Standing firm (Philippians 4:1-9)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Standing firm

When have you had to stand firm and to hold your ground?

Parents need to stand firm

As parents we sometimes must stand firm when it comes to our children. Our children don’t always (or perhaps often don’t) appreciate the decisions that we make and as they get older it can become much more difficult as a parent to do what we believe is the right thing.

No you can’t go. It doesn’t matter what everybody else’s parents are doing. We’ve already talked about this and explained our reasons why you can’t stay over at your friend’s house.

But everybody else is going!

You might have had a conversation like this with your teenager or remember one like this that you had with your own parents. Sometimes what a teenager does is that they try to wear you down until you give in and relent. However, there are times that parents need to hold their ground and stand firm in the face of opposition.

Standing firm can be difficult

Sometimes standing firm can be difficult because the opposition can be fierce and threatening. Just this week I received an email that was reporting that one large church network in Eastern Nigeria had three hundred of its branch churches burnt or destroyed and worse still over 8000 believers killed by the extremist group Boko Haram. Sometimes it isn’t easy to stand firm. “To be a Christian in northern Nigeria is hard and even life-threatening”[1].

Paul wrote to encourage the Philippians to stand firm

The apostle Paul wrote the letter to Philippians to encourage them to stand firm together in the face of suffering and opposition. After informing them of his own situation in prison in chains in chapter 1 and why he continued to rejoice he said that one thing mattered for the Philippians and that was for them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. He wrote that then, whether or not he got to see them again, that he would know that they were standing firm and contending together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened of those who opposed them.

This letter is about standing firm in the face of opposition. In the rest of the letter Paul went on to explain to them how they were to live in a manner worthy of the gospel by standing together as one with the same attitude as Christ and he encouraged them to follow the example of those who, like him (and Timothy and Epaphroditus) lived this way. He also warned them to watch out for those who were infiltrating the churches who didn’t live this way but lived as enemies of the cross.

2. Stand firm

Today we come to verse 1 to 11 of chapter 4 where the apostle Paul is wrapping up his exhortation to the Philippians and where he, once again, makes it clear that what they needed to do was to stand firm in the Lord.

Philippians 4:1

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]

Paul knew and loved the Philippians and what he wanted most was for them to stand firm as they waited for the coming of their Saviour (see 3:20-21). He has described how they were to do this in chapters 1, 2 and 3, but now in these verses, he reminded them once again of three important things that they were to do if they were to remain steadfast there in Philippi.

    1. Have the same mind
    2. Rejoice in the Lord always
    3. Think and do these things

2.1 Have the same mind in the Lord

The first thing that Paul mentions is for Euodia and Syntyche to have the same mind.

Philippians 4:2-3

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 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.

Euodia and Syntyche were two women who had worked alongside Paul in the cause of the gospel who had obviously had some sort of falling out with each other. We don’t know the specifics of the disagreement, but these women needed to be reconciled to one another if the Philippians were to stand firm together as one. Paul therefore pleads with each of them to have the same mind in the Lord and he called upon his true companion to help these women.

We don’t know who this true companion was[3]. It was probably a reference to one of Paul’s travel companions who had worked closely alongside Paul in the work of the gospel[4].

But what does it mean for these women to have the same mind in the Lord? I don’t think having “the same mind” meant that they were from here on to agree on everything. Rather, these words are reference back to Philippians 2:2 where Paul wrote that they were to be “like-minded[5], having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind”. What Paul is talking about here in chapter 4 is what he was talking about back there in chapter 2. But here he applies it specifically to these two women calling on them to have the same mind as Christ. This is a mindset where we don’t do anything out of self-ambition or vain conceit but where we humble ourselves and we put the interest of others above our own. This is the mindset that believers are to have if they are to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. This way of thinking then has practical everyday implications for the way that you and I are meant to relate to one another.

Things break down in church life not because people have different opinions about things, but because we lack the mind of Christ and think to highly of ourselves and our interests. Instead of putting the interest of others above our own, we act out of vain conceit and selfish ambition and resentment builds up and conflict and division result. People often fall out with one another because they are more concerned for being valued by others, than are about valuing those around them.

This is also true in our relationships at home as well. There is only real harmony and unity in a marriage when two people are seeking to be Christ-like and are more interested in looking out for the other’s interest than themselves. When two people are resolved to think more highly of the other than themselves then the difference can be worked out or lived with because we will accept one another and won’t stop loving and caring for one another. We often think the answer to difficulties is for the other to change, but like Paul here he pleads with them both to change to be more Christ-like and have the same mind as those who belong to the Lord.

