy our souls, but he can try to hinder the work of the Lord by dividing the Lord’s servants. Paul does not say “be of the same mind in service”, but rather “be of the same mind in the Lord”. It was a spiritual problem at the root, and therefore the solution was for both sisters to have “the same mind in the Lord”.
3 yea, I ask thee also, true yokefellow, assist them, who have contended along with me in the glad tidings, with Clement also, and my other fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life. v.3 Helping others in service. Paul now speaks directly to the one who would carry this letter to Philippi, and who probably served as the apostle’s amanuensis (or scribe) in this case. This no doubt was Epaphroditus, the brother commended at the end of ch.2, whom Paul addresses here as his “true yokefellow”. Epaphroditus was to assist Euodia and Syntyche with their labors in the gospel. This shows that the two sisters who had a disagreement were highly valued by Paul in the service of Christ, and had even suffered persecution with Paul. Clement also is mentioned, who is probably the same brother hailed by historians as an early church father, who wrote at least one genuine epistle (not inspired) to the Corinthians, and maybe a second. Paul also includes others without mentioning their names, but their names were certainly known to God; “and my other fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life”. Part of standing fast in the Lord is being active in service. We need to be sufficiently humble as to see ourselves as helpers or willing participants in something that others have started. The world doesn’t revolve around us, and neither does our sphere of service. 2 Corinthians 6 speaks of “unequal yokes”, but here we have a “true yoke” (association) that is equal, blessed, and scriptural. It doesn’t say that Euodia and Syntyche preached publicly, but rather that they labored in and shared the contention of the gospel, in perfect suitability to the divine order; “that the head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor. 11:3).
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. v.4 Rejoicing in the Lord. This goes back to the beginning of ch.3, where Paul said “For the rest, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord”. This is the highest plane of joy that we can attain on earth; joy in the Lord. This is a joy that is independent of circumstances. Paul and Silas were in the inner prison, their backs covered with stripes, their feet in the stocks, and yet they could still sing praises at midnight! True joy is found in the Lord. If our circumstances are gloomy, we can set the Lord before us (Psa. 16:8). Paul cannot improve upon what he said in ch.3, but the exhortation is to continue in that joy “always”. One of the most important things for a believer to have is a constant source of joy in the Lord. It will fortify and vitalize our whole pathway of service. Who is more effective, a servant who is downcast, or one who is full of joy? The answer is obvious. Furthermore, unless we find our joy in the Lord, we will get burned out in the pathway.
5 Let your gentleness [‘moderation’ or ‘mildness’]2 be known of all men. The Lord is near. v.5 Characterized by Self-Restraint. The saints are exhorted to allow their character of moderation or self-restraint be known as a testimony to all men. The Greek work ‘epieikes’ could be translated mildness, moderation, lenience, yieldingness, or gentleness. In any case, it has the thought of self-restraint, of not insisting on our own rights.3 This is the very opposite character that we see in this world. It is the same character that was displayed in the Lord Jesus, who did not insist on His own rights, through He was equal with God (ch.2). This character is something that should be “known of all men”. This includes being a testimony to believers and unbelievers. Paul adds “The Lord is near”, giving us a reason not to insist on our rights. Does this refer to the nearness of the Lord to each believer in a spiritual sense, as in Matt. 28:20? Or does it refer to the coming of Christ? It refers to the coming of Christ, but more in the sense of His coming for us (the rapture) than the appearing.4 It isn’t the event so much as the Person we are looking for; “Behold the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:6). If our hearts are full of the expectation of Christ’s coming for us, how easily we will exercise moderation and self-restraint. We have a bright prospect ahead in heaven, so why indulge ourselves now on earth? This verse shows how the expectation of Christ’s return influences our practical conduct while we wait.
