15. Developing Spiritual StabilityRelated Media
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:1-5)
How do we stand firm in the Lord? How do we develop spiritual stability? The lives of many believers are fraught with ups and downs. They are tossed here and there by the various trials and difficulties. Scripture describes spiritual infants and the double-minded as being tossed like the “waves of the sea” in Ephesians 4:14 and James 1:6. They are spiritually unstable. However, our faith in Christ should enable us to stand firm.
Paul in this text encourages the Philippians to “stand firm in the Lord” (Phil 4:1). This is not the first time Paul encouraged this church to stand. He said the same thing in chapter 1. He said,
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27)
Paul said whatever happens, they should stand firm in one spirit. Trials attacking the Philippians could cause them to give up ground to the enemy. They were being persecuted for their faith (Phil 1:29), people in the church were arguing and complaining (Phil 2:14), and false teachers were attacking the congregation (Phil 3:2). These difficulties could shake their faith in Christ. Still, Paul encourages them to stand firm. The word stand firm means to persist or preserve. “It is a picture of a soldier standing fast against the onslaught of an enemy.”1
Scripture continually uses the metaphor of war for the Christian life. Peter said, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Peter described the believer as warring with his soul or flesh. Paul said in Romans 7, the things I would do, I don’t do, and the things I wouldn’t do, I do. Who can save me from this body of sin? Christians are in a war with the flesh—in a fight to be holy.
Christians are also in a war with the world. James said, “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any man loves the world the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). There is an enmity between the world and the people of God (cf. 1 John 3:13, Matt 10:22). There is a war of viewpoints, and at times there is persecution towards believers over these viewpoints and the lifestyle that comes from them. The world persecuted and killed Christ, and since then it has persecuted his followers.
However, our battle is not just in our flesh and with the world; it is also in the spiritual realm. Paul called for the Ephesian church to stand firm against the devil and his schemes. He said, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). The believer needs to stand firm because he is always under the attack of the enemy. He attacks one’s mind, one’s body, and one’s family. Many things could cause the believer to become discouraged, to retreat, or to even give up on following Christ altogether.
When Paul says “that is how you should stand firm,” it can also be translated “in this way stand firm” as in the NASB (Phil 4:1). As Paul closes the letter, he is reaffirming their need to stand firm amongst various attacks, and he shows them how to do so.
How can we stand firm? How can we hold our ground and not be tossed to and fro by the various hardships and difficulties of life. In Philippians 4:1-5, we will study principles about spiritual stability.
Big Question: What principles can we learn from Philippians 4:1-5 about standing firm in the Lord?
Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Pursuing Intimacy with Christ and Christlikeness
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (Philippians 4:1)
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to stand firm in the Lord and how do we develop this in our lives?
The “therefore” in this text points back to Philippians 3:10-21 as one of the ways that we stand firm in the Lord. There Paul described his desire to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, to have fellowship with his suffering, die like him, and one day be resurrected like him (v. 10-11). He described himself as “pressing” to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him, and he called this his “one thing” in life (v. 12-13). Paul saw himself in an athletic endeavor to know Christ and be just like him. Then in 3:17 Paul calls for the church to follow his example in pursuing Christ. Now in Philippians 4:1 he says this is how we should stand firm in the Lord.
Spiritual stability comes from a continual pursuit of knowing Christ. The Christian life has often been compared to walking up stream. If at some point you stop walking forward against the current of water, you will by necessity go backwards. The power of the current is too strong; it is impossible to stay in the same place. One will either go forwards or backwards. In order to stand firm, one must press against the current. It’s the same spiritually; we must always press to know Christ more, like Paul. Knowing and being like him must be our one thing if we are going to develop spiritual stability in our lives. Otherwise, we will always be tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea, up and down in our spiritual lives.
We must stand firm “in the Lord.” Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Name in the Hebrew culture referred to somebody’s characteristics or person. Essentially, the writer of the Proverb is saying that those who know the Lord and his person are safe. They are protected because of their knowledge of God. They are not tossed to and fro by the difficulties of life. The righteous understand that and therefore are always pursuing the knowledge of the Lord. They want to know and understand his name.
We can only be spiritually stable if we are growing in the knowledge of him. It is at the point when we are not growing that we are vulnerable. It is when we are not in the Word of God. It is when we are inconsistent in the fellowship of the church (where God is present), and it is when we are no longer growing into his image that we become spiritually unstable and more susceptible to the attacks of the enemy.
