Monday, September 25, 2017
Live the Christian Life!
My previous post was from a sermon I preached back in May 2000. After I posted that article I was asked if I had done others, and then it was suggested that I post them also. The following is the second sermon I preached at the Plymouth Brethren Assembly we were attending. We were doing a series on Philippians, and I was assigned to do chapter 4:1-9; I taught this message on Christmas Eve 2000. It is a long read, considering that it took 30-40 minutes to teach this in the assembly! I hope you will find it of interest and good for edification. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is NIV — the OLD version!)
Caveat: William Barclay was very good with teaching the languages and history, but he did not believe in miracles and had some heretical beliefs. I was unaware of his failings when I used his commentary for this study, and I do not recommend him. However, for the purposes of this study his teachings were very good.
First, let me say that, while studying for these first nine verses of Philippians chapter 4, I learned enough to give three messages on just this section! Besides my own cross-references to other Scriptures, I read a few study Bibles, two large Bible commentaries (including Matthew Henry's), Vine's dictionary, and commentaries on Philippians by Martin Lloyd-Jones, William Barclay and William MacDonald.
I am not a Greek scholar, so when I tell you what the Greek says I am only stating what I have learned from these resources.
At any rate, what I will attempt to do now is to share with you the highlights of my study on this passage. Before I do that, let's do a quick review of what we've covered so far:
Paul is sending the letter from prison in Rome, and the greetings are identified as coming also from Timothy. Paul is thankful for the Philippian church, is joyful because of their work in sharing the gospel, and has great affection for them. Significantly, he prays that their "love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that [they] may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless...filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus...to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul then tells them that even in prison his message bears fruit, and that he rejoices knowing of their prayers for him. He emphasizes that in life or death Christ will be exalted in his body. Again, significantly, he tells them that, no matter what happens, they are to conduct themselves "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." He tells them to contend for the gospel against any opposition.
Paul encourages them to be in unity in the gospel, and to be like Christ by considering others more important than self; to look after others' interests. Again he addresses proper conduct and attitude by telling them to "do everything without arguing or complaining," and to "shine like stars" in the pagan universe. Paul says he hopes to send Timothy to them soon and praises his work, and then he commends Epaphroditus to them because of his risking of life to assist Paul.
In Chapter 3 Paul continues with the importance of proper conduct. He cautions them against false teachings and useless credentials, demonstrating his own impeccable pedigree that he says is worthless when compared to knowing Christ as Lord. Paul says what is important is becoming like Christ, with himself as an example, although even he is still pressing towards that goal. He says all who are mature should have the same view.
As we continue in our study this week, we will see how Paul, weaving into his message of love and concern, again emphasizes proper conduct by the Christian. I will now read the text, beginning at Chapter 3, vs 17, just to get proper context.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Now let’s begin by looking at verse 1 of chapter 4:
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!
"Therefore" refers to what Paul has just been talking about in 3:17-21 - joining with others in following his example - as citizens of heaven. Paul doesn't just teach doctrine, he tells us how to apply it to our lives. He doesn't say we will be citizens of heaven, but rather that we are such already, and that is how to stand firm.
Look at how Paul addresses this assembly: he loves them dearly and longs to be with them. Martin Lloyd-Jones says, That is to be the relationship between a minister and the members of his church, and any minister who reads words like these must feel humbled and almost humiliated. That is the relationship between pastor and people, this burning, blazing love. Most of the Philippian church had entered into the kingdom as the result of Paul's preaching, so he calls then his joy and crown.
The crown spoken of is the victor's crown or the crown of festal gladness. The victor's crown was the "peak of the athlete's ambition." The festal crown was "the crown with which guests were crowned when they sat at a banquet, at some time of great joy.”
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. [1 Thes.2:19-20]. Paul is telling them that they are the crown of all his toil and at the final banquet of God they will be his festal crown.
Barclay tells us that, “The word Paul uses for stand fast is the word which would be used for a soldier standing fast in the shock of battle, with the enemy surging down upon him.”
Matthew Henry says, “The believing hope and prospect of eternal life should engage us to be steady, even, and constant in our Christian course. ... To stand fast in the Lord is to stand fast in his strength and by his grace; not trusting in ourselves, and disclaiming any sufficiency of our own.”
Likewise, Paul tell us in 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Verse 2. I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.
This is the only problem Paul mentions in this assembly, and he is definitely seeking peace between them. Notice how Paul pleads with them individually. He's the apostle, yet he doesn't command them, he asks them politely.
Whatever their disagreement, Paul wants them to agree "in the Lord." To me, this would suggest that if the disagreement was over doctrine, or otherwise relating to the Lord's teachings, Paul would have addressed the problem differently. I also see this as similar to Eph. 6:1-3 where Paul tells children to obey their parents "in the Lord.”
