philippians 4:1-9 [exhortation, encouragement, and prayer]

Written by Sheila Lagrand

Sheila lives with her husband, Rich, and their two dogs (J.D. and Doc) in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, boating, and most of all, spending time with her children and grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn't understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.

July 15, 2011

[serialposts]

Read Philippians 4:1-9 (ESV, NIV, The Message)

Philippians 4:1-9 is all about reconciliation. I’ve read this passage dozens of times; I’ve listened to sermons about it—and today I undertake to unpack it with you. It’s a privilege to offer my understandings, though the very contents of the passage compel me to caution you that my comprehension of God’s Word is limited.

Paul begins by reaffirming his love for the people of the church in Philippi and calling on them to “in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1, NASB). A quick glance back to the preceding verse shows us that “this way” is our trust that as citizens of heaven, Christ “…will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21, NASB).

So we’re to stand on God’s promise of our redemption. Next Paul calls attention to a dispute between Euodia and Syntyche  and encourages them to settle their differences. He calls on an unnamed person (often theorized to be Epaphroditus, who delivered this letter from Paul to Philippi (see for example, William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians) to help them in achieving harmony, pointing out that they’ve worked together in the past to share the Gospel and are among those who’ve accepted the gift of salvation (Philippians 4:2-3).

No further mention is made of this dispute. Paul, writing from prison in Rome, knew of the disagreement and addressed it in his letter. So I suppose that the argument was more significant than some first-century equivalent of a squabble over how to display the cupcakes at the youth group’s bake sale.

In the next verses, (4-6) Paul exhorts the reader (twice!) to rejoice. He advises to display a gentle spirit and to set aside anxiety, instead, through prayer, with gratitude, to lift all one’s requests to God. Then he proposes a remarkable result:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (v. 7, NASB, my italics).

To offer a gross paraphrase:

Resolve your differences, with help of a mediator. You’re God’s people now; show that godly spirit. Don’t gnaw on your discord. Instead, give it up with thanks to God and accept His peace in your heart, even though you don’t understand it.  Not “even if you don’t understand;” rather, “even though you don’t understand” the peace.

Paul ends the passage with instructions:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(vv. 8-9, NASB)

He’s instructing them to focus on the good stuff. In light of the previous verses, we can see that his suggestion is to quit dwelling on the points of contention, and instead to look to the honorable, pure, right, lovely, reputable, excellent, and praiseworthy: fill your mind with worthy thoughts (and crowd out the ugliness of discord). Paul instructs his readers to practice what he’s taught them in order to arrive at God’s peace.

This passage convicts me and gives me hope. I suffer from a tendency to dig through a conflict all the way to its bedrock, often insisting that my partner-in-conflict grab a shovel and a pick and excavate right along beside me. And it’s hard for a godly spirit to shine through all the dust and mud I pick up while busily digging in that pit.

My reliance on my own understanding to give rest to a dispute is worldly, not Biblical. In this passage in Philippians, Paul reminds us that God’s gifts for us—including a peaceful heart—are beyond our comprehension. He’s sketched out a practical program for following the wise counsel of Proverbs 3:5-6:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

(NASB)

7 Comments

  1. Duane Scott

    Like. 🙂 

    Reply
  2. Daniel Humphries

    Great analysis, Sheila! Thank you. I think it’s a good thing to be reminded that disagreements and strife are going to be part of our lives, and that there’s a way way we can handle them that brings peace. I like your paraphrase — expect peace and it will come. Just accept it and don’t get caught up in trying to wrap your head around it.

    As I read the passage again, verse 6 really spoke to me. I like the way the surfer dude Bible (Message) puts it — Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. 

    I’ve accepted a new position at my office, which starts tomorrow, and while it’s something I have peripheral knowledge of, I have little actual experience actually doing. I’ve been entertaining quite a bit of hand-wringing over the situation. This scripture reminds me to follow the advice I’ve given others — spend as much time praying as you have spent worrying, and you’ll find you no longer have time for the worrying.

    I like the challenge held out in verse 9. I wonder how much of what I’ve taught, offered and spoken is worthy to be practiced by others. Certainly something to be mindful of.

    Reply
    • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

      Thanks, Daniel. I’m searching for that peace right now in the midst of a conflict. It helps me to focus on the worthy and beautiful.

      Best of luck in your new position!

      Reply
  3. Diana Trautwein

    Nice job, Sheila. Thanks for this.

    Reply
  4. Lyla Lindquist

    I’m working over this part that you’ve pulled out: these two gals had history. They had not always been at each other’s throats, but they’d worked together in the past. Maybe they’d even been friends? I’ve learned that the more we invest in relationship with one another, the more difficult it is to let disputes go on. It’s much more difficult to wound a friend than someone from whom I’m very distant, and I’ll be much quicker to either handle things in a less hurtful way, or move quickly to restore the relationship when I damage it. 

    Thanks for pointing that one out to me, Sheila.

    Reply

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philippians 4:1-9 [exhortation, encouragement, and prayer]

by Sheila Lagrand time to read: 4 min
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