Caring Friends

 

Sunday School Lesson for October 12, 2003

 

Background Passage: Philippians 4:1-23

 

Focal Teaching Passage: Philippians 4:1-9

 

A Call to Unity and Steadfastness (4:1-3)

 

Verse 1

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]. 

 

Verses 2-3

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 congregation” [Fee, 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” [402].  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 Yahweh. 

 

Verse 4

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].

 

Verse 5

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 attacked” [168].  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.

 

Verses 6-7

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Call to Excellence and Imitation (4:8-9)

 

Verse 8

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verse 9

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?

 

 

 

Two: Gratitude and attitudeWhat 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 prayerHow does prayer curb our tendency to worry?  What exactly does prayer (in the spirit of thanksgiving) do for us?

 

 

 

Four: GIGOEvery computer aficionado understands the acronym GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”).  How does this relate to what Paul said in verse 8?