Paul is at the point in his letter where he will offer final encouragements and greetings to this church which he is very fond of. In a brief three chapters he has:
- Offered a prayer of thanksgiving, promise and blessing on their behalf.
- He has also briefed them on his condition and prospects of being freed from prison.
- Paul has shared his dilemma of wanting to be with Christ or staying on and continuing his work.
- From these personal remarks he has moved on to the core issue of the letter which was an exhortation to continue believing that salvation comes by a system of faith not a system of law-keeping.
- His goal was to point the way to a more mature experience and expression of the Christian faith. This maturing in Christ has certain features that can be seen in a Christian whose faith is growing. To this end, Paul gives them five examples of Christian maturity:
- The mature Christian stands firm in the faith, not moved away from belief by false teaching or adversity.
- The mature Christian imitates Christ in his denial of self with a view to be molded in the image of the Lord.
- The mature Christian rejoices in trial knowing that trials are a way of growing and measuring faith.
- The mature Christian seeks the righteousness that comes as a result of believing in Jesus, not righteousness through law-keeping.
In this final section Paul will describe the mature Christian in terms of lifestyle: The mature Christian demonstrates his growth in Christ by living righteously.
After making this point he will close his letter with a greeting and a blessing.
The Mature Christian Lives Righteously (4:1-9)
In chapter 4:1-9, Paul describes three ways that individuals, or the church as a group, demonstrate their righteous lives and thus their maturity in Christ.
Living in Harmony (4:1-3)
1Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
Note Paul's great affection for these brethren. He uses the term beloved twice in one sentence. He states that he longs (yearns) to see them. He refers to them with the exalted words, joy and crown. Their existence and growth brought Paul joy. This is the only church that he addressed in this way. He confesses that they were a credit to him in God's eyes and that he took a righteous pride in them.
He exhorts them a second time concerning the matters he mentioned in the previous passage: to stand firm in the faith and not be moved by false teachers.
2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
The discord mentioned here is not at the church level but between two female disciples. Paul considers both at fault because he gently admonishes both women to live in harmony before the Lord. In verse 3, the term "true companion" could also be translated into the man's name, Syzygus. In either case, Paul appeals to this person to help the women (former workers with Paul) find peace with one another since they have been faithful servants in the past, and their names written in the book of life (going to heaven).
Paul does not want their dispute to grow and produce a poor witness for the church and lead to eternal consequences for these women should the situation continue. He recalls a time when they and another one of their number, Clement, worked in harmony with himself and other disciples. This may be a gentle reminder to get busy in the Lord as a way of remedying the trouble they are having. Mature Christians have disagreements and disputes from time to time, but they do not let these destroy the bond of fellowship they have, nor allow their own conflict to cause division in the church.
In Ephesians 4:1-3 Paul elaborates on the importance of maintaining unity in the church.
1Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
- Ephesians 4:1-3
He begins by reminding the Ephesians of who they are and what is expected of the Lord's disciples (they have been called to live as He lived and pursue maturity in Christ). Note also the attitudes and virtues necessary to maintain peace and unity among those who have been forgiven for sin and set for eternal life but still inhabit a sinful flesh easily drawn into division and strife.
These situations are not resolved by force or argument, by scheming or creating factions and divisions in the church. The goal in a dispute is not to win the argument, it is to maintain the unity while we work out our differences. Achieving this requires the mature Christian virtues of humility (having a true measure of oneself), gentleness (seeing both sides, not self-willed, not 'my way or the highway'), patience (the willingness to bear under difficulties, trials and misunderstandings without losing one's composure), tolerance for one another (recognizing the failings and weaknesses of others and not being provoked by these to unkindness or other unchristian behavior), and all these virtues being motivated by Christian love (agape - wanting what is best for the other person because of your faith and not because they deserve it).
In verse 3, Paul says that mature Christians make an effort (are diligent) to preserve unity among believers because exercising the virtues noted in verse 2 in a dispute situation is not easy and requires emotional and spiritual strength. And so, a very public demonstration of Christian maturity takes place when believers openly interact with one another in harmony and peace despite differences that arise from time to time.