Living in manner worthy of the gospel will mean that we will need to sort things out with those who we might have fallen out of sorts with and becomes estranged from. We can’t stand firmly together when we can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with someone.  And as we see with these two women, unity must be worked out “one quarrel at a time”[6]. And the way to do this is to have the same mind in the Lord.

2.2 Rejoice in the Lord always

The second thing that Paul reminds them of is that they are to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul has repeatedly called the Philippians to rejoice in this letter and here he says that they are to always be doing it and he repeats the exhortation a second time in the same verse, “Rejoice!”. He writes this because Paul understood just how crucial or important rejoicing in the Lord is for standing our ground in the face of opposition and suffering. In verses 4 to 6 Paul has combined this exhortation with several other brief exhortations that together help us to stand our ground as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Before we briefly look at the other exhortations let us just briefly consider again this command to be a rejoicing in the Lord. Paul, again, is reminding his readers that we find our joy and hope in this life in knowing Christ and being found in him. It means putting our trust in him and being glad for what we have in him. In chapter 3 Paul talked about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and how nothing can compare with that.

For the believer, our ultimate cause for joy isn’t to be found in the things that we have in life. What will sustain us isn’t having the right job, being wealthy or a being well respect or appreciated by those around us or. It isn’t even our family that loves us and is there for us as good as that it is. And don’t get me wrong, we can be thankful and grateful for all those things and should be. But we can lose everything and yet still rejoice for our joy is found in our unbreakable relationship that we have with Jesus –which doesn’t wax or wane or run hot or cold and never ends. We are to rejoice in what we have in Christ by appreciating the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and being found in him.

But here is the thing that I find interesting. Paul has had to repeat this command once again which suggests to me that such joy in the Lord doesn’t necessarily come naturally to us. As Gordon Fee wrote “joy is primarily a verb in Philippians; it is something one does, not how one feels”[7].  I think that we often believe is that Paul is talking about feelings that we must have. Yet Paul can write in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that although sorrowful he was always rejoicing. As Fee says joy doesn’t mean “the absence of sorrow, but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it”[8]. I think it is something that we can learn to do as we grow to know Jesus better and as appreciate what we have in him and as we praise the Lord for this. As we rejoice in him, counting our blessing and thinking about what he means to us we grow to appreciate him more and are filled with joy.

Take for instance, what happens sometimes when married couples want to work on their relationship. Sometimes they get told go away and spend some time over dinner to talk and share those things that they really appreciate about the other. Often couples can get stuck in a cycle where they can only see the negatives things that they don’t appreciate about the other and what happens is that everything ends up always negative all the time. But to spend some time thinking about what we appreciate about the other I think is helpful.  It is good not just because the other person gets to hear that you really do appreciate them, but it is good because it also reminds ourselves of what we value and love about the other person that we should be thankful for and we begin to see them in a new light. In the busyness of life, we are prone to overlook and forget these things.

I think the more that we learn to appreciate what we have in Christ the more we will be glad and rejoice and the more joyful we will be. And the better prepared we will be to stand firm in the Lord. This is why Paul in chapter 3 and verse 1 wrote that writing these things again was a safeguard for them. You and I are to learn to rejoice in the Lord always.

Let your gentleness be evident to all

Secondly, we are to let our gentleness be evident to all. Paul probably has in mind the way that respond to those oppose us and make life difficult because of our faith in Jesus. Instead of retaliating believers are to have the strength to show restraint and not be the sort of people who return to evil for evil but continue to good in the face of evil and suffering. We don’t stand firm if we adopt the ways of the evil one.

We are to do this because we know the Lord is near. This nearness could either to be a reference to the Lord always being present with us which is true or it could be the fact that we are eagerly waiting for the day when Jesus will return and he will bring everything under his control and put all things right. We are to wait on him to put things right.

Don’t be anxious about anything

Paul then calls believers to not be anxious about anything. Back in chapter 1 he talked about the Philippians standing firm and contending together as one for the faith of the gospel without be frightened of those who opposed them. But how do we manage our fears in the face of opposition and hardship so that we aren’t anxious and give way to fear?

Paul spells out what we are to do in verse 6 and 7. He said that in every situation by prayer and petition with thanksgiving we are to present our requests to God. The way to not be anxious about anything is to be prayerful in everything. Paul doesn’t say whether our specific petitions will be answered in the way that we hope for or not. But what he does says is that the peace of God which is “more wonderful that what we can imagine”[9] will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The word “guard” is again a military term for a “garrison” and it brings to mind the image of “soldiers standing on guard duty”[10] and what Paul says is that the peace of God which is beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds presumably from being overcome by fear.