It is the sheep that are not close to the Shepherd that are most susceptible to the attacks of an enemy. It is the son who has left the protection of the Father’s household—left the intimacy of the Father’s hand—that is most prone to stumble and fall. Paul says this is how you stand firm in the Lord. If you are not growing and pursuing growth as your one thing, it is then that you are most prone to be taken captive by the enemy.
Paul describes POW’s (prisoners of war) in 2 Timothy 2:25-26. He says,
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
He describes them as not thinking correctly (come to their senses), trapped by the devil, and doing his will. Christians who find themselves in captivity, bound to their lusts, their pride, and other habitual sins are typically Christians who were not growing and Christ wasn’t their one thing. This created a spiritual apathy and a lack of sensitivity to their conscience and the Holy Spirit which led them into the stronghold of the devil.
Spiritual growth is necessary to stand firm. Are you still growing in the Lord and in Christlikeness? If not, you are vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced spiritual stability when growing in Christ? In what ways have you experienced being tossed to and fro with the trials of life when not growing?
Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Fostering Harmony in the Body of Christ
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3)
The next thing needed for us to develop spiritual stability is to foster harmony in the body of Christ. In continuing the warfare metaphor associated with “stand firm,” Satan is always trying to bring conflict in a marriage, a friendship, and a church. Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (cf. Matt 12:25), and Satan realizes that. He always seeks to bring division in the house of God so that it will fall. In fact, division gives him an open door to attack and speed up the destruction process. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” Unresolved conflicts give the enemy a foothold in a church—an area for him to continue his attack. This was happening in the church of Philippi with two women specifically.
Paul challenged two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to stand firm by agreeing with each other in the Lord. We are not sure exactly what the nature of their conflict was. However, it seemed to be of a personal nature instead of a doctrinal conflict. If it was doctrinal, Paul would have just explained the doctrine and said who was right. Something personal divided these two women.
Most likely, the conflict was affecting everybody in the church, and they may have separated into factions because of it. Throughout the letter Paul hinted at potential problems. He called for them to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). This implies they were not contending as “one man.” In Philippians 2:2 he again encouraged them to be “one in spirit and purpose.” Finally, in Philippians 2:14 he called for the church to do all things without “complaining and arguing.” Again, the implication was that they were complaining and arguing and maybe the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was the primary source of that tension.
Who were these women? All we know is that they were prominent women in this church. They were probably there when Paul started the church in Philippi (cf. Acts 16). Paul said these women had “contended at his side” for the cause of the gospel. “Contended at my side” is a gladiatorial term. It literally can be translated “fought side by side with me.”2 He also says that their names were written in the Book of Life. The Book of Life is where all the names of the redeemed are listed (cf. Daniel 12:1, Luke 10:20, Revelation 3:5). This means that these women weren’t some carnal Christians causing problems in the church. They were warriors for Christ. While Paul was in Philippi, they faithfully fought by his side to present the gospel and possibly start the church there.
It is good for us to hear this because sometimes even well-meaning and devoted Christians have conflicts. Paul and Barnabas fought over the inclusion of Mark on a missionary journey (cf. Acts 15:36-39). It actually led them to split and go different ways. Sometimes our spiritual warriors, the spiritual elite, if we can call them that, fight amongst one another. This actually makes sense because it is the devoted Christians that really care. Caring about the lost, ministering to the poor, and discipling the saints is really important to them, and it is this passion that at times causes conflict. Sometimes their methods are different. Sometimes their personalities are very different. Sometimes their doctrine is different, and these differences can cause conflict among passionate people. People who really don’t care aren’t usually the ones who fight. This is more of a danger for passionate Christians.
Observation Question: How can we foster harmony in the church, especially amidst personal conflict as seen in Philippians 4:2-3?
1. Believers foster harmony in the church by thinking like Christ.
Paul said, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” “Agree with each other in the Lord” literally can be translated “think the same thing in the Lord”3 or “to be of the same mind.”4
What does he mean by this? This seems to point back to what he taught in Philippians 2:3-5. These women needed to develop the mind of Christ. If they thought the same way as Christ, then they could work out their conflict. Listen to what Paul said previously:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude [mind] should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: (Philippians 2:3-5)
The very thing that often causes conflict in our lives is “selfish ambition.” It is the desire for our own way and for things to be done the way we think is best. However, the mind of Christ considers others first. Christ cared about the interests of God and others before his own. If we adopt the same mind, a servant’s attitude (cf. Phil 2:7), then we can have harmony and unity in the church even amidst our various differences.
