Sunday School Lesson for October 12, 2003
Focal Teaching Passage: Philippians 4:1-9
A Call to Unity
and Steadfastness (4:1-3)
As Paul brought his letter to a
conclusion, he once again communicated his loving concern for the spiritual
welfare of his “beloved brethren” in Philippi.
Paul obviously had a very special regard for this fellowship of believers. He
reminded them of his intense desire to “see” them face-to-face and he
spoke loving of them as his “joy and crown.” His “joy” was in the fact that they
would share in all the blessings of Christ with him. That they were his “crown”
refers to the fact that, at the Second Advent (3:21), Paul would consider them
to be the irrefutable evidence of the success of his ministry as a missionary
for Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 2:19).
With deep concern for their
continued faithfulness to Christ and His work, Paul exhorted them to “stand
firm in the Lord.” This repeats the
exhortation found earlier in 1:27 where he urged them to be “standing firm
in one spirit” and “striving together” in the work of the Lord. We should understand this as a summons to
faithful Christian discipleship and service to Christ, even in the face of
severe opposition from the world (1:29-30). Melick suggests that this call to
steadfastness would have special relevance to those living in Philippi
where many military personnel lived. Everyone realized that the “Roman armies
were know for standing unmoved against the enemy. The church
was to stand in the same way” [145-146].
However, in order to stand firm
as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, true Christian unity would have to
characterize the fellowship. In light of this fact, Paul addressed a conflict
between two leading women of the Philippian church, “Euodia”
(meaning “prosperous journey”) and “Syntyche”
(meaning “fortune” or “lucky”). Paul
described these women as “fellow workers” who “shared” in his “struggle
in the cause of Christ” (v. 3). This
language implies that they were leaders in the fellowship—perhaps among some of
the first converts (Acts 16:13)—and that they had faithfully assisted Paul in
the establishment of the church in Philippi.
That Paul would, by name, summon
these two sisters in Christ to “live in harmony in the Lord” indicates
that some sort of a dispute or disagreement had erupted between them. The exact
nature of this problem is not mentioned, and this may indicate that it was not
theological or moral in nature. In such a case, Paul would have spoken openly
about the issue and would have called for repentance. Yet, it was substantial
enough that Paul requested that a third party—his “true comrade” (v.
3)—mediate the dispute so that no damage would be done to the fellowship or to
the cause of Christ. The point is that
living in unity under the Lordship of Christ, standing firm in His work, and
contending together for the cause of the gospel demanded that no fractures be
tolerated in the body, no matter how big or small.
A Call to Joy,
Gentleness, and Peace (4:4-7)
Paul’s final exhortations to his dear friends continued
with an emphasis upon three significant Christian virtues—joy, gentleness, and
peace. Each is essential to authentic
Christianity and, as far as Paul was concerned, provided proof of “the work of
the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and especially of the believing
403]. Gordon Fee also notes that rejoicing in the Lord, engaging in
prayer, and giving thanks (each of which are mentioned in this section) reflects
“the threefold expression of Jewish piety” . In
other words, Paul’s exhortations grew out of his understanding of the Old
Testament and its picture of the man or woman who possessed authentic faith in
First, Paul exhorted (commanded)
his friends in Philippi to “Rejoice in the
Lord always.” For the apostle, the willingness and ability to rejoice at
all times and under all circumstances was the unmistakable evidence of the
presence of joy—one of the manifestations of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.
5:22). This joy, however, is “not the temporal kind, which comes and goes with
one’s circumstances; rather it is predicated altogether on one’s relationship
with the Lord, and is thus an abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life” [Fee, 404]. While
believers will undergo a variety of different conditions and circumstances in
their lives, many of which will be painful, joy “in the Lord” is to be
their ever-present experience. Such a resilient faith in the Lord “makes rejoicing in the throes
of opposition a glorious possibility” [Martin, 167].
A second exhortation given to the
believers in Philippi directed them toward the
expression of Christian gentleness, or a “forbearing spirit.” This quality represents an attitude of self-giving
sacrifice—the very opposite of a self-centered, contentious spirit. Martin comments that in this context the
meaning of this term may be expressed as “the spirit of willingness to yield
[to others] under trial which will show itself in a refusal to retaliate when
Note how Paul used this very same term
in 2 Corinthians 10:1 to depict the “meekness” of Jesus. Here he exhorted his brothers and sisters to
adopt a similar attitude toward “all men,” even to those who might be
regarded as enemies. The fact that the “Lord
is near”—both in terms of His presence with them through the Holy Spirit
and the promise of His future coming—should serve as ample motivation for
faithfulness to God and patience toward men.
A third exhortation to the
Philippian church concerned the issue of anxiety in life—the kind of inner
agitation known by all people, especially those who are suffering persecution
and opposition as believers. Verse
6 contains Paul’s specific charge
to his friends regarding worry and fear while verse 7 contains a
corresponding promise that believers
are to cling to at all times.