6 Be careful about nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses every understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts by Christ Jesus. vv.6-7 Anxiety, Prayer, and the Peace of God. If we are not to indulge ourselves (v.5), then what about our needs? We can take them to God. He says “Be careful [or anxious] about nothing”. This statement leaves no room for excuses. When trials come in, we are not to be anxious. When the believer faces family problems, assembly problems, problems in the workplace, or problems in the world (up to and including the prospect of martyrdom as Paul was here), there is no place for anxiety in our minds. As the saying goes, “why worry when you can pray?” We can bring our requests before the God of the universe! In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus explained first of all that anxiety is pointless; it is a denial of the wisdom, love, and power of God. He also explained that our Heavenly Father is able and willing to meet our needs, as He sees fit. Here we find that anxiety in our minds should be replaced with prayer and supplication. Supplications are similar to requests (the normal form of prayer), but they are more intense. To supplicate the Lord is to beg Him for something. Read more… The attitude in which we are to pray is “with thanksgiving”. We are to thank God ahead of time before He answers the prayer. How can we do this without knowing how He will answer our prayer? We can thank Him knowing that He will either grant us mercy to escape the trial, or grace to go through it. Whatever God has for us, it is for our blessing, and we can be sure it comes to us from His hand as our Father. The result of leaving our cares with God is that “the peace of God, which surpasses every understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts by Christ Jesus”. The peace of God is the peace that He has, and that we can share in by committing our case to Him who is sovereign and who is love. Does anything take God by surprise? Are there any accidents with Him? Is He ever frustrated? No. Nothing shakes God, He is always at perfect peace.5 This peace fills our minds, and becomes a guard to our hearts and thoughts. When a doubt or fear arises, the peace of God is there to extinguish it. His peace “surpasses every understanding”, as with everything that is “of God”. We see this reflected in the lives of believers as they pass through dark trials. The peace of God preserves their hearts and minds in a way that is beyond our understanding.
Our times are in Thy hand,
Father, we wish them there;
Our life, our soul, our all, we leave
Entirely to Thy care.
Our times are in Thy hand,
Whatever they may be,
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
As best may seem to Thee.
Our times are in Thy hand;
Why should we doubt or fear?
A Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.6
8 For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if any praise, think on these things. v.8 How to Think, and What to Think About. Having committed our troubles to God in prayer, our thoughts are free to think on that which is good. Our joy in a practical sense is determined, in a large measure, by what we think or focus on. Our thoughts also affect our walk. If we want to walk right, we first must think right. We live in a world that seeks to feed people a steady diet of the opposite of what we have in this verse. The six things listed here are like a filter for our thoughts.
  1. Truth. We are to think on “whatsoever things are true” as opposed to false or fiction. This goes beyond simply not lying. We live in a world that is addicted to fiction. Many novels, movies, and TV shows provide a way to escape from reality. We are to have our thoughts occupied with what is true. The first great filter for our thoughts is that we must think about things that are true.
  2. Honor. We are to think on “whatsoever things are noble” or honorable as opposed to what is base or shameful. How easy it is to get carried away with foolish talking and joking, or with behavior that is unbecoming to a Christian.
  3. Uprightness. We are to think on “whatsoever things are just” or upright as opposed to what is unrighteous or crooked. If we always think uprightly then we will always act uprightly. Romans 16:19 says that we should be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.”
  4. Moral Purity. We are to think on “whatsoever things are pure” as opposed to what is unclean or debauched. The entertainment system of the West is full of immorality, and it is becoming more rampant, daring, and accessible than ever. It is imperative that we guard our thoughts against all of this immorality. One way we can do this is be in the scriptures, thinking on Christ.
  5. Pleasing or Lovely. We are to think on “whatsoever things are amiable” or lovely, as opposed to things that are unsettling or disturbing. We can do this by thinking about Christ – the fairest among ten-thousand – and also the Christlike qualities we see in our brethren. It is not helpful to discuss problems among brethren or character flaws in others.7
  6. Commendable. We are to think on “whatsoever things are of good report” as opposed to what has a bad reputation. Do we think of the latest gossip, others’ failures, problems, and scandals? These are not commendable things. Instead think of what is of good report. We can think on the Christlike qualities of our brethren.
