Studies in Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians
23. Philippians 4:1-9 - Think on Good Things
As Paul nears the end of his friendly letter to the church in Philippi, he encourages his readers to focus on the positive, and he closes with thanks and praise that can encourage us.
A plea for peace
Verse 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!” As he explained in chapter 3, we cannot trust in our imperfect performance — we must trust in Christ and in the transformation that he will bring us when he returns (3:21). By keeping a clear focus on Christ, we can stand firm until the end.
As he exhorts them, Paul reveals how much he likes these people who have helped him: he loves them and longs for them. They give him joy and honor, and he can appeal to them as friends.
Paul then turns to a specific problem within the Philippian church, mentioning two women by name: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord” (4:2). The disagreement between these Christians was apparently not a private matter, but had caused problems within the congregation. Paul does not cast blame and does not give orders, but treats them both the same.
Paul then asks someone to help: “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” (v. 3).
Paul not only pleads — he praises. These women had been a big help in Paul’s evangelistic team, but good gospel workers can have weaknesses in other areas, and these two needed some help in patching up their differences. So Paul calls on an unnamed but faithful friend to be a mediator. After all, these women are in the book of life and will live forever with each other, so they ought to try to get along now.
Peace and joy
Paul then goes back to a persistent theme in this letter: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (v. 4). But it’s hard to rejoice when we have persecution and personal disagreements. Nevertheless, we are to rejoice, for we are in the Lord. We have much to be happy about: a salvation that no one can take away from us.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near,” Paul exhorts. This is good advice for anyone, anytime, whether in a time of persecution or a personal squabble. Gentleness is better than retaliation.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6). We are encouraged to pray about everything that concerns us, confident that God will take care of our needs. Rather than worrying or fighting back, we can be thankful, even in times of trial. Paul is helping the Philippians to concentrate on the positive.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). With confident prayer, we can have inner peace. Although circumstances around us may be in turmoil, we can have a peace that by normal standards doesn’t make sense. But our faith is in Christ, not the circumstances of this world.
“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” (v. 8). If you want inner peace and interpersonal peace, then think on good things. Love looks for good things, not bad (1 Cor. 13:5-6). If you have a problem with someone, look for whatever is true and good and praiseworthy. Give your problems to God, and you will find peace.
“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” (Phil. 4:9). Paul again appeals to his own example among the Philippians. He tried to live the gospel as well as to share it, and he encourages the readers to do the same.
Thinks to think about
- Would I want my name to be in a public letter, with an apostle asking me to quit arguing with another member? (v. 2)
- Am I willing to give all my anxieties to God in prayer? (v. 6) Am I willing to be thankful even in difficult times?
- How well do I concentrate on the praiseworthy, rather than the things that irritate me? (v. 8)
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD