In 2006, I participated in the very first Uni-challenge (Uni being short for unity). If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry because not many people have. It’s an annual competition held by a Christian Camp in Puerto Rico hoping to promote unity among different churches across the Island. Back then I was much more competitive and when I heard about it, I immediately thought that my friends from church and myself had a good chance at winning. I was competitive, they were actually strong and athletic; it was the perfect team. Before the competition began we were all gathered to go over the rules. It was made very clear that we would not only receive points for our placement in the games, but that we could receive or lose points depending on our team spirit, the encouragement we showed to each other and the encouragement we showed to our competitors. Once the games started you can imagine how loud it was! Everyone made it a point to encourage everyone else!
Like I thought, our team was good. We won the first three competitions (which took up the whole morning) and soon found ourselves in first place. So, though the competition was to promote unity among different churches, for our team, it was now a matter of maintaining our lead. All we needed to do to win was to stand firm in our position and finish how we started. But when the fourth competition came around, we were surprised to see it wasn’t against another team, but it was a massive puzzle carved out of heavy plywood. The team to assemble it the quickest would be considered the winner of the competition. Just as quickly as we began to put the puzzle together, our team spirit, our unity as a team, our joy and excitement of being in first place began to fade. Before we knew it we were upset at each other and forgot how exciting it was to even be in first place. Our bad attitudes and frustration not only with each other, but ourselves, caused us to squander our lead. Sadly, but also rightly, we ended up in last place because of how ugly our attitudes were during this event.
Though we were in first place in the competition, that puzzle allowed us to lose sight that in order to stand firm in our position, we needed to continuously strive together towards our goal no matter what came our way. I wish I had studied better the words of Paul to the Philippians in chapter 4 before signing up for the event. Paul begins the last chapter by encouraging the church in Philippi to continue to stand firm in the Lord. Now quickly, I think it’s important to note that in using the words “stand firm”, Paul is to some degree, affirming the current position the Philippians are in.
In chapters 3-4 he encouraged them to continue to obey in his absence as they did in his presence, and to continue to hold fast in spite of the evildoers and Judaizers that surrounded them. Though Paul acknowledges the difficulties that surround the church of Philippi, there isn’t anything in the text to indicate that the church was struggling or straying away from the Gospel. Nevertheless, Paul sees fit to encourage these Christians who demonstrated maturity and faithfulness to continue to stand firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul knew first hand that though they were walking faithfully with the Lord at that moment, each day could bring them difficult circumstances and temptations. The difficulties of daily life require that we lean on the Lord daily and strive to stand firm in Him.
Here in chapter four, I believe Paul lays out four ways we can strive to stand firm in our daily walk with the Lord and each other.
1) At the onset, Paul encourages the Philippians to Strive for Unity. He encourages them to strive for unity. Now, how do we do that? Do we sit around a fire together and Sing kum-bah-yah? Is it enough to meet with our small groups each week to call ourselves a unified church? And I’m not here claiming to know all the practical ways we go about becoming a unified church, but as important as this is, it’s definitely worth thinking about. To help us think through this, we can see in Ch. 4 some insight that Paul gives the Philippians in how to seek unity with each other. We see in verse 2 that Paul pleads with two believers from the church in Philippi to agree with each other in the Lord. The NIV phrases it as “to be of the same mind in the Lord”. He also involves the church by asking a nameless companion to help these women reconcile their differences. The text doesn't tell us what these differences were about. Maybe one sinned against the other? Maybe it was just a misunderstanding of some sort? The reality is we don’t know. One thing we do know is that Paul loved this church very much. We see his affections for the Philippians in vs 1: Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown… So, though we don’t know what the dispute was about, it’s safe to say that Paul’s deep love and longing for this church moved him to acknowledge the situation and encourage the church to resolve it. So then, is there anything stopping us from loving each other in such a way? Do we take our time to resolve conflict or are we trying to solve it as quickly and lovingly as possible?
If we think it’s important to settle any differences or disputes we may have with a neighbor or co-worker, and not just out of obedience to Christ, but also for the sake of our witness. How much more should we strive for unity with a brother or sister whose name is written in the book of life as Paul reminds us in vs. 3? We need to strive for unity in our relationships with each other. Now, it’s important to clarify that unity does not mean uniformity. We can all love Christ, love each other, serve side by side and still disagree on certain issues. We should, however, by the grace of God, be able to live peacefully and lovingly with each other in spite of any differences we may. But any hint of dissension, conflict or even possible misunderstandings should move us to seek reconciliation or clarification swiftly. Seeds of dissension can quickly become roots of bitterness that can lead to gossip, frustration, and if ignored possibly division within a church.
