The opening verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians is at once the conclusion of the previous discussion and the introduction of a new subject. In the light of doctrinal confusion caused by false teachers in contrast to the wonderful hope to be found in Christ culminating in our glorification in heaven, the apostle continues with another word of exhortation to realize in experience the unity, joy, and peace of Christian fellowship. He writes: “Therefore, my brethren dearly longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”
Though he had earlier referred to the church at Philippi as the object of his love and affection, he now uses more emphatic language to express his love for them. They are not only dearly beloved (Gr. agapetoi) in contrast to being merely brethren as he had previously addressed them, but they are longed for and his joy and crown.19 They are exhorted to stand fast in the Lord. At the close of the verse he repeats the appellation by way of emphasis: “My dearly beloved.” In every way he has manifested his love for them to an unusual degree. Even the expression “longed for” (Gr. epitothetoi) is found only here in the New Testament though it occurs occasionally in other Greek literature.
With this background of love and devotion expressed to the Philippian church, he introduces a word of entreaty to Euodias and Syntyche for which apparently he had been preparing the way in the previous references urging unity in the church. He writes: “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” The same thought of unity is found earlier in the epistle (1:9, 27; 2:14; 3:16). Though there is no explanation of the problem beyond that which is stated in the next verse, a reasonable deduction is that these two women in the church had contributed an element of disunity which the apostle wants them to correct by becoming of the same mind in the Lord. It would seem from the general tenor of the epistle that the difficulty was not deep-seated and did not constitute a major schism, but it is evident that there was some friction between them.
One of the realistic problems which must be faced in the church is that personalities which differ may sometimes introduce an element of disharmony. The fact that individuals are fellow members in the church of Jesus Christ does not automatically give them the same opinion, either in doctrinal or practical matters. Sometimes ambition, pride, and stubbornness can intrude. These matters, however, are not impossible for grace to conquer, and it is this approach that is taken by the apostle. Though they may not be of the same mind in many matters, they should seek to have the same mind in the Lord.
In a partial solution of the problem which may have been created by these two contending women, he addresses in verse three an entreaty to one described as his “true yokefellow.” Some have taken the word for yokefellow (Gr. sunzuge) as a proper name of an individual. If it is a reference to a general rather than a specific person, it leaves us without a definite clue. Though the most likely solution is that it is addressed to Epaphroditus who is going to carry the letter back to Philippi, other suggestions have been made such as Timothy, Silas, Paul’s wife, or the husbands of the two women named in verse two. Light-foot’s suggestion that it is Epaphroditus is probably the best interpretation.
More important than the identity of the one to whom this exhortation is addressed is the exhortation itself: “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” There perhaps had been a failure to recognize the proper place of women in the Philippian church, either by giving them undue place or insufficient recognition. Paul exhorts that those women who had labored with him in the gospel should have the sympathetic co-operation and help of the men in the church. Though their names are not mentioned, Paul assures us that their names are entered in the book of life along with other laborers.
The reference to the book of life is left without explanation and has been variously interpreted as containing the roll of the saints who have eternal life or as the book which contains the names of all men, but from which have been deleted those who reject Christ or who fail to be numbered among those who are saved (cf. Ex. 32:32; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 20:12). The clear implication here is that those who are mentioned are permanently inscribed in this record of the saints.
There is no implication in this passage that Paul is here authorizing women to take the place of men as preachers or evangelists. It is rather that in Scripture recognition is given to work properly assigned to women which is not properly assigned to men, and men are called to ministries that women are not. The principle guiding Paul’s exhortation is that every Christian, whether man or woman, should have his proper place and proper recognition in the Lord’s work.
In concluding this section on exhortation pertaining to unity and peace in the church, two important commands are given. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” The theme of rejoicing introduced in chapter three, verse one, before taking up the subject of false teachers, is here reinforced by a double command. The use of the present imperative is emphatic. They were not only to rejoice, but they were to keep on rejoicing in the Lord at all times. This is so important that Paul repeats the command at the close of verse four.
There is an evident connection between rejoicing in the Lord and having peace and unity in the church. Both are products of fellowship with God, oneness of mind, and singleness of purpose in the Lord. To this exhortation he adds: “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Translators have struggled to capture the meaning of this term translated moderation, and various alternatives have been suggested. One of the most accurate and significant is the expression “sweet reasonableness.” One possesses a sweet reasonableness who has the capacity of seeing things from another’s point of view. Such an attitude would help immeasurably in achieving peace and unity in a church fellowship.
