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Philippians 12

Notes & Transcripts

Philippians 12.

Let us turn to Philippians chapter 4. Often you find in Paul’s letters he deals with doctrine, theology, teaching in the first half of the letter and then moves on to practical application – putting it into practice, in the second part. And that is the way it should be – our way of life should be based on the principles of God’s Word. First we get the principles, then we apply it to our lives. Doctrine should not be based on experience, doctrine comes first. But if it is just theology, something metaphysical and theoretical it is useless and futile – it must be applied, put into action in our every-day lives. Now we are move on to a real and practical situation: [P] [Philippians 4:1-9 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony (have the same mind – agree) in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the Gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.] Some of us a bit more theoretically focused and others more practical. Unfortunately, I tend to be the former – I am very concerned with the concepts and ideas, but as to people and their situations – I am totally oblivious. I am into the first half of the letter: the majesty and wonder of the incarnation, the sacrifice and exaltation of Jesus in chapter two; the being sold out to Christ in chapter three; but then you get to chapter four and Paul seems to jump from one thing to another – he is all over the place. It was several years ago now and Bryan, Robin’s brother, spoke on Philippians – Bryan is not like me, he is very people focused – and he said (Phil 4:2) was the key to the whole letter of Philippians. It came as a revelation! – see? I had missed the people connection! I had failed to see the reason that the letter was written!  I have used this slide every time, I have just changed the verses on it. Of course it wasn’t a letter like that – but I have used it to constantly remind us that this is a LETTER! [P] When you write a letter, and particularly in those days when sending a letter was a bit more of an effort; you do so for a reason. Something motivates you to write, you do so for a reason. This conflict between Euodia and Syntyche mentioned is central [P], it motivates the organization and tone of Paul’s message, and even the content of the message itself. Paul’s teaching isn’t in isolation – it is for a practical purpose, it has implications (Phil 4:1) begins with “therefore” – it connects and draws implications from what has gone before – it is because of the principles that He has taught that they are to live in the way he outlines. Paul is moving on to a new section but it is not divorced from what he has previously said – in fact, all he has been saying leads up to this. He is speaking to them personally – he lays it on thick and heavy addressing them again, as if it were the start of the letter: [Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.] Twice he refers to “my beloved” – it is a message delivered in love, to those he loves – he longs to see them, they are his “joy and crown” – he is affirming them, almost flattering them. Paul is doing everything possible to ensure his exhortation is received, that people don’t get their backs up, or think that he is criticizing them and getting at them or is displeased with them. He is going to directly address an issue that is dividing the church – he could just command them to lay aside their differences but, no, bends over backwards to deliver his exhortation in a gentle way. He loves these people dearly; they mean a great deal to him and have been some of his most faithful and generous supporters. But still the issue needed addressing – you can’t just carry on being sweet and encouraging and pretend that the animosity isn’t there in the fellowship – it has to be dealt with, but in a gentle and loving way. They are doing good – but they don’t get along with each other – and it can happen, yes even in a church fellowship. We are family, we are in this together: twice Paul calls them “my beloved”; he refers to “my true companion – yoked together in the work”; “shared my struggle”; “fellow workers”; he says “together with Clement”; he calls them: “brethren” – we are in this together and so it is vital that we stay united together and not become divided. And here in the church at Philippi there were two women who were in disagreement. We have absolutely no idea what the problem was between Euodia and Syntyche. However, based on the fact that Paul does not provide direct correction or take a side, it seems clear that the problem was not a doctrinal or moral issue. Paul elsewhere demonstrates his willingness to tackle thorny issues involving members of a church. If there was some specific problem that had a straightforward solution, he likely would have tackled it. All we know about the problem is what can be gleaned from Paul’s advice to the Philippians. Think back on the major themes that Paul has covered so far in the letter. Paul has not really corrected anything. Instead, he has called the Philippians to an ever higher standard of righteous living (Phil 1:10). He has stressed the importance of setting aside your entitlements in order to better serve those around you (Phil 1:27-30; 2:1-4). This is exemplified by Paul’s decision to continue ministering despite his circumstances (Phil 1:25-26), and by citing Jesus’ humiliation and obedience in the incarnation (Phil 2:5-11). The key components to achieving this kind of experience as a community are summarized in the calls