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Philippians 4

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-23

Overview:

  • Paul tells the Phillys once more, “You’re my family, I love you and wish I could be with you right now. You bring me joy and you are the crowning achievement of the race I’ve run, stand firm in your belief by living a life of self-sacrifice for others.”
  • Then he publicly calls out Eudy and Synty and tells them that they got to get unified in thinking like Jesus.
  • Paul then tells a good friend in Philippi, “help these women out. They’ve been as instrumental in helping spread the gospel as Clement and those other dudes, all of whom have their names written on the registry of the citizens of heaven.”
  • Then he says, “Party on, people, we’re saved. Rejoice! Be self-sacrificing and kind to everyone. God is right next to us. What do you have to be worried about? Whatever the sitch, pray, give thanks, ask God for what you want, and God’s true peace, the peace that comes from knowing he’s already won the fight, will guard your hearts.”
  • Paul lets them to stay focused on anything true, right, pure, lovely, admirable. Learn from him, imitate him so they can be at peace.
  • Paul is stoked that God recently renewed the Philippians concern for him.
  • But he’s quick to remind them that he’s not asking for more generosity . Nope. Paul says he has learned the secret to contentment. He’s been hungry, well fed, needy and having plenty, but regardless of the circumstance he finds his true strength comes from having a relationship with Jesus.
  • But Paul goes on to say, “I still want to say thanks for the gift. When I was on my first missionary journey, you supported me and no other church did. When I was in Thessalonica, you helped me out more than once. But I don’t need more gifts. This last gift from Epaph was plenty.”
  • He then lets them know that all their gifts to him were the same as offering sacrifices to God, and God thinks that’s cool. And just as the Philippians met Paul’s needs, God in turn will meet their needs, because God is awesome like that. Can I get an amen?
  • Finally, Paul gives a shout out to everyone listening to the letter. The peeps with Paul say, “Howdy,” and some of the believers saying “hi” are among the members of Nero’s own household.

Historical Context:

Euodia and Syntyche

It is rare that Paul names names in the context of settling church disputes, so the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche must’ve been severe, especially considering this letter was going to be read publicly,

Little is known about these women. They most likely had a falling out or disagreement over some point of doctrine or practice, and the animosity between them had become a threat to the unity of the whole church.3 They may have represented the “elders” and “deacons” mentioned at the beginning of the letter.

True Companion

“And I ask you, my true companion…” It is not known to whom the apostle refers here. However, whoever it was must have been obvious enough to the Philippians that it would be understood who was referred to.

Several people have been suggested:

  • It may have been one of the ministers or “bishops” of Philippi, who had been particularly associated with Paul when he was there. The epistle was addressed to the “church, with the bishops and deacons,” and the fact that this one had been particularly associated with Paul would serve to designate him with sufficient particularity. Whether he was related to the women referred to is wholly unknown.2
  • Some have supposed that he might be the husband of one of these women.2
  • The term “yokefellow” or “companion”, which in Greek is “suzugov”, has at times been understood to be a proper name, Syzygus.2
  • Some have suggested that it was Timothy, Silas or Luke. Luke had been a close companion of Paul on his first visit to Philippi (Acts 16:12-17), and he may have stayed there until Paul’s return some years later (Acts 20:2-5).1
  • It may also have been Epaphroditus, the man tasked with delivering the letter.3

Book of Life

The phrase, “the book of life” is a Jewish phrase, and refers originally to a record or catalogue of names, as the roll of an army. It then means to be among the living, as the name of an individual would be erased from a catalogue when he was deceased.2

The idea of names inscribed by God in a heavenly book is found as early as Exod 32:32-33 (“blot out my name from the book you have written”); it is actually called “the book of life” in Ps 69:28 (“book of the living”). The term was especially leveraged in apocalyptic  literature (Dan 12:1; 1 Enoch 47:3; Herm. Sim. 29).4

The Philippians, as citizens of Rome living in a Roman colony, would have had their names entered in a civic registry for the Roman government.4 A freed slave that was granted citizenship would have his name added to that scroll.If one of the citizens proved guilty of treachery or disloyalty or of anything bringing shame on the city, he was subjected to public dishonor by the expunging of his name from the register. (The name was, in any case normally obliterated at death.) He was deemed no longer worthy to be regarded as a citizen of the city. If, on the other hand, a citizen had performed some outstanding exploit deserving of special distinction, honor was bestowed upon him, either by the recording of the deed in the city roll or by his name being encircled in gold (or overlaid in gold) in the roll.”6

Observations:

