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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Philippians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-23

His heart overflowing at the contemplation of such an Object, the apostle in Ch.4 dwells upon the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus to supremely satisfy the soul. If in Ch.3 Christ is his Object in Glory, in this chapter Christ is his Strength for the wilderness pathway; and in contrast to Israel's constant murmuring in the wilderness, he tells us with a full heart, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, to be content." Sweet testimony to the fulness of love and grace in his adorable Saviour!

And toward the Philippians, too, his heart expands: "my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown." This must be the result of all true occupation with Christ. If we thirst for the blessed knowledge of Himself, we spontaneously seek that others, too, might enjoy Him, and the spirit in which we do so will be one of tenderest consideration and entreaty. The Philippians were even then "his joy", and would in Glory be "his crown."

"So stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved." Since he loves them, he can desire no less for them than a firm, steadfast stand "in the Lord," in accordance with the moving truths of Ch.2. It will be noted that the first nine verses of this chapter are mainly devoted to exhorting the saints; and it is appropriate that they are first urged to maintain a single-hearted devotedness to the Lord, that will not waver in the face of trial.

But this is quickly followed by a plea for unity of mind. He addresses two sisters in the Lord, perhaps both of spiritual character, for their names (Euodias - "well met" and Syntyche - "a sweet smell") have good implications. Yet each evidently had a mind of her own, and they were at issue. Beautiful it is to note that the apostle will not take sides, but tenderly beseeches them to "be of the same mind in the Lord." For, to "stand fast in the Lord" does not mean to be disagreeable toward others. Unity may be maintained, and should be, and indeed will be, if we simply seek the Lord's mind instead of our own.

In becoming moral order, helping follows closely with unity; "I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the Gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life." This is evidently addressed to Epaphroditus, the bearer of the epistle. It may well be that Euodias and Syntyche were among the women of whom Paul speaks. But he entreats Epaphroditus in this case to help them, not to reprimand them. Those who have sought by labour to further the work of the Gospel will be the special object of Satan's attacks, and to help them is only right, and particularly spiritually, as the verse doubtless implies. God is not unrighteous, that He should forget their work and labour of love, and the apostle too speaks of it in manifest appreciation, "whose names," he adds, "are in the book of life." Man's books of history and biography had no place for such, but how infinitely more honoured a distinction was theirs!

A fourth characteristic is now strongly urged in verse 4: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice." He has said the same before, but it is a matter to be much emphasised. For, blessed as it is to be a help to others, there is real danger of making this the chief occasion of our joy. Many are turned aside by this snare, and we must be diligent to remember that the joy of being useful cannot in any wise substitute for joy in the Lord. Let us seek this with humble consistency, for every other occasion of joy has failure, fluctuation, feebleness in it. He abides the same.

Verse 5 however would remind us that such joy should be tempered by a gentleness or moderation that should be evident to all men. If the joy in the Lord is real - not mere effusion - we shall have a readiness to yield our own rights, a gentle reasonableness that seeks not self-importance or self-assertion, so that some have suggested the word "yieldingness" in place of "moderation." This will be possible in just such measure as we realise that "the Lord is near." It is the blessed experience of "enduring as seeing Him who is invisible;" not exactly the expectation of His coming, but the sweet, present sense of His nearness.

But this again is closely followed by another becoming exhortation; "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let Your requests be made known unto God." Unbelief would urge that we are endangering our very existence by a gentle spirit that yields what may be our own rights. Should we therefore be anxious about such things? Far from it: "be anxious for nothing." Yet this is an impossibility without prayer. Hence, prayer is our sixth positive responsibility mentioned here. This is the blessed expression of dependence upon the Living God, the only real preservation from distracting care. If we are to be anxious for nothing, it manifestly follows that in everything we should pray. Blessed reassurance for the soul that not the smallest matter that may concern the believer's heart is too trivial for our God and Father. All should be brought candidly and earnestly to Him, where it will be well taken care of. In supplication we see this earnestness that pleads in the presence of God, so beautifully exemplified in our holy Lord in Gethsemane: "being 'g in an agony, He prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44).