The exhortation concludes with the simple declaration: “The Lord is at hand.” The significant fact of the Lord’s return mentioned in 3:20 has a tremendous effect on our judgment in matters facing spiritual decision. When problems are viewed from the standpoint of the imminent coming of the Lord, some things that formerly seemed important become unimportant, and others assume larger significance. Matters that pertain to eternity and which have eternal value tend to unify Christians in a common effort for the Lord.
The secret of peace in the church and unity of Spirit in spiritual matters is directly related, however, to peace in the heart of the individual believer. One of the major problems which faces the world in general as well as the individual believer in Christ is the matter of inner adjustment. The world as a whole is characterized by trouble, and problems both real and fancied plague the human heart. The world for all its scientific brilliance, its great scholars, and tremendous advance in many areas, has somehow not achieved a true ground for peace among nations, peace among individuals, or peace in the heart. On every hand there is evident tension and lack of peace is seen in the relationship between nations, the relationship between races, and even in the home. The many panaceas suggested fall far short of meeting the need. It should be obvious to any intelligent child of God that only by application of the Word of God can real peace be achieved. There is no peace for the wicked, and the Scriptures assure us that the way of the transgressor is hard.
It should be kept in mind that in addressing the Philippian church and exhorting them to peace of heart the apostle is building on the assumption that they already have received peace with God through personal faith in Jesus Christ. The only ground for real peace is one of individual relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. The basic requirement includes not only satisfaction of the righteous law of God through justification by faith, but the inner adjustment that is made possible by the new life in Christ Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who alone can bring peace to troubled hearts.
It is nevertheless true, however, that Christians sometimes fall far short of experiencing the peace that could be theirs in Christ. Many genuine Christians never enter into the truth that God can give them peace, and for this reason they continue in a struggle with a strain and stress which God never intended them to have. Paul had established a standard of peace in the church and the goal of having one mind. Now he desires that Christians should also have the peace of God which passeth understanding.
It is with the purpose that the Philippian believers might know the reality of the peace of God that he exhorts them in verses six and seven: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” In exhorting the Philippian church that they should be careful for nothing, the apostle does not mean that they should be without care or careless. It is rather that they should in nothing be filled with anxious care but rather should present their needs to the Lord in prayer.
Three words are used for prayer. The first is a reference to prayer in general (Gr. proseuche). It is an approach to God which recognizes His infinity, His power, and His majesty. To this is added “supplication” (Gr. deesei) which has the thought of asking for specific things or the presentation of our needs. The third word, “requests,” (Gr. aitemata) is a word which sums up the items included in the two previous words for prayer and implies that divine action in answer to prayer is anticipated. The extent of the prayer life is defined by the phrase “in everything,” constituting an important reminder that lack of peace often results from lack of faithfulness in presenting to God in prayer the little things which constitute the frustrations and annoyances of life. It is only as every need is presented that God is given proper ground for granting peace in every respect. Appending the prayer, however, is the voice of praise indicated in the phrase “with thanksgiving.” This is at once a recognition of the grace of God, but is also the expression of faith that the God who has answered prayer in the past will continue to answer prayer in the future.
The question has often been raised, Why is it necessary to pray if God knows all about our life and our needs? Why is it necessary for the believer to exercise his privilege in prayer? The complete answer may not be given in the Word of God, but it is clear that God expects His children to pray and to present in detail the needs of their lives. It is also clear that the gracious provision of God is sometimes withheld because of failure on the part of the believer to come to God faithfully in prayer. Answers to prayer hang upon a simple human condition: “Let your requests be made known unto God.” This is then eloquently expressed in the familiar hymn: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain, we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”
The exhortation is followed by the promise of verse seven: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” It is of course true that much can be learned by the application of ordinary psychology to the mental and intellectual problems of life. Undoubtedly Christians do not always employ common sense in approaching their problems. Sometimes even those who are not Christians can achieve a relatively sane attitude toward life and an adjustment to their difficult circumstances even apart from divine enablement.
In this passage, however, Paul is not referring to a peace of God which is derived from human reasoning or proper application of psychology. He specifically claims that the peace of God is an experience over and beyond any ordinary step toward mental health. It is not simply a balanced mind or looking at life from the standpoint of common sense. It is not to be defined as reducing our problems to proper dimensions and taking steps to solve them. Here he is talking about a peace that defies the psychologist, a peace which is beyond human understanding, a peace that is contradiction to common sense. It is a peace that can be achieved in the midst of trouble with problems unsolved, with the future unknown. It is the kind of peace that keeps not only the heart, the seat of human personality and feelings of love and emotions, but it keeps also our minds.