Do we consider others and their interest over our own? This is the secret to harmony and unity in the church. We must have the mind of Christ.
2. Believers foster harmony in the church by fixing their relationship with Christ.
“To agree with each other in the Lord” also may infer that they needed to fix their relationship with Christ in order to agree with one another. John MacArthur said, “Paul knew that if they both got right with the Lord, they would be right with each other.”5 He calls them to “agree in the Lord.”
This is the reality of most relational conflict. Relational conflict, and how we respond to it, is a picture of where our relationship with Christ is. The conflict shows us our selfishness. It shows us our lack of patience and our lack of love for others. Our relationship with others is a picture of our relationship with God. If our horizontal relationships are off then so is our vertical relationship. John said,
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)
John said it is impossible to love God and hate our brother. It is impossible to love God whom we have not seen, if we don’t love our brother whom we see every day. He says emphatically that whoever loves God must also love his brother. The implication is that if one is in discord with his brother or hates his brother, one’s relationship with God is not right. In the context of 1 John, hate and love are actually pictures of truly being saved or not according to 1 John 5:13. The very reason John wrote the book was to give assurance to those who believed in Christ. However, the principle is the same. Our earthly relationships reflect our heavenly relationship. Jesus said if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matt 6:15). To fix our heavenly relationship is therefore the key to fixing our earthly relationships and vice versa.
The way that we mend relationships is by first going into the secret place and meeting with Christ. He cares about the unity and harmony of his body, and it is from that relationship that we gain what is needed to agree in the Lord.
Often when I am sharp or impatient with my wife or daughter, it is very clear to me that I am not living in the Lord as I should. I don’t have the peace, the patience, or the love that comes from abiding in him. The way for me to fix these relationships is to be with Christ (cf. John 15:5).
3. Believers foster harmony in the body of Christ by carrying the burdens of others.
Paul calls for a man named “yokefellow” or “companion” to help these two women agree in the Lord. We do not know who this man is, but since he was addressed in the letter, he obviously was known by the congregation. He must have been a prominent man and maybe one of the elders mentioned in Philippians 1:1.6 The name in the Greek is actually “Suzugos.” It is a word picture of two oxen yoked together carrying the same burden. Many commentators believe that the name should remain untranslated. Paul was using a play on his name. He calls him “loyal” or “true” yokefellow meaning that his character fit his birth name. In the same way that this man’s name meant yokefellow, he should help these women resolve their conflict. The yoke was an instrument fitted around the neck of two oxen that attached to the plow. The yoke enabled the oxen to pull together and get the work done more quickly.7 As Suzugos worked with these women, it would enable them to resolve their conflict speedily.
This is the same thing we should do as believers in order to have harmony in the church. Conflict in a congregation creates spiritual instability. It opens the door for Satan’s attacks; it affects everybody. Since we are the body of Christ, the problems of others affect us as well. If one part of the body is sick, the whole body is sick. Therefore, we have a responsibility to lovingly get involved with people in conflict so the body of Christ can remain stable and healthy. Paul said this in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
We must willingly take on the burdens of others in order to work for unity. This means praying for a couple struggling in their marriage—getting involved and showing the love of Christ. It means encouraging those who are down. Sometimes it even means getting other spiritual leaders involved so they can help carry the load. We are the body of Christ.
In the West, we have a very independent culture that often doesn’t want to get involved in anybody else’s life. However, this is not a biblical culture. Christ said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This does not only mean that we need to be sacrificial in how we love. It means that we must teach the Word of God to one another as Christ did. That is one of the ways he loved us (cf. Eph 5:26). It means sometimes there is a need for admonishment. It means to carry one another’s burdens and problems as Christ carries ours. That is what Paul called for this yokefellow to do. He called him to love these two women by helping them work through their conflict as Christ would.
If we are going to be spiritually stable, we must maintain harmony in the church. A soldier who fights by himself will not stand. We must work together if we are going to stand, and for that reason Satan always seeks to bring discord among congregations. We must stand by walking in harmony with the church.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced the enemy’s attempts to destroy the church through conflict? In what ways is God calling you to work for harmony in a relationship or to be a yokefellow to others?
Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Maintaining Our Joy in the Lord
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
What else is needed to develop spiritual stability? Paul commands them to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” In fact, he repeats the command for emphasis, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). The repetition shows its importance. Satan is always seeking to attack our joy. He knows that a discouraged Christian is a vulnerable Christian. A discouraged Christian is a Christian that typically will not be active in serving Christ and others. They typically are too self-consumed. Therefore, he works hard to bring discouragement and take away our joy. Nehemiah said, “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh 8:10), and therefore, to not have joy means to be weak and vulnerable. In order for us to stand firm in the Lord, we must rejoice in him.
