Tag Archives: Philippians

Philippians 4:5-7; Brief Thoughts

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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.

When a believer in Jesus Christ is appropriately rejoicing and living a lifestyle thereof, that believer will be extraordinarily gentle or reasonable. The word translated “reasonableness” in the ESV or “gentle” in the NASB, implies a gracious patience towards others.[i] Consider for a moment the example of Jesus in the gospel of John. Judas walks alongside Jesus for 3 years and Jesus tenderly and lovingly addresses him while simultaneously waiting for the day when Judas will betray Him. His patience is remarkable. His compassion and display of kindness amazing. Jesus never scolds Judas, never outcasts him, and never reproaches him. In His final moments with Judas Jesus washes Judas’ feet and then explains that followers of Christ are to do the same (John 3:17). Followers of Christ are to serve the people who are going to bring about their demise. There is no greater measure of meekness than that of a believer who obeys Christ’s admonition to love others the way the Savior has loved His own.

Paul’s urging in verse 5 to “let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” (4:5) is founded on the simple phrase that follows it.[ii] If Christians really do believe that the Lord is nearby and is actively involved in the affairs and challenges that people face, then Christians can rest in the comfort of God’s sovereign activity and need not defend themselves. Resting in this profound comfort, Christians are uniquely suited to be gentle and reasonable. That characteristic is to be made known to everyone. The gracious kindness of believers ought to be obvious and pervasive to the surrounding world. Each and every person who comes in contact with a believer should be impressed upon with the reality of a life consumed by grace and gracious living, because “the Lord is near” (4:5).

Consider the power of this truth: that the Lord of all creation, the King of the universe, the Master and Sustainer of all things, is attentive to and involved in the life of the believer. With such an ally, what can overcome? It is in light of this great truth that Paul encourages us, “do not be anxious about anything” (v.6). Indeed, if God is present with His people even in the midst of suffering, then there is no need for anxiety about anything. When believers struggle with anxiety and worry over circumstance or suffering, they are to lean on the presence and comfort of God. The answer for a believer’s anxiety is knowing the living God. The closer a believer is to Christ, the less anxiety will attach to their hearts.

To be clear, anxiety is a deadly and exhausting opponent to anyone, including believers. It is a torment that is not answered so simply as: read your Bible and pray. For some anxiety must be addressed with all the tools God provides to overcome. It is in considering these which tools to use that one must be careful. If the tool leads you away from dependence on God’s character and sovereign work, then that tool will not be effective long term. The tools to address anxiety are myriad. Confession, community, study of the Word of God, prayer, singing and music, artistic expressions, and accountability are merely some of the tools afforded to Christians in the local church. These various tools must be motivated by a desire to know the Lord more deeply. In knowing Him fully, anxiousness will slowly become less prominent.

Paul focuses on the strongest tool given to Christians faced with anxiousness. He urges Christians to pray in the face of anxiousness. Take note the underlying characteristic of the prayers Paul encourages. He calls people to pray with thanksgiving. A spirit of gratitude must permeate Christian prayer. Contrary to logical sensibilities, Christian pray begins with thanksgiving. Supplication is made with thanksgiving for whatever the outcome may be. In this manner, Christians submit even their deepest needs to God and surrender their requests to His discretion and will. This is why knowing the character of God is so critical to a believer. The deeper the intimacy between the Christian and their Lord, the more confident and assured their prayers.

[i] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 748). New York: United Bible Societies.

[ii] The NASB separates the phrase, “The Lord is near” as its own sentence. As far as translation is concerned, it is probably best to make this phrase a stand alone sentence. This way the reader will be responsible for discerning whether the sentence should be applied to the statements before, after, or both. It is best to leave this interpretive matter to the reader. Here I am reading this particular phrase as applying to the entire paragraph. It is my understanding that Paul is giving a foundational motive for the exhortations that surround this phrase.

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Philippians 4:1; Cling to the Therefores

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.

Philippians 3:17; Brief Thoughts

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 

Imagine a great forest. The trees are dense and the brush is troublesome to push through, but there is a path to walk. A path that has been worn from years of travelers who know the way through the forest. Those who have gone before have pushed through the brush and followed the path that was laid by the owner of the land. You see, the owner has a kingdom on the other side of the forest. He owns the forest and He owns the kingdom. The people who seek the kingdom walk the path. So, if a person seeks the kingdom, they too walk the path that has been worn by others. What Paul calls the Philippians to do is walk the same path.