As the child of God faces the intellectual problems of life, the decisions that must be made and situations for which there does not seem to be any reasonable solution, he can still have the peace that passeth understanding. It is not derived from unusual analysis of his problems, nor peculiar insight. It is a peace which passeth understanding which is derived through his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Though the unbelieving world and many false religions offer a counterfeit peace, there is no substitute or equal to the peace of God. It is the fruit of the Spirit, a heart at rest in complete confidence, fellowship, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is truly a peace of God, not a peace of man. It is the right and privilege of every child of God to have this blessed experience.
In verses eight and nine of the fourth chapter of Philippians the apostle unfolds the doctrine of peace as it relates to the believer’s fellowship with the Lord. Though every Christian has peace with God in the sense that he is in Christ and no longer at emnity with God, many times that experience of peace does not include as it should a proper relationship experimentally with the Lord. The life of peace has not only the factors of faith and trust and resulting tranquillity of soul, but it involves also great moral issues without which there can be no experience of peace.
It is with this thought that the apostle exhorts the church at Philippi in verses eight and nine in these words: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” It is clear from this exhortation that the experience of peace in our relationship to God involves a mental approach and a moral life that is in contrast to that of the world.
Paul begins by mentioning that our minds should be fixed on that which is true in contrast to that which is false, on things that are honest or honorable, on things that are just or right, on things that are pure in a moral sense, on things that are lovely, that is, attractive to the spiritual mind, on things of good report, that is, things that are judged good by our fellow Christians. If there is any virtue, i.e., moral excellence or any item worthy of praise, these should be the objects of our meditation. In a word, the apostle exhorts the Philippian believers to being occupied mentally with the things of God, thereby providing the proper soil for the nurture of the soul and the experience of the peace of God. Further, he concludes that they should follow the example of Paul and do those things which they have learned, received, heard, and seen in him. He assures them that if they follow this instruction and this program of life that the God of peace would be with them. He does not imply that these are necessary to avoid abandonment by God, but it is rather that God would manifest Himself to them as the giver of perfect peace.
In the upper room the Lord told His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” These memorable words define what is meant by the peace of God. Christ in the shadow of the cross, in the hour of great agony of soul as He contemplated becoming the sin offering for the whole world, could nevertheless speak of “my peace.” He referred to the peace of God, that peace which rests in unlimited measure in the heart of God and is realized by the believer as he puts confidence in a God of wisdom, a God of love, and a God of power. It is a peace that comes from dependence upon a God who knows the end from the beginning, who does all things well, and will not permit in the life of His children anything that will not work out for eternal good. The peace of God, which is described by Paul as beyond understanding, becomes the possession of the child of God when he is willing to rest his burden with the Lord and find the divine grace which is bestowed through the Holy Spirit.
In the closing portion of his Epistle to the Philippians, the apostle discusses the main purpose and occasion of the epistle, that is, the recognition of the gift the Philippian church had sent to him by the hands of Epaphroditus. His joy at their gift and the thoughtfulness and love it reflected is described and made the occasion for a discussion of the proper attitude of a Christian toward physical things. He opens the discussion in verse ten by writing: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.”
It might have been expected that the Philippian church would have communicated to Paul’s needs if he had been in jail at Philippi, but the long distance between Philippi and Rome did not give them opportunity to minister to him, and it is to this he refers. The fact that they had gone to such effort to send him an offering by the hand of one of their beloved brethren in the church at Philippi touched Paul’s heart and gave him great encouragement in the lonely hours of his imprisonment.
Paul wants, however, to make it plain to the Philippian church that his joy is not occasioned primarily by the physical benefit he derived. It would not have been impossible for him to go on without their help. Therefore he is careful to state in verses eleven and twelve: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both20 to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
As is made clear by the life and testimony of the Apostle Paul, these words are not an idle boast, but a sober statement of life principle. In many years of suffering deprivation because of his loyalty to the Lord, he had learned to adjust to any situation and to be content with it as that which God had provided for him. In his experience he had had all the vicissitudes of life. He had on occasion been abased, and on others had abounded. At times he had had plenty, and at other times had been hungry and suffered need. The apostle is mentioning this not only to clarify his own motives in receiving their gift but also in the hope that they would share with him the same attitude toward life. The secret of his contentment was not simply resolution of character, but is revealed in verse thirteen in the simple affirmation: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened! me.” In other words, his ability to withstand suffering and endure privation did not arise in his own character, but instead was a testimony to the power and grace of Christ operating in him.
Though he was sufficient by the grace of God to do without things when this was necessary, he wanted it to be understood that this was accomplished by the power of Christ which was also available to them.
In verse fourteen he assures them that nevertheless God was working in their loving gift which they had communicated to him. He writes: “Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.” The word translated “communicate” has the thought of fellowship or sharing. Through their gift they had not only communicated to Paul a share of their temporal goods, but had in measure shared with him his trials.