Paul concludes by saying, “if there be any virtue and if any praise, think on these things”. This summarizes the whole list of things that we are to think about.
9 What ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these things do; and the God of peace shall be with you. v.9 Paul’s Life as a Pattern: Peace the Result. We find once again that Paul’s life is set forward as a pattern for the Philippians to follow. For any of us to say this would be fleshly pride, but Paul does so here by inspiration of the Spirit of God. Paul had faced tremendous obstacles and hardships in the pathway, and yet he was full of joy and peace. Perhaps there was not a happier man that the saints knew of than the apostle Paul. He had committed all to God (vv.6-7), was focused on what was good (v.8), was standing fast in spite of opposition (v.1), etc. The Philippians were to “do” these same things. The Lord had given Paul to these dear saints as an example to follow. The Lord has given us examples as well, and we can follow their faith (Hebrews 13:7). The results of “doing” the things exemplified in Paul’s life would be peace: “the God of peace shall be with you”. This comfort is an advance beyond “the peace of God” in v.7. To have the peace of God is a wonderful thing, but to have the Person – God Himself who gives the peace – as our companion; this is a greater thing. Which is greater, to own a barrel of oil, or the well that produces the oil? The answer is clear. When we “do these things” we have the God of peace with us in the pathway!
Summary of things that will help us stand fast:
  1. Being of one mind with our brethren (v.2)
  2. Helping others in service (v.3)
  3. Rejoicing in the Lord (v.4).
  4. Not insisting on our rights, and having that testimony before the world (v.5)
  5. Instead of being anxious, to pray, and have the peace of God (vv.6-7)
  6. Guarding our thoughts, to only think about good things (v.8)
  7. Following good examples of faith (v.9)

Thanksgiving: Paul’s Content Without, yet Appreciation for the Gift (4:10-20)

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now however at length ye have revived your thinking of me, though surely ye did also think of me, but lacked opportunity. v.10 Rejoicing in God’s Providence Through the Saints. Paul could rejoice in how God moved the scenes to provide for his needs. He speaks of it as the Philippians “reviving” their thinking of Paul, but quickly adds that there was not a time when they stopped thinking of him. It was a case of “opportunity”.8 This brings in the providence of God. The Lord opened the door for the saints to send a gift to Paul, and at the same time especially laid it on their hearts afresh. It is a wonderful thing to have a consistent, ongoing conviction about doing something for the Lord. But it is also important to have a fresh conviction about it when the opportunity arises.
11 Not that I speak as regards privation, for as to me “I” have learnt in those circumstances in which I am, to be satisfied in myself. 12 I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I am initiated both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer privation. 13 I have strength for all things in him that gives me power. vv.11-13 The Sufficiency of Christ in all things. Paul would make his state of soul clear to the Philippians. He was thankful for their gift, but his state of soul did not depend on whether he received it. He had learned to be content with whatever circumstances the Lord saw fit to place him in. This attitude of contentment was a result of tremendous spiritual development in Paul. Notice “I have learned” is past tense, and “I am instructed” is present tense. It was an ongoing work in his soul. So with each believer walking the wilderness pathway. He could live consistently for the Lord across all different circumstances; “in everything and in all things”. Paul learned to be “abased” or humbled, to be hungry, and to suffer privation (see 2 Cor. 11:16-33). He did not give up under the pressure. But Paul had also learned to “abound” such as when he was shown hospitality by the saints (Acts 16:40). There is a danger in “abounding”, that we would get careless, independent, or proud. There is a need to learn how to handle times of plenty as well as times of famine. These circumstances were coordinated by God for the spiritual growth of His servant. Paul understood this. Christ is sufficient for all circumstances; “I have strength for all things in him that gives me power.” There are no exceptions to “all”. Walking daily in communion with Christ, we are strengthened by the connection that we have with Him. Paul could say this for himself. A careless believer cannot say this. It was something Paul had learned experimentally. This is how Paul could remain content and joyful during the time when no money came from the Philippians. His strength did not come from circumstances, but from the Lord.