Imitate godliness. Find men and women who follow Christ well and seek His glory, then copy their lifestyle. Examine those you admire. Be careful to ensure that those who are respected are worthy of such respect.

Two errors are common among young believers seeking worthy men to follow.

First, they will give too much respect to a leader without evaluating that person’s life. Often age is given credence over righteousness. Christians ought to be cautious when seeking those to imitate. Age does not automatically indicate maturity or wisdom. Indeed, Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 seems to indicate that young men are capable of being the necessary example for the congregation. Sometimes experience is prized when the leader has done a poor job assimilating that experience to their life. Be careful not to give respect to someone who has simply had experiences. Be sure that they have processed those experiences and learned from them.

The second error that young believers fall prey to is in over-evaluation. With tremendous zeal to ensure that they are seeking leaders who are pursuing Christ, they set their standards too high and drift into legalistic judgment of those who could encourage their walk. It is important to recognize what Paul has already said about himself: he has not already obtained the resurrection and is not perfect. Seek men and women to imitate who are honest about their own flaws and are pursuing Christ.

When a believer finds a person whose life and efforts exemplify Christ, that believer should labor to become like Christ by following their example. Follow the example of those who have walked the path of righteous obedience. Find men and women who have led holy lives and have exemplified Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul exhorts the believers to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”[i] Paul’s exhortation to imitate him is based on the reality that he is imitating Christ. The goal of Christians is not to become more like holy men and women who have gone before but to become more like Christ. Sometimes it is easier to evaluate one’s own walk by examining and imitating the life of a fellow believer who has a faithful life. Believers should aspire to imitate godly men and women in so far as those leaders are imitating Christ.

Oh beloved Christian, find godly people to look up to. Find men and women who lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Find people who delight themselves in eternal truth and God’s provision for the soul. Find men and women worthy of respect. They will not look like the world. They will not have the trappings of this world and, at first, their lives may not be appealing. But, look closely and see that the holy ones who walk with Jesus are content when no one else is. Find them, follow their lead, and you’ll begin to walk through the forest with greater ease.

[i] This is my own translation.

Philippians 2:25-30; Brief Thoughts

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul sends Epaphroditus bearing the letter. Paul hopes to send Timothy soon and Epaphroditus will be sent ahead to deliver Paul’s message to the Philippians. Paul views Epaphroditus as a “brother,” “worker,” “soldier,” “messenger,” and “minister.”[i] There is a comradery in Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus that is common to all Christians and these five descriptors display that fellowship in various facets.

First, Christians have a familial relationship. The Scripture is clear, those who believe in Jesus Christ are brought into a family. God is Father to Christians. Jesus is brother. Believers are “fellow heirs” (Rom. 8:17). Christians have been adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). The first connection made between people who believe is that of a family. It is particularly important to recognize the implications of this relationship. Family is not something you choose or something that is decided upon by one’s volition. Family is assigned and prescribed by parentage. The parents either bear or adopt the child. So it is with faith: God has adopted those into His Kingdom by His own volition. The parentage of the Christian is not dependent on the will or work of the Christian (Rom. 9:16). Rather, it depends on God. This should give Christians great encouragement: Christians cannot lose their place in God’s family, precisely because they are members of His family. What great security!

Second, Christians share labor in the gospel. Epaphroditus has labored next to Paul working for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was faithful to deliver the gifts that the Philippians sent to Paul and he has successfully related the concern of the Philippian believers to Paul. Ephaphroditus has served the congregation at Philippi and is anxious to return to the brothers and sisters.[ii] He is truly united with Paul in labor and mission.

Third, Christians are united in the shared mission of God’s gospel advancement. Paul recognizes that there is a military-like mission in which Christians are engaged. Christians are in the midst of a battle. It is not a battle against flesh and blood or rulers on this earth. But a battle against sin and rulers of darkness in Spiritual realms (c.f. Eph. 6).

The fourth descriptor is quite simple: Epaphroditus bears the message that Paul has written to the Philippians. Therefore this title needs very little attention except to illuminate that all Christians bear the message of the Gospel to everyone they encounter.