to be like-minded (Phil 2:2) [P], to humbly consider others to be better than yourself (Phil 2:3-4) [P], and choosing to rejoice and be thankful even in the face of adversity (Phil 1:18; Phil 3:1)[P]. Whatever the problem, for Paul to have heard about it and had time to respond, it would have been festering for a while. So why address the problem? Why not just allow them to agree to disagree with one another? Because disagreement falls short of like-mindedness and putting others’ interests before your own. How can you esteem someone as more important than yourself and simultaneously hold a grudge against them? You can’t do both, which means we must be proactive about truly resolving conflict rather than allowing it to fester below the surface. A broken relationship is still broken even if there is civility on the surface. And that is the trouble with disagreements – people tend to take sides – particularly if, as these were, respected and mature people in the fellowship – they had both “shared Paul’s struggle in the Gospel”. And it splits a fellowship in two – I have seen it happen, and have been personally involved more than once. So here we have three core themes that run through the book: like-mindedness, humbly serving others, and rejoicing. All three will surface again in this section. If the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was not a doctrinal or moral issue, it must have been an interpersonal conflict of some kind – and these can be more divisive than those over doctrine. It usually begins as a disagreement of some kind, often over a judgment call – you recall that Paul himself had such a disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark. It is not the difference between right and wrong, but between better and best, between doing it one way versus another. Such matters are highly subjective, with “right” based on one’s personal values and preferences. If the issue is not resolved early on, it will fester. This is especially the case where efforts at reconciliation end with “agreeing to disagree.” Why? Because each side leaves thinking that they are right, without either being willing to back down. What may have started as a small disagreement can lay the foundation for something far larger. People begin to align with one side or the other. Each is looking for a slip-up or failure of the other person that might lead to vindicating themselves. If you have been in the church for any length of time, there is a good chance you have witnessed or experienced something like this unfold. Not only does it destroy relationships, it can completely distract believers from the God-given task at hand: living out the Gospel in a way that attracts people to Christ. If people see unresolved conflict with people taking sides, they are not seeing that we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for each other. So why do we have these arguments in the first place? [James 4:1-2 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.] it has to do with being envious—wanting what someone else has, wanting our own way, and that above the interests of other people. If we don’t get what we desire, we are unhappy. If unaddressed, disappointment can turn into anger or resentment. What keeps a conflict from being resolved? Wanting to prove that you are right? How about thinking your interests or needs are more important or worthy than those of your opponent? Most of our conflicts could be resolved by us considering others more important than ourselves taking the humble position [P], being like-minded [P], and choosing to rejoice [P] instead of being resentful. When we are willing to set aside pride and emotions, we can boil down most conflicts to a few disagreements. If I really valued the other person’s interests more than my own, how could I be pushing my own cause and viewpoint at their expense? If I’m truly thankful for them, how can I resent who they are or what they have? This all sounds so simple when you are just reading Philippians, but it gets personal in a hurry when you apply it during a dispute. Jesus ran into people who thought they had it all figured out yet needed correction, like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-25) or the Pharisees. No one can make other people change but we can provide people with an opportunity or challenge to change, like Jesus did with the rich ruler. That is what Paul does here, providing a challenge to the parties involved to make a change. And you notice that he addresses them both – if John and Robin had a disagreement, I could go and say: “Hey guys, lay it aside, agree with each other.” I would be addressing them both – John could think Robin has to do something about it and Robin could think John has to change. But Paul says “I exhort you Euodia, and I exhort you Syntyche” – he is speaking to each of them individually – both of them have to do something about it. And that has been my experience in situations of this kind, it takes “two to tango” – unless both of parties are prepared to do something about it, the situation remains unresolved.  