Have you ever had a friend who whenever they were around you were emboldened to live rightly? Whenever they were around, they somehow caused you to long for righteousness? Whenever you were with them you seemed to have more faith, and more courage and more conviction, and more joy? And whenever your time with them was over you were excited to face the world for Christ once again. Now imagine you could be with that person all the time? How different do you think your Christian life would be?
If another person could have that kind of affect on you, what do you think it was like to be a disciple who walked with Jesus. That must have been incredible, but it gets even better. In the words of Jesus, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Paul states this same idea in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, now dwelt within them.” Christ was not just with them, He dwelt in them. This idea of being “in the Lord” is the dominant idea in these verses. As we are found in Him and He is in us everything changes.
We must also remember that these words are not being written by some theologian who spent all his time writing and thinking deep thoughts in his library or cordoned off somewhere in his office and doesn’t understand the real world. These words are written by the Apostle Paul who for the sake of Christ had gone without food, without sleep, he had been shipwrecked, beatened by a mob, stoned and left for dead, beaten with rods by the government, had been arrested for his faith and now was writing from a prison cell in Rome. He was writing from a faith that was real and life-transforming.
The book of Philippians was a letter to the church in the city of Philippi. Paul and his co-laborers had been used by God to start this small congregation as told about in Acts 16. Paul was their spiritual father. These new Christians, to whom Paul was writing, were surrounded by a pagan culture and also had their own struggles within the congregation.
We begin today’s study with Philippians 4:1,
1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Paul began this chapter by calling the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. This phrase “stand firm” was used for a soldier who would stand fast and strong even in the midst of attack and danger. Paul was calling them to faith, to courage and to stand in the face of temptation and persecution. They were to stand firm although they were vastly outnumbered and having to swim against the moral current of their day. At times this would seem impossible, but their strength would come from being, “in the Lord.”
Paul was reminding the Philippians that the situation was even better than being with a good friend. They were with Christ. Yes, they must stand firm, but they were in the Lord, and Christ was in them. He would never leave them or forsake them. He dwelled within them, and now they could abide in Him. He is Immanuel, God with us. He was their ever-present help in time of need. In the Lord, they could stand firm.
In Philippians 4:2 we then find these words.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
In Jesus, and then in Timothy and Epaphroditus, Paul had given good examples of what true humility looked like. Paul then even included his own example as he called the Philippians to “imitate me.” But now he notes a bad example that was occurring between two women in the Philippian church. This situation of conflict was a result of what happens when believers do not walk in the humility that is in Christ.
These women were believers. They had ministered alongside Paul and the others of the church for the sake of the gospel. Paul grouped them with those whose names are in the book of life, but something had brought dissension between them.
We must be slow to be too critical. In Philippi the Christians were likely under the stress of persecution or at least the burden of living in a culture where they did not belong. They were Christians in the midst of an overwhelmingly pagan land. It must have brought tension and worry into their lives. It surely caused many of them to live on edge and be overly sensitive at times.
We each have been in this type of situation before where life squeezes us and we respond with selfishness, bitterness and disagreement. It might be financial stress, work problems, lack of sleep, or health issues, but life has a way of distancing us from Christ and causing us to turn against one another.
In verse 2 Paul writes directly to Euodia and Syntyche, instructing them to agree in the Lord. When we relate to one another “in the Lord” it changes the equation.
They were not to judge from their own sense of right and wrong. They were not to judge as if they were innocent. They were not to seek reconciliation out of their own resources, strategies or people skills. Reconciliation is a work of the heart and only God changes hearts. They were to be reconciled by using the truth, perspective and resources found in Christ. Because their needs were already met in Christ they no longer needed to defend their identity, their reputation or their point of view. They no longer had to prove they were right.
Because they had been forgiven in Christ, they could forgive. Because they were to live for Christ´s glory, they no longer had to live for their own. Because Christ was now Lord they did not have to fight for control. They were now free to submit to one another. Whatever their problem was, it all started with a humility of heart.
Paul then invited another, whom he calls “true companion” to help these women. This phrase “true companion” is interesting.
Remember this letter was written to the church in Philippi. The entire book of Philippians is written in the second person, plural. That means that when we read “you” Paul is really saying “you all,” because he is writing to the entire congregation.
The entire book of Philippians is written in the second person, plural, except for this one verse. In the original language it is singular. Paul seems to be writing to one person. So, who is the true companion? Paul does not tell us. Is it a person who the congregation would have automatically known that Paul was addressing, without Paul actually saying his name.
A more likely interpretation is similar to what often happens when one is part of a crowd when they hear of a need. They suppose that surely someone else will take care of it, so they do nothing. Rare are those who take the initiative and become the “good Samaritan” when the entire crowd is made aware of a need.
In this way of switching from a plural “you” to a singular “you” Paul was still writing to the entire church, but it was as if he was inviting each one of them personally, individually, to intervene into this situation between Euodia and Syntyche and lead them in the ways of the Lord, into reconciliation.