Finally, Epaphroditus serves as a minister to the Philippians. He is faithful to be concerned with their needs and to serve them in the gospel. The title of minister ought to be consistently exemplified in all Christians. Christians are changed by the gospel and, as such, live changed lives in relation to those around them. When the Gospel demands that a brother or sister in Christ lay down comfort or even life itself for the sake of ministry, then the Christian submits to the Gospel in joy and surrender. Likewise, The faithful Philippian minister has surrendered his life in favor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Epaphroditus came to Paul, he fell ill. In service to relate the love of Christian brotherhood, he almost surrendered his own life. Yet, the Lord was merciful to him. Paul expresses that this mercy is shared. The loss of a brother, even to heaven, is still a difficult ordeal to walk through. So God spared Paul sorrow and Epaphroditus recovered. In his act of self-sacrifice, Epaphroditus is a hero. Paul admonishes believer to treat men who sacrifice comfort, and well-being in the face of the gospel ministry as heroes. One who is willing to lay down his or her own life for the sake of the gospel is worthy of a hero’s honor.

Who do you know that deserves such honor? How can you honor them? Get to work figuring that out.

[i] ESV

[ii] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 329). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

 

Philippians 2:14-16a; Brief Thoughts

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life…

Consider what life would be like for someone who never complains or grumbles about anything. It is difficult to imagine this in a world where the majority of conversations, news, and entertainment are based on sarcasm and complaints. This is one aspect of life in which Christians are to be separate and radically different from the world. Paul admonishes the believers, “do all things without grumbling or disputing.”[i] Following verse 1-11, this exhortation is perfectly logical. If a believer exemplifies the same humility that is present in the character of Christ, then it stands to reason that the believer will be submissive and obedient to the will of God, accomplishing the tasks that God has set before them without complaint.

It is intriguing that Christians are encouraged not to dispute. This is one of the chief accusations leveled at the church in modern times. It seems Christians would rather argue over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary then discuss real world issues. The denominational arguments and inter-denominational disputes have displayed a character of argumentative division.[ii] To be clear, it is imperative that Christians struggle with one another to understand God and His nature. It is necessary for disagreements about theology to arise as we discuss what we see in Scripture. These kinds of discussions are not what Paul is addressing in verse 14. Rather, the Philippians are encouraged to live a humble lifestyle that does not complain or argue about the circumstances that they find themselves in.

When Christians strive for holiness, the world takes notice. Christians stand out, not only because what they do is different from the world, but because of what they do not do. Christians do not respond with the same selfishly-divisive attitude when the stresses of life come upon them. They stand in humility, willingly submitting to God’s design and accepting what seems impossible to accept. When humanity is pressed and stresses are placed on those who do not believe in Christ, it is rare for that person or people to respond with anything other than complaint and division. However, these two characteristic responses are to be absent from the Christian. If grumbling and disputing are the normative response in a person’s life, that person needs to repent and trust in Jesus. Only Jesus can change the heart so that when life shakes you, grace comes out.

God changes the heart of those who believe in Him (c.f. Ezekiel 36:22-38). In changing their hearts, He engages the world with His own image. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that believers are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [their] creator.”[iii] The Lord has established Christians as the image bearers who would live a lifestyle so contrary to the world around them that they improve their surroundings simply by living in them.

Are you cultivating beauty in the world around you? Does your presence make the lives of those who are around you a better place? Christians are lights, bringing illumination to a dark world ruled by selfishness and death. For a believer, truth and love are the guiding principles of life. As such is the case, Christians rest in the truth that God is in control of everything and that they need not argue over the trivialities that consume the rest of the world.[iv] Further, Christians improve society. The humility and service modeled by Christ changes the world. If believers would simply live as they are made to, then the world would be a more beautiful place. Unfortunately, many in western Christianity have decided it is more important to have a beautiful building and nice carpet than to engage in making the world a better place for the name of the Gospel. Saints, it is time to work to improve our surroundings. The Gospel changes souls, indeed it also changes the way those souls live on this earth. Strive to cultivate beauty, effect change, and serve the world. In doing so, you will shine!

We cultivate this lifestyle and improve our world by “holding fast to the word of life” (v. 16). Obey the Bible. It seems almost too simple, but it is true. If Christians will obey the Bible and live by what it says, they’ll see the world change.

[i] ESV Philippians 2:14

[ii] This particular division is extremely prevelant in the Southern Baptist denomination, which has been arguing and disputing as of late on soteriological matters which are important and policy issues that are unimportant.

[iii] ESV Col. 3:10

[iv] In the west, these trivialities extend all the way to our political systems.