Our hearts and minds are where the battle to stand firm is lost or won. It isn’t what goes on around us that finally will determine how we stand in the face of opposition, but it will be our hearts and minds which control our feelings, our thinking and our wills. Paul doesn’t say that if we pray that the trouble will be removed or that the opposition will turn and run or that we don’t have to go through suffering. Rather we are assured that the Lord will guard or protect our hearts and minds so that we might stand firm until our Saviour comes to bring everything under his control (3:21). The Lord is the one who can make us stand and that’s why we are to pray.

2.3 Think and do these things

Lastly Paul says Paul says we are to think and do these things. It is no use thinking about things if we don’t do them and if we don’t think and fill our minds with the right things – the excellent and praiseworthy things – we won’t do them. Paul has listed the things that the Philippians were to think about in verse 8 and in verse 9 he told them to practice these things that they’d seen in him and in what he had taught them.

Philippians 4:8-9

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. 9Whatever 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.

With the word “finally” Paul has come to his last two exhortations in this letter and they are pair of commands which I believe are meant to be taken together. Literally he tells them “these things you are to think” in verse 8 and in verse 9 “these things you are to put into practice (or do) and both these verbs that are used have the sense of continuation. We are to continue to think on these things and we to continue to do these things.

But what things is Paul talking about? Well verse 8 Paul list six things using the word “whatever” to introduce them. He wrote whatever is true (rather false); whatever is noble (things that are worthy of respect[11]); whatever is right (in God’s eyes); whatever is pure (not unholy); whatever is lovely (those things that are commendable) and those things that are admirable (that are worth imitating). He then sums all these things up by saying if anything is excellent and praiseworthy, they were to continue to think about these things. They were let their minds dwell on these things. These are the sorts of things that we are to fill our minds with.

But, where do we find such things to think about? Where do you look to discover such things that you are meant to dwell on and ponder?

Well some people think that Paul is saying that you are to look for these things everywhere and that they can be found anywhere if we care to look hard enough. However, I believe that verse 9 directs the attention of the Philippians to consider the things that Paul had taught them and had passed on to them and that they could see in him and others like him. Paul said that they were to continue to think about these things and put them into practice. What the Philippians needed to do was to let their minds dwell on these things that they had been taught and seen in Paul and others and to always be doing them themselves. The same is true for us. We just can’t go away and forget about what the Lord has shown us but think about these things and do them.

For instance, it wasn’t enough for Euodia and Syntyche to just read this letter and think about having the same mind, it meant that these two women need to go and be reconciled to one another. They need to put what they had learnt into practice and keep on doing it. Maybe there is someone we need to be reconciled to?

Today we also have been reminded that we are to be rejoicing in the Lord, praising him for that we have in Jesus. We aren’t to go away and forget this, but we are to think about it more and dwell on it and learn to be thankful praising God for these things that are ours in Christ. We are to make these things part of our lives. We aren’t just called to hear about these thing, but to think about them and do them.

Today we also heard that the way that we are to not be anxious about anything is to be always presenting our prayers and request to God. What place does prayer have in your life? We need to think about his and be prayerful people presenting our request with thanksgiving.

Friends no one will stand firm by just knowing what it is that we should be doing, we need to be thinking about these things and dwelling on them and putting them into practice. Friends it might be bleedingly obvious to make that point today, but how often do we go away and just forget about what we’ve just heard and not think any further about these things and not put them into practice or do them. Friends let learn to think about these things and do them. Dear friends, in this way we stand firm in the Lord.


[1] https://www.opendoors.org.au/persecuted-christians/prayer-news/nigeria-over-8000-church-members-killed?utm_source=Marketing_Cloud&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Prayer%20News_2020Week32_Nigeria&utm_term=&utm_content=prayer+news+button

[2] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture references are from the 2011 edition of the NIV Bible.

[3] Literally the word that the NIV has translated “companion” meant “yoke-fellow”

[4] Gordon Fee in his commentary suggested that it could have been Luke the author of the third gospel and the book of Acts. He says that because in Acts 16 when Paul left Philippi after his first visit, Luke seems to have stayed on at least 4 to 6 years in Philippi. However, we don’t know for sure. Whoever it was they were expected to help these women.

[5] The same two words used here as in 4:2

[6] Gordon Fee, Philippians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Philippians, p222.

[7] Gordon Fee, Philippians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series p111.

[8] Fee, p 124

[9] Peter O’Brien, New International Greek Testament Commentary.

[10] Fritz Reinecker, Cleon Rogers, “Linguistic key to the Greek New Testament, page 561.

[11] This is how the same word is translated in Titus 2:2