A few months ago I was encouraged by a debate I was in. A few of us were discussing a sermon manuscript and realized we disagreed with some statements the pastor made. It wasn’t Lee in case you were wondering, it was Aaron. We all had biblical foundations for our opinions and soon realized we we’re going to have to agree to disagree. There wasn’t a consensus. But at one point in the discussion, one of us came off kind of sternly. It may be safe to say that he was even a little harsh toward one of the others. The rest of us just stood there kind of confused. Was he feeling attacked and so became defensive? Was there a misunderstanding? Was he trying to be mean? We had no idea. The next time we were all together, that brother who came across rather harshly made it a point to apologize to all of us for the way he expressed himself. He explained why he spoke the way he did, apologized for his actions and clarified any possible misunderstandings. He also made it a point to ask the brother he was harsh to for forgiveness in front of all of us. We extended forgiveness to him and the debate was soon behind us.
You see, our brother wasted no time in striving for unity. And after it was all said and done, we never did agree on what we were debating about! But we were like-minded in the Lord, living peacefully and lovingly with one another. So let me ask you, are you still ignoring that person since the last time you spoke because they hurt your feelings? Are you still bitter because you were the butt of someone’s joke, and haven’t spoken to them since? Or the other side of that coin, do you think you hurt someone’s feelings with a comment you made? Either way, I encourage you to seek reconciliation with your brother or sister. Strive for unity with them. And I’m using the word strive deliberately, because it’s hard. What our brother did required humility. It required time in prayer, repentance and love for his brothers. Likewise to forgive requires choosing to love, to show grace and promising to forget what happened no matter how much it hurt. It’s hard! But by the grace of God we can do it. So I urge you; strive for unity with each other. And as a unified body we can fully experience the joy of fellowship with the church while standing firm in the Lord.
2) The next way we see Paul urging the Philippians to stand firm is by encouraging them to Strive for Joy. First they were to strive for unity, secondly, they were to strive for joy.
In verses 4-9, Paul commands us to exercise what are different characteristics of a believer who is living joyfully in the Lord. If we are walking joyfully in Christ, these different characteristics should naturally overflow out of our lives. These characteristics can be classified in two different ways. They are either outward expressions of our joy, as seen in v 4-5. Or, they are inward practices that lead to joy as seen in verses 6-9.
I The first of the outward expressions of joy appear in vs. 4-5. I really enjoy vs. 4 a lot. It is very direct and matter of fact. Rejoice in the Lord! Again I say it, Rejoice! Paul is not taking excuses as to why we can’t rejoice in our Lord and Savior. This is understandable because if any person had a reason to no rejoice in the Lord, it was Paul. At the very moment of writing this letter he was in prison in Rome awaiting possible execution. But even though he was uncertain of his fate, he was still able to praise God and even lead others to faith. His joy and praise was consistent in spite of his circumstances, not only was it consistent it was visible and even contagious. Can the same be said of us? Are you confident that there are people in your life who would testify to you being joyful in hard times?
I will never forget the words of my mother shortly after my stepfather left her because she became a follower of Christ. He literally grew jealous of Jesus in her life. After 16 years of marriage he chose to leave my mother and pursue a relationship with another woman. But in spite of this, my mother would still say, “Praise God”. She would still delight herself in her Savior and declare that our home will continue to praise the Lord. She rejoiced in spite of her circumstances. She continued to pray, to laugh, to serve and when necessary, cry. But I can testify that she strived for Joy in Christ.
I want to encourage you all to do the same, in spite of whatever we you are facing! Midterms, frustration with your children, unemployment, sickness or stress in your work place, no matter the circumstance, remember how gracious he has been and meditate on his promises. Let’s remember from where the Lord has taken us, and that he has seated us in Christ at the right hand of the Father. Strive for Joy and rejoice in the grace of God.