We, too, often need “good Samaritans” to enter into our disagreements as well. Many times we are blinded by our emotions, our ego, or at least our perspective and we just need someone with a more objective view to enter into our situation, speak gospel truth and grace into the dilemma and guide us into reconciliation in the Lord.
At other times we must be willing to enter into the difficulties of others to help lead them out into the light of Christ where they can see more clearly and live more rightly.
Paul has called them to reconciliation. Now in the following verses Paul points them to the tools that will make it a reality.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
To understand this passage in Philippians we must take note of this phrase “in the Lord” that appears three times in the first four verses of this chapter. In verse one Paul called them to “stand firm in the Lord.” In verse two Paul instructed Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord.” In verse four Paul now encourages the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.”
All that they needed could be found in Christ. Factually, since they were in the faith, they were “in the Lord” all the time. Functionally they now needed to walk “in the Lord” to put into practice the resources of being in Him. These next several verses continue to show us how walking “in the Lord” can be done.
Paul could call them to rejoice because joy in the life of a Christian now comes from within. Their joy no longer depended on external circumstances, but it came from Christ who lived within them. They now were forgiven, loved, cared for, and made new. Whether they had pleasure or pain, riches or poverty, companions or solitude, Christ dwelt in them and granted them a lasting joy.
Paul then encouraged them to let the “reasonableness” be known to everyone. This word described someone who knew that there was something beyond justice. It was someone who understood the law but knew when to administer grace as well. It was the discernment to know when justice was needed and when mercy was best.
I used to teach high school. I communicated to my students that the grade of 100 was possible but it was reserved for perfect work. Anything less would receive whatever grade it deserved, but it would not receive a 100.
I had one student, a young man who was older than the other students because he had failed his classes previously and had to retake the grade. He was new and had been attending our school faithfully and was actually starting to get motivated. He related well to the other students and was trying to take his work seriously. Others in the class had received 100s, perfect scores, but he never had.
One day, I was having the students trade papers and grade a test we had just taken. The young lady who graded his work brought it up to me and showed me that he had answered every question right, except one. He had gotten the question partially right, but he did not quite reach perfection. She asked what score he should receive. In that moment it was clear, he could not receive 100 because it was not perfect, but looking back now to that situation, I wished I had granted mercy and allowed the 100. The young man never got that close again. For the sake of encouragement and praise I wish I had granted the 100 and celebrated with that young man as he was trying to be better. Instead, I held on to justice, but benefited no one in the process.
Another example of this is when they brought the woman caught in adultery, to Jesus. Justice demanded that she be stoned, but instead Jesus turned to the crowd saying that “whoever is without sin may throw the first stone.” They all walked away. In John 8:10-11 we then read these words, “ Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus stilled called her to live a holy life, but that day mercy was needed more than justice.
If we are going to be those who walk “in the Lord,” we should be characterized by this “reasonableness,” knowing that when we deserved justice God granted mercy.
Paul then states, “The Lord is at hand.” If we could remember this one truth, how much would it change our lives? The reality is that the Lord is with us. He is present. He is our companion.
I recently heard a story from one of our church families. They were shopping in one of these big stores kind of like a super Walmart. Their very young son got lost. Mom thought he was with Dad and Dad thought he was with Mom. For the child it was quite traumatic. Surrounded by huge rows of shelves you can picture this small boy frantically looking for his parents. Eventually the son found his way and came running back to his mom and dad. When asked about what happened the little son told how he had prayed to God. As parents we dread these moments when our children are separated from us, but it is precious to hear a little one who is already learning that God is really with us. This simple fact changes everything.
Look at the two phrases Paul then puts together. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” It reminds us of a small child who holds his father’s hand and walks without fear because his dad can handle anything.
Paul then tells us how to put into affect the presence of God. “Do not be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The Philippian life, like ours, was often vulnerable to worry and anxiety, but Paul was reminding them of the reality of the situation. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious. Instead, practically apply God´s presence to your situation through prayer.
The promise here is not that “If we pray, God will give us what we want.” The promise is the peace of God that He will work in our lives. It may be that God changes the situation, or it may be that God changes us, but either way, God promises to grant us peace as we surrender our situations to Him.
Worry and anxiety do not have to be the way of life when we encounter difficulties. Paul is telling the Philippians of another way. Because the Lord is at hand, turn to Him and let your requests be known. Not just for the big things, but in “all things” present your requests to God. With gratitude, remember His faithfulness in the past, and let your faith be strengthened as you face the challenges of the present. As we pray, He grants peace.
God has ordained it so. That when we present our needs to Him in prayer, He will, in return, put peace in our hearts. Not an external peace that is based on circumstance, but an internal peace that is beyond understanding. A peace that, from a human perspective, does not make sense.
As Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
As we read in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
As we pray from a humbled heart, to an all-faithful God, His peace will be ours. But we must pray. We must entrust our situation and our needs into His hands and leave it there. As it says in James 4:2b-3, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
If we will present our needs to God through prayer we will receive the peace of God. The choice is either that we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, or we cast all our cares upon Him. Only then will He carry the weight and allows us to walk in peace as we walk rightly with Him.
Paul then continues with a few words of how our thought life also affects the peace of God in our lives.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
One’s mind is the battlefield of faith. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” If we are not careful we are prone to fix our minds on the superficial, fleeting things of this world. In turn, these things of the world and of the flesh become idols of our hearts. We begin to base our peace on temporary things that can be lost instead of the truths of God that will last. We are overcome by all that is beyond our control, instead of taking the hand of He that is God over all.
Paul is calling the Philippians to something better. Here Paul advises the Philippians to turn their thinking in a godward direction. He calls them to turn away from the worthless things of this world and instead to all that is worthy of praise. To that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely commendable excellent and praiseworthy. Once again, Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
We all have been dragged down by our thought life before. We pass through a season in life where our thoughts lead us in a direction we never intended to go. We complain. We fear. We gossip. We become bitter. We fix our minds on impure thoughts. We spend all our time thinking about someone who sinned against us or all the bad things that might happen in the future. Worry and anxiety begin to dominate our lives. We turn inward, consumed by selfish thoughts. In those moments we are living as if God does not exist, but that is not true. As Paul already said, “The Lord is at hand.” As we live in this truth it begins to change the way that we think about ourselves and the world around us.
In this list of godward thoughts that Paul gives, he tells how we should think about that which is true. This word for truth was similar to holy. It was usually used to describe the gods and the temples of the gods. William Barclay notes that, “When the word was used to describe man, it describes a person who, as it has been said, moves throughout the world as if it were the temple of God.” That is an interesting idea. Most, when they come to church they put on their best behavior as an expression of worship, but in these words Paul is bringing to mind that we should live a life of worship at all times, no matter where we are, as if “the world is the temple of God.” The world is God´s and He is everywhere. We are always in His presence. His presence is not only at church on Sunday. The Philippians were to fix their minds on whatever is true and live a life of constant worship.
As believers we are always in the presence of God. We are the temple of God. We are living a lie when we live as if He is not with us. We see people living in the presence of God throughout scripture. Moses touching the Red Sea with his staff and then passing through on dry ground. David facing Goliath with no fear. Abraham believing that God would grant him a son. Esther risking her life by going into the presence of the king uninvited. Stephen, with the face of an angel, as he was stoned to death. They were living in the presence of God, which turned their thoughts upward and granted a peace that passed all understanding.
Our goal is learning to think on God as we go through our day. Not just thinking but abiding in Him. Where His presence is the truest reality in our lives. In the midst of stress, concern, work or home that the gospel is in play and is the filter through which we relate with our world. So much so that it determines our thoughts, our actions and even our emotions.
In the beginning we will need to be intentional, but the goal is to where it becomes a way of life where our way of thinking is purer, loving, positive, honorable more delightful and blessing to others. There will be times that we will need to “put off and put on,” removing things from our lives that turn us to godless thinking and adding sources of godly thinking to our lives. We will need to remind ourselves the truths of the gospel and who we are in Christ. The Lord is at hand.
When we are aware of the presence of the Lord with us we are driven to humility and prayer, and focusing our minds on the things of God. In this way the presence of the Lord becomes more than a theological truth, it becomes a way of life.
We are a truly blessed people. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are not alone. We are not orphans. We are not lost, not defeated, not forgotten and not beyond hope. For those of us who have repented of our sin and believed in Jesus Christ we are now children of the Most High God whose Spirit lives within us. In the Spirit we have received a Helper who will accompany us as we seek to glorify Jesus Christ, regardless what life brings our way.
As we talk of the presence of God it seems like a great idea, but at times it is hard to understand what that practically looks like. I believe it becomes clearer when we think of the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told in Luke 15:11-24.
If you will remember, the younger son requested that his father give him his inheritance, even though the father was still alive. In the story, the father agreed. The son then took the money, traveled to a foreign land and wasted the money on wild living. A severe famine then came to that land and the son had nothing. It was so bad that he could only find a job feeding pigs, longing to at least eat the pigs food.
It was at this point that it says, the son “came to his senses” and started the long journey home to beg his father to at least make him a servant so he could have his basic needs met. We then read how the father sees the son coming in the distance. The father runs to the son, embraces him and says his servants,
‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:22-24)
During the entire story the son was still the son, but because of his sin and rebellion he lived as an orphan, forced to fend for himself. That is the life that drives one to fear, anxiety, selfishness and conflict. When we distance ourselves from God we experience the same.
The child cannot know the blessings of the Father unless he walks with the Father. This was the truth that Paul was proclaiming. May we not be the prodigal who, because of rebellion missed out on the resources of the Father. Through total obedience, repentance and submission may we draw near to the Father and in His embrace may we know all that He has for us.