It's important to understand that disagreement is important if it is over essential matters. Jude tells us to "Contend for the faith." Some Christians are so hung up on unity that they ignore what's important. A major problem with the church today is that we are afraid of stepping on toes by teaching from the pulpit against error no matter how minor or subtle. After all, there may be someone in the congregation who follows the teacher or teaching that we'd have to speak against, and we certainly wouldn't want to cause division.
When we were over at [our previous church] the new pastor wanted to bring in aberrant teachings from the so-called revivals of Toronto and Pensacola, and we had a congregational meeting to discuss the problem. After I had a turn at describing the unbiblical nature of some of the teachings, one of the congregation, a supporter of the teaching, stood up and actually screamed, "Doctrine doesn't matter - love is all that matters!" She yelled this a couple of times for emphasis. As a side note, that pastor is now on the staff at River of Life, where aberrant teachings abound.
Show me where Paul was concerned about stepping on toes! Show me where Jesus was afraid of stepping on toes! Those responsible for the flock will be held accountable; James tells us that teachers will be judged more severely. You cannot love your brother or sister while doing nothing to lead them out of darkness or bondage to false teaching!
Let's remember to agree "in the Lord," but not to worry about stepping on toes when required.
Verse 3. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
The Greek word for "yokefellow" is syzygus. It may be a proper name or a descriptive title of one who was close to Paul. NAS says "true comrade." Most commentators think it may be Epaphroditus in light of 2:25, where Paul calls him "my fellow worker and fellow soldier”
The picture of a yokefellow is interesting. It's a picture of two oxen yoked together pulling as a team to get the job done. Paul’s yokefellow is directed to help "these women." What sort of help is not mentioned, but he is probably asking for help in mediating the problem between them. It is important to Paul to point out that they were at his side along with Clement and other "fellow workers." This implies that Paul thought highly of them.
I think Martin Lloyd-Jones has an interesting point here when discussing Paul and his fellow laborers. He says that, “The missionary task of the Church is a task for every single individual Christian.... It is to be done in many ways; we are not all to do it by preaching from pulpits. In a sense, we can all preach it, we are all to be engaged in prayer, prayer for the preaching and the propagation of the gospel and prayer for the souls of men and women. Then we can all do it by witnessing in our lives, and by the way in which we conduct our business, or practice our profession.... We can also bring others to listen to the word of God and we ourselves can attend meetings where the word of God is preached.... But above all, we do it by making the gospel attractive to others and awakening an interest in it as we live the Christian life. We can be such people that those who come into contact with us will know that there is something different about us and want to know the explanation.”
Verse 4. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Paul is saying that no matter what happens, one must rejoice. He says to rejoice always. In 1 Thes 5:16-18 Paul says to "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Rejoicing in the Lord in a familiar theme in Scriptures; it is the normal response of the righteous:
a. Ps. 5:11: But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
b. Ps. 9:1-2: I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
c. Ps. 32:11: Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing all you who are upright in heart!
d. Ps. 64:10: Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!
e. Ps. 97:12: Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.
f. Is. 61:10: I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
A main theme of Philippians is that of joy and rejoicing. Rejoicing in the Lord is typical New Testament teaching. It was a characteristic of the early Christians, as it should be a characteristic of us Christians in these times.
I have to quote Martin Lloyd-Jones again here: “The New Testament never just exhorts people to be happy or tells them to cheer up while it gives out psychological sympathy. That is something it never does, and that is why I again suggest that there is perhaps no greater travesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ than psychological teaching which presents itself in Christian terms. A presentation of the gospel which will have us cheer up, or do something to make ourselves feel happier for the time being, is a denial of the gospel of Christ. We are to rejoice in the Lord. There is no need for a stoical mechanism here, it is something direct and immediate, and it is in terms of the Lord. In other words, the joy that the Christian is to experience is a joy that is based solidly upon Christian truth and doctrine...
“There are many who lack the joy of the Lord because they fail to maintain that right relationship with him. You must not only enter into it, you must maintain it, and you do this in your spirit and in your attitude towards one another.... Therefore, if we want to have the joy of the Lord we must maintain the right spirit....
Furthermore, we must also maintain the right practice - we must live and walk in the right way.... If we are guilty of certain practices and sins, we cannot know the joy of the Lord.... If you want the joy of the Lord, you must forsake other things. Walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and you will experience the joy of the Spirit.”
Do we have this joy in our lives? Are we rejoicing in the Lord?
Continuing to verse 5. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
"Gentleness" is a "Christlike consideration for others," and is one of the attributes Paul requires of elders in the letters to Timothy and Titus.