But along with this we are given a seventh admonition: "with thanksgiving." Here is a most important preservative for our prayers. Even supplication is not to be demanding, but the expression of earnest desire for the will of God. A spirit of thanks. giving will keep us from the doubts and reasonings that are too often present when we are seeking something from God. Has He not met our real needs in the past? And are we not profoundly thankful for this? Thus quiet confidence as to the future is produced in the soul: "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Blessed result of true, lowly communion with God.

This is a very practical and experimental peace. "Peace with God" (Romans 5:1) is manifestly to be distinguished from this, for all the children of God, on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ, have peace with God by faith: it is their eternal possession immediately upon conversion. "The peace of God" rather is that tranquillity of soul that rests in the will of God: it is the same blessed peace seen in its perfection in all the path of the Lord Jesus. And such is a very real guard for the heart and mind, as the passage has been rightly translated, "shall garrison your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Yet this infinitely strong protection and comfort can be enjoyed by the believer only as he acts truly upon the instruction of verse 6: this alone will give the calm, tranquil peace of a mind and heart resting in the blessed will of God. There is no real reason that this should not be the common experience of all saints: alas, that it is not more constantly so!

Verse 8 now supplies the eighth admonition of our chapter, dealing with our very thinking. Is it asking too much that our thoughts should be kept in definite bounds? Surely not. Indeed this is a vital though hidden spring of our actions, and if our thoughts are kept pure, certainly our actions will be also. The real reason for outward failure is our more serious failure in disciplining and controlling our minds.

The mind is an amazing instrument, constantly active, and ever forming itself according to the character of those things which occupy it. Hence we are told to think on [1] "whatsoever things are true." This sets aside all idealistic fancies, books of fiction, and the like. Of what is true there is far more than enough to engage our whole time: how then find time for the empty imaginings of men's minds? Secondly, "whatsoever things are noble." For there are some things true that may not yet be noble, not profitable for the soul. Thirdly, "whatsoever things are just." This speaks of the character of equity or fairness, a most needful addition to truth and nobility. Fourthly, "whatsoever things are pure," that which has no admixture of an inconsistent nature. Fifthly, "whatsoever things are lovely." This adds a character of warmth which may be lacking in the former things, but must not be considered apart from them. Sixthly, "whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise." This seems to be an over-all covering of the verse, a sort of crowning of the commendable characteristics that should occupy our minds. "Think on these things."

Verse 9 now ends these admonitions with "doing" in the 9th place, not in the first, as many would prefer. Yet its place is seriously important: doing must flow from the former things or its character will be sadly deficient. "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." As in Ch. 3, Paul is decidedly an example here, and the former chapter may well be again considered in connection with this verse. His single-hearted, devoted path of service to God and man is well worth emulating. "If ye know these things, happy are ye, if ye do them."

The Philippians had first learned the practical character of Christianity through Paul's conduct among them: they had received these things as of God: they had seen them in operation: and now that he was gone they had heard that he maintained the same characteristics. His was a living example of his own teachings.

Let them follow him, and they would find the same results as he: "The God of peace shall be with you." God's own presence in living power with them would give His approval of such ways. We might here be reminded that in verse 7 "the peace of God" is the result of dependent, believing prayer: in verse 9 the presence of "the God of peace" is the result of doing the will of God.

The apostle now turns to speak more personally, "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at length your thought for me hath flourished again, though surely ye did think of me, but ye lacked opportunity" (N. Trans). The unfeigned and unselfish joy is beautiful to contemplate. The Philippians had desired before to send some temporal help to the apostle, but lacked opportunity, for their temporal resources were strictly limited. Their deep affection strongly affects the heart of Paul, and he greatly rejoices in the Lord at this willing sacrifice of their substance for the Lord's sake.

"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content." It was not his benefiting that so rejoiced his heart, but rather their affection for Christ, which he knew would bear fruit to their account. Wondrous it is to think of Paul's thorough contentment even in a Roman prison. He considered that he needed little indeed. Let us remark however, that this was not his natural character, but that he had "learned" to be content, doubtless through most trying experience and with unfeigned confidence in the Living God. Self-seeking is natural to the human heart: contentment therefore must be learned.

