You will probably recognize this fictional story that has been circulating around the world by way of e-mail:
I was walking across a bridge recently. I spied this fellow who looked like he was ready to jump off. So, I thought I’d try to stall him until the authorities showed up. “Don’t jump!” I said. “Why not?” he said. “Nobody loves me.”
“God loves you,” I said. “You believe in God, don’t you?”
“Yes, I believe in God,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Christian,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Protestant or Catholic?”
“Neither,” he said.
“What then?” I said.
“Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Independent Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
“Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “New Evangelical/Moderate Independent Baptist or Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Lose-Your-Salvation Armenian Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Historical Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or For Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Strict Separation of Church and State Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Anti-Disney Boycott Pro-Choice Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.
“Me, too!” I said. “KJV Only Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Modern Versions Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”
“MODERN VERSIONS Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist” he said.
“Auugghh!!! You heretic!” I said. And I pushed him over.
No doubt most of you have read or heard this story, and hopefully you laughed. And yet as I laugh, I realize that this fictional conversation and its outcome is repeated time after time in churches across our land and around the world. Christians seem more inclined to attack their fellow-saints than they do to evangelize the lost. Many saints have been gravely wounded by “friendly fire.” In our text, Paul deals with a rift between two of the women in the church at Philippi, women who had once contended side-by-side for the faith. Now, they are waging war against each other, and it would appear that they are seeking to gather support for themselves from others within the church. Here is an age-old problem that has plagued the people of God throughout the history of the church. Let us listen well to what Paul has to say to these two women, for surely he is speaking to us as well.
So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!
A number of students of the Bible are inclined to make verse 1 of chapter 4 the last verse of chapter 3. There is good reason for seeing this as the closing exhortation of Paul’s instruction in chapter 3. I understand both “So then” and “in this way” to be pointing back to what Paul has been saying.78 Having said this, I feel strongly that verse 1 also serves as an introduction to verses 2-9, where Paul is going to deal directly with a division in the church at Philippi. Verse 1 thus serves as a transition verse, summing up what has been said up to this point and paving the way for what is yet to be said about Christian unity.
I would like to point out two things from verse 1 that are important to what Paul is about to say. First, I want you to notice the very strong way in which Paul reiterates his great love and concern for the saints to whom he is writing this epistle. Would you not agree with me that Paul could hardly have stated his love for these folks more emphatically? These are Paul’s brothers and sisters, his “dear friends” (twice!), whom he longs to see. They are his “joy and crown,” Paul’s earthly pleasure, and a part of his eternal reward (see also 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
Verse 1 of chapter 4 is hardly Paul’s first indication of his love and affection for the Philippian saints. He began his epistle with a declaration of his deep love and concern for them:
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 Always in my every prayer for all of you I pray with joy 5 because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners together with me in the grace of God. 8 For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-8).
At the outset of chapter 2, Paul appeals to the Philippians on the basis of the deep affection that exists between himself and them:
1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.
There are literally four “ifs” in verse 1, though only one appears in the translation above. These “ifs” are not really “iffy” at all. They are virtually equivalent to “since.”79 Paul is drawing upon the Philippians’ mutual love and affection when he makes his appeal in verses 2-4. Again in verse 12 of chapter 2, we find Paul appealing to the Philippians as his “dear friends.” These saints are so dear to Paul that he would gladly be sacrificed in conjunction with their sacrificial service for the Lord (2:17-18).
The love and affection that exists between Paul and the Philippians makes his readers a willing audience, eager to hear and to respond to his words of affirmation and love, as well as to his words of warning and correction. It is difficult indeed to ignore the words of one you love, and one who deeply loves you. The Philippian saints had no doubt as to Paul’s motivation as he wrote. Verse 1 thus paves the way for Paul’s words of correction in verses 2-9.
Second, verse 1 paves the way for Paul’s words of correction in verses 2-9 by resuming the instruction that he had begun earlier. Paul instructs the Philippians to “stand in the Lord in this way.” The words, “in this way,” point back to the preceding words of instruction, beginning at 1:27 and concluding in 3:21. Beginning at Philippians 1:27, we read:
1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing in one spirit, by contending together with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and by not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God. 29 For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing.
2:1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well (Philippians 1:27—2:4, emphasis mine).
Verses 1-26 of chapter 1 are mainly about Paul: his love and appreciation for the Philippian saints; his prayer for them; his response to his present unjust treatment, by Rome and even by some fellow-believers; his response to the possibility of his death at the hand of Caesar. In verse 27, Paul turns his attention to the Philippian saints, commencing his instructions to them with an exhortation to live out their faith in a way that is consistent with the gospel. He urges them to stand firm in their faith, contending together for the faith of the gospel, unified by their faith and their mutual love, and characterized by humility. In chapter 2, verse 5, Paul points to the Lord Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of humility.
In verse 12 of chapter 2, Paul begins to be more specific in his instructions concerning unity and harmony in the body of Christ by calling for a servanthood that is prompted by humility. He encourages the Philippians to act out their faith in his absence, just as they would in his presence. The Philippians are to actively “work out their salvation, with deep humility and dependence,” well aware that any good works are ultimately the work of God in and through them. They are to be blameless and pure as they “do everything without grumbling or arguing” (2:14). This is all to be done with the return of Christ in mind (2:15), as well as the awareness that Paul will gladly identify with them in their suffering (2:16-17).