Barclay says that this is one of the "most untranslatable of all Greek words." The King James version says moderation. Other versions say patience, softness, the patient mind, modesty, forebearance, magnanimity, courtesy and sweet reasonableness. The Greeks explained the word as "justice and something better than justice." It's when a man knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law and when to relax justice and introduce mercy. It's not so much what you are doing, but how you are doing it.
Paul expresses the same thing to the Colossians in 3:12-14 when he says, “As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
We are to show this gentleness to all people, whether they are nice or not, whether they are loving or cruel, whether they are friends or enemies. We are to display this characteristic in every part of our lives. A man should have this quality because the Lord's return is always imminent. We are his citizens and should represent him well.
Verse 6. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
This echoes Mat. 6:25, 27 where Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?... Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Matthew Henry said we are to “Avoid anxious care and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life.”
Note that Paul says to take everything to God in prayer. There is nothing too great or too small for His care.
Let me make it clear that nowhere in Scripture are we told not to make ordinary provision for life or not to use common sense. What it does tell us is that we are not to brood over or worry about things. William MacDonald found a little summary of this verse that says to be "anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful for anything.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones had something to say about this that I found very interesting, He said: “[Paul] differentiates between prayer and supplication and thanksgiving. What does he mean by prayer? This is the most general term and it means worship and adoration. If you have problems that seem insoluble, if you are liable to become anxious and overburdened, and somebody tells you to pray, do not rush to God with your petition. That is not the way. Before you make your requests known unto God, pray, worship, adore. Come into the presence of God and for the time being forget your problems. Do not start with them. Just realize that you are face to face with God. The idea of being face to face is inherent in the very word 'prayer'. You come into the presence of God and you realize the presence and you recollect the presence - that is the first step always.... The prayer that Paul advocates, in other words, is not a desperate cry in the dark, not some frantic appeal to God without any real thought. No, we first realize and recollect that we are worshipping a blessed, glorious God. We worship first and then we make our requests known.”
Verse 7. And the peace of God, which transcends all understand-ing, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
While Christians see a mystery in God's peace and have difficulty understanding it, unbelievers haven't a clue. The peace of God is the opposite of anxiety; "it is the tranquility that comes when the believer commits all his cares to God in prayer and worries about them no more.”
Is. 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
God's peace is the peace that transcends all our mental capacity to grasp and to appreciate it. Matthew Henry calls it: “the comfortable sense of our reconciliation to God and interest in his favor, and the hope of the heavenly blessedness, and enjoyment of God hereafter.”
The word Paul used for "guard" is the military word for standing on guard, that "the peace of God will stand like a sentinel on guard upon our hearts."
A summary of verses 6 & 7 would be Ps. 55:22: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
Verse 8. 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.
William Barclay tells us that: “The human mind will always set itself on something and Paul wished to be quite sure that the Philippians would set their minds on the right things. This is something of the utmost importance, because it is a law of life that, if a man thinks of something often enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it. His thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which he cannot jerk them. It is, therefore, of the first importance that a man should set his thoughts upon the fine things and here Paul makes a list of them.”
Prov. 4:23 says, “More than all that you guard, guard your mind, for it is the source of life.” (Tanakh). Today's English Version, The Good News Bible, puts it: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” \
Paul has similar instructions in Col. 3:1-10: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practice and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Lets look at each of these virtues mentioned to the Philippians:
a. true: Not false or unreliable, things that will not let one down. Not relative truth - God's truth!\
b. noble: William Barclay says that when this word is used to describe a man, it describes a person who moves throughout the world as if it were the temple of God. ...the word describes "that which has the dignity of holiness upon it." Vine defines the meaning as "august, venerable.”
c. right, also translated "Just". It's the word of duty faced and duty done. It described one who fulfilled his duties to the gods and men.
(1) Do we fulfill our duties to God? Do any of us really do so on a consistent basis?
(2) What about our duties to other people? Do we keep promises? Are we dependable before others to the extent they see Christ in us?
(3) What about our treatment or even thoughts of others; are we just?
d. pure: That which is not contaminated; morally undefiled. I like what Barclay says here: “The world is full of things which are sordid and shabby and soiled and smutty. Many a man gets his mind into such a state that it soils everything of which it thinks. The Christian's mind is set on the things which are pure; his thoughts are so clean that they can stand even the scrutiny of God.”
(1) Do we fill our minds with the immorality that Hollywood, magazines, Internet and other media shovel out to us on a daily basis? In other words, would the Lord approve of that by which we are entertained or did he die for it?Think about that for a moment; are you sure that what you watch and read meets God's approval?
e. lovely: Best translation is winsome. Best paraphrased as that which calls forth love. A winsome person is "one whom to see is to love.”