Living in Confidence (4:4-7)
How does a mature Christian build and demonstrate confidence and assurance as a child of God? Certainly not by using fleshly ways such as bragging (I am the greatest), trash talking (I will beat you), or showing off one's skills, wealth or possessions. These tactics are the world's way of promoting assurance and confidence. Paul describes the person who has confidence, not in himself or his abilities, but confidence in the One who provides all that is needed here on earth and promises heaven as well.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This section reveals the way a Christian builds and maintains spiritual confidence. However, for clarity's sake, we need to change the order in which it is read to bring this information out:
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Building confidence begins with prayer. Paul borrows from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) in summarizing Jesus' admonition to not worry about daily needs by simply stating that they should not be anxious about anything at all. Confidence-building requires the understanding that God is the one who provides all that we need, not self. We are stewards, developers and consumers of these things, but He is the provider. Knowing and trusting in this reality removes the anxiety that naturally exits in us when we think that we are ultimately responsible to provide for ourselves and others.
Mature Christians do not worry about how they will obtain what they need, they invest that emotional and spiritual energy (wasted in worrying) into a regular prayer life that has both components of asking for what is needed physically, emotionally and spiritually, and thanking God for what He has already provided. A dynamic, ongoing prayer life is the source of one's confidence.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!5Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
The true mark of confidence is joy, not bravado. The Christian who begins to observe God's movement and influence in his life as prayers are answered and the Spirit works various things out is humbled and filled with joy at the same time. This is what Paul is describing in verse 5. Let the effect of seeing God at work in your life (feeling humbled), let that humility and gentleness be seen. It is a mark of maturity, it is our confidence in Christ replacing confidence in self, and this transformation becomes a powerful witness.
7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And what does this confidence produce? Not bragging (e.g. I'm holier than you, I've seen God working and you have not, etc.). This confidence produces peace of mind, a kind of peace that surpasses reasoning. For example, some who are rich or powerful have peace to a certain degree because they can see and count the resources they have that protect them from harm or poverty. Maturing Christians, on the other hand, have peace beyond understanding because with God as their provider and savior, their peace of mind is guaranteed. This occurs because no matter what happens in this life, they know that their resurrection and eternal life are guaranteed through Jesus Christ. Confidence and peace, therefore, are based on faith, not numbers; based on a person, not things.
Living in Purity (4:8-9)
8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
In his effort to equip the Philippians for mature spiritual living, Paul also provides them with a spiritual testing kit. Testing kits are used for swimming pools in order to determine if the chemicals in the water are balanced and if the water is clean. Paul provides his readers with a kit that will help them determine if what they think, say and do are spiritually acceptable and worthy of mature Christians who are living a pure (clean) life. Each of the words serve to examine something from a different perspective. The kit works to observe and rate both incoming and outgoing ideas, words and actions so that the individual can monitor his own conduct as well as the attitude of others in order to avoid approving by association the unchristian conduct of other people.
9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul now gives himself as a model or human testing kit. His point to them is that if the words are not enough, they are to use his life and teachings as a working example of how to live a pure and faithful life as mature Christians. He brings the whole section together by saying that testing what they do and following his example are the practical ways that a mature Christian can build the confidence that ultimately leads to the peace surpassing understanding that he previously described in verse 7.
Paul's Closing Remarks (4:10-23)
Praise for the Philippians (4:10-20)
We know that this congregation had helped Paul in the past and had sent a gift to him with a request to know of his circumstances which, in turn, prompted the writing of this letter.
10But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
Paul acknowledges their gift as well as the fact that they had helped him in the past. He even recognizes that they had always been willing to help but lacked opportunity. His constant traveling and the difficulty of communication during that time were probably the causes of this. The fact that they knew where he was and had remained stationary (Roman prison for two years) probably produced this opportunity.
11Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
He tempers any worries they may have about his present condition (prison, needing money) by providing them with insight into his emotional condition. He does not want them to think that he is discouraged by his situation. Their gift is helpful and needed but it is not what will keep him going or keep his spirits up. What sustains him (as a mature Christian) is that he has learned to be content (Greek word means "enough" or "sufficient") in whatever circumstances he finds himself in, whether he has much or little.
In verse 13 he answers the question his readers would naturally ask at this point, "How are you able to be content with little or much?" His answer is brief but all encompassing. His contentment is derived from the fact that Christ strengthens (Greek word meaning "enables" or "empowers") him. In other words, Jesus enables him to live with much without falling into worldliness and lust, and also empowers him to survive with little without becoming discouraged and questioning God's will.
His contentment is not based on what he has but rather on who he believes. Paul is not introducing a new and different idea here. He is using his own situation (a godly man wrongfully imprisoned and suffering from incarceration for four years) as an ultimate example for what mature Christianity looks like. In his own life, and especially in his false imprisonment, he has stood firm in the faith, he has imitated Christ in his conduct, he has rejoiced despite his difficult circumstance, and he has consistently taught, sought and modeled righteousness by faith to them from the beginning. His development as a mature Christian has ultimately brought him to the point in life where he can truly be content in any circumstance.
What is not written but understood is that this level of contentment is not only reserved for Apostles, it is available for all Christians who increasingly depend on Jesus Christ and seek Him out in prayer.
Paul adds an additional line thanking them in order to underscore his appreciation for doing this good deed. He raises their act beyond simple charity by saying that with their giving they have shared (fellowshipped) in his suffering (i.e. their sacrifice helped relieve his suffering).
15You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
Paul continues his comments concerning their gift by reviewing past instances where they helped him financially, especially at times when it was crucial because no one else had done so. He not only appreciates their history of giving, but also the blessings that the Philippians received from God on account of their generosity towards him. He confirms that their recent gift delivered by Epaphroditus (one of his helpers from the church in Colossae) has more than fulfilled all of his material needs. He then draws on other imagery to describe their gift (in verse 12 he described it as fellowship in his suffering), this time he uses the Old Testament imagery of a sacrifice offered at the temple in the proper way which was pleasing to God.
19And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The result of their action in caring for Paul's needs is his prayer that God will provide for all of the Philippians' needs. The difference, however, is that God has unlimited resources and can supply any kind of need. This point reaches back to the idea that contentment comes when we realize that God can and does do this.
Paul completes his comments and praise for their gift by praying that God will supply all of their needs. He finishes the section with a short doxology (spontaneous praise) giving God the glory for all things, including the good deed done by the Philippians in sending their gift.
Final Greeting and Blessing (4:21-23)
The Greetings (4:21-22)
21Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
As was the custom, the greeting part of the letter was placed at the end, not the beginning as it is today. The Apostle sends personal greetings to the church at Philippi. Those with Paul (Luke, Epaphroditus, Timothy and others) also send greetings. Paul had converted other prisoners (Onesimus, Philemon's run-away slave) and as I mentioned at the beginning of the series, many of Caesar's elite body guards (Praetorian Guard) had heard the gospel through Paul, and these also were sending their regards, not to mention other officials and servants Paul had come into contact with.
23The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Grace (the saving favor of God) is the most precious blessing Paul could ask for on behalf of these, his most cherished brethren.
Maturity Leads to Contentment and Peace
The climax of this letter is found in the section where Paul explains that he has learned (it is a process) to be content. Maturing in Christ is the learning process that brings us to that point of spiritual development where we are able to fully depend on Christ to empower us for every situation in life, good or bad. The great reward for arriving at this level of maturity is that it creates in us the marvelous state of contentment that Paul speaks of here. This contentment is what he describes in chapter 4:7 as the peace surpassing understanding. They are two sides of the same coin: one describes our condition despite our circumstances (contentment), and the other describes how this contentment makes us feel (peace beyond understanding).