- “Be anxious for nothing” (v. 6)—Since worry and anxiety betray a lack of trust in God,
Paul commanded his brethren to avoid such undue stress in all situations
in life. These words echo the
teaching of Jesus on the same subject (Matt. 6:25-34). Like the Lord, Paul
encouraged his friends to live without care—not carelessly or
recklessly—but apart from an unholy and unhealthy fear that would make Christian
service and witness virtually impossible. Fee observes that such
apprehension and fear “mark the life of the unbelieving, the untrusting,
for whom the present is all there is, and for whom the present is so
uncertain” . Thus, anxiety and worry have no place in
the lives of those who have become the dearly loved children of God.
- “but in everything
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (v. 6)—The antidote to
anxiety is prayer. That is, when
believers are tempted to worry or otherwise become anxious about life,
they are to immediately approach their Father in heaven by means of
fervent prayer. That Paul employed three different terms for prayer (“prayer,”
“supplication,” and “requests”) stressed the intensity and
scope of this spiritual exercise. The point is that when one engages in
communion with their heavenly Father through prayer, reflecting upon His
power, sovereignty, and infinite love for His children, there is little
room left for fear. When prayer is
accompanied by “thanksgiving” one is delivered from “the many
pitfalls which await the ungrateful soul, e. g. over concern with our
immediate problems, forgetfulness of God’s gracious dealings with us in
the past, [and] disregard for the needs of others” [Martin, 170].
- “And the peace of God” (v. 7)—The promise that
prayerful believers must cling to is that God grants His transcendent “peace”
to those who trust in Him with a grateful heart. According to Paul, “peace”—a
sense of inner rest, security, and wholeness—is a manifestation of the
fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and, therefore, is properly referred
to as God’s peace. Because it belongs to and is produced by the
Father Himself, this sense of spiritual well-being “surpasses all
comprehension.” In other words, it is fully beyond the scope of human
logic, comprehension, and expectation. It is, in a word, a supernatural
kind of peace that flourishes in the hearts of those who fully trust in
God. Because it is “the peace of
God,” it has the power to “guard your hearts and minds in Christ
Jesus.” It “stands on duty” like a well-trained soldier to “keep out
anything that brings care and anxiety” [Melick, 150]. It is also a peace that is to be shared
by the believing community, not just experienced by individuals. As the church gathers for prayer in the
spirit of trust and gratitude, especially during times of trial and
testing, the peace of God will be granted as a precious gift to strengthen
and unify the body.
A Call to
Excellence and Imitation (4:8-9)
Notice that closely connected to
Paul’s exhortation to worry-free living is a call to excellence in thought
leading to Christian character and conduct—“let your mind dwell on these
things.” Paul listed eight qualities, or distinctive characteristics, that
were to guide and govern the behavior of the members of the body of Christ:
- “true”—This refers to
that which is in conformity with the gospel—the Word of God.
- “honorable”—This term
speaks of that which is dignified, worthy of respect, or otherwise noble.
- “right”—Things that
are “right” are those things that conform to the very character of God
- “pure”—This quality
depicts that which is unstained or uncontaminated by evil. It stands in
diametrical opposition to those things that are wicked and unholy.
describes those things that are regarded as admirable or attractive.
- “of good repute”—This
phrase relates to those things that do not cause undue offense and are
“well spoken of by people in general” [Fee, 418].
- “excellence”—This word
emphasizes those things that are morally superior in nature.
- “worthy of praise”—This
final virtue highlights anything that directs men to the praise of God and
is “in keeping with God’s own righteousness” [Fee, 419].
Having provided a long list of
Christian virtues, Paul exhorted his friends to put into “practice” such
things as they had “learned” and “received” though his teaching,
and had “seen” at work in his everyday life. They were, therefore, to
view Paul as a “model of effective Christian living” and, consequently, were to
carefully imitate his behavior [Melick, 151]. As they did
so, the “God of peace” would be with them always.
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Stand and fight!—Note the three major
emphases in verses 1-3: 1) Stand firm in Christ and His truth, 2)
live in harmony as those whose names are recorded in heaven, and 3) struggle
together for the gospel. How evident
are these qualities in your local church?
In your own life?
and attitude—What sin(s) is ingratitude the
symptom of? In other words, what lies
behind or otherwise prompts an attitude of ingratitude? Hint: Think about how subtle
selfishness, unbelief, and idolatry are.
Three: Worry and prayer—How does prayer curb our tendency to worry? What exactly does prayer (in the spirit of
thanksgiving) do for us?
Four: GIGO—Every computer aficionado understands the acronym GIGO
(“garbage in, garbage out”). How does
this relate to what Paul said in verse 8?