In the last half of chapter 2, Paul focuses on two examples of humility: Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30). Our Lord incarnated the virtues that Paul now calls upon the Philippians to exhibit in their lives. Two men—well known by the Philippians—have also manifested servanthood, prompted by humility, and so Paul speaks of the coming of Timothy and of Epaphroditus. These men truly placed the interests of the Philippians above their own interests. These were the kind of men to honor and to follow.
There were those who would come to Philippi who were not honorable, who were not humble, and who were not true servants. They would not even be true believers. After instructing the Philippians to rejoice (3:1), Paul warned his beloved friends about the Judaisers, who would seek to circumcise them, thereby (in their system of thought) bringing them under the bondage of the Law of Moses. Paul knew this error only too well, for he was once a “Pharisee of Pharisees” within Judaism. When it came to religious works empowered by the flesh, Paul was a world-class legalist. But by his own admission, he was also lost. His encounter with Christ and subsequent salvation revolutionized Paul’s thinking and values. He now saw all of his finest religious efforts in the flesh as not only worthless, but as offensive to God—”dung”. Having come to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, Paul now despises the things in which he once took pride and embraces the things he once loathed.
Paul had come to realize that he had not attained righteousness as a devout religious fanatic, and that even though he was now saved by faith in Christ, he had not yet arrived, spiritually speaking. He understood that the Christian life begins with salvation and is to be followed by obedience, along with fear and trembling (2:12). Paul was intent on pressing on to the goal of his life, the purpose for which God had saved him. He was no longer living in the past or looking back to his past accomplishments or failures; Paul was pressing on, well aware that he was a citizen of heaven, whose earthly life was not about gaining earthly things but about attaining heavenly, eternal rewards (3:12-21).
Now, when we come to chapter 4, we find Paul taking up the same vocabulary and themes he had already introduced earlier in the book. In 1:27, Paul exhorted the Philippians saints to “stand in one spirit, contending together with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” He went on to urge these saints not to be frightened by the opposition to them and to the gospel (1:28). Now, in the first verse of chapter 4, we find Paul once again urging the Philippian saints to “stand in the Lord in this way” (emphasis mine). The expression “in this way” points back to the instruction Paul had given earlier. They were to stand fast with one mind and one spirit. They were to stand fast, with a spirit of humility, placing the interests of others ahead of their own.
2 I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche80 to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! 5 Let your steady determination be seen by all. The Lord is near!
This reference to Euodia and Syntyche is most fascinating. If we have any curiosity at all, there is a great deal Paul does not say that we might wish he had. Paul’s silence should be as instructive as what he says. Let’s begin by reviewing what we do know from Paul’s words, or from the Scriptures more generally.
We know that two women were at odds with each other in the Philippian church. It is not clearly stated, but it seems quite likely that the dispute between these women had spilled over to the rest of the church, polarizing the saints as they took sides with one woman or the other.
We know the names of the two women who were at odds with each other—Euodia and Syntyche. These two women are not named elsewhere in the New Testament, though some have speculated as to their identity. It is interesting that Paul would “name names” here because he often avoided doing so. For example, in 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul described those whom he eventually identified as “false apostles” and “servants of Satan” (2 Corinthians 11:11-15). It is quite easy to see why Paul would not name names in his Corinthians correspondence. He wanted the Corinthians to recognize false teachers by their character, their conduct, and their creed. This way they would be able to continue to recognize false teachers and apostles whenever they made an appearance at Corinth.
In the case of Euodia and Syntyche, Paul finds it necessary to name names. I don’t think either of them was teaching or advocating heresy (though each may have suggested that the other was). It may be that there was a movement toward a church-wide split, all due to people aligning themselves with one or the other of these women. It may even be that it wasn’t obvious where the division was coming from. Paul identifies the source of the problem, by name. Knowing who is the source of this division is the beginning of the solution.
We know that these women were believers (“whose names are in the book of life”) who had previously been actively involved in ministry with Paul and others. In other words, these were apparently a part of the “old guard,” and among the founders of the church in Philippi. These two women once fought side-by-side for the gospel; now they fought against each other, contrary to the gospel. These were two women who were held in esteem and who may very well have had a following. I cannot help but think of Paul’s words of warning to the Ephesian elders:
28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 29 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears (Acts 20:28-31).
I am not suggesting that these women were “false teachers,” who were attempting to lead saints away from the faith. I am suggesting that they were probably seeking a following. When one has a difference of opinion with another, it makes him feel a whole lot better to think that more people think he’s right than those who agree with his opponent. It would appear that the conflict between these two women had somehow affected the entire church. It may even be that these women sought to enlist support from the other saints. Such divisions all too often begin among the leaders of a church or a Christian ministry.
We know that in this epistle Paul does not indicate what the difference was between these women. Paul informs us that these two women were at odds; he does not tell us what these women were fighting about. I think we can safely assume that it was not an important matter of doctrine. We know from Paul’s epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians that if there were a serious doctrinal departure Paul would have confronted it head-on. Since Paul has nothing to say about the issues involved, I feel safe in concluding that they were really petty issues. From my understanding of church history, many divisions have been caused by petty differences.
