Paul begins this fourth chapter of Philippians with what looks like a very mixed metaphor, as he writes, "Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord." The "therefore" refers back to what he has written about in chapter 3. There he is talking about running a race, seeing life as an obstacle course. He writes how he runs this race by pressing on to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He is urging others to run with him. But in the opening verse of chapter four he now says, "stand firm". It sounds confusing as to which he means for us, whether to run the race or to stand firm. One is a picture of extreme effort, the other of immobility, inaction. How can we then follow this call to standing and yet running?
If we take him literally at his word it is confusing. Nevertheless, thinking this through you have here a marvelous setting forth of the paradox of the Christian faith. For life is indeed a very swiftly moving obstacle race. We've all discovered that. You know how at every turn there are new challenges and new demands made upon you, and time itself brings these things into your life, so that it is indeed a race we are running.
But the secret of running the race successfully, the apostle tells us, is learning how to stand still. That is, to take an unchanging grip on the unchanging life of Jesus Christ within us. This has been the theme of this marvelous letter. He tells us that there is a secret to the Christian life. It is the fact that Jesus Christ lives within us, and in order to lay hold of that life it is necessary that we quite willingly forgo the exercise of our own life. Thus he says, "I have learned to count all things loss in order that I might gain Christ." The secret of running an obstacle race and overcoming all the problems is learning to get a solid grip on the life of Jesus Christ within. So you can see that his metaphors are not mixed after all. It really is very true to life.
I think we have an excellent illustration of this in those delightful little cable cars that run up and down the hills of San Francisco, our coveted and honored tourist attraction. If you have stood there and listened, you have heard the cables running down underneath the streets. Now actually the cable car itself is incapable of moving. It has no motor, it is impossible to be self-propelled. The only possibility of movement is to take a firm grip on the cable. You may have watched the grip man with his levers, pulling back to grab hold of that cable and run up the hill.
Now the cable car with relationship to the cable never moves. It always remains standing firm. But the cable moves, and as it moves the car is able to overcome all the obstacles, the steepest hills of San Francisco. This is a beautiful picture of what Paul is saying, for though we are running the race of life we are continually confronted with the obstacles, demands and pressures that come upon us. The answer is not to try to do something, but to get a firmer grip on the life of Jesus Christ, which is capable of doing it in us. As we do that, we discover we have an adequacy that handles all the obstacles. He is quite able to overcome all the problems, whatever life can throw at us.
In the rest of his letter, and especially through verse nine, Paul is summing up what he has written and applying this principle again to their problems. We will see that these are the problems we are facing as well.
The first one is a personality problem: Verses 2-4:
"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand."
In these few verses he turns the spotlight on the problem that has been dimly discernible all along in this letter. There were in the church at Philippi two lovely ladies (I'm sure they were; their very names refer to lovely qualities), yet who were quarreling with one another. They were in some kind of disagreement-someone suggested they both sang in the choir, though I doubt that. At any rate there was some difference in outlook between these two ladies and the quarrel had spread to others in church. Some were taking sides, and it was beginning to threaten the unity of the church. They hadn't divided yet, it wasn't a church split, but they were on the verge of it. The apostle is writing this letter to correct this incipient problem.
He says two things are needed to settle the difficulty, on the basis of the marvelous revelation of the life in Jesus Christ which he has given in this letter. But now it comes down to the practical actions, two things to be done. First of all: agree in the Lord. And second: rejoice in the Lord. In both you notice the sphere of action is in the Lord.
Agree. That means finding common ground. You know how it is when we have a quarrel with someone or their personality rubs us the wrong way-they're one of those irritating people who always do things differently and are hard to live with-our tendency is to say oh, we've nothing in common with them, and go our separate ways. But the apostle says this is absolutely wrong for Christians. Separations between believers in Jesus Christ must never be permitted, for it is quite wrong to say you have nothing in common. Christians always have something in common in the Lord. Therefore they are to agree and get together in the Lord.