And often that is not enough – you need someone independent to help – Paul calls upon His “companion” (his yoke-partner) to help them resolve the issue. Paul doesn’t point a finger at them, but instead points to a higher standard of conduct, to the type of conduct a godly, honourable person would strive for. In (Phil 4:1) Paul commands them to stand firm in the Lord. This is the same sentiment he had expressed in (Phil 1:27) [P] when he told them to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord so that he would hear that they were standing firm in one spirit – we stand together in this; if we are divided, we fall. Paul specifically exhorts each of them to think the same thing in the Lord. This is the very same phrase Paul used in (Phil 2:2) [P] after corralling us into accepting his command with a series of “if there is any” statements. Since all of these conditions have been met, there is little choice but to accept the command that follows the then. In Philippians 4, Paul specifically exhorts the women to do the same thing. The implication is that they were not getting along; they could not be characterized as being like-minded with one another. They had had a personal falling out—perhaps agreeing to disagree, yet still harbouring resentment— and it was affecting the Philippian church – enough that Paul needed to address it. Paul does two things in (Phil 4:3). First, he requests that his true companion step in and help resolve the issue. The second thing he does is somewhat surprising: he praises them! The two women, whose dispute has so affected the church, are commended for labouring together with him in the Gospel, adding that their names are written in the book of life! By praising an individual he spurs the congregation on, and also raises the bar for the person who is singled out. If Paul praised them and they did not apply what he commanded, imagine the affect it would have on their standing in the community! They would look like hypocrites, not the ones who obey not only in his presence but much more in his absence, as it says in (Phil 1:12). By praising them as honourable ministers, he effectively backs them into a corner. He calls them to find an honourable resolution to their dispute. There comes a point in interpersonal conflicts where everyone loses, regardless of how it all started. The toll of backbiting, bitterness, and resentment leaves no one unscathed. It’s like what we see in politics today. Paul wisely presses for an end to these matters, not by choosing sides but by describing what a godly, honourable person would do. Even though the matter is only mentioned in (Phil 4:2-3), the rest of this chapter continues to address the problem by raising the standard for Christian conduct. What follows seems like a miscellaneous series of unconnected exhortations – but in the light of the situation between these women, they all make sense. The command to rejoice could still be addressing issues surrounding the dispute. How? Remember Paul’s saying in (Phil 3:1) that the command to rejoice would safeguard [P] them from things that would turn them away from the Lord. The context of chapter 3 was outside opposition, whereas here it is division within the church. Paul keeps on about rejoicing [P]  – he is really emphasizing this. He has spoken about it before and told them to rejoice: [P] Philippians 1:18 (2x); [P] Philippians 2:17; [P] Philippians 2:18; [P] Philippians 2:28; [P] Philippians 3:1; [P] Philippians 4:4 (2x); [P] Philippians 4:10  – I think he wants us to get the message: we are to REJOICE! We used to sing this verse again and again in a simple tune – but it is not a bad thing – we need to get it into our heads – to rejoice. Paul is not ashamed to say it over and over again – it is that vital! He commands them to rejoice – twice he repeats this command to be continually rejoicing. We tend to think that rejoicing is a response – it depends upon what happens – we have are having curry for tea, so I rejoice. We regard it as an emotion that is automatic, beyond our control. But if we are commanded to rejoice it implies that we have control, that we can choose to rejoice or not to. Rejoicing doesn’t just guard their hearts against discouragement (as in Phil 3:1), but also against division [P]. If I am choosing to rejoice in the Lord over my circumstances or situation, it will be nearly impossible to hold a grudge against those with whom I am involved – it is an either one or the other. A natural consequence of truly rejoicing in the Lord about something is the inability to complain about the same thing. If you’re resentful, you’re not rejoicing. If I am constantly rejoicing, I can’t be grisling about so-and-so. This miscellaneous exhortation is in fact directly related to dealing with the situation of Euodia and Syntyche. So too is the call in (Phil 4:5) to let your gentleness [P] be known to all people – it raises the bar in a different way: if you are an honourable, mature believer, then those around you will see it in your gentleness. If your gentleness did not show, the implication would be that you are not mature. Do you see what Paul’s doing here? There is no way you could continue to have a grudge and simultaneously be exhibiting gentleness. You really need to choose one or the other. When there is a disagreement, what happens? Each digs their toes in, they are not going to budge, apologize, make the first move – it is hardness, not gentleness. If you are showing gentleness, the difference will dissolve, dissipate. The statement about “the Lord being near[P] provides a rationale for choosing gentleness. Since His return is nearing, we’d better live like it! It could be a reminder that the Lord is near to us at all times, Emmanuel, “God with us” – if we are conscious of His presence, His nearness, then we will not be harbouring grudges and holding resentment against our brothers. Consciousness of His nearness modifies our behaviour. But it could also mean that the Lord’s return is near – He is at hand, about to come back! He could come at any time – we don’t want to be found out