II Another outward expression of joy can be seen in vs. 5. Paul says that our reasonableness should be evident in our lives. Again, I like the way it’s worded in the NIV to help us better understand this. There it is phrased as “let your gentleness be evident to everyone” Now, I think it’s important to note that Paul wasn’t telling the Philippians to be wimps or to be soft. Don Carson explains that another word used in older translations instead of gentleness was “forbearance”. He goes on to explain how Forbearance is the exact opposite of being contentious or self-seeking. Instead it portrays a person who is self-controlled and not seeking to promote himself. I agree with Don Carson in that not to promote oneself is closer to what Paul was trying to communicate to the Philippians and to us. So with this understanding we can see how Paul is undercutting the temptation to make ourselves known to those around us by the things that we feel best describe us, and he’s doing it by encouraging us from the beginning to be known for our gentleness. If we are gentle and self-controlled toward others, then we are not seeking out our own best interest. This type of gentleness is a natural overflow of joy in our Lord.
I have a co-worker who on the weekends, goes to Memphis to work a few hours in the Coach store. For those who don’t know the brand, it’s expensive! She was sharing with a group of us how one day two guys went into the store and one of them yelled “Ya’ll need to close the store because I’m about to buy everything up in here!” Of course she and her co-workers were caught off guard and just stood there in silence. This guy, noticing they were wondering why he said what he said hollered at them “You don’t know who I am?!” They replied, “Nope, sorry sir”. You can imagine by this time his ego was slowly crashing down, but not giving up he said” You know, from the TV show The Walking Dead”? Turns out he was one of the main characters on this popular TV show. A show these employees apparently don’t watch because they still had no idea who he was. The two guys eventually left upset and offended, without buying a thing.
This guy obviously wasn’t trying to make himself known for his gentleness. I think it’s safe to say he defined himself by his fame and economic status. But if we are to be known for our gentleness, our lives must be saturated with joy of in who we are in Christ, joy in what he has done for us, and joy for what we know awaits us because of His grace. If our hearts are joyful in Christ, and our souls are at peace in him, a gentle and quiet spirit will characterize our lives. Let’s not seek to be known in a way that promotes ourselves. Instead, by God’s grace, let us strive for joy so that we are known by the love and gentleness that we are constantly showing others. Before we move on, It’s worth mentioning that right after Paul tells the Philippians to be known for their gentleness, he says “The Lord is at hand” He encouraged the Philippians to live with a sense of urgency, and I believe we should live the same way. We should be earnest to be gentle, joyful, unified, so that if Christ were to return this moment, we can be found being obedient to Him and loving to one another.
Now, if anything is ever expressed outwardly, it’s because something has already occurred inwardly.
Some inward practices that can help us strive for joy in Christ can be found in vs. 6-9
We see in vs. 6-7 a command and a promise. Paul commands the Philippians not to worry but to take everything to the Lord in prayer. And if they do, he assures them that the peace of God will guard their hearts and their minds. We see this trust of resting in the Lord in other places in scripture as well. In 1 Peter 5:6- 7, we read
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”
In Psalm 55:22 David says “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved”
I don’t believe this teaching of casting our burdens on the Lord and resting in his sovereignty was something new to the Philippians. The truth is it isn’t new for us either. I do believe however, that because it is so hard for us to cast our burdens on the Lord, like the Philippians, we need to be reminded of this glorious promise: That when we do cast our burdens on the Lord, His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Because of the weight of all the difficulties we experience just by living in this fallen world, it is so easy for us to feel like we are being crushed. These burdens can lead to an anxiety, which isn’t only sinful, but it causes us to doubt the Lord’s love for us, His control over the whole world; it can even affect us physically, leaving us feeling debilitated and hopeless. So before we allow the burdens of everyday life to weigh us down, let’s remember that the heaviest burden we could ever feel has already been lifted, the weight of our sin and God’s wrath. If God through Christ was loving and gracious enough to cleanse us from our sins and save us from his wrath, how much more will he save us from the dangers of anxiety and stress if we only run to him in faith and prayer.
Now, to do this, we actually need to stop and pray! But how often do we ever stop and run to the Lord in prayer?
In Charles Spurgeon’s daily devotional, he has some very convicting things to say about prayer. I thought this quote from July 15th was very fitting. “Let us examine ourselves on this important matter. (Prayer) Do we engage with lukewarmness in private devotion? Is the fire of devotion burning dimly in our hearts? Do the chariot wheels drag heavily? If so, let us be alarmed at this sign of decay, Let us go with weeping, and ask for the Spirit of grace and of supplications. Let us set apart special seasons for extraordinary prayer. For if this fire should be smothered beneath the ashes of a wordly conformity, it will dim the fire on the family altar, and lessen our influence both in the Church, and in the world” This quote is based on Leviticus 6:13 “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar, it shall never go out”
So let us keep the fire of our prayer lives burning. Let’s go into detail in our prayers about how work is leading us to anxiety and affecting our relationships. Let’s go into detail about how our financial situation is causing us to doubt God’s goodness and care for us. Let us go into detail about how our studies are causing us to question God’s sovereignty in our lives, or the gifts he has given us.