We know from our text that Paul does not take sides. Paul does not seek to say anything good about the position taken by either of these two women, nor does he attempt to show one’s grievances are more substantive than the other’s. In short, Paul refuses to take sides. In reality, Paul is on the side of unity, and both women, by virtue of their conflict with each other, are wrong.
Paul personally and directly appeals to Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord.” While Paul’s “true companion” is to take charge in the reconciliation of these two women, Paul addresses them as directly as possible. He speaks to each of them, urging them to “agree in the Lord.” The question is, “What does it mean ‘to agree in the Lord’”? Since we are told to agree “in the Lord,” agreement must not include every subject, but those matters that pertain to our faith. But even this is too broad. Paul most certainly cannot mean that Christians are to agree on every point of theology and on the interpretation of every passage of the Bible. It is clear from Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 that this kind of agreement will not come about until after Christ returns:
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God-a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis mine).
One could say that by the qualification, “in the Lord,” Paul is saying that Euodia and Syntyche should find agreement in the fundamentals of the faith, the simple gospel message. Surely all Christians should agree that all men are sinners, separated from God and deserving of God’s eternal wrath, and are saved only by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Believers may not agree on the incidentals, but they should agree on the fundamentals.
I have experienced this kind of unity or agreement many times in my ministry. I have traveled and spoken in various parts of the world and have experienced warm Christian fellowship everywhere I have found believers in Jesus Christ, whether in India or Indonesia or Indiana. I have also spoken in a number of prisons in this country and have experienced wonderful Christian fellowship with Prison Fellowship volunteers and with inmates. I didn’t completely agree with any of these believers, but we did agree on the essentials, and that was enough. This may be what Paul is saying to these two women, and to us.
I would like to take this one step further. The verb, “to agree,” (literally, “to think the same thing”) that Paul uses here is one he almost owns. Of its 26 occurrences in the New Testament, no less than 23 are found in Paul’s writings.81 The word is often simply rendered “to think,” but it is not always that simple. The verb is very often modified by a second word or prefix, which gives it a much more specific meaning. For example, the verb is found several times in Romans 12:3:
For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment [literally think soberly], as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith (emphasis mine).
Four times the verb “to think” is found in Romans 12:3; twice the verb is qualified by a prefix. To “think more highly” of oneself than one should is to “over-think.”82 To “have sound judgment” is “to think wisely or soberly.” In our text, as well as several others, Paul instructs his readers “to think the same thing” (see also Romans 12:16; 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; compare Philippians 2:5; 3:15). Paul employs this same verb several times with the meaning, “to set one’s mind on,” or “to have regard for.” Here, the word has the sense of giving attention to something or someone because of the value we place on it (or them). In Philippians 4:10, the same verb is used twice:
I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me (now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything) (emphasis mine).
“To think” here is “to think of with concern.” We sometimes say to someone who is going through difficult times, “I’ll be thinking about you,” or “Be assured that you are in our thoughts.” What we mean is that we care about them, and we will be remembering them with concern. We will think about them and their situation, because we care about them. This is what Paul means in Philippians 4:10.
To “set one’s mind on” (Romans 8:5; Philippians 3:19; Colossians 3:2) is to focus our attention on something because it is important to us. This is not very different from Paul’s use of the same verb in relation to regarding certain days above other days: “He who observes the day, does it for the Lord. He who eats, eats for the Lord, because he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains from eating, abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6).83
In Romans 12:16, to “think the same thing” is rendered “live in harmony” in the NET Bible, but in the immediately following words of verse 16, Paul warns against arrogance and instructs the Roman saints to associate with the lowly: “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited.”
To “think the same” here seems to mean, “to think of on the same level,” in other words, not to discriminate between the lofty and the lowly. All of this leads me to the conclusion that in our text Paul is calling for these two women to think of each other as equals. Are they competing for superiority? Are they seeking dominance? Let them think of each other as equals; let them think the same thing.
Just as Paul identifies Euodia and Syntyche, he also indicates to the Philippians who he wants to take charge in the reconciliation of these two women. It is interesting that Paul does not name Epaphroditus as the one who should put a stop to this dissention; neither does he threaten that Timothy will do so (though he surely can be expected to look into this matter when he arrives). Paul instructs an unnamed, but apparently easily recognized, brother to bring this conflict to a halt. It seems obvious that Paul’s readers must know the identity of the one to whom he is referring. This man ministered with Paul in the past. He may well have ministered side-by-side with these two women. In Paul’s mind, he is the one best qualified to deal with this situation. By inference, the church is to stand behind this fellow as he seeks to carry out Paul’s instructions.
The NET Bible, along with most other major translations, renders a key word in verse 3 “help.” Paul’s “true companion” is to “help” these two women. One can understand why the translators would choose the word “help,” but I’m not sure that it is the best word to convey Paul’s intended meaning. The word that Paul uses is found 16 times in the New Testament. In the KJV, it is only translated “help” twice in the 16 times it appears.84 Eight times the word is describing an “arrest” in one form or another (see Matthew 26:55; Mark 14:48; Luke 22:54; John 18:12; Acts 1:16; 12:3; 23:27; 26:21). It seems to me that Paul is saying something stronger than to simply, “Help her.” I think he is urging his co-worker in Philippi to “take hold of” these women and to “put a stop” to their unfruitful bickering. The “help” for which Paul is calling is aggressive, because the sin seems to be affecting the entire church (see 1 Corinthians 5:6).