of sorts with our brothers when He returns. We need to get things sorted before He returns – tragically I was involved in a conflict of this sort, and it was not resolved before the other person went to meet the Lord. The time is short! We need to get things sorted out. But whichever it is – the nearness of God to us at all times or His imminent return; the effect will be the same: the Lord being near is a strong motivator to put things right. Look Jesus’ is coming back and it is very near. We can’t be wasting time and dissipate effort in interpersonal squabbles. A Psalm 16 is precious to me, given to me as a young lad – it is all about the nearness of God: [Psalm 16:8-9 I have set יהוה continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely. Psalm 16:11 You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.] The nearness of God results in joy, in rejoicing – the petty differences with people shrink to their right perspective – become insignificant. The command in (Phil 4:6) [P] not to be anxious but instead to offer prayers with thanksgiving is often understood to begin a chain of stand-alone exhortations. They are understood to be independent thoughts that do not directly relate to one another or the preceding context. I don’t think this is the case. Understood in the context of resolving the conflict and restoring relationships, these exhortations make perfect sense. Whenever there is conflict, there is inevitably anxiety too. This is especially the case with fractured relationships. Paul’s command here not to be anxious but to make your requests known to God applies well to broken relationships. Situations like these need to be taken be held before the Lord in prayer. But not the prayer that tells God to put the other person right and complains to Him about how the other person is acting – that is why it says that the requests are to be offered with thanksgiving—the counterpart to rejoicing— that rules out complaints or laments. Prayers like “God, please change them because they bother me” or “show them how wrong they are” or “help them to see things in the right way (i.e. my way!)” would not pass muster. Instead, the challenge is to thank God for the person or the situation—acknowledging that God is indeed sovereign and in control. Paul’s formula excludes wrong approaches to prayer. The prayers and supplications are to be offered with thanksgiving as opposed to other things like grumbling or resentment. They are also to be offered as an alternative to being anxious about the issues. Look, I know, I am a difficult, opinionated cuss – I am forever managing to get people’s backs up and have ended up facing this type of Euodia-Syntyche scenario more times than I care to remember – I’m the one who needs to listen to the sermon! But, from experience, I can tell you these situations play upon your mind, get you stirred up inside. What is needed? The peace of God! And what is the natural consequence of offering a prayer with thanksgiving? The peace of God which passes all understanding – where has that churned up anxiety gone? You should be concerned but you are not! It leaves you totally amazed because the peace hasn’t come from you – it is supernatural! It is the peace of God! It comes from Him – His peace! And that peace will do something amazing: it will guard your heart and mind! Against what? Anxiety, stewing about the situation, among other things. Look there is a disagreement that has gone on and you cannot resolve it – that is why prayer is needed. You need God to sort it out – not solving it through humanistic means of conciliation and compromise, trying to solve it yourself. You are requesting for God to resolve it, for Him to restore, for Him to produce a unity and harmony of mind and spirit. You ask in faith and He grants the request. If both parties are doing this they will be praying the same thing! The peace that only God can bring—the kind that surpasses all understanding—does something incredible. Just as rejoicing is a safeguard, exchanging thankful supplications for anxiety also functions as a safeguard. God’s peace will guard your heart and mind. Where was the problem? There was a disagreement – Paul told Euodia and Syntyche to have the same mind – the problem was with the mind. There were two minds that were independent, different, in disagreement. What started in the mind went to the heart – what was a disagreement became personal, so that Euodia and Syntyche bore resentment in their hearts. Paul had said in [Philippians 2:5 Have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.] – if we each had the mind of Christ then there would be no problem. The trouble was that one, other or both had departed from the mind of Christ. We should be one mind – that is how it was in the beginning (Acts 1:14 and Acts 2:46) says that the church was “one mind” [Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Romans 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,] We read in: [Philippians 1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.] The result of prayer and supplication is that our minds and heart are guarded – kept in unity, having the mind of Christ! Prayer is not getting God to do what you want, but your mind becoming aligned with His will. As we pray our minds become aligned His – we have the mind of Christ, the same mind. If each of our minds and hearts are kept in Christ Jesus the division, differences, the disagreements dissipate. Hallelujah! And there is perfect peace, the peace of God which is beyond all comprehension.

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