Notes on Philippians 4:1-5

Philippians 4:1‑5  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The main truth which was in the mind of the apostle and which the Lord was using him to lay upon the hearts of the Philippian saints was now clearly expressed and enforced. The rest of the epistle, this last chapter, consists rather in the connected exhortations and practical use to which it was turned for present profit. Indeed it may have been noticed that, throughout, this epistle is eminently practical. Every whit of it has an immediate and important bearing upon the communion and walk of the saint of God. Of course in a general way there is no truth which is not meant to deal with the heart and walk in some way or another; yet I do not hesitate to say that this epistle is remarkable for nothing more than for its being the personal experience of the apostle himself seeking to raise the experience of the saints at Philippi to the same measure, yea, according to the standard of Christ Himself. Accordingly, having shown us Christ fully, both as an example here below and as a motive in heaven (the earthly example being specially given in chapter ii., and the heavenly motive in chapter iii.), now comes the practical object to which it is applied. “Therefore,” says he, “my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” It is evident that the spiritual affections of the apostle were deeply moved. Brotherly love was flowing out powerfully, and net the less because he had been occupied with Christ, with the deep feeling of what Christ had been and is, and with the joyous anticipation of that which the saints are destined to be when they see Him coming from heaven in the fullness of His grace and power, changing even their very bodies of humiliation that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Salvation being only then and there complete, he bids them “to stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” And so much the more because it would appear that there were some among them who were at variance one with another. Things were working there which separated in the way of affection, or at least, in the service of the Lord, those who had been engaged in it from earliest days. And this may be found where there is nothing at work of a scandalous character, because the very ardor and zeal of the servant of God may easily carry him, if there be not adequate occupation with Christ, into danger; even service ensnares and imperils where it becomes an object instead of Christ. It would appear that such was the case with some active saints at Philippi. “I beseech Euodia, and I beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord; yea, I entreat thee also true yoke-fellow, help them [i. e., these women just named], seeing that they contended with me in the gospel, with Clement also and the rest of my fellow-laborers whose names are in the book of life.”
Now, it is plain that there are two things which the apostle here presses. First is the great importance of having the same mind not only in the Lord but also in the work of the Lord. The danger is of having some aim or way of our own in that holy occupation. The Lord is assuredly jealous over those whom He employs and He works continually to preserve each servant in the immediate sense of his own responsibility to Himself. No one need fear that this would interfere with mutual respect or hinder the outflow of divine affection linking together the various servants of God. Man would think so because he must judge from his own selfish heart. It is the flesh that seeks its own things; while the Spirit of Christ, whatever may be its holy judgment of evil, is never selfish. It is the grossest mistake to suppose that where the heart is brought to estimate all things according to God, you bring in an element of division between brethren; not this, but the indulgence of flesh opens the door to strife and schism. Supposing a child of God who has gone astray, what is it that separates him from his brethren? Nothing but the evil that has been indulged in. The Holy Ghost acts in the man's soul; now he feels, confesses, and separates from that which is fleshly. At once the balance is restored and you are more united in love with that erring soul than, perhaps, you ever were before. Up to that time there may have been much which hindered fellowship. The irritability of spirit, the censoriousness, the vanity, the self-confidence broke out too often in the very service and worship of God—all this had previously produced many an anxious feeling for spiritual minds, and this just because there was real love to his soul. The consequence was so far that which separated, not in outward walk, but in fellowship of heart; whereas the moment there was the genuine action of the Holy Spirit of God—sin having actually, perhaps, broken out because of nature not being judged and the separation having become complete—the moment the evil is dealt with even in the man's spirit, and he owns frankly that he has sinned against the Lord, your heart is knit to him and you have a confidence in him which may never have existed before. The notion is false, therefore, that serious judgment of evil is what divides between brethren. On the contrary, it is evil (not separation from it) which sows discord or makes separation necessary among brethren. Gracious separation from evil knits the heart of those who are true with the Lord. It is holiness in fact. Apart from sin there is the enjoyment of God Himself and of His good and acceptable will. In this world holiness implies the judgment of evil and separation from it in heart and practice, as far as we are concerned. The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is that which gathers the children of God on the ground that all their evil has been judged there and separated from them forever by His death. No matter how you look at it, in every case it is evil that divides, and the judgment of evil that unites, hearts in an evil world according to God. Any unity of the children of God would be a positive sin against Him if it were not founded upon separation from evil. Having referred to the broad and fundamental principle of separation from evil, which will be found to be eminently practical, we may turn now to see its application to the matter before us.