In verse 4, we are once again (see 2:18; 3:1) instructed to rejoice. I do not think this command to rejoice is unrelated to Paul’s admonition to Euodia and Syntyche in verses 2 and 3. I fear that these women have somehow lost their “first love” and have become sour saints. As Paul has written earlier (3:1), rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard. Joyful people are not at each other’s throats; unhappy people often are, as we see repeatedly illustrated in the history of Israel.
Verse 5 is another key to preventing disharmony in the church. I don’t think our translation conveys Paul’s meaning as well as it could: “Let your steady determination be seen by all. The Lord is near!” (emphasis mine).
The emphasis of these words seems to be on one’s resolution and perseverance. I think Paul is hoping for a willingness to change one’s course. The word translated “steady determination” occurs four other times in the New Testament:
2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:2-3, emphasis mine).
They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people (Titus 3:2, emphasis mine).
13 Which of you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. 18 And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace (James 3:13-18, emphasis mine).
Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the perverse (1 Peter 2:18, emphasis mine).
For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive;
and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee (KJV, emphasis mine).
For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee (NAS, emphasis mine).
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You (NKJV, emphasis mine).
Certainly O sovereign Master, you are kind and forgiving,
and show great faithfulness to all who cry out to you (NET Bible, emphasis mine).
The translation, “ready to forgive,” is certainly the most popular rendering, and I think it is also the most accurate. “Forgiving” is acceptable, but “ready to forgive” conveys the desire and predisposition to forgive, which the word conveys, and which I believe Paul has in mind when he uses it in Philippians 4. Paul’s other uses of this term, cited above, are consistent with this sense of “ready to forgive.” Paul uses this term in 1 Timothy 3:3, where is he setting down the qualifications for an overseer in the church. The overseer is to be “gentle,” “not violent” (the expression immediately preceding our term) and “not contentious” (the expression immediately following “gentle”). We sometimes say, “They have a chip on their shoulder.” We mean by this that they are looking for a fight; they are predisposed to argue or even to come to blows. Gentleness is the exact opposite; gentleness is the predisposition to forgive and to maintain peace. In Titus 3:2, the term “gentle” appears again, and once again it has this sense of “ready to forgive.”
In the light of this, I think we can safely paraphrase Philippians 4:5 in this way: “Let your gentle spirit, which is eager to forgive, be evident to all. The Lord is near!”
I wonder how many church fights are the result of joyless saints, who are looking for a fight, and find one? Christians should be filled with joy, even in the midst of trials, and they should have an eagerness to forgive that dissipates anger and avoids strife.
6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
In verses 8 and 9, Paul will instruct the Philippians and us concerning the constructive use of our minds, or what I would call a “Christian Positive Mental Attitude.” But before he does this, Paul deals with an incredibly unproductive and even destructive mental exercise—worry. The word that is translated “be anxious” here often refers to worry (see Matthew 6:25-34). It occasionally refers to genuine concern (1 Corinthians 12:25; Philippians 2:20), but it more often refers to an undue concern that is unhealthy and unproductive. Anxiety saps our energies and focuses our thinking on all the ways that things can go wrong. In most cases, anxiety probes possibilities that never occur. The Philippian saints are now entering into a new phase. The suffering and persecution they have only heard about, or seen in others, they are now beginning to experience personally (1:29-30). In chapter one, Paul tried to put the Philippians’ minds at ease about his own circumstances. Now, they have the opportunity to imitate Paul’s attitude toward the adversity they are experiencing.
Anxiety is a distraction that undermines godly faith and practice, and thus Paul forbids it. This is a command, not a request, and the way he expresses the command suggests they are already worrying and need to stop doing so. It is interesting to notice that no exceptions are granted. Paul instructs the Philippians not to be anxious “about anything.” I think we sometimes seek to convince ourselves that some kinds of worry are really pious. Is it right to worry about our children? Is it spiritual to worry about having enough money to give to the Lord’s work? Paul tells us that all such worries are wrong. At its roots, anxiety is unbelief; it is doubting God’s goodness, grace, and power in our lives.
Worry is not constructive; it does not contribute to the solution, but becomes a part of the problem. I am sitting in front of my computer as I write this. There are times when I give my computer another task. For example, sometimes I begin printing one sermon manuscript while I am writing another. The printing process takes up enough of my computer’s resources that I have to wait to continue writing. In this case, both the printing and the writing are productive—at least hopefully they are. But worry saps energy and focus that could be employed for productive tasks. Worry is not only unproductive; it is counter-productive.
Prayer is an antidote to worry. It is not wrong to be concerned about things that are important. But anxiety does nothing productive to deal with our concerns. Prayer is taking these concerns to God and looking to Him for the solution. Prayer acknowledges our weakness and dependence upon God. Prayer allows us to “take our burden to the Lord and leave it there,” as the hymnist has put it. Paul does not use just one word for prayer; he employs a whole bouquet of terms to express the whole spectrum of prayer.85 Included in this is “thanksgiving.” This is the expression of gratitude for prayers previously answered and of assurance that our current prayers will be answered as well, in due time.
