Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Concluding his general exhortations to the Philippian church, Paul gives a final encouragement to them before discussing specific details. It is a fitting instruction to “Stand firm” (4:1). Amidst a culture that despises and rejects those who are devoted to the cross, the call to remain constant in faith is truly a bold exhortation. The Philippians live in an error of discomfort with Christianity. The Christians in the little Roman colony experienced the same rejection that every seemingly inconsequential religious minority experienced. However, in this case, tension mounted as the tiny sect was altering the state of their community. Persecution under the Romans began to rise, Christianity became an outcast’s religion, and adversaries who held to Judaism heightened their rhetoric and disdain for all things Christian.[i]
The weight of the encouragement to “stand firm” must have come with tears as Paul reflected on his previous years of ministry. Knowing the pain of the loss of community, the sacrifice of social standing, and the forsaking of the world’s admiration for the sake of Jesus, Paul’s exhortation to stay strong in the face of these realities is a hard encouragement to cling to. This encouragement is a recognition that the world is against Christianity. It is a rallying call to battle. It is an admission that this life is not favorable towards the faith of Christians. In this recognition, it is necessary to cling to the “therefore” and the “thus.” Christians remember the power of Christ and what He has done within them. In the face of persecution, it is imperative to remember the work of Jesus Christ in the soul. It is important to focus on the change that His work has wrought, the reward He has prepared, the power He has granted to believers, and freedom He has given them. This is why doctrinal truths are so important. In times of suffering and struggles, when the world seems to be imploding and one cannot see the victory, Christians must cling to the therefores and remember what Christ has done.
There are few letters in the new testament that are expressed with such love as the letter to the Philippians. Paul gives the Philippians four different descriptors in this single verse that give some considerable insight into their relationship. First, they are family: Paul calls them, “brothers.” The Philippians share a familial relationship to Paul and all other true Christians. When a person becomes a believer, they are adopted into a family that is united in a common purpose and affection (c.f. Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5). This is the reason for such compassion being poured out between Christians who live across the globe from each other. It is the reason that believers can weep for another believer who they have never met. Christians are family.
Like any family, Paul has a deep affection for them and desires to see them. His absence from them has only served to deepen his desire to aid them trough the instruction of the Gospel life. So it is, with great love he wrote this particular epistle to them. His words are an attempt to express that love in the best and most powerful way he knows: through the instruction of the Gospel life. Indeed, instruction and encouragement in the great work of God is the greatest love one Christian can lavish on another.
These Philippians are also a reward to Paul. They serve as a source of joy to him and they are the crown that he will present to Christ when the Lord returns. It is a remarkable truth that Christians will answer for the impact they have had on the lives of those who they have shared the gospel ministry with. This truth ought to cause Christian leaders much trembling and trepidation in their work. The fodder many so-called Christian leaders in the modern western church will present to the Lord will prove to be just that. Consider Paul’s claim of the Philippians as his crown. They are not a large church like Jerusalem, they have no famous preacher like Corinth, there is little appeal to the masses, and they are currently experiencing suffering. By modern standards of success, the Philippian church was a wasted minority. The modern church emphasizes size of the crowd and monetary gain. Pastors clamor to achieve greater numeric growth and to fill their resume with happy people who joined their private clubs. The jewels they will eventually present to Christ and the efforts they make in teaching others the Gospel life will come to naught, precisely because they have misunderstood the appropriate measure of success. Paul calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” because they have proven faithful amidst a culture’s attempt to entice them. The measure of success in ministry is the steadfastness of the faith of those that are taught the Gospel life.
It is these brothers whom we call beloved. Those for whom we would lay down our own comforts to see them rejoice in eternity. It is the believers such as those in Philippi who make the heart of the teacher/ pastor/ missionary rejoice and weep with love.
[i] Herring, Ralph A. Studies in Philippians. Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1952.