Some may find it strange to command an emotion. Many people look at an emotion as something that comes and goes as it pleases. They say things like, “I just fell in love. I couldn’t help it.” or “I really don’t like that person, and I don’t know why.” But Scripture doesn’t treat our emotions in the same way others do. They are treated as an act of the will, and that is why they are commanded. We are commanded to love our enemies, to be anxious for nothing, and here, we are commanded to rejoice.
How is it possible to rejoice always, especially when things are difficult?
It is good for us to remember the context of this letter. Christians were being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire, and Paul himself was in prison for the faith. He was awaiting a possible death sentence, and yet throughout the letter, he talks about his own joy despite his present circumstances. In Philippians 1:4 he says, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” He experienced joy while praying for the Philippians. He said in Philippians 2:17-18, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Many believe Paul was talking about his potential death when he referred to being poured out like a drink offering. Even if he died and his imprisonment was the end of his sacrifice for God, he said, “I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Doesn’t that sound crazy? How can one have joy at the prospect of death?
Moreover, Paul commanded the Philippians to have this joy, despite their circumstances. They similarly were being persecuted for the faith. Paul said in Philippians 1:29 that it had been granted them by God to not only believe in Christ but also to suffer for him. At the founding of the Philippian church in Acts 16, Paul was imprisoned for serving Christ, and no doubt, some had suffered the same fate as him. Despite all that, he calls for the Philippians to rejoice.
How is it possible to always have joy regardless of our circumstances? It is only possible if our joy is in the Lord. For many their joy is based on circumstances. If life is good, they are joyful, but when life is bad, they lose their joy. Instead of being Christians that stand firm, they are up and down with every event in life. If we are going to stand firm, we must develop a joy that is constant, regardless of trial or persecution.
Application Question: How can we develop a joy in the Lord regardless of our circumstances?
1. We can have joy in the Lord as we get to know his person more.
Many Christians cannot have joy “in the Lord” because they don’t know Christ well enough. Knowing God is much like any other relationship in the sense that we must develop it and foster it through intimacy. When you know God’s characteristics, when you know his perfections, and you constantly think about them, it creates joy. But again, this is a problem for most Christians. We don’t know God very well, and therefore, we don’t think about him often. Remember how Job responded in the midst of his trials which included losing his wealth, his sons, and many other difficulties? He said,
“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:21-22)
Job saw God as in control of everything that happened in life including bad things. He said the Lord gave and took away, and he praised him for it. He also never charged God with wrong. See, Job understood two major doctrines about God. He understood God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. Scripture says that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). There is not one event God isn’t in control of and that includes evil committed by men and Satan. However, Job also knew another characteristic of God and that is the fact that the Lord is good. James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift comes from God. The Psalmist simply declares that the “Lord is good and his love endures forever” (Psalm 100:5). God is good. In fact, he is the definition of good. That is why Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. He saw no conflict in God being in control of the bad things that happened to him and God’s goodness. For him, he must have thought, “In some way or another, even the bad things must work for the good.”
See, some Christians, who don’t know God well and don’t understand his characteristics, become angry at God. They think he didn’t do what was best, and unlike Job, they charge him with wrongdoing. They do this because they don’t understand his goodness. They don’t know his character. Others don’t see God at all. All they see is the difficult boss, the corrupt government, or Satan, and therefore, they can’t praise God. They have no comprehension of the sovereignty of God and his goodness in all things.
When you see God in control of all things—the job you have, the food you eat, the friends he gave you, and the trial that he allowed—then everything in life will make you look up. When you realize that the character of God is good in everything, then not only will you know to look to God but also to worship, praise, and rejoice. David in Psalm 13:1 cried out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” However, in verse 5 he responded this way, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” He could rejoice even in the waiting season because he knew God was eventually going to deliver and save him. He knew the character of God, and it caused him to rejoice.
Therefore, in order to rejoice in God, we must simply know him more. We should give great attention to studying his characteristics, his perfections, and his works throughout biblical history, and this will enable us to begin to have joy in every situation. We can have joy because we know the one who holds our past, our present, and our future. We can have joy because we know him.