Unlike worry, prayer is productive. It acknowledges our dependence upon God. It takes our concerns to God and leaves them with Him. It allows us to focus our efforts and energies on things other than worry. The result is that “the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (verse 7).
I am especially intrigued by the last words of verse 7. “The peace of God,” Paul tells us, “surpasses understanding.” Why does he say this? Paul is telling us something very important about the relationship between prayer, peace, and our mental and emotional energies. Worry consumes both mental and emotional energy (our heart and mind). Worry seeks to solve the problem we are dealing with by attempting to understand it, to figure it out. Very often, worry is consumed with theoretical and hypothetical possibilities that will never come to pass—wasted energy. In prayer, we turn those things over to God which are bigger than we are, which are beyond our comprehension (see Romans 8:26-27). God, who is vastly greater than us, takes our concerns and gives us peace in return. This peace transcends our mental powers and our emotions. What we cannot do in and of ourselves, God does, in answer to our prayers. I should add that God does not promise that He will give us a full understanding of those matters we bring to Him in prayer; He only promises to give us peace.
Let me try to illustrate this from our own experience. My wife and I lost our first child—a son—to crib death (sudden infant death syndrome—SIDS) when he was only three months old. We did not understand why God allowed this to happen. We still don’t. But from the moment of his death over 30 years ago until now, we have had a peace that we cannot really explain. This is the peace that God promises those who cast their burdens upon Him, through prayer.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true,86 whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) or the so-called “power of positive thinking” is very popular these days. Motivational speakers almost universally appeal to it. My wife and I are grandparents, and we both love to read to Taylor and Lindsey, our granddaughters. Just this past week, one of the girls brought me a book to read. It was The Little Engine That Could. He’s the little fellow (train engine) who has a heavy load to pull over the mountains. He is able to do so because he keeps saying to himself, “I think I can, I think I can.” I laughed to myself as I read it, realizing that PMA is even taught to the very young.
For a good many years, I was inclined to think that there was nothing of value in this PMA movement. I’ve had to go through a good deal of mental readjustment in preparing for this message because Paul is certainly instructing us to have a Christian Positive Mental Attitude. We will not have time to thoroughly deal with every one of the terms Paul uses in verse 8; instead, I will focus on the first word, “true,” and suggest this as a pattern for your study and application of the rest.
I would remind you, once again, that these two verses immediately follow Paul’s words of instruction concerning anxiety—a very negative mental attitude. The first stage of Paul’s solution to anxiety was prayer. Verses 8 and 9 give us the second and third stages of the solution: positive Christian thinking (verse 8), and positive Christian practice (verse 9).
I want you to notice the structure of verse 8. Paul begins to list some of the virtues that should dominate our thinking. These are introduced by the expression, “whatever is….” These virtues include what is true, worthy of respect, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Paul then ceases this list, not because he has named all the virtues, but because there are too many to name. He sums up the rest as those having the characteristic of being either “excellent” or “praiseworthy.” I’m inclined to view excellence as intrinsic; it is excellent whether or not it is recognized (and praised) as such. That which is praiseworthy is apparent and recognized as such. Courage, for example, is praiseworthy. Let one perform an act of courage, and he will receive praise. This list of virtues, then, is not complete, but suggestive.
Paul begins, “whatever is true….” I would like to suggest that we should define “true” in more than one way. First, Paul speaks of what is true, as opposed to what is false. We know this from Paul’s other writings, especially Ephesians:
14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. 17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. 25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:14-25, emphasis mine).
Here, as in Romans 12:1-2, Paul is informing the Ephesians that they must undergo a complete transformation of their thinking processes. As unbelievers living in a pagan world, their thinking was greatly distorted, both in the way they thought and in the content of their thought. When they came to faith, they came to “learn Christ” in a new and different way. They must now continue to grow in the truth and to shun falsehood. They must learn to discern between what the world wrongly calls truth and the truths of the Bible. Christians must learn to thrive on truth and to put away falsehood. Thus, we can easily understand how Paul could urge the Philippians to “think about” those things that are true.
Second, the Christian must give priority to those things that are eternally and ultimately true over those things that are merely temporally true. I know that this statement is going to puzzle you, but I think I can defend it if you will bear with me.
The word “true” in Philippians 4:8 is found 25 times in the New Testament. John employs the term 16 times, while Paul only uses it 4 times. There are a few times when “true” seems to mean “true, as opposed to false” (see 1 John 2:27). But it often means something like “ultimately or supremely true, as opposed to something that appears to be true in time.” For example, John uses this term to speak of our Lord as the “true light” (John 1:9), and as the “true bread” (John 6:32), and also the “true vine” (John 15:1). “True” here does not mean “true, as opposed to false;” it means, “true, as the ultimate fulfillment of previous symbols which were merely anticipatory.” Jesus is not the only bread, but He is the ultimate bread; Jesus is not the only light, but He is the ultimate light.