It's impossible to know what this quarrel was about, but we don't need to know. For whatever the areas of disagreement, there are always vast areas of agreement in the Lord for believers. The apostle is urging these two ladies to get together and talk about those, and from that agreement begin to work on the problems on which they disagree. They would soon find that starting from that basis the areas of disagreement would begin to shrink until there was nothing left and they were agreed together in the Lord.
Now he points out that this sometimes requires some outside help. I'm glad he mentions this, because this is the basis for counseling. I was just invited to deliver a lecture on human relations in Monterrey in the Institute of Mexican American Relations and pointed out that counseling can be tremendously helpful in this area. It's sometimes difficult for us to see beyond our areas of disagreement, but when a third party comes in we begin to look through his eyes, and what seems to us of paramount importance often shrinks to triviality from that perspective. So the apostle says, "I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, who names (will never be known in the newspapers, but) are in the book of life."
Many scholars have wondered who he is addressing here as "true yokefellow." Some have suggested some unknown person in Philippi whom he had worked with, but I personally feel this is a sentence not intended by the apostle Paul to be in this letter. I think if I can explain the situation to you, you will see what I mean. You remember that the apostle never wrote his letters himself. He always dictated them to an amanuensis, a secretary, usually one of the young men who traveled with him. At the close of the letter to the Galatians he tells us how he took the pen himself and with large letters he wrote to them in his own hand that they might know it was from him. Evidently he suffered from some affliction, perhaps in eyesight, which made it difficult for him to write, so he dictated his letters. For instance, at the close of the Romans letter it says, "I Tertius who wrote this letter greet you."
I don't know who was writing this letter, but I can picture Paul there in his hired house dictating the letter, with several of the men around him and with them Epaphroditus who was to take the letter back to Philippi. As he is thinking, writing, speaking here, he dictates to the secretary, "I entreat you Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord." Then he turns and addresses the words to Epaphroditus: "and I ask you also, true yokefellow, that you help these women." The secretary, not realizing he was addressing someone in the room just wrote the words in the letter. I think that possible because I have been a secretary, and I've done it myself. Sometimes the dictator of the letter will add a personal observation as he is dictating. Occasionally those observations find their way into the body of the letter, sometimes to the confusion of the recipient. I rather think that is what happened here, and he is saying these words to Epaphroditus, but the Holy Spirit saw to it they were incorporated in the letter that we might see his concern that these ladies settle this problem even if it means getting some counsel on the matter, so that the disagreement no longer stands between them separating them and the church, but they agree together in the Lord.
The second activity is the theme of the letter: Rejoice in the Lord. That is also necessary. In order to agree it is needful to find that place where you can begin to rejoice in what is taking place. Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, this is the mark of spiritual maturity: Rejoice in the Lord. "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you", he writes to the Thessalonians. Learn that all that comes into your life, even these irritating disagreements with others, is sent of the Lord either to reveal something in your own heart that you haven't seen or to give you an opportunity to manifest the sweet reasonableness of the Lord Jesus.
So he adds these words, v. 5: "Let all men know your forbearance"-your sweet reasonableness, which I think is the best translation of the Greek. Let everyone see. That's why you are a Christian that they might see how sweet and reasonable you are in Christ. Well, you say this is one thing to say, and we all agree, but how do you do this? When you are so angry about something someone has done you can hardly find words to express it, and they continue to be irritating over and over, how do you do this?
Well, there is that cable running down underneath. Take a good grip on it! The Lord is available, and you have someone within who is able to do this in you. Now believe it! Grip it firmly. Act on that basis. As Norman Grubb so simply put it: "In every case of difficulty we are faced with this situation: I can't. He can. Therefore I can." As I take a grip on the fact that the Lord in me is able to do what I myself cannot do, then I can do it. This is what Paul has been writing about throughout this letter. Stand firm now in the Lord. Take a grip on the cable of His life and discover that you can do what you thought you could not.
I've learned from my own counseling experience with many that when a Christian says, "I can't", I can't forgive, etc., what he is really saying is, "I won't." For in the Christian life there is no such word as I can't. Paul says, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Sometimes we hide behind "I can't", when we really mean, "I won't."