No matter what is plaguing us, let’s stop and spend time in prayer and supplication laying our burdens at the foot of the cross. And let’s do it knowing that the peace of God will fill our whole being and guard us from anxiousness in a way we never could have imagined. I’m certain that leaning on the Lord in prayer in this way will allow us to truly be joyful in Him.
Now if we look at vs. 8-9, Paul shows us some more inward practices that can help us strive for joy and stand firm in the Lord.
In these verses he directs the Philippians on what to think and then encourages them to put into practice all they have learned. At this point in the text we can see that Paul has taken us from outward expressions of joy to our innermost thoughts. Evidently Paul believed that spending time thinking on things that lead us to worship the Lord and serve others is important if we are to stand firm in Christ. I think Paul is also trying to communicate that if we want to live in a manner worthy of our calling, it begins with what we spend time thinking about.
If a quarterback wants to win a football game, he starts by studying tapes of the other team and thinking through the best way to approach his opponent. Once he is familiar with the other team’s defensive strategies and has thought through the best plays for his own team, he will be able to act accordingly on the field and have a better chance at winning the game.
Just as winning becomes more probable because the quarterback spent time thinking through strategies and game plans, living joyfully in the Lord and standing firm in Christ is more likely when we spend time meditating on the truths of His word, the grace He shows us daily and ways we can love and serve each other. So like Paul to the Philippians, I want to encourage you to think on things that lead you to worship God, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Strive for joy so that these inward practices can become outward appearances. And may we all strive for joy believing that not only the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds, but that the God of peace himself is with us in our daily struggles, empowering us to rest in Him and to stand firm in Christ.
3) The third exhortation I see Paul give to the Philippians is to strive for contentment
I am the first to admit that I need occasional reminders to be content. With today’s technology, we literally have the world at our fingertips. With such easy access to the Internet and cable, it seems like we have never-ending options for every decision we need to make. This can be an amazing blessing. We can find the cheapest deals and make wise decisions. On the flip side, the never-ending options can also make us feel like no matter what we have, it is never good enough. We can always see something “better”. The grass is always greener on the other side. So how do we truly learn to be content? How can we keep ourselves from thinking “If I only had…”and you can fill in the blank with whatever you like. Something you saw on Pinterest? Facebook? Usually it’s something we think we need to make life easier for you. In any case, if you can identify with this, it’s because you also struggle with being content. Thank God, here in vs 12, Paul says that he has learned the secret of contentment, and I believe if we look closely at these ten verses we’ll see three steps we can take to learn to be content ourselves.
The first step towards contentment is that we should be grateful for all that we get.
In vs. 10, 15-16, Paul expresses much gratitude for the concern and the gifts he received from the Philippians.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” Vs. 15-16 says
“And you Philippians yourselves know that from the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”
After reading this, I believe it’s safe to say that if we want to be content with all we have, we can start by thanking God for all that we get. No matter our circumstances or situation, we should recognize every blessing we receive as a gift from God. Psalm 24:1 states plainly: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” James 1:17 says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” So if we receive anything; a gift from a friend, a compliment from our spouse, a hug from our children or the gift of waking up in the morning, let us give thanks and be grateful! If our God, the God of the Universe who owns all things graciously decided to bless us, with something, anything, let our first reaction be to recognize His grace and to give thanks.
The second step towards contentment is that we should be satisfied with all we have.
In vs. 11-13 and 17, Paul wants to be sure the Philippians understand he is not thanking them hoping they will give him more. I’m sure we’ve all seen this before, a child may say something like, “Mmmmm that was so goooood, thank you!!” while they are staring at the plate of cookies with drool coming down their chins hoping they will be offered another cookie.
Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that he was truly content and satisfied with what they have given him. He tries hard to make sure they know that he just wants to thank them and not sound like he is asking for more things. We see this vs. 11 and 17 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” 17 says “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”
Paul was saying he doesn’t need anything else. Because in any situation, with whatever he has, he has learned to be content. He has learned to be grateful for what he gets and satisfied with what he has at the moment. I believe the key word here is learned. We too can learn to be content like Paul. If we learn to give thanks for everything we get, recognizing it as a gift from God, it becomes easier to believe that what God gives us is always enough. If for any reason we feel what God gives us is not enough, we shouldn’t think God is being stingy, or holding back, we should pray and ask the Lord to help us feel satisfied with what we have, with all that He has given us.
”The Lord God is a sun and a shield, the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
I know in practice this is very hard. It’s impossible in our own strength. Because of our fallen nature, we’ll always be tempted to think we know what’s better for ourselves. That we know what’s in our best interest, even more so than God. We shouldn’t be surprised this is so hard for us.
But if Paul learned to be content because he was leaning on the Lord to help him do so, we can also learn to value everything we have and be grateful for all we receive if we ask the Holy Spirit in prayer. So let us be encouraged because like Paul, we also have direct access to the throne of grace so that we can learn to be satisfied with all we have.
This leads us to the last step towards contentment, to believe that God is all we need.
In vs. 18-20 Paul says he has been paid in full and is well supplied because of the gifts sent to him. Yet he also notes that the gifts he received from the church were like a sacrifice that was pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. He knows that their gifts for him were out of obedience to the Lord. It was God’s provision for him, through them. In response to their gracious giving and obedience, Paul assures them of the Lord’s provision in their lives “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
As His God fulfilled his needs through the Philippians, so His God will supply every need of theirs as well. The gifts Paul was referring to seem to be practical things that he needed for everyday life. I would take this to be money, clothing and perhaps even food. Why then should we doubt he would provide for our needs as well? As it says in Matthew 6: 33, does not our Heavenly Father know what we need? If so, then let’s look at the lilies in the field and the birds in the air and be reminded that if God provides for them, how much more will he provide for the needs of his children. So as we strive for contentment, let’s give thanks for what we get, lets be satisfied with what we have and let’s believe that Christ is all we need.
Finally, as Paul encourages the Philippians to strive to stand firm in the Lord, he reminds them that they do not strive alone.
He begins chapter 4 and ends it acknowledging the church as a whole. He encourages all of the brothers at Philippi in the beginning of the chapter, and ends the chapter by sending them greetings from the brothers that surround him in Rome. As he encourages each individual to strive to stand firm, he is saying it knowing that they will do so among other brothers and sisters in the faith. Thank God for the church! Thank God that we can encourage each other and depend on each other to live in a manner that is pleasing to our Lord. Paul loved and longed for this church in such a way that he considered their obedience and steadfastness as a crown he will someday lay at the feet of the Lord. Their faithfulness and obedience, to some degree were his success and achievement. I pray we can be just as passionate about each other’s faithfulness to Christ and just as diligent to help each other stand firm on the truth of the Gospel.
Now, we can only truly encourage each other to stand firm if our current foundation is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you standing on the truth of the Gospel or are you hoping to put this hard puzzle of life together on your own, thinking you can win eternal life? Though you may think you are in first place, your sins will cause you to lose your soul. If you do not know Christ as your Lord Savior, if you haven’t repented of your sins and put your faith in the only one who has defeated sin with his death and resurrection, do so today! You are still breathing, it isn’t too late to repent and put your faith in Christ.
As for my brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray you never lose sight of your need to stand firm in the Gospel of our Lord. I pray you strive for unity with each other at the first sight of conflict or division. Strive for joy in Christ though an unexpected competitor has arrived at your doorstep. Let us never forget that our joy isn’t dependent on our circumstances but on what Christ has done for us. And whether we receive positions of honor or lose them, whether we get that raise or lose our job, as we diligently work hard, let us strive to be content with what we have and all that the Lord has graciously given us, trusting He will provide for our every need. We don’t have to put the hard puzzles together ourselves, let’s make the most of the amazing blessing that is the church and strive together to stand firm in the Lord.
Father, we thank you for your Word. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, which opens our eyes to the riches that we can find in it. And Lord, thank you for the church. For this family that you have provided so that we can encourage each other to live out our lives in a way that honors you and brings you glory. I ask Lord that when we fail, when we sin, that you remind us that your grace is sufficient and that in the church we have someone we can go to help us carry our burdens to Your feet. Likewise Lord, help us to be intentional in praying for one another, serving one another, and when necessary, remind each other in love of your word and promises to us. And may we never forget that our heaviest burden was lifted when Christ took on our sin on the cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.