In Philippians 1, Paul describes his attitude toward his present circumstances. He was being falsely accused by unbelieving Jews and was forced to appeal to Caesar. He was given some freedom but still kept in some form of confinement. Throughout the day, there were those (like Epaphroditus) who were granted access to Paul to minister to his needs. But he was still a prisoner, whose fate was not certain. And there were those who were taking advantage of his incarceration to suggest that Paul was not a man to be followed. These circumstances were all true; they were real, but they were not the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth was that the saints were encouraged in their faith and witness, and that the gospel was proclaimed and people were coming to faith. This “ultimate truth” (of the advance of the gospel) put the “temporal truth” (of Paul’s suffering) into perspective, so that Paul could rejoice.
We see the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 where Paul describes a painful reality that all of us have to accept:
4:16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 so that after we have taken off our earthly house we will not be found naked. 4 For indeed we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him (2 Corinthians 4:16—5:9).
Is it true that our bodies are growing older and more feeble, until we die? Is my hair falling out, my stomach sticking out, and my memory giving out? Yes, all these things are true, and it will only get worse as time passes. But these truths are not ultimate, eternal truths. The ultimate truth is that while my body is declining, I am spiritually growing. This earthly body is but a tent, and I’m soon to possess a mansion. We are, in a sense, presently absent from the Lord, but we shall soon be present with Him, dwelling in glorious new bodies. That is the ultimate truth. And in light of this I can say, with Paul, that my afflictions in this life are momentary and light, while my heavenly blessings are eternal and weighty. And while I do suffer in this life, I also experience God’s presence and work in me, through His Spirit. It is his grasp of this ultimate reality that enables Paul to be joyful, even when facing the possibility of death at the hand of Caesar (Philippians 1:18-26).
Let me give one last example of the fact that “ultimate, eternal truth” should shape the Christian’s response to “temporal truth.” In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses how he came to grips with “eternal truth.” The first verses of this psalm express his dismay, based upon his observation that the wicked were prospering more than the righteous. He expected God to physically bless the pious and to punish the wicked, and yet just the opposite seemed to be true in his experience.87
Asaph was greatly upset by the apparent “reality” that he saw. How could God allow the righteous to suffer and the wicked to prosper? Asaph then confesses his sin and stupidity. He tells us that he was completely baffled until he came “into the sanctuary of God”:
17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. 18 Surely you put them in slippery places, you bring them down to ruin. 19 How desolate they become in a mere moment! Terrifying judgments make their demise complete! 20 They are like a dream after one wakes up. O sovereign Master, when you awake you will despise them. 21 Yes, my spirit was bitter, and my insides felt sharp pain. 22 I was ignorant and lacked insight, I was as senseless as an animal before you. 23 But I am continually with you, you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me by your wise advice, and then you will lead me to a position of honor. 25 Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability. 27 Yes, look! Those far from you die, you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign LORD my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:17-28).
“Ultimate reality” is vastly different from “temporal reality.” Do the wicked prosper to some degree in this life? Yes, they often do. Do the righteous suffer in this life? Yes, they undoubtedly will (see 1 Timothy 3:12). But the pleasures of the wicked are short-lived, and the joy of the righteous is eternal. When Asaph began to look at life in terms of “eternal truths,” he saw that the prosperity of the wicked made them arrogant, so that they even dared to mock God. He also saw that in his affliction, he had turned to God. God would not only be with him in eternity, He was with him now. If knowing and enjoying God is the ultimate good, then suffering is a gift if it draws us closer to Him. Asaph’s outlook was transformed by looking at “temporal truth” from the perspective of “eternal truth.” His tears of sorrow were transformed into shouts of triumph and praise.
It may not be necessary to say this, but for the sake of clarity, I will do so. Just because something is true does not mean that we should “think about” it. Much of the filth88 peddled by the media is justified (in their minds, at least) by the fact that it is true. “This is reality; this is what goes on in the real world,” they tell us. I believe this statement could and should be challenged. I do not believe, for example, that homosexuality is as prevalent in the “real world” as it is on television. I believe that we are often given a distorted view of reality on the television and movie screen. Nevertheless, even if some things were true, they should not be the content of our meditation. I think Paul is telling us that what we should let our minds dwell upon are those things that are not only true, but also worthy of respect, just, pure, lovely and commendable.
I received an e-mail from a friend last week, and in essence he wrote: “I am really interested to hear what you are going to say about the expression ‘think about these things’ in Philippians 4:8.” I wondered what he meant until I began to think about these things. Does Paul mean that we are to constantly bring virtuous thoughts to mind? Does he mean that we are not to think about or consider anything else?
I began to look at this verb translated “think about” more carefully, and I discovered something very significant. In the King James Version, this word occurs 41 times. It is translated “think” 9 times; “impute” 8 times; “reckon” 6 times; “account” 4 times. This word means much more than “to think about;” it means to think about carefully, in such a way as to make judgments, conclusions, or assessments which are the basis for our conduct. Paul is therefore challenging us to carefully consider those “eternal truths” which will then shape our conduct.
That is why Paul quickly moves to the command found in verse 9: “And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.” Most of us tend toward one extreme or the other in life. Some of us are “thinkers,” who would rather study a problem than to seek to solve it. Others of us are “doers,” who are quick to take action, but sometimes without adequate thought. Such folks are sometimes described this way: “Ready, fire, aim!” Christians are exhorted to gain wisdom and insight, and then to act. This is exactly what Paul prayed for earlier in this epistle:
9 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 10 so that you can decide what is best, and so be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).