We see this also in the problem of pressure, in vv. 6, 7:
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I think there is nothing more prevalent in the age in which we live than the increasing problem of tension. It isn't for nothing that the ulcer has become the badge of modern life. Worry is a powerful force to disintegrate the human personality, leaving us frustrated, puzzled, baffled, bewildered by life. Sometimes you hear the expression: "sick with worry", and anyone who has experienced it knows it is no empty expression. You can be literally sick with worry. Paul's answer to this is a blunt, "Have no anxiety about anything." These are not just Paul's words. This reflects the position of scripture from Genesis through Revelation. The entire Word of God is a constant exhortation to believers to stop worrying. It is everywhere forbidden to those who believe in Jesus Christ, and I think one of the most serious areas of unbelief is our failure as Christians to face the problem of worry as sin. Because that is what it is. Worry is not just something everyone does and therefore it must be all right. It is definitely labeled a sin in the scriptures, and the exhortation is everywhere: stop it! Have no anxiety about anything.
I frequently have people come to me about this problem and in talking with them I sometimes detect that they are looking for some way for the circumstances that cause worry to be removed from their lives. God never promises that. I find frequently people are justifying their worry, finding excuses for it, covering them over with the idea that if they don't worry someone else will have to, or the circumstance will somehow get out of control so they can't properly handle it. So we continually justify the sin of worry. I sometimes have to say, "Look, you'll never get over this until you face it for what it is, a sin for a believer to worry. It is a sign of unbelief, and calling God a liar." That is why scripture says, "have no anxiety about anything."
Well you say, this is all very well to say don't worry, but how do you stop it? Everytime I try to stop worrying I worry all the more. Some has said, "I've joined the new Don't Worry Club, and now I hold my breath. I'm so scared I'm going to worry that I'm worried half to death." You can't stop it just by the exercise of will power. No, take a good grip on the cable. That's the secret of running the race. Here it is: "In everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."
I love that word "everything". That means there is nothing too small to bring to him. Someone asked, "Is it all right to bring small things before the Lord? Is he concerned about the small things in our lives?" The answer is: is there anything that looks big to God? Everything is small to him, so take everything to him in prayer. Prayer is the expression of our dependence upon his promises. It isn't necessarily on your knees, or in the closet, but it can be just that quiet, arrow prayer of the heart, in continual recognition that you need to lean back upon his grace and strength. In everything constantly relating to that indwelling life of God the Son in you.
"Supplication" means, keep it up, over and over again. Whenever problems develop lean back again in prayer to the one who is able and competent within you through his indwelling life. Thanksgiving is that forward look of faith that thanks God for the answer before you see it. Knowing his character, you know something will be done.
I think we can use instruction in the practice of prayer. God is not saying we should ask for everything we want. We're to ask for everything we need. Frequently we find ourselves praying for things he never promises. For instance, if you are up against some kind of trial, some catastrophe strikes in your life, our perfectly understandable, natural human reaction is to say, "Lord, take this away." But God never said he would do that. He does not always want us to have it taken away. Sometimes he will, sometimes not. That kind of prayer must always have appended to it what our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."
But there are things for which we can immediately ask, and know that we will receive. His grace, his strength, insight, wisdom , patience, love and compassion. And as we lean back upon him in that inner dependence of faith which is prayer, we can also begin to give thanks that the answer has come, and in our thanksgiving we discover the experience of it as well. So as in everything we let our requests be made known to God, the result is peace. The peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I'm not sure whether or not I related this story to you, but it bears repeating. Just the other day a new Christian, a business man, was telling me of the peace that he is enjoying in resting upon the competency of Christ within to handle his problems. He said that the one thing an American business man fears more than anything else is a call from the Internal Revenue Department. He said the other day the phone rang, the secretary picked it up and said, "It's the Internal Revenue Department. What will I tell them?" He said his immediate reaction was what he once would have said: "Tell them anything-tell them I'm not here, I'm out of town." Then he remembered Christ within, and that he was there to meet the problems of life through him. He said his second reaction was well, what an interesting time this will be to see how he solves this problem. I don't know what they will ask me about, but it will be interesting to find out. So he took the phone, and when he did he found it was a friend playing a joke on him. He said if he hadn't taken the phone he would have been all week dodging up alleys and hiding behind cars, afraid someone would put a subpoena on him. Ah, but you see that rest upon one who is adequate brings peace.
