I. Stand Firm v.1
“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4:1).
The call to “stand firm” refers to a soldier staying faithfully at his post no matter what happens around him. Let the enemy attack as he will, the soldier’s orders are clear: Stand firm! This command was often repeated by the Apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 15:58, “Stand firm. Let nothing move you.”
1 Corinthians 16:13, “Stand firm in the faith.”
Galatians 5:1, “Stand firm … and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Ephesians 6:11, “Take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
Ephesians 6:13, “Having done everything, to stand.”
Ephesians 6:14, “Stand firm … with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”
Philippians 1:27, “Stand firm in one spirit.”
Colossians 4:12, “Stand firm in all the will of God.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”
Why this repeated emphasis on standing firm? I think Paul had a healthy respect for the devil’s attempts to discourage and distract the children of God. He knew that we would be sorely tempted to leave our post when the bullets of temptation start whizzing by our heads. So he repeats it again and again: Stand firm!
II. Settle Your Differences v.2-3
Paul next deals with a difficult and delicate problem inside the Philippian church. It seems that two leading women couldn’t get along with each other. One was named “Euodia” (meaning “sweet smell”) and the other was named “Syntyche” (meaning “friendly”). We don’t know much about these women or the precise nature of their dispute. They were evidently well-known leaders in the church who had a serious falling out. For whatever reason, “Sweet smell” and “Friendly” weren’t very sweet or very friendly to each other.
I wonder how these two women felt when they heard their names read in public. Two thousand years later they stand for women who couldn’t stand each other. I find it instructive that Paul doesn’t give us very many details. We can’t tell from his words the background of the problem, and nothing he says lets us know who was right and who was wrong. Instead of taking sides, he simply exhorts these two Christian women to settle their differences. That’s a useful principle to remember because in most disputes it usually doesn’t matter who started it. Once animosity builds up, there is generally plenty of blame on every hand.
We do know this much. Paul regards these women as genuine believers (their names are written in the Book of Life, v. 3). They are evidently personal friends of his who worked with him in founding the church at Philippi. The word “contended” in verse 2 means to engage in competition and indicates that these women were strong, determined, hard-working, and probably opinionated. They had their own views of how things should be done. With that background, it’s easy to see how a rift might develop.
Instead of focusing on the causes, Paul exhorts these two women to “agree”—which literally means to come to one mind. It doesn’t mean seeing eye to eye on every detail; instead it indicates a personal choice to focus on the things that united them in Christ.
III. Resolve to Rejoice v.4
Paul’s third command is quite simple: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). Though short, this command may be the most difficult one to obey consistently.
Note that the command to rejoice is the only one that is repeated. Why is that? I think it’s because we tend to forget this one in the midst of dealing with difficult people and the upsetting problems of life. When Paul says, “Rejoice always,” he’s not talking about giddiness or a positive mental attitude. This is not “put on a happy face” or “look for the silver lining.” The rejoicing he has in mind is not based on outward circumstances. That’s crucial because very often our circumstances are quite depressing. Where was Paul when he wrote these words? In a Roman prison chained to Roman guards 24 hours a day. He was on trial for his life with no certain hope of release. I take it that Paul didn’t “enjoy” being in prison but he found reasons to rejoice even in that difficult circumstance.
On Christmas Day CNN broadcast Larry King’s recent interview with Dr. Billy Graham who is now 80 years old. The last several years Dr. Graham has had a number of major health problems. He has undergone several difficult operations and now suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. How does Billy Graham feel about the prospect of his own death? “Oh, I’m not afraid to die. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. I wish that day would hurry up and get here.” And what does he expect will happen when he dies? “When I die, an angel is going to take me by the hand and lead me into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When Larry King asked him how he felt about having Parkinson’s Disease, Dr. Graham replied, “I feel great about it. It’s been a wonderful experience. I believe the Lord has many lessons to teach me through this disease.” Surely this is what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
IV. Ask God for a Gentle Spirit. V.5
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”
Greek scholars tell us that the word translated “gentleness” is a hard one to precisely translate into English. Other possibilities include “moderation,” “forbearance,” “mildness,” and “fair-mindedness.” One writer calls it the quality of “inner calmness.”
This “inner calmness” should be seen by all who know us. Often the holidays bring out the very opposite. There is something about this time of the year that offers ample proof of human depravity. Many of us have endured some painful moments as our family and friends gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This week someone I don’t know sent me a note about “road rage”—a term that refers to losing your temper when another driver gets in your way. It’s a real and frightening problem that we don’t talk about very much.
Here’s a simple question: Would the people who know you best consider you a gentle person? Would that word even pop into their minds when they think about you? Or to make the question harder: Would the people you like least consider you a gentle person? That’s the real test. Anyone can be gentle around nice people, but only the spirit of Jesus can enable you to respond gently to people who mistreat you.
V. Pray about Everything 6-7
This famous passage begins with the phrase “Do not be anxious about anything.” I actually prefer the King James rendering: “Be anxious for nothing.” Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry about anything. But it’s very good advice. Did you know that most of the time you spend worrying is basically wasted emotional energy? Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research yielded the following results: 40% never happen, 30% concern the past, 12% are needless worries about health, and 10% are about petty issues. Only 8% are legitimate concerns. That means that 92% of your “worry time” is wasted energy.
Worry is stewing without doing. Worry is wrong because it assumes that God can’t take care of you. He promised to care for you, but when you worry, you are saying, “Lord, I don’t believe you can take care of me so I’m going to take matters into my own hands.” Worry and prayer are opposites—like water and fire. You can worry or you can pray but you can’t do both at the same time.
When you take your burdens to the Lord, he replaces your worries with something much greater: the peace that passes all human understanding. Verse 7 says that peace will “guard” your heart. That’s a military metaphor for soldiers guarding the city gate from the inside. When you pray, God’s peace becomes a guard on your heart, protecting you from the cares of the world that could otherwise destroy you.
VI. Think Holy Thoughts v.8-9
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (4:8)
Our passage closes with an exhortation to think holy thoughts. Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? That works out to 3.5 million thoughts a year. If you live to be 75, you will have over 26 million different thoughts. Already most of you have had over 2,000 separate thoughts since you got out of bed this morning. You’ll probably have another 8,000 before you hit the sack tonight. Then you’ll start all over again tomorrow.
The principle behind Paul’s words is simple: Sin always begins in the mind and so does holiness. When Paul says “think about such things,” the command is in the present tense: “Keep on thinking about these things.” Find what is true and think about it. Find the lovely and think about it. Find the virtuous and think about it. Do it and verse 9 says “the God of peace will be with you.”