At Philippi there rose before the apostle's heart godly persons there at work; but work is not always Christ and may be division. The tendency is not uncommon to disparage what another is found doing, and to exalt ourselves in what we may know to be our own line of things. This tends to break up happy fellowship of heart, and, where there is anything of a spiritual atmosphere these things are deeply felt. Among the Corinthians this was but a small thing compared with the grosser evils that were active in their midst; but at Philippi where the state was comparatively healthy and blessed, where also the spirit of obedience reigned as we know, the lack of harmony from whatever cause it may have sprung becomes of importance, and the variance therefore of these two sisters is pressed home by the Spirit of God, but not before ample comfort had been ministered, which would encourage their hearts to look to Christ. How tender, and withal how personal, is the appeal to each of these Christian women! “I exhort Euodia and I exhort Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” He begins with the Lord, not with the service, though the variance may have grown up in its course. He calls on them one by one (for one might hear if not the other) to be of the same mind in the Lord. Depend upon it that, where the Lord occupies us, differences soon dwindle. Having each the eye fixed upon the Lord, there is found a common object of attraction, and thus the enemy's hope of producing alienation is defeated at once. He adds a request also to his true yoke-fellow in the case. I suppose the reference is to Epaphroditus, of whom he had spoken with ardent affection in chapter ii. “Yoke” in Scripture is a badge of union or of subjection, as the case may be, in service. Thus, in 2 Cor. 6, the believer is told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Many narrow that scripture to the natural relationship of marriage. But though the marriage tie between believers and unbelievers is evidently not according to God, yet I doubt that there is any particular allusion to it in that scripture. The object there of the Spirit of God is to take up the commixture of the believer with the unbeliever in the service and worship of God. The apostle brings forward the temple of God as well as individual matters, and shows that we are not to have fellowship corporately any more than individually with unbelievers. I only refer to it now because it is often put aside from the consciences of the children of God through the mistaken habit of referring it to marriage; whereas, it is plain on the face of it that the direction the Holy Ghost gives would not strictly apply to marriage. Bad as it is for a believer to marry an unbeliever, God does not even then say, Come out from the relationship; leave your wife; part from your husband. Apply it to its legitimate object (viz., fellowship with unbelievers in the things of God), and there you have a maxim of deep and urgent importance. I am not to unite with the world in any one thing that concerns the service and worship of God. This is the true meaning of being unequally yoked. “Come out and be separate” is then the special word that applies to any such unholy alliance. This makes all plain, when men ask if we are not to do anything for the world? If there is sorrow and want, am I not to help sufferers? Surely if there be a peculiar duty to the household of faith, I am also bound to do good unto all men; but there is no yoking together with others outside Christ in this, and no communion. The worldly man gives because he is generous, or feels for the need of the person, or is expected to give. The child of God does it because it is the will of God. The one acts on the ground of nature, the other in faith. Even in the most ordinary necessary acts, as eating and drinking, I may and ought to do it all to God's glory. Supposing a man drowning, or a house on fire, there is a claim of course on any man; but to use the help that a servant of God might render on such occasions, as a reason for joining the world with the saint in the service of God, is to deceive or be deceived—it may be, willingly. I have no hesitation in saying that to put an unbeliever on the ground of joining in prayers and hymns and taking the Lord's Supper, to sanction his joining with you in such services, is as far as you can to damage if not destroy his soul. No believer would act thus without an object other than Christ. What the Holy Ghost seeks for the unregenerate soul is to convince him of his ruin; but, if yoked with you in God's work or temple, you are cheating him (or he you) into a false ground. You thus far treat him as an acceptable worshipper and make him think that he is doing God's service as truly, though perhaps not so well, as yourself. This is as contrary to holiness as to love, equally opposed to God's glory and man's good.