Sometimes it is a peace that grips you in the midst of the most distressing circumstances, and you ask how can you explain it. The answer is you can't. It's a peace that passes understanding. I don't understand it. I've experienced it many times. There is something about it that undergirds, sustains and strengthens, and the heart is quiet and peaceful even in the midst of the pressures, demands and harassments of life. It comes of committing our way unto Him.
Next there is the problem of perspective, vv. 8, 9:
"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God, of peace, will be with you."
Now we consider what is a common failure in many of our lives, but that we seldom recognize. It's the problem of a pessimistic outlook, of negative imagination. How often do you find your whole attitude is set in a wrong direction by your imagining what could or would or might happen in a situation, so that when you actually come to it you are so frustrated and flustered by what you have been thinking that you are out of shape and unable to handle the problem. I know this is the subject on which many books on the power of positive thinking are written. I want to put it in its proper relationship. There is a place for positive thinking, but only after you have first discovered a positive life, the life of Christ. But now we have the exhortation to think positive.
Remember that story I'm sure some have read in the Reader's Digest a few issues ago, about a man who had a flat tire on the way home, and found he had no jack in his car. He set out to borrow one in the wee small hours of the night, and he began to worry about the reaction he might get when he requested his neighbor for a jack. He had to waken him and get him out of bed in the middle of the night. He began to think about how that neighbor would feel, how angry and resentful he would be, and how he wouldn't want to get up and give him the jack, that he probably couldn't find it in the garage anyway and he'd have to dig around and maybe get a flashlight and go to an awful lot of trouble. The longer he thought about it the madder he got. Finally he arrived at the neighbor's house, went up and thundered on the door and when the man showed up he said, "Well, you can keep your damned jack if that's the way you feel about it."
That unfortunately illustrates a problem that too frequently occurs in our lives. It's because we give no heed to the apostle's exhortation. Whatever is true. That's the first reality. Things as they are, not as they might be or could be. Whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise. Think about these things. This is a deliberate choice of the will to refuse to think about the negative, but to think about the positive in any situation, or about any person. When you do, you are following the example of the apostle Paul.
Then there is that cable, that powerful force which alone can make this possible, on which we are to take a strong grip. Then the God of peace will be with you. If you set your mind to that, the God who dwells within will express himself in terms of peace rather than strife and confusion.
You see Christianity was meant for life. I am impressed by the fact that when our Lord Jesus came he didn't talk to people about religion. He talked to them about life. About their work in the kitchen or shop, about how they lived and thought acted, about what they said to their children, to each other, and how they got along with their neighbors. He didn't come and talk to them about theological problems, about existential relations and inter-personal demands and epistemological confusion. He came to talk to them about the way they were living, and to show them what life is. That the secret is a person who dwells within, whose life may be manifested in terms of our personalities, and that everything is designed to drive us back to that, so like the grip man in the cable car, the bigger the hill the firmer the grip.
Life is not like Time magazine, divided up into sections, a page for politics, a page for religion, a page for social life. It's all intermingled, one unit. When religion is nothing more than the pouring out of pious platitudes, theological pablum, it has no appeal to people. But when we hear words like these that speak life to our own hearts in the midst of the busy demands of our days we have something that ministers to the cry for adequacy. In Jesus Christ we have the superlative answer to every obstacle and demand, every pressure laid upon us. As Paul says, "therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord." --Ray Stedman, Standing While Running.
Seasons of Stress in the World
The Body of Christ in Perilous Times
At the Gate
Hiding in the Rock
The Hidden of the Lord
The Ballad of Sigmund Freud
"Hard Times" Mavis Staples, (Stephen Foster)
"All the Good Times are Past and Gone" (Norman and Nancy Blake)
Marching Upward to Zion
My Lord Knows the Way Through the Wilderness
No Hiding Place Down Here (Carter Family)
Notes by Lambert Dolphin