Here is a draft of a reflection on Phil 4:1-9:
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 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.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 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.
God’s kingdom advances through the visible witness of God’s people in the world. The Gospel comes to us on its way to someone else. Our manner of living matters profoundly. It is vital for us to embody fully the Gospel of Jesus so that we can stand firm in our faith before a watching world.
In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to instruct and exhort the Christ followers in Philippi to serve as witnesses of the Gospel. The key is for them to embrace a vision for life centered on the cross and modeled by Jesus. Such a life runs counter cultural to the dominant visions of success and satisfaction of Paul’s day and ours. In our Scripture lesson, Paul unpacks what it means to “stand firm in the Lord.” Let us listen carefully to Paul’s words.
First, Paul roots his words in a profound love for his friends in Philippi. He piles on terms of endearment in verse one. He describes his fellow Christ followers as those “whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown” and as “my beloved.” This relational language is crucial for connecting with his audience. Paul is modeling the sort of Christian community that he desires to see exist in Philippi. It is one rooted in mutuality and love. There is the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Paul exemplifies this maxim. Paul desires to teach the Christian life but fundamental to this is an ethic rooted in love between Paul and the Philippians. As we seek to build a community that stands firm in the LORD, we must begin on a foundation of love for one another. This core of the Christ following movement goes back to Jesus himself who taught, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Second, Paul moves to a crucial element for maintaining a community of love: unite around the Gospel. Divisions with churches are not a modern problem. Most of us have experienced the trauma caused by strife and broken relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Apparently two leaders of the church in Philippi Euodia and Syntyche were at odds with one another. Paul moves to heal the rift. But notice his tactic. He calls them to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). This language is identical to 2:5 and 3:15. What does it mean to have the “same mind in the Lord”? The issue is intentionality. Paul calls for Euodia and Syntych (and implicitly all who read Philippians) to center their wills and intentions on God’s mission. Jesus modeled a life focused on accomplishing God’s work through his becoming human and embracing death on a cross. When we learn to put the mission of the Gospel before our own wants and needs, we will discover a unity among like-minded Christ followers. Unity does not mean the loss of individuality or a conformity to group think, but it does require that we surrender ourselves fully to the work of the Gospel. Such a mindset fosters an atmosphere where true unity in Christ is possible.
Third, Paul presses Christ followers to embody a recognizable and contagious joy. Paul is not demanding that believers slap on fake smiles or repeat clichéd expressions such as “It’s all good” or “Praise the Lord” in the face of trying circumstances. Rather he is reminding the community of faith of their security in God through Jesus Christ. At the heart of verses 4¬–7 is the expression “The Lord is near.” This truth changes everything. Paul testifies to the abiding presence of Jesus with the church and also of Jesus’ imminent return. We can live lives of joy because our future is absolutely secure in God’s hands. This security allows us to manifest lives of gentleness and to undergird all that we do in trusting prayer to God. True joy emerges from living out our faith daily. Such joy serves as a tangible sign of hope in a world in which so many toil and suffer through a joyless existence.
Last, Paul sums up his creed by urging his hearers to live lives that demand an explanation. Verses 8–9 exhorts us to incorporate right attitudes and practices into our daily habits. Following Christ alters our mode of existence. The world looks different. Our thinking shifts away from negativity and turns to the beautiful and true. Author and speaker John Maxwell says, “Your attitude will determine your altitude.” If we desire to live lives that witness for Christ, we must nurture the habit of consistent reflection on good and positive things. Moreover, our living roots itself in new role models. The popular and the trendy fade into black as we begin to take seriously the lives of those who taught us the faith. In 3:17 Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” In other words, following Christ molds into one right thinking and right living.
Our world desperately needs the hope, peace, love, and joy that the Gospel brings. The Apostle Paul boldly calls those who follow Christ to stand firm in the Lord as a visible witness to the surrounding culture. His words invite us to imagine how a community of such people looks. It is rooted in a mutual love for one another that manifests itself in a community unified around God’s mission, living joyfully in light of a secure future, and fostering godly attitudes and practices into habits. What would your life look like if you gave yourself fully to Paul’s challenge? What if fully trusting and following Jesus Christ were the only way to become the persons whom Paul describes? What is keeping you from moving forward today? Amen.