Welcome to Gospel Home Brew a resource from River City Spokane. May the word of God brew in you today as we continue our study of Philippians.
Today we will be reading an often quoted passage from Philippians chapter 4. If you are, in any way, a part of a community of believers, then this passage is for you and that community. I few weeks back I talked about the long slow life of obedience that believers are called to and how it can be similar to a long car ride with your family. Doesn’t that sound like an atmospher where people are likely to disagree? If we know one thing, it is that where people are, problems arise. This is true without exception. There will be disagreements over everything from what to serve at a meal, what curriculum should be taught, right down to the color of the carpet. That fact is that people are different; different ideas, different experiences.Add on top of that that people are sinful and you will find living in harmony can be trying at times even among Christian who sincerely love Jesus. As Christians we are already justified, yes, but it is a process to make us into the image of Christ. Paul takes time in this part of the letter to shepherd the flock in Philippi. Let’s start by reading the verses. This is Philippians 4:1-9.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-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. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Ok, so there are a few things that I really want to dwell on in this passage. The first would be the phrase that Paul uses multiple time here. That is “in the Lord.” What does that mean? Well, I think that in one way this should be an encouragement for us. Ask yourself this question? Have you ever tried to change yourself or overcome some bad habit? What was that like? If your experience is anything like mine, likely failed. Why is that? In Romans 9, we find that when Adam sinned back in the garden, sin entered the world and so it entered to all because all sinned. Contrary to what some may believe, we humans are innately evil and sinful, right from the very beginning. Psalm 51 even says that we are conceived in sin. So what does that mean? That means that we have nothing inside of us that gives us the ability to better ourselves or overcome bad habits or to maintain virtue. Mankind is stuck in this way, without the ability step out of it on his own. However, thanks be to God that Jesus followers are no longer in Adam. If you know Jesus, the bible says that you are in Christ and that you are a new creation. Because we now find ourselves in Christ, we can experience being overcomers and even achieve some of the things that Paul mentions in the verses to come. So, the first thing for us to realize is that any success we find in living out these verses is a direct result of His grace. God doesn’t want us to try harder, or pump ourselves up to have more joy, or to be a certain way. Instead, he wants to see us rest in Christ and rely on the Holy Spirit to do it in us.
As Paul begins to pastor this church that he loves, the first thing he does is speak to the division that he had heard of in the church. Verses 2-3 say,
“2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Why does Paul speak directly to division in the church? First, it seems that he recognizes the power of unity in the body of believers. And he wasn’t alone. The last thing Jesus prayed about in John 15 was that the future followers would be one with each other, and one with God. God himself comments on the power of man in unity back at the tower of babel. So, how should this disagreement be dealt with? First of all, Euodia and Syntyche need to be of the same mind, in the Lord. Be unified, each of you with Christ, and you will be in unity. I read recently a book on contemplative prayer in which the author suggested the body of Christ is less like a pyramid and more like a wheel, with a hub, that is Christ, and spokes which are believers. The closer each of the spokes get to the hub, the closer each spoke is to the other spokes. This unity in the Church will be accomplished only as we seek to be near to Christ and more like him. When the branches begin to realize that they are only extensions of the vine, they will see that the branches are also one living organism. Paul also addressed these two women because he knew; they were his friends. Paul is pleading with them to find resolution, and he is pleading with the church to help them do so. So how should the church respond to the disagreement between these two believers? Paul could have used many different words, but he chose to say “help.” As I read this passage, I hear Paul telling the church at Philippi, “Listen, these women are Christ followers, they have been by my side and have worked hard for the Gospel. Please help them figure this thing out.” I love how Paul reminds the church that their names are in the book of life. May we be reminded that when disagreement arises among believers, these are family members not strangers. We know they have good hearts and the Holy Spirit inside of them. So let’s be careful to treat them as such, even during a disagreement.
Next up in this passage, Paul encourages the church to live their lives in a certain way. Let’s read it again.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Now, let me list out the expectations that Paul have given. Rejoice always, be gentle to all, do not be anxious, pray with thanksgiving, think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Oh and then practice everything that you have learned or received or heard from Paul. And that’s it, right? No problem. Hardly. If this were a list of do’s and don’ts, we would all be in trouble. Beginning with the very first phrase, “Rejoice always.” I have already failed. Attaining this standard that Paul has laid out seems impossible. And if we are seeking to simply become this on our own, with our own will power, it will be impossible. So then, we need to return to our very first point. If any of this is going to be accomplished in us, it will have to be because we abide in Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to do it through us. I think maybe we can map out a couple steps to take in order to faithfully respond to this passage in Philippians.
- Abide in Christ. In John 15, verses 4 and 5, Jesus says this, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So, if we want to see this spiritual fruit that Paul talks about, it will start with knowing and resting in the fact that we are not the vine, but just the branches. The vine holds up the branches, provides the nutrients, and grows the fruit. The branches simply hold it.
- Pray for fruit. Apart from simply abiding in Christ, the best thing we can do is to pray to Him and ask the Lord to do these things in us. Pray for faith to overcome the anxiety that you feel, and so that you will be able to, in faith, let you request be made known to God. Pray for clean hands and a pure heart so that you can think upon only things that are pure, admirable, and praiseworthy. Pray that you are given the grace to be obedient so that you may practice the things which you have seen, heard, and learned.
Abiding in Christ is the only way to live out this passage because abiding in Christ gives us perspective. Paul’s first statement to us is to rejoice always. Always means rejoicing even in hard circumstances and when there seems to be nothing to rejoice in. In those moments, abiding in Christ give us perspective. When we feel there is nothing around us worth rejoicing in, we rejoice in the incredible gift we have to know Christ our redeemer. We rejoice that he has taken our place, bore our punishment, and made us right before a holy God in order for us to spend eternity enjoying him.
Next, we are called to gentleness. Honestly, some people in life make it hard to be gentle. When someone seems careless or even offensive, how can we in those moments live in gentleness. Again, Christ gives us perspective. We are reminded that this person is perfect in Christ. This person is loved by Christ, and God desires this person to come to the knowledge of Christ and join the family. Most of all, we are reminded that without the redeeming blood of Jesus, you and I are capable of the same things.
So then how do we live a life free from anxiety. You guessed it, perspective. Life has so many things to worry about. How then can Paul and Jesus both command in their ministries not to worry? This one actually has an easy answer. We are children of the Most High. He is an all powerful, loving Father. Trust Him. You are not alone. He sees you. He hears you. You are required only to sit in His presence and make your requests known. From there, he promises to do His will.
By providing perspective, verse 7 will be fulfilled. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The end of this passage focuses on a way of thinking. Paul says to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. As I read this verse, I found myself asking the Lord, “How can I manage to continually think of only these things. These good things. When so much bad is happening all around me?” I truly believe that here, the Lord is saying, “Keep your eyes on me. Focus on me. Not the things around you.”
Hebrew 12:1-2 says,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That is exactly what needs to be done. Focus on Jesus, lay everything else aside. Abide in him. The vine will give the branches everything they need to complete the task they have been given.
This is Thomas with River City Spokane, and I am praying that we can abide in Christ, trusting him to work in us and through us to preserve unity in the Church and to be conformed to His image.