2. We can have joy in the Lord as a fruit of the Spirit.
One of the wonderful things about God’s commands is that what he commands, he empowers us to do. Paul taught in Galatians 5:22 that the fruit of the Spirit is joy. He teaches us in Galatians 5:16 how to bear this fruit. He says, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” When we live in the Spirit or it can be translated “abide” in the Spirit, we will not gratify our sinful nature because of the fruit that is born in our life. When I obey the commands of the Spirit through the Word of God, when I am worshiping God through the work of the Holy Spirit, then the fruit of the Spirit is born in my life and one of them is joy.
This reality is very important for me as one who often struggled with depression in the past. I have to remember that the fruit of the Spirit is joy, and that the way I bear this fruit is by living in the Spirit. It is a reminder to me that as a believer my depression and discouragement is not a product of my circumstances, it is a product of me not making my home in the Spirit of God. I am not negating precipitating factors such as environment or physical issues, but Scripture promises this fruit regardless of our situation. When I first got married and I would start to get depressed, I would tell my wife that I needed to go “take a pill.” What that meant was that I needed to go spend time in the Word of God, prayer, and worship so I could have joy. In order for us to rejoice in the Lord, we must make our home in his person. We must live in this relationship because as we abide, he gives us joy. He equips us to rejoice.
3. We can have joy in the Lord as an act of obedience.
Again, “rejoice in the Lord” is a command. This means that God calls us to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. When a trial comes, somebody harms us, or something unpleasant happens, we have a decision to make. We can choose to be angry or to be depressed, or we can choose to respond to God in obedience. Joy is a choice. We can choose to reflect on God’s sovereignty, God’s goodness, and his wisdom, or we can choose to reflect on the storm, the person who hurt us, or the unknown. We make this choice every day. Focusing on God will bring joy. Focusing on the difficulties will bring worry, discouragement, anger, and depression. We must choose just like Paul did while in prison. He could have joy while on death row, and he called the Philippians, who also were suffering persecution, to do the same. He called them to make a choice to focus on God and trust him. We have the same choice. What will you choose?
Many Christians cannot stand firm because their joy is based on circumstances instead of their relationship with God. Circumstances are constantly changing, and therefore, it affords them no stability. Our joy must be based on a person that is unchanging. God’s unchangeableness, or his immutability as theologians call it, is something that should give us joy (cf. James 1:17). He is not like us; we constantly change. However, God never changes, and therefore, as we know him and seek him, we can have joy. Are you rejoicing in the Lord? Are you living in intimacy with him? This relationship will keep us from being up and down like the waves of the sea. This relationship will enable us to stand firm.
Application Question: What are some things that constantly take away your joy? How is God calling you to develop joy in him despite your circumstances?
Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Practicing Gentleness to All
Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:5a)
Another thing we must do in order to stand firm in the storms and trials of life is develop the characteristic of gentleness. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” This is one of the hardest words in the Greek to translate. In fact, there is no one English word that can fully express what this word means. One might even say that it is untranslatable. We can see this by the various words used to translate it. It has been translated “sweet reasonableness, generosity, goodwill, friendliness, magnanimity, charity toward the faults of others, mercy toward the failures of others, indulgence of the failures of others, leniency, bigheartedness, moderation, forbearance, and gentleness are some of the attempts to capture the rich meaning.”8 John MacArthur believes the best way to translate the word is “graciousness.” 9 However, most commentators tend to agree that “either forbearance or gentleness is the better translation.”10
Application Question: How do we let our gentleness be made known to everyone and how will this help us stand firm?
1. “Let your gentleness be made known to all” means that we must be merciful towards others’ faults.
A person that is vengeful and vindictive when harmed will never stand firm. Proverbs 25:28 describes an angry person as “a city without walls.” In ancient times, a city without walls was not only open for attack but ultimately for destruction. In the same way, a person that is constantly angry at people who hurt him or treat him badly will not stand. Their anger will ultimately lead to destruction.
Jesus was the ultimate gentle one (cf. Matt 11:29). When his enemies crucified him, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He is also gentle in his response to our failures. He continually washes us with his blood so we can be in a right relationship with the Father (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9). He taught his followers to turn the other cheek instead of responding in wrath to wrong doings (cf. Matt 5:39). His gentleness allowed him to stand amidst constant attacks and also the failures of those he loved.
How do you respond when people hurt or mistreat you? Scripture says that instead of being harsh, you should let your gentleness—your forbearance—be made known to all. This will enable you to stand. Anger is destructive not only to those who are recipients of it but also for the person who harbors it.
2. “Let your gentleness be made known to all” means that we must graciously serve others, especially those who hurt us.