Were these godly energetic women now apart in spirit? He not only exhorts each separately, but asks Epaphroditus as I suppose, the true yoke-fellow of the apostle, to help them. For these women had shared the apostle's sufferings in the gospel when it entered Philippi. It is not, “And entreat thee,” as in the English version or the commonly received text; nor is it, “Yea and,” &c. The best authorities omit “and” altogether, which was a corruption of yea.” For the apostle is continuing in verse 3 the same thought as in verse 2, and is urging his dear and true yoke-fellow at Philippi to succor those previously named women (not others, as the ordinary rendering might convey), “the which” (aInves) or “since they” contended with him in the gospel. It is not said that they preached; there is no reference to public service here. There is a great difference between preaching the gospel and sharing the contentions of the gospel. Even a man might have labored diligently and never have preached in his life; and there might be some striving every day in the gospel as diligently, or more so even, than those who preached it every day. There is beautiful choice in the language of the Holy Ghost. We all ought to know that the New Testament puts the Christian woman in the place of exceeding blessedness, removing every thought that would give her an inferior place in Christ, but it puts her also at the same time in the back ground, wherever it is a case of public action. Here officially, so to speak, the man is called to be uncovered, the woman to be veiled. She is thus as it were put behind the man, whereas, when you speak of our privileges in Christ, there is neither male nor female. It is of importance to see where there is no difference and where there is. The First Epistle to the Corinthians is most plain that the head of the woman is the man, and as Christ is the glory of the man, so the man is the glory of the woman. We find there the administrative difference between the man and the woman. When you come to the heavenly privileges we have in Christ, all these distinctions disappear. There is no public action that I know in the world or in the Church allotted to the Christian woman. As to private dealing with souls, the case is different. In their father's house, the four daughters of Philip may have prophesied. They were evidently highly gifted women; for it is not said of them that they labored in the gospel, but that they prophesied—one of the highest forms of gift from Christ. At the same time the Holy Spirit, who tells us that a woman might and did prophesy as a fact, instructs us that it is forbidden to a woman to speak in the Church where prophesying properly had its course. But there a woman was forbidden to speak, not even allowed to ask a question, much less to give an answer. Yet as to the private scene, at home, even with an Apollos, a woman might fitly act: that is, if she acted under and with her husband. Priscilla might be of more spiritual weight than Aquila; but this very thing would lead her to be the more careful to take an unobtrusive lowly place. The yoke-fellow of the apostle seems to have been somewhat timid of helping these women. The apostle, accordingly, entreats him also as he had exhorted him. “Help those women, in that they contended with me in the gospel.” They were not putting themselves forward in an unseemly public sort; but they had shared the early trials of the gospel with St. Paul. At Corinth the women assumed much and the apostle manifests his sense of it by the reproachful demand, if the word of God came out from them, or if it came to them only. (1 Cor. 14:3636What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? (1 Corinthians 14:36).) Thus, and not only thus, had they quite slipped aside from that which prevailed in the churches of the saints. No doubt they reasoned that, if women had gifts, why should they not exercise them and exercise them in all places? But He who gives the gift is alone entitled to say when, how, and by whom it is to be exercised. At Philippi where there was an obedient spirit, there might have been too great reluctance to meddle with these otherwise estimable women who were estranged from each other. The apostle bids Epaphroditus to render his help. “Help them who are such as contended with me in the gospel.” He gives them special praise. They strove for and with him in the work. He joins himself with those persons whom his yokefellow may have been rather afraid of. He joins them also with Clement and other fellow-laborers. What tenderness in touching the case! He encourages the fellowship in the service of the gospel not only with faithful men, but with women whose faithfulness was not forgotten, because there were painful hindrances just now.
But now, leaving the question of variance among them, he returns to his topic of exceeding joy. He had been encouraging one who had his sympathy and confidence to help these women. He now calls on all to rejoice in the Lord alway. If he touched on these sorrows, let them not suppose that he wanted to damp their joy: on the contrary, “rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.” This, let me repeat, is an important thing practically. It is a total mistake when we allow difficulties or differences among the saints of God to hinder our perfect delight in the Lord. Do we desire the glory of Christ among those who are His? I must always maintain that glory in my own soul if I am to be a witness to Christ among others. Is the Lord's love affected or at least enfeebled by these passing circumstances? Is His glory less bright because some shades of self have betrayed themselves over the brow of His saints? Surely not. Thus he turns to the key-note of the epistle, that joy in the Lord, of which he had been speaking as his own portion now, and by and by in chapters and that to which they were called in chapter 3, and again in chapter iv. Is it not a sorrow to think where Christians have got to in this respect—how this answer of heart to Christ has faded away from the hearts of so many; how even the assembling together to remember Christ in His supper does not always awaken fullness of joy but often an uneasy feeling and most painful shrinking back from His table as if it concealed some hidden danger, some lion in the way, instead of Jesus my Savior and Lord, who loved me and gave Himself for me? What humiliation of spirit ought to be ours as we think of all that thus dishonors the name of Christ. But does God intend that even this should hinder our joy? In no wise. Let the ruined state of God's people be in Israel or in the Church, it is always those who felt it most who enjoyed the greatest nearness to Himself and most of all entered into His own joy, while at the same time they mourned the more over the short-comings of those bearing His name. The two things go together. Show me hearts which, though godly, are not happy; hearts over occupied with the circumstances of the Church, constantly talking about the evil and low condition here and there; and you will never show me souls that deeply enjoy the Lord and His grace; whereas in the person who really enjoys the Lord and has the consciousness of what Christ and the Church of God are in Christ and should be in the power of the Spirit now, who therefore best estimates what Christendom has become, there will be the two things harmonized—the heart resting upon Christ, dwelling in His love; while, at the same time, man's weakness and Satan's malice in ruining all can be rightly judged. These two things we have to cultivate.