Philippians 4: 4 – 23.
The Apostle Paul’s concise exhortations are customarily towards the end of his Epistles, and far from being just his concluding instructions, they form the practical outworking for his earlier theological pronouncements. His counsel is to be interpreted within the framework of the gospel; viz., by what God had achieved through Jesus Christ in His justification of sinners, and His Holy Spirit’s regeneration and empowerment of believers. Therefore, they flow out of what Paul described as obedience through “working out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Here, Paul closes off the Epistle to the Philippians with a few pieces of advice:
To have a joyful attitude always (Phil 4:4). There is much to rejoice in Christ, but the fact Paul needed to remind the Philippian believers was a matter of importance (c.f., Ps 40:1-3; Neh 8:10; Rom 14:17; James 1:2; 1Peter1:8-9). Despondency can prevail if we allow our joyfulness to be determined especially by dire circumstances, away from our focus on the kingdom of God and His promises. Hence, that remarkable capacity to always rejoice in the Lord in the midst of trouble and persecution is determined by our faith in God’s omnipotence, His omniscience and omnipresence. When we allow God to be God, our perspective of life events are seen through His eyes as we seek to obey and submit to Him. Joyfulness undoubtedly does not issue from a carefree attitude towards life but through an intentional trusting relationship with the Almighty.
Let gentleness prevail in all your relationships (Phil 4:5). To possess a gentle spirit is to be selfless and forbearing; with a humble, patient steadfastness, which can submit to injustice, disgrace and maltreatment without hatred or malice, having confidence in God in spite of it all (c.f., 2Cor 10:1; Phil 2:5-11). The Lord Jesus’ gentle spirit demonstrated potency and depth of character; it certainly was not weakness, as He remains a noteworthy model for us. This Spirit-filled trait is to be visible to all as we become in Christlikeness the salt and light in our community, pointing the way to God’s kingdom. Our testimony is His testimony when His presence is always with us. Gentleness posits His gracious company.
The answer to your anxiety is the peace of God (Phil 4:6-7). Not to be concerned about earth-shaking news or a personal dilemma would be an understatement. Nevertheless, the Apostle’s instruction not to be anxious was followed by a significant qualifier: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The crux of this piece of advice is centred in our Creator; He is the One who is in control, and no amount of despair or anxiety will alleviate our apprehensions. Rather than harming our mental and physiological wellbeing by internalising our anxieties, it is prudent to commit our worries to our heavenly Father and seek His wisdom. Our heart and mind represent the receptacle of our finite capacity, and the unshakeable peace of God will guard us when our minds are being renewed as we learn to trust Him wholeheartedly.
Live as though God’s face is perpetually before you (Phil 4:8-9). Our minds are the battlegrounds of our hearts, and if the gospel is repeatedly excluded from our frame of reference, our worldview and behaviour will sooner or later conform away from the purview of the Word of God (c.f., Ps 139:23; Prov 23:7; 2Cor10:5). We need to keep in step with His Holy Spirit as He walks us through the ups-and-downs in life, and in Paul’s outlook, by imitating spiritually mature believers in their faithfulness and witness (Gal 5:16-18). This is an important discipling model taught throughout Scripture (c.f., John 13:34-35; 1Cor 4:16; 1Cor 11:1; 2Cor 3:2-3; Phil 2:3-8; Col 3:13; 1Peter 2:21).
Learn the secret of contentment in every situation (Phil 4:10-13). Contentment, as Paul defined it, is not dependent on our contexts, but in our being centred in Christ, determinately grateful to God whether in want or plenty, possessing a capability to rise above any unpredictable outcome by His enabling (viz., God’s strength). Christian contentment challenges the very basis of our perception over our possessions in our stewardship responsibility in Christ; for our belongings can assuredly ensnare us and provide us with a false sense of security and contentment.
Sharing is at the heart of the Christian life (Phil 4:14-23). The Christian theological concept of all believers being in the Body of Christ established the context for sharing in the community; even across borders and worldly divides. It demonstrates a heart attitude centred in Christ as our Head. To the Apostle, the material gift from the Philippian church was their gift to Christ as ‘a fragrant aroma’ to Him, ‘an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.’ Paul’s effusiveness in thankfulness undergirded his insight that their support in quantifiable terms illustrated God’s generosity to His people through His gospel, as He supplies ‘all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.’
How we reflect the person of Jesus Christ each day is the true measure of a Christian life as lived before the face of our God (c.f., 2Cor 3:2-3; James 1:22-24).