14 But ye have done well in taking part in my affliction. 15 And know also “ye”, O Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I came out of Macedonia, no assembly communicated anything to me in the way of giving and receiving save “ye” alone; 16 for also in Thessalonica once and even twice ye sent to me for my need. 17 Not that I seek gift, but I seek fruit abounding to your account. vv.14-17 The Generosity of the Philippians. Though Paul was content even without the money, he wanted to assure the saints that they had “done well” in sending the gift. He speaks of it as “taking part in my affliction”. Although they couldn’t be with him, they were still able to share in it by making this sacrifice. Paul wanted to encourage their hearts, and let them know how much he appreciated their loyalty to him, from the very beginning. When no other assembly was sending him financial aid, the Philippians were. This was a special privilege given to these dear believers that few others had.

Wherever he traveled, Paul worked with his own hands as a tent-maker for his personal needs (Acts 20:33-34). On occasion, when he was in need, Paul would receive support from individuals and assemblies, such as the Philippians, who "sent once and again unto my necessity" (Phil. 4:16). Paul had never taken money from the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:13-14), who were relatively wealthy. He speaks of "robbing other churches" (2 Cor. 11:8-9). In 1 Cor. 9 we have a little light on why Paul chose not to receive financial support from the Corinthians: because it left him free to preach and teach whatever the Lord asked him, without any possibility of an accusation of corruption. There was a worldly spirit among the Corinthians, and Paul felt it might compromise his ministry to take what was rightfully his from the Corinthians. Paul also wouldn't receive from the Thessalonians because he wanted to set a good example to them as new converts (1 Thess. 2:9), and also because some among them had a problem with laziness (2 Thess. 3:6-12). Nevertheless, scripture is clear that it is right and proper for believers to financially support those that serve them (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6), and it is a tremendous privilege to do so, and an opportunity to further the cause of Christ (Phil. 4:17).

Read more… In receiving the gift from Philippi, Paul was more happy for what the saints gained than for what he gained.
18 But I have all things in full supply and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things sent from you, an odour of sweet savour, an acceptable sacrifice, agreeable to God. 19 But my God shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 But to our God and Father be glory to the ages of ages. Amen. vv.18-20 Paul, the Philippians, and God the Father satisfied. Paul can reflect on the satisfaction of everyone within the circle of divine love. (1) Paul himself was fully supplied, both materially in the gift brought by Epaphroditus and also in the state of the Philippians which was manifested by what their sacrifice meant to God; “an odour of sweet savour, an acceptable sacrifice, agreeable to God”. (2) The Philippians themselves would be taken care of “abundantly” by God, who “shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. Paul speaks of “my God”, as he had spoken in ch.3 of “my Lord”. It was a deeply personal relationship that Paul had experienced. In v.20 it is “our God”, because he goes beyond the realm of experience. But Paul knew his God, and was confident in the heart of his God toward the dear saints in Philippi. The measure of God’s supply is “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”. Is there one ray of glory that does not clothe the Person enthroned at God’s right hand? In the words of Isaac Watts, “Now the full glories of the Lamb, adorn the heavenly throne”. Such are the resources at God’s disposal to meet the needs of His saints! We are not with Christ yet, but God’s resources toward us are the same. (3) But most importantly, Paul would remind us of the satisfaction and glory of God the Father; “to our God and Father be glory to the ages of ages. Amen.” This doxology carries us into the eternal state, referred to here as “the ages of ages” (read more…), when all things will be made new, and all will be according to the mind and heart of God. It is beautiful to see how Paul connects the gift of the saints with the ultimate glorification of God the Father!

