DIGGING IN THE WORD: PHILIPPIANS 4
1: Paul returns to that heartfelt sentiment of unity which we have seen him employ earlier (2:16; 1 Thess 2:19-20), that he as leader is connected with the Christians. They are his “joy and crown.”
2-3: An example of differing ideas is pointed out, and Paul encourages this to be resolved by finding unity in the Lord. Paul asks others in the community to be of assistance in finding this resolution. These people were obviously very helpful in the work of evangelization and Paul does not want these relationships to fall apart. The ‘Book of Life’ is a symbolic image which has its origin all the way back in the book of Exodus. This ‘book’ has the Lord’s list of the just, the holy, the saved. Psalms 69:29 has the psalmist asking that the wicked ones “be blotted from the book of life; not registered among the just!” In fact, Our Saviour Himself teaches us that we should not rejoice over excellent works in this world, but rather “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Book of Revelation speaks of the ‘Book of Life’ repeatedly as the list of the just, those who will enjoy Heavenly bliss for all eternity with God. In Revelation 3:5 Jesus shares the benefit of being written in the Book of Life: “The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels.” Other references in Revelation include 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 20:15; 21:27.
4: We have looked at the theme of joy and rejoicing in this letter multiple times, so central is the theme for Paul. The church should be a beacon of joy, but not some anonymous joy; this joy is to be found in the Lord.
5: Christians are not only to have kind thoughts or kind wishes for others, but the manifestation of kindness should be so pronounced that all would know.
6-7: God has promised that He will care for all those who are His own, but so often we allow circumstances to unsettle us. There is a remedy for this: the peace of God. Our Saviour has commanded us to be at peace, and has promised to send the Holy Spirit to give us this peace. This peace is taken away when we forget or neglect the promise of God’s providential care for us. Our nervousness, anxiety, fear, and many other obstacles take front stage; the peace of God which comes from trust is the remedy. Our Lord pressed this point in the Sermon on the Mount when he counsels us not to worry (Mt 6:25, 31) or be anxious (Mt 6:28), reminding us that God, who cares for all the lesser creatures, cares for us even more fully. Saint Peter invites to “cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), which is the best way to process our anxiety. Many people say “don’t worry” but what good is that? Rather, tell God of all your worries, and He will minister to you. How can we do this but to “persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
8: Paul directs our attention to the ideals of life, the list is worth placing all together here; whatever is: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise. These grand virtues should be focused upon, sought after, pursued until acquired.
9: Once the Christian has begun his training in righteousness by adhering to the teaching of the Apostles, he should continue steadfastly on this course. Paul even dares to counsel the Christians to imitate him, as he does in other places such as 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2: “Finally, brothers, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves and please God – and as you are conducting yourselves – you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”
Peace is so central a fruit of the Spirit that it is singled out again and again as the governing factor and consoling accompaniment of a life in Christ. Peace is seen as a central attribute of God here: “the God of peace” who will be with us. Paul asks that the “God of peace” be with the Christians as he blesses them (Romans 15:33; also 1 Thes 5:23); the “God of peace will quickly crush Satan” under their feet (Romans 16:20); in fact, God “is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
10: Paul is sharing his pleasure that as he has labored greatly, so also there is a return from the people of gratitude to him.
11-13: Paul has been in many circumstances and has been able to continue his labor in the midst of all of them. So we learn that our circumstances don’t inhibit us or determine us, but rather how we respond in the midst of them. Paul lists some of these various circumstances, for example: “We go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands” (1 Corinthians 4:11-12); he has experienced “afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts” (2 Corinthians 4:4-5; also 2 Cor 11:26-27);
12: He shares the varied ways he has lived, in each of those ways finding the way forward and grasping the gift which comes from it.
13: Instead of the circumstances determining Paul’s operation, he places the secret in this: the empowerment of God which gives strength. God had shared with Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” so Paul goes on to write that he “will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). In the labor and the struggle of the ministry, Paul moves forward “in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:29). Many people have found much comfort by memorizing this 13th verse of Philippians chapter 4. It should be understood in this way: no matter what circumstances surround me, God will give me what grace I need to remain faithful to Him and to endure it. It should not be taken to mean that a person can literally do anything, but the strength to endure the things God has given.
14: Paul, having finished his teaching, again shows his gratitude for the support of the people.
15: Philippi was not the first place in which Paul preached the Gospel, but the first in Europe.
16: The church of Philippi provides for Paul’s needs even when he was not with them. This teaches that we are to provide for the needs of the Church throughout the world, and not only in our local community.
17: Paul stresses that he is not the only one who receives because of their generosity, but rather that by their generosity they are growing in the Holy Spirit, building up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
18: Paul speaks of the support from the Philippians in language lifted from Old Testament religious rites, those ways in which the people would give of what they had to honor God. Their giving to his needs is seen as a way to continue that sacrificial giving in the New Testament. Noah had built an altar and offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and “the LORD smelled the sweet odor” (Genesis 8:20-21). Moses and the people who left Egypt were instructed to “burn the entire ram on the altar, since it is a burnt offering, a sweet-smelling oblation to the LORD” (Exodus 29:18). Our Saviour Himself has surpassed all of these offerings, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5: “Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” This giving of self is seen as normative for the Christian community, and we see it extended from the example of Our Saviour to the community in the letter to the Hebrews: Through Christ “let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
19: In response to their support, Paul promises that God will continue to provide for them.
20: The letter is coming to an end, and so we see a doxology, directing all of our praise to God who is Father as well as Trinity. This praise and glory is directed to God through Jesus Christ, as is seen in Romans 16:27: “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
21: Final greetings are extended.
22: Paul shares that the Christians around where he is in captivity send their greetings as well.
23: Paul signs the letter with a liturgical presidential phrase. This phrase has been preserved in the liturgy even until our own day, which shows how deeply committed the Church is to Biblical expressions in divine worship, handing on the Apostolic faith. Paul extends the grace to their spirit, and we continue to respond in our day to our leaders: And with your spriit.
*[NOTE: This Bible exposition has not been edited, so there are misspellings, grammatical errors, and possibly verse citation errors. Maybe one day someone will professionalize it. I simply wanted to get the content to you. God bless!]