  • First, Paul refers to them as brothers and sisters. This is the seventh time in this letter—a letter in which the term appears a total of nine times. It not only connotes intimacy, but expresses the family relationship Paul has with these people in Christ.4
  • The ‘crown’ was not the royal crown of kings. The Greek word means a ring of leaves. They put it on the head of an athlete who succeeded in a race. The ‘crown’ was also a sign of honor for guests at a feast (a special meal).1
  • Ever since the times of Origen (185-251 A.D.), who was a disciple of Clement of Alexandria, there has been a positive identification of the Clement mentioned in the above passage with Clement of Rome who lived until the year 101 A.D. and who himself wrote a letter to the Corinthians.3
  • The Greek word “arete,” translated “virtue” is found nowhere else in Paul’s letters and in only two other New Testament references (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3), despite the fact of its being a frequent word in classical and Hellenistic Greek. Some have interpreted Paul’s meaning to be, “Whatever value may reside in your old heathen conception of virtue, whatever consideration is due to the praise of men, etc.”3
  • Paul seems to be drawing upon the cultural background of the Philippians and is saying to them: ‘If there is such a thing as moral excellence, and you believe there is. If there is a kind of behavior that elicits universal approval, and you believe there is,’ then continue to strive for this goodness and to attain to this level of behavior that will command the praise of men and of God.6
  • It is decidedly not Paul’s view that only what is explicitly Christian (be it literature, art, music, movies or whatever) is worth seeing or hearing. Truth and beauty are where you find them. But at all times the gospel is the ultimate paradigm for what is true, noble or admirable.7
  • The Greek word “epieikes” translated “gentleness” is difficult to translate with its full connotation. Such words as gentle, yielding, kind, forbearing, and lenient are among the best attempts, but no single word is adequate. Involved is the willingness to yield one’s personal rights and to show consideration and gentleness to others.4
  • “I have learned the secret..” The Greek word here used “memuhmai” is one that is commonly used in relation to mysteries, and denoted being instructed in the secret doctrines that were taught in the ancient “mysteries.” In those mysteries, it was only the “initiated” who were made acquainted with the lessons that were taught there. Paul says that he had been initiated into the lessons taught by trials and by prosperity. The secret and important lessons which these schools of adversity are fitted to teach he had had an ample opportunity of learning; and he had faithfully embraced the doctrines thus taught.2
  • Stoics viewed contentment as being happy with (i.e., accepting) one’s present circumstances, station in life, etc. It involves a certain resignation to the surrounding circumstances. But, for Paul, contentment comes from a faith-oriented, Christ-centered approach to life’s circumstances; it is not mere resignation, for it involves a deep and abiding joy through an ongoing consciousness of God’s sovereign and good hand in everything.4
  • So, what was the secret that Paul had been learning since his conversion and which had taught him contentment? In 4:13 he says, “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” Paul learned in the context of serving Christ that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength.4
  • When Paul says “renewed” he used a word for a plant that had flowered again. It was not dead, like the way a tree or plant seems in winter. At the right time, we see flowers. The right time for Paul’s friends has now arrived.1
  • When Paul says the Lord is near, he can mean the Lord is near in temporal terms, i.e., his second coming is at hand or that the Lord is near in spatial terms; he is close to every believer and every believer experiences his spiritual nearness.Both are correct theologically and have support in this letter (2:1; 3:20). It is virtually impossible to choose between the two and it may be that both are intended.4
  • The reciprocity of friendship is now back in Paul’s court. But he is in prison and cannot reciprocate directly. So he does an even better thing: Since their gift had the effect of being a sweet-smelling sacrifice, pleasing to God, Paul assures them that God, whom he deliberately designates as my God, will assume responsibility for reciprocity. Thus, picking up the language “my need” from verse 16 and “fill to the full” from verse 18, he promises them that “my God will fill up every need of yours.”7
  • The final “grace” serves to bookend his letters, which begin with “grace and peace” as part of the greeting.7

Discussion:

  • What does contentment look like in our consumer-driven society? Our economy runs on buying more things, capitalism works on constant fulfillment of “want” over “need.” How do we find contentment without total abstinence or total indulgence?
  • Paul thanked the Philippians again and again in this letter. Who has been kind and generous to you? How can you thank them? What would your letter say?
  • Paul says to focus on “whatever” is lovely and true. There are many things that are “non-Christian” that meet this standard. What are some examples in our culture? How do they incidentally or even overtly overlap with Christian beliefs? What are the upsides and downsides to being to focused on only Christian products (music, books, etc.) vs. focused on whatever is lovely and true in the world?

References:

  1. Easy English commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Herrick’s commentary
  5. Hagelberg’s commentary
  6. Constable’s commentary
  7. IVP commentary
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