Final Greetings and Closing (4:21-23)

21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me salute you. 22 All the saints salute you, and specially those of the household of Caesar. vv.21-22 Salutations. Among the usual salutations is the special note; “specially those of the household of Caesar”. In ch.1 we found that Paul’s testimony in prison was a shining witness to the imperial guard in Rome (Phil. 1:13). Here we find that there were those of Caesar’s house that had believed the gospel, and were now among the company of the saints! The light shines brightest in the darkest places.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. v.23 The Importance of a Gracious Spirit. The final prayer of the apostle was for a spirit of grace among the saints in Philippi. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the grace that He displayed in humbling Himself (ch.2). If the saints in Philippi were going to be able to “work out” their own salvation (Phil. 2:12), it would require the same gracious spirit that the Lord Jesus Christ displayed here in this world. May we always maintain a gracious spirit as our blessed Savior did here below.
The Importance of Having a Gracious Spirit. It is perhaps one of the most important things in our Christian life to maintain a right spirit. It is possible to do right things with the wrong attitude. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits” (Prov. 16:2). God insists that His servants reflect His character. As the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9), the Lord is correcting our attitude or spirit. We see this with Moses, when he failed to reflect the gracious heart of Jehovah to the children of Israel, and said "Hear now, ye rebels, etc." and struck the rock twice (Num. 20:10). Because of this he was not allowed to enter Canaan. We see it again with Elijah, who remained faithful to the Lord, but developed a bad attitude, and said twice "I, even I only, am left, etc." (1 Kings 19:14). Because of this, Elijah was told to anoint Elisha to be prophet instead of him. The same is true in the New Testament. There are a number of times where we are exhorted to have a right spirit at the very close of Paul's epistles. Each occasion corresponds to a circumstance where is would be easy to develop a bad attitude or spirit:
  • Galatians 6:18. When we have been carrying on in a legal way, and when we have been corrected.
  • Philippians 4:23When there are disagreements between brethren.
  • Philemon 25. When we are called on to forgive someone who has offended us.
  • 2 Timothy 4:22. When we look around and see failure in a day of public ruin.
  1. This chapter takes up the entire superiority to circumstances which characterises the Christian. – Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
  2. Darby’s translational note: “gentleness or, ‘moderation,’ ‘mildness,’ not insisting on one’s rights. As ‘gentle,’ Jas. 3.17.”
  3. By moderation the Apostle means that spirit of meekness which can only be where the will is not allowed to work actively for that which we may desire. – Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Philippians.
  4. If conscious that my portion is in Christ, the looking for the Lord, who is my portion, makes me to sit loose to everything here. If our expectation, if the feeling of our hearts, is that the Lord is at hand (I do not mean prophecy, but the personal expectation of the saint himself), it must be so. What event is there between you and heaven? The only one is our going up there. If I am looking for Christ to come straight down from heaven and take me up, what event is there between? – Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
  5. We are in relationship with God; in all things He is our refuge; and events do not disturb Him. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows everything, He knows it beforehand; events shake neither His throne, nor His heart; they always accomplish His purposes. But to us He is love; we are through grace the objects of His tender care. He listens to us and bows down His ear to hear us. In all things therefore, instead of disquieting ourselves and weighing everything in our own hearts, we ought to present our requests to God with prayer, with supplication, with a heart that makes itself known (for we are human beings) but with the knowledge of the heart of God (for He loves us perfectly); so that, even while making our petition to Him, we can already give thanks, because we are sure of the answer of His grace, be it what it may; and it is our requests that we are to present to Him. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  6. Lloyd, William. Our times are in Thy hand. Little Flock Hymnbook #209.
  7. This is not to say that there isn’t a time to discuss assembly problems or to be concerned about someone who is going on in sin. But it is not healthy for our spiritual life to be continually occupied with what is negative.
  8. … he delicately adds, he would not, by saying that their care of him had now at last flourished again, imply that they had forgotten him. The care for him was in their hearts; but they had not had the opportunity of giving expression to their love. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.