(1) Are we seen as winsome by those outside the body of Christ? Do we demonstrate the love of God to such a degree that others are drawn to us?
f. admirable: KJV says good report, RV says gracious. Moffatt says high-toned. Barclay says it describes "the things which are fit for God to hear." Eph. 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear." A few verses farther Pauls adds, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” [NAS]
(1) Are our thoughts and words about that which is admirable, the things of good report? Or do we find ourselves mostly thinking and discussing that which is displeasing to God?
g. excellent. Barclay says this is the only time in Paul's writings that he uses the Greek word for this. He says, “In classical thought it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of a man.”
(1) Do we like to think about this kind of excellence? Do we try to be this kind of excellence?
h. praiseworthy: My first thought is that of God's praiseworthiness. Anything that can be commended is good to think of. About verse 8, Henry Morris has an interesting thought when he says: “This is an important guideline for educators. If God does not want us to think on evil or ugly things, then surely our school's curricula should keep away from them, except to provide antidotes for them. This principle should also guide our individual study and activities.” A person cannot, at the same time, entertain evil thoughts and thoughts about Jesus and his work. If evil thoughts come up, one should think on Jesus. If a person's thought-life is pure, then his life will be pure.
Finally we have verse 9. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This harks back to 3:17 where Paul says, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Just what is it that they have learned from Paul? First and foremost it was the Gospel. He taught them the doctrine that he spells out so well in all his letters. Then he taught that, since they were new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), they were to change their way of living so as to glorify God. An example of this exhortation is where he says in Eph. 4:1: "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." And again 16 verses later he says, "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking." In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians Paul tells them in chapter 7, "Let us purify ourselves from everything that can defile either body or spirit, and strive to be completely holy, out of reverence for God." [GWN]
You can find Paul's teachings about how to live in every one of his letters, but I think one of the best summations is found in Ephesians chapters 4-6. These are the things he surely would have also taught the Philippians. These are things they learned from him and were to put into practice. They are also the things we have learned from Paul and should put into practice.
In his letter to Titus Paul said, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
Christianity should not be an addition to our lives, it should control our lives. Christians should not think in the same way, nor live in the same way as the world - the pagans.
Let's summarize this part of chapter 4:
Paul says we are to stand firm in our faith as citizens of heaven. He gives the principle of agreeing in the Lord. We are to rejoice in the Lord at all times and in every situation. We are to treat one another with Christlike consideration. We are not to be anxious about the world around us, but we should worship our holy God, bringing him our needs and giving him our thanks, and then he will guard our hearts and minds with his peace. We should focus our thoughts on that which is righteous and stay away from that which offends God.
So what about the peace of God? Let me close with first a quote from Matthew Henry: “Observe, Paul's doctrine and life were of a piece. What they saw in him was the same thing with what they heard from him. He could propose himself as well as his doctrine to their imitation. It gives a great force to what we say to others when we can appeal to what they have seen in us. And this is the way to have the God of peace with us - to keep close to our duty to him. The Lord is with us while we are with him.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones tells us that, "in verse 9 you have a general statement: 'Live this life,' says Paul in effect, 'and God himself will always be with you and he is the God of peace.' Peace is his great characteristic. There is peace in the love of God because he is holy; he is a God of peace and he wants to be at peace with you. That is the whole meaning of the gospel, that is why Christ came. Men and women had become miserable because they had rebelled against God and God sent Christ to make peace. The meaning of the cross is that God is making peace with his enemies, who have rebelled against him, making it possible for them to be at peace with him. Christ has blotted out our sin and therefore we can be at peace with God. And, too, he makes me at peace with myself, because as he removes sin out of my life, the stress and the strain and the struggle go and I find a strange peace. He makes me live at peace with others and he enables me to be in a state of peace whatever my circumstances and conditions and surroundings may be. That is the promise and oh, what a gracious and glorious promise! Walk in the light in that way, says Paul, and God will be walking with you. That is the picture. It is exactly like Enoch of old: 'Enoch walked with God' (Gen. 5:24), and God walked with him. So here is Paul's promise to Christians to whom he was writing: You walk in that way and the God of peace will be with you. Difficulties may arise, but he will quench them. Whatever happens he will ever be with you. 'Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.' In life, in death, always, his promise is: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee' (Heb.13:5).”
Do you imitate Paul and, by association, model yourself after Jesus himself? Do you have the peace of God in your life? If the answer to either of these questions is "no," should you not change the focus of your life to demonstrate that "new creation" you've become in Christ and bring glory to God in doing so?