The gift of the Philippian church was all the more remarkable because it was not the first gift they had sent. He bears testimony in verse fifteen to their earlier love gifts: “Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.” In verse sixteen he mentions that while he was in Thessalonica, even though his stay there was so short, they had sent more than one gift. “For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.” Considering the many friends of the Apostle Paul and the many churches to which he ministered, it is no less than remarkable that none of them undertook to care for Paul in temporal things like the Philippian church. It therefore was not simply the physical benefit that was derived, but the thoughtfulness and love which it reflected that moved the Apostle Paul to write these tender words of appreciation.
In discussing the matter the apostle again makes clear that it is not the gift in which he is interested primarily, but in the giver. In verse seventeen he wrote: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Then, lest it should be thought that the apostle was indulging in any self-pity, he describes their offering in glowing terms as having met completely his need. “But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” It would seem to indicate from this description that their gift was a generous one and one that met his immediate financial needs, but Paul is mostly concerned with the nature of the offering which he describes as an odor of sweet smell, an acceptable sacrifice, and one that is well-pleasing to God, and similar to the sweet-savor offerings of the Old Testament. Paul uses the same expression for sacrifices that are well-pleasing to God as is mentioned in Hebrews 13:16.
If the Philippian church is here commended because of its gift to the Apostle Paul, it should be clear that the principle of faithful stewardship on the part of churches in support of Christian workers is also commended. Though sacrifice is inevitable in any true service for God, it is not to be one-sided. Those who dedicate their lives like Paul should not be expected to bear a disproportionate share of the sacrifice, but the churches that are served or represented by the Lord’s servant should, like the church at Philippi bring their offerings as an acceptable sacrifice in which God is well pleased. Such an offering as described is similar to the sweet savor which ascended from the altar of sacrifice or the altar of incense and was accepted by God as a most commendable work. It is remarkable that a God who possesses all earthly things can be impressed by the temporal gifts of His children. It is not the amount or character of the gift that is important. It is the love and devotion it reflects. In giving a love token to one of infinite wealth the value of the gift is insignificant. The thoughtfulness, love, and motives that prompt the gift are by far more important. The widow’s mite is noticed by an infinite God who ignores the gifts without sacrifice of the rich.
Though Paul could give to the Philippian church no monetary gift in return, he gives them a promise worth infinitely more as recorded in verses nineteen and twenty: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” The Philippian church had been faithful with what God had committed to them. Now they were given in return the promise that God would supply their needs.
One of the questions which face all donors who give of their substance to the Lord is whether they will ever need it themselves. To human wisdom the future is unknown, and there may be troubles and unexpected needs ahead. Every act of giving is by its very nature an act of faith. The Philippians are assured that their act of faith will be rewarded. God will supply all their needs. This does not mean necessarily that they would be unduly wealthy, but that there would be manifested in their physical as well as their spiritual lives the evident supply of the Lord.
There is no better way to be assured of God’s care in the future on the part of the child of God than to have the conviction that he is being faithful with what God is giving to him at the present. God may not always award His children distinctive temporal gifts, but it is impossible to be a faithful steward without just recompense from a faithful God. God may not give us all our desires or even what we consider to be wants, but He will supply our needs.
The pattern of divine giving is also stated graphically in this passage as being according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. It is another way of saying that God will give according to His own infinite ability to give, according to His infinite love, and according to His infinite grace. Though all we give to God necessarily has been given to us by God and we are only stewards of all we possess, it is nevertheless true that God will repay a hundredfold every act of devotion, every gift of sacrifice, and that He will pay accounts in full, not only in this life but in the life to come. Both the gift and its reward, however, fit into the larger pattern of bringing glory to the Lord, and with this he concludes the exhortation of the book: “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
In the closing verses of this epistle Paul addresses greetings to the saints: “Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Though many of Paul’s friends were far removed from him in distance, he was not without fellowship with the believers in Rome. These brethren joined with him in greetings to the Philippian church. Of particular interest, however, is the fact that joining with the others are some who are members of Caesar’s household, undoubtedly trophies of grace won through his faithful witness as a prisoner in the city of Rome. They too sent their greetings to the Philippian church as if to say that their presence is another evidence of the faithfulness of God in using the witness of the apostle.
As Paul closes the epistle he pronounces the usual benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Above all else he wanted the grace of God to be experienced by the Philippian church, to be manifested in their lives and testimony, and to cause the fruit of the gospel to abound in them.
19 Gr. Stephanos, a crown given to a victor in an athletic contest to be contrasted to diadema, the crown of a ruler.
20 Gr. memuemai, to learn or be initiated in a secret, to be initiated.