Not only must we be gentle in response to those who hurt us, but we should also respond with graciousness and kindness. In America, we have something called a gentleman. He opens the door for those behind him so they can enter a building first. He pulls out a chair so a lady can sit down first. He serves others before he serves himself. He is a gentleman. In the same way, as Christians, everybody should be able to see our gentleness, especially those who harm and persecute us. Again, all this is given in the context of Euodia and Syntyche’s conflict. Instead of holding a grudge toward one another, they should forgive and serve one another. This is what we should do as well. Listen to what Paul said in Romans 12:20-21:
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We must be gentle to all but especially to those who hurt us. We should feed them when they are hungry and give them something to drink when they are thirsty. We should overcome evil with good.
One of the ways we stand firm is not by fighting for our rights but giving up our rights and serving others. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5).
This is very relevant as persecution towards believers is growing rapidly throughout the world, and one day, according to Christ, we will be hated by all nations because of him (Matt 24:9). How can we stand? We stand by responding gently to those who hurt us and returning good for evil.
Application Question: How do you typically respond when mistreated? Why is gentleness important for spiritual stability? How is God calling you to develop gentleness?
Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Maintaining a Constant Awareness of the Lord
The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5b)
Next, Paul seems to give motivation or encouragement for being gentle to all and also for “being anxious for nothing” in the next verse (4:6). He says the Lord is near. However, this is not just a motivation for gentleness, but it is also necessary for us to foster if we are going to stand firm. We must develop a constant awareness of the Lord.
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by “the Lord is near” and how is that meant to encourage us to be gentle towards others, especially those who mistreat us?
1. “The Lord is near” could mean that the Lord is near in space.
This would encourage people suffering or being persecuted in several ways. Scripture says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). (a) God is near to comfort those who are hurting. (b) In addition, the Lord is near to empower them to serve those around them. Paul said this:
But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (2 Timothy 4:17)
(c) It also could mean that he is present to defend and judge those who hurt them. Listen to what Paul said in Romans 12:18-19: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Live at peace with everyone. God will fight your battles. He is near to fight for you. Your job is to be gracious and serve people (v. 12: 20-21). (d) Finally, it also could be a form of accountability. God is near to discipline us if we are not gentle and gracious to others. James uses God’s presence as a form of accountability for the Hebrew Christians in the book of James. He said, “Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9). If we grumble and complain in the midst of conflict and injustice, it could bring the discipline of God (cf. 1 Cor 10:10).
Certainly, God’s nearness in space means all these things. We should be gentle to all because he is near to comfort us when we suffer, to empower us, to defend us, and even to judge us if we do wrong.
We must develop this awareness by practicing his presence. How is this done? Living in a state of prayer and thanksgiving is necessary for developing a sense of the Lord’s presence and also thinking on the right things (Phil 4:6-9). This will help us be stable in life and not up and down with various events. Do you seek to live in a constant awareness of the Lord’s presence?
2. “The Lord is near” could mean that God is near in time.
This would be an encouragement by the fact that the second coming is near. When he comes, he will make all things right. In addition, we will be held accountable when our Master comes. Reward and loss of reward will occur based on our faithfulness (cf. Lk 12:42-48). Jesus gave this parable about his coming:
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. (Luke 12:42-44)
Scholars who believe “the Lord is near” refers to the second coming, point to Philippians 3:20-21 in the previous chapter. Paul said:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
However, since the text is ambiguous, it probably refers to both. The Lord is near both in space as his presence is always with us and in time as he is coming soon.11 We must develop an awareness of Christ’s presence if we are going to stand firm amidst the trials of life, and we must develop a sense of his immanency—our Lord could come at any moment.
Application Question: How do we develop or practice an awareness of Christ’s presence throughout the day? How should this help us stand firm? In addition, how do we develop and maintain a sense of Christ’s immanency—that he could come at any moment? How should that comfort and enable us to stand firm, regardless of our circumstances?
How do we stand firm amidst the various trials and temptations in life? Paul in this text calls for believers to stand firm.
- Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Pursuing Intimacy with Christ and Christlikeness
- Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Fostering Harmony in the Body of Christ
- Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Maintaining Our Joy in the Lord
- Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Practicing Gentleness
- Spiritual Stability Is Developed by Maintaining a Constant Awareness of the Lord
1 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.
2 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 163). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 164). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 271). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 271). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 272). Chicago: Moody Press.
7 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.
8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 276). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 276). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.
11 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 168). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life