"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." Let us note his emphasis on the word "how." For it is all too possible to be abased and to take it in a wrong spirit. Not so with the apostle: "how to be abased" implies a cheerful acceptance of God's will in it. On the other hand, "how to abound" is in some respects a more severe test for many of us, for this implies a proper and godly use, according to the will of God, of those things in which He has made us to abound. We must also observe another expression here: "I am instructed." In measure like his Master, his "ear was opened to hear as the learner" (Isaiah 50:4). He was not self-taught in his contentment with whatever circumstances: God had taught him, and the instruction was welcome to his soul.

In all the varied circumstances through which the apostle passed, he recognises the perfect control of God, Who uses them in His own wise way for the benefit of His servant. Without such experience, he could not have been so instructed. May we not therefore shrink from those experiences through which our God would lead us: they are calculated to properly instruct us, as no other means would do.

Moreover, such things are necessary in order to display the superlative strength that is in Christ and working in His dependent servant. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." This was no mere sentiment or high ideal, so far as the apostle was concerned, but a claim abundantly verified in stern experience. His facing of circumstances as they were, bringing Christ into them, and making them a fruitful field of blessing, is a lovely display of the power of Christ over his own soul. All too lightly others may take such words into their lips - for experience does not bear them out - but the apostle speaks as one who has thus proven Christ in very real experience.

Yet, he is unfeignedly grateful for the affection that moved the Philippians in their ministering to his temporal need: "Ye have well done that ye did communicate with my affliction." Moreover, he adds that no other assembly had, at the beginning of the Gospel in those parts, shown the same self-sacrificing love in giving of their substance for his support. But they had twice sent to him in Thessalonica after he had left Macedonia. With them it was no case of "out of sight, out of mind:" they had kept him in their hearts during his absence. This was affecting to his soul, "not" as he assures them, "because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account." Such indeed is the becoming attitude of the servant of Christ, however rare it may sadly be. But shall we not rejoice unfeignedly at the judgment seat of Christ for every commendation and reward which the Lord Jesus is able to bestow upon His saints? Certainly there will be no selfish or jealous motives then: therefore let it not be so now.

With profound thankfulness the apostle assures them, "But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." It may be remembered that the sweet-savour offerings in Leviticus were those which speak of the blessed value to God of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, that which delighted the heart of God in the devoted, voluntary offering of His Son. Thus, the affectionate offerings of the saints of God are a sweet reminder to His heart of the sacrifice of His Son. How acceptable therefore, and well-pleasing to Him! And how becoming a response to His own great love in the sacrifice of His Son.

Would such a God allow them to suffer need because of their liberality? Far from it! Well had the apostle learned in experience the sufficiency of his God: "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Let it be well understood however, that this giving is the intelligent service of devoted affection for Christ. We are solemnly responsible, not simply to give, but to give as honouring the Lord. This must involve exercise of soul as to when, where, and in what manner to give. We could not rightly expect God to supply our needs if we squandered that which He had entrusted to us.

But the resources of our God are infinite, for who can measure the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus? Nor can His great heart of love suffer any less standard as to supplying the need of His saints. Therefore let His saints consider no lesser standard. The heart filled with Christ cannot but be deeply content.

As to all of this the apostle may well ascribe the glory to "our God and Father, - for ever and ever." If Christ is the satisfying portion and strength of the soul, the glory of the Father is intimately linked with this.

In the closing salutations let us remark once again the pastoral character of the epistle, as the apostle, with expanded heart, writes, "Salute every saint in Christ Jesus." No individual will he ignore. On the other hand, the brethren linked with Paul in his imprisonment join him in sending greetings. And this widens to include "all the saints," and "specially they that are of Caesar's household." Touching indeed this fruit of the grace of God in the soldiers and prison authorities, whose affection for Paul and all saints had been so drawn out through the apostle's faithful witness, by which doubtless they had been converted. How manifestly had his imprisonment "fallen out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel."

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." Thus the benediction, warm and affectionate, ends with the characteristic "all," that is, all the saints of God. Christ is seen to be in every sense the true Centre, and the circumference is complete.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Philippians 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/philippians-4.html. 1897-1910.

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