Paul’s words in verse 9 might sound arrogant to us, until we recall his earlier words recorded in chapter 3:
12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which I also was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: forgetting the things behind and reaching out for the things ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained. 17 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example (Philippians 3:12-17, emphasis mine).
Paul does not think of himself as having arrived spiritually. He keeps pressing on, seeking to achieve that for which God called him. He challenges the Philippians to follow his example and the example of those godly men who are with him, like Epaphroditus and Timothy (see 2:19-30).
Truth is not to be stored up in one’s notebook, or in one’s head; truth is to be worked out in one’s life. That is why Paul earlier instructed his readers to “work out their salvation with humility and dependence” (2:12). That is what Paul has sought to do, and this is why he can encourage others to follow his example. There are some leaders who will tell you what to do from a distance; there are other leaders who will tell you what to do, and then show you how to do it by their own example. Paul is no “ivory tower teacher;” he is a man who lives “in the trenches” with those he seeks to teach and to lead. Paul employs several words to describe the process of instruction: “learned,” “received,” “heard,” and “saw” (verse 9). This is similar to his use of multiple words to describe prayer in verse 6. Some of their instruction may have come through others, but Paul’s life shows the Philippians what the truth looks like in practice. As I think back through the Book of Philippians, I believe we can see how Paul has put his own teaching into practice. He is a man whose teaching we can follow, as we follow his example.
It occurred to me while I was preparing this lesson that I know all too little about some of the men whose teaching I respect and follow. Sometimes it is my own fault, because biographical information is available about many of the great teachers of the past and present. Sad to say, I have consulted too few. The men I know the most about today are those whose ministries are most visible—men like Dr. Tony Evans,
Dr. Charles Swindoll, and Dr. James Dobson. But many of the scholars and theologians that I read are men I know little or nothing about. I wonder about the wisdom of knowing so little about the people we follow. And I wonder about the wisdom of following people whose scholarship is at hand, but who may not be deeply involved in life, so that we can follow their example.89
We have spent some time considering Philippians 4:1-9, and quite obviously we have only scratched the surface of this great text. As I conclude, let me suggest some areas of application for us today.
First, we can see how important relationships are to our faith. On the positive side, it is the strong love and affection binding Paul to the Philippians that serves as the basis for his teaching and correction. He began this epistle by laying the foundation of his love and affection and his strong desire to see them again (1:3-11). Now, in Philippians 4:1, Paul once again reiterates his love for the Philippians as the basis for his admonition and instruction in the verses that follow. Negatively, we can see how the fractured relationship of two women in the church has created disorder and disharmony.
Relationships are a vital part of the Christian life. Our relationship with God should shape our relationships with others:
31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 But instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
We love because he loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Likewise, our relationship with others impacts our relationship with Him:
23 “So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7).
I must ask you, then, my friend, are there broken or wounded relationships in your life that you need to deal with? And if we see others who are at odds with each other, we need to help them reconcile. If the world knows us as Christians by our love for one another, how much of Christ do they see in us?
Second, we see that the Bible teaches us to put away negative thinking and to think positively, but in a way that is very different from the “positive thinking” of our age. A Christian positive mental attitude is very different from what popular secular motivational experts are talking about. Let me mention some of the ways in which Christian positive thinking differs from secular PMA.
The motivation of secular PMA is very different from what Paul advocates. PMA is promoted as the way to get what we want. It is selfish in nature. Paul holds up the model of our Lord Himself, and His humility, servanthood, and sacrifice.
The goal of secular PMA is very different from what Paul advocates. Secular PMA talks a great deal about success and prosperity. Paul talks a great deal about humility and service—about putting the interests of others ahead of our own.
The means of secular PMA is very different from what Paul advocates. Secular PMA looks deep within the individual, drawing upon the reserves of “untapped human potential.” Paul speaks of his personal achievements as an unsaved religious leader as dung. Paul knows that everything we can ever boast about is that which Christ has done (see 1 Corinthians 1:31; 4:7). Paul is not positive about what we can do for ourselves, but he is very confident about what God will do in us (Philippians 1:6).
Secular PMA wants us to be discontent with our circumstances and to strive for better things; Paul urges us to learn to rejoice in our circumstances, even in our suffering. Secular PMA focuses on what we don’t have, but want. It urges us to set our sights high, so far as earthly things are concerned. It will not accept suffering, but only success—defined in earthly terms. Paul teaches us to rejoice in our circumstances, knowing that God has purposed for us to be at this place in our lives (see Romans 8:28).
Secular PMA does not look beyond this life; Paul instructs us to look beyond it. Secular PMA is concerned with the here and now; Paul wants us to be willing to suffer here and now, knowing what lies ahead at the coming of our Lord. This is not to say that this life is shear misery. As we suffer in this life, we come to experience a greater intimacy with God, and we find opportunities to serve others.
