The first thing we must do as we deal with our passage in Philippians 4:1-9 is to ask the question what is being joined together by the conjunction “therefore” or “so then” in verse 1. Second, ask what is being referred to by the adverb “thus” or prepositional phrase(functioning adverbially), “in this way”. Let’s answer these questions one at a time.
Therefore …stand firm in the Lord
When we go back to Philippians 3:17-21 , you will notice that Paul gave the reason why it’s necessary for the Philippians to imitate him and others. It’s because there are those who claim to be Christians but in reality enemies of the cross but we are citizens of heaven waiting for Christ’s return. 3:18-21 supports both 3:17 and 4:1. Meaning, being aliens in this world, while waiting for the coming of the Savior, there will be oppositions, therefore imitate Paul(3:17) and stand firm(4:1).
stand firm in this way
Not only that verse 1 functions as an inference from the preceding verses it is also functioning as a transitional verse that looks forward to what follows. And the phrase “in this way” signals that for us. But we must asked; what is “in this way”? It may refer to 3:17. That is, stand firm by imitating Paul, or perhaps it may refer to verses 2-9 of chapter 4.
According to Moises Silva, these options are not mutually exclusive, and I agree with him. It may mean both. Notice that verse 9 ends with the same command in 3:17 , imitate what you saw from Paul and others. So it’s not a stretch to think of it that way.
my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and my crown.
One last thing to take note of before we proceed to what we call hortatory section(strings of pleadings and commands) of the letter is Paul’s affection for the Philippians. Paul’s pleadings and urgings are seasoned with good words. He makes sure that in admonishing them with apostolic authority, he’s not lording it over them. He’s doing this out of love, and to hurt them would rob him of his joy and crown of boasting at the coming of Christ. All of us, most specifically those who lead must imitate Paul in this way. No matter how good our intentions might be, if not done with love, we’ll just hurt the body in the process.
Now that those are out of the way, we can ask now the pressing question; What does standing firm in the Lord really looks like?
We saw from the previous chapters that Paul already hinted on the major issues at Philippi . It has to do with division and their grumbling against the leaders. Their unity was needed more than ever as they have real enemies to deal with(Philippians 3:18-19), instead of fighting each other. We’re not told about the nature and cause of the division and its extent. But we’re sure that the cause of division has nothing to do with something that would damn them. Standing firm in the Lord means being united inspite of our differences and the friction that it might cause.
Second, standing firm in the Lord is characterized by peacekeeping and mediation between those who disagree. That’s why in the first point I said “united inspite of differences”. Paul knew that it won’t be easy if the two women were tasked to resolve their issues by themselves. They need the help of a third party. The great thing about the identity of this true companion is that we don’t know who’s being referred to here. And I like it that way because that means any one can be this guy. But grammatically speaking, more likely this individual is a male person, because of the gender of the greek word for “companion”. Probably one of the elders in the salutation(1:1). His role was not to take sides but to help them live harmoniously in the Lord. That’s why he was reminded that 1) both these women have shared in Paul’s struggle in the gospel and 2) that they are true believers. Their names are in the book of life. In other words, as mediators we can’t take sides. Unity must be in Christ, and not in one side of the divide. We must look beyond their dispute and remember that they are Christians and not the enemies.
Thirdly, standing firm in the Lord is characterized by rejoicing in the Lord. We’re not called to endure tribulations and persecutions while despairing and being gloomy. No! We are called to rejoice in the Lord always. That’s the mantra echoed repeatedly in this epistle. In Philippians 1:4-6 Paul prays for them with joy because he knows that the One who began a good work in them will bring it to completion. Then in Philippians 1:18 he rejoiced in the fact that Christ was being proclaimed whether in pretense or in truth. Paul expressed in Philippians 1:25 his willingness to stay and live for their joy of faith. Then in Philippians 2:2 he told them to complete his joy by having one mind. Even though he’s about to die, Paul says in Philippians 2:17 that he’s glad and rejoicing with them and in Philippians 2:18 that they should rejoice with him. In Philippians 2:28-29 he expressed his concern for the mutual joy of the Philippians and Epaphroditus. Paul pointed out that repeated warnings are occasions to rejoice in Philippians 3:2. Then in Philippians 4:1, the Philippians are his joy, and in Philippians 4:10 he rejoiced in their support. So in all circumstances rejoice in the Lord.
The word for gentleness or reasonableness used here in greek is the same word for forbearance “ἐπιεικὲς”. This calls attention to how unity will be dealt with and be seen by the watching world. Unity assumes that at times you will get hurt and Paul was pleading that we bear and forgive one another. And because of that, everyone will see that you are reasonable and gentle and does not resort to revenge and retaliation. So it is hard, it’s never easy that’s why we must stand firm.
Take note of verse 5b, the reason we need this more than ever is that the Lord is at hand. As we see the day of the Lord drawing near, the love of many would grow cold and the remedy is to never neglect the corporate gathering(Hebrews 10:25). How can we stir or agitate one another to love(Hebrews 10:24) if we don’t know how to forbear, and be reasonable and gentle.
How can we become reasonable, gentle or forbearing?
By having the peace of God(verse 6-9).
This peace is described as peace which surpasses all understanding. It is peace in circumstances where we usually think it’s impossible to have. This peace will not move you away from your present situation(perhaps irritating situations where our natural response is to explode), but it will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
What must we do then to achieve God’s peace?
1) Be Prayerful
Being anxious about anything is a symptom of unreasonableness. What if he/she did it again, what if we can never be reconciled. In context, that’s probably the cause of their anxieties. Don’t be anxious, Paul said, instead in everything, yes in everything, from the least of your concerns to whatever that makes you tick, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. Then verse 7 gave us this promise that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. Pray for those whom you have quarrels with. There’s no other way to change people but to rely on God to do his work. And most of the time we need more the changing than the other side. So pray to God that he will grant you a forbearing, not easily irritated, loving spirit.
2) Dwell on and imitate what is pleasing
A sure way toward dispute and division is to count the wrongs of others. Stop tallying how many times a person wronged you, instead think of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is excellence and anything praiseworthy, think of these things. Paul immediately applied this to himself in verse 9 because he knows that he’s not yet perfect and there are flaws in him, and inspite of that, we have learned and received and heard and seen in him that which is good. Practice them or imitate what is good in him. And when we do that, the God of peace himself will be with us. What a promise!
One might argue that; ” I can’t find anything good in them.” Well, the thing is if we will only look to ourselves, we really can’t find any good in us. That is if you don’t have Christ in you. Christ is the only good that the Father sees in us so that he can forgive us. So Christ is more than enough good in order for us to forgive and forbear and be reconciled with each other.
This is how we stand firm in the Lord. It is always within the context of the fellowship of prayerful believers. We stand firm together even if it means that we have to treat others more significant than ourselves. Yes even those who caused us pain. Together we rejoice in the Lord in everything.