Secular PMA wants us to either ignore or to deny the “negative” things of this life; Paul urges us to take up our cross in this life, just as our Savior did. Secular PMA does not allow us to think about anything other than our potential, our success and our prosperity. Paul does not wish us to worry, or to be in conflict with others, but he does expect us to deal with the real world in which we live and to seek to see God’s hand in our afflictions. Biblical positive thinking is not as concerned about changing my circumstances as it is about changing my attitude toward my circumstances. Secular PMA urges me to be discontent with them; Paul instructs me to be content—even joyful.
Third, Paul’s words set the standard for what we think about. Paul is surely teaching us that we should not pollute our minds with that which is not true, that which is not honorable, and so on. I wonder how many television programs that excludes? How many movies? How many books? Today, there is a major problem with pornography, not only in the world, but also in the church. I wonder how many Christians are secretly indulging in this mind-polluting sin? Surely we can see that Paul forbids such things. There is one source of wisdom and truth which will always be safely within Paul’s standards, and that is the Word of God.
It is interesting to realize that the standard Paul sets for our “input” is virtually the same standard he sets for our “output”—our speech:
25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. 27 Do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may share with the one who has need. 29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 But instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:25-32).
Paul’s words set a new standard for our thoughts. In Colossians 3:19, Paul admonishes husbands not to be embittered toward their wives. This certainly reveals what all husbands know to be true, and that is that we sometimes nurse hurt feelings and anger toward our wives. Philippians 4:8 should govern my thoughts about my wife. I should rejoice in her, giving thought to what is true, honorable, and lovely in her. It should govern my thoughts concerning my children and family, my job, my employer, my church, and my leaders. How my outlook on life would change if Paul’s standards were mine in my thought life.
By the way, I have never before thought of Philippians 4:8 in relation to the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche in verses 2 and 3. Are verses 8 and 9 not Paul’s antidote to the bitterness which has driven a wedge between these two women, who once contended together for the gospel side-by-side? The deadly “root of bitterness” is nurtured by unhealthy negative thoughts about our circumstances and our fellow believers.
Paul’s words were intended to “sweeten up the saints,” to turn us from being “grumpy old Christians” to joy-filled worshippers and witnesses. Sadly, Christians often tend to be negative people. We know that we live in a sinful, fallen world, and that Satan is alive and well. We know that men are depraved sinners. We know that the world as we know it now is going to be destroyed. Often, we tend to focus on the negative dimensions of life. I think part of our problem is that we are conservatives, and rightly so in many ways. We boast in having the “old time religion,” and we become suspicious of anything new or different, even changing the color of the auditorium. All too often conservatives become “preservatives” in the sense that they just want to keep what is old, and think they are safe avoiding anything new (like computers, the Internet, etc.). No wonder Paul talks about “forgetting the past” and “pressing on.” The future, for Paul, was filled with hope and expectation and excitement. When the worst thing that can happen to you is an instant transition into the presence of our Lord (as death at the hand of Caesar would have been for Paul), and when we are assured that God will finish what He has started in us, and will cause all things to work for our good and His glory, what is there to fear?
31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
78 Gordon Fee writes, “With these two appeals [in verses 1-3] Paul brings 3:1-21 to its proper conclusion. At the same time he reaches further back into the letter to bring closure to the twin issues raised in 1:27-2:18 – that they ‘remain steadfast’ in the gospel and do so ‘as one person in the one Spirit.’” Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 385.
79 A.T. Robertson writes, “Paul uses four conditions in this verse, all of the first class, assuming the condition to be true.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, electronic version, BibleWorks for Windows, Copyright 1992-1999.
80 The NET Bible certainly conveys the sense of Paul’s words here, but literally the text should read, “I appeal to Euodia and I appeal to Syntyche.” In so writing, Paul makes it absolutely clear that he is not favoring one woman or the other, but that he finds them both culpable for carrying on their dispute with each other.
82 To be arrogant is literally to “think high things” (Romans 11:20).
85 “Paul, with the use of three synonyms strung together in a row…emphatically urges the Philippians to find release from anxiety in prayer and more prayer.… He is saying, in effect, that prayer is a conversation with, a plea directed to, a request made of, information given to a person, in this case the supreme Person of the universe…who can hear, know, understand, care about and respond to the concerns that otherwise would sink you in despair.” Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1983), p. 183.
86 The virtues that Paul lists in verse 8 are seemingly those virtues that were embraced by the unbelievers of Paul’s day. Admiring these virtues and achieving them are, of course, two very different things. In our day, our culture admires that which should make us ashamed. There is no longer a debate over what constitutes the truth; it is all too widely believed that there is no such thing as truth. The virtues that the pagans admired in Paul’s day are those that our culture disdains.
87 I would point out that Asaph’s perception of reality was a bit warped. To say that the wicked do not suffer and the righteous do is a gross overstatement. It is difficult to see clearly through tear-filled eyes, especially when they are tears of self-pity.
88 A. T. Robertson wrote this close to 75 years ago: “Thus he introduces six adjectives picturing Christian ideals, old-fashioned and familiar words not necessarily from any philosophic list of moral excellencies Stoic or otherwise. Without these no ideals can exist. They are pertinent now when so much filth is flaunted before the world in books, magazines and moving-pictures under the name of realism (the slime of the gutter and the cess-pool).” Word Pictures in the New Testament, electronic version. I can’t help but wonder what he would say today.