Last week, we looked at the things we should be thinking about. We learned that what we meditate about will affect our thoughts and actions. Paul now moves on to one more thought—the need to follow his example.
Philippians 4:9 – “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
It may seem strange for Paul to hold himself up as an example to follow. In some situations, that would be looked down on as pride. “Look at me! I am your example!” But if you have been reading through the epistle, you know that this was not the case. Paul was a godly Christian who was following the Lord with all his heart. And as their teacher, he was a good example to follow.
- Follow my example.
When I coached a junior high basketball team, I quickly found out that it was easier to show the players how to do something than to tell them. As I played the game with them, I was able to give an example of the things I had told them. The teaching mixed with an example was more helpful than teaching by itself. This is what we will see in Philippians 4:8.
When had they seen Paul’s example?
The Philippian believers knew Paul because they had met him and learned from him. As far as I can tell, Paul had been in Philippi on two different occasions. His first visit is recorded in Acts 16.
He had spent several days in Philippi (Acts 16:11-12).
He had spoken the gospel to Lydia who believed and was baptized (Acts 16:13-15).
He had cast out the demon who had possessed a fortune teller (Acts 16:16-18).
He and Silas had been flogged and imprisoned for doing this (Acts 16:19-24).
He and Silas had prayed and sang hymns in the jail (Acts 16:25).
He and Silas had experienced an earthquake that freed them (Acts 16:26)
He had led the jailer and his family to faith in Jesus (Acts 16:27-34).
He had confronted the city leaders about his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:35-39).
He had encouraged the Christians in the city before leaving (Acts 16:40).
That is the most we know about Paul’s time in Philippi. But there was one other time when he visited the city. His second visit was recorded in Acts 20.
He encouraged the believers in Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
He stayed in Greece for 3 months (Acts 20:2).
He went back through Macedonia (Acts 20:3).
He sailed away from Philippi (Acts 20:6).
Although there are no details about his visit, it is assumed that he stopped to visit the church in Philippi. This quick voyage didn’t allow much time for a prolonged visit, but it would have been an encouragement to the believers there.
What was Paul’s example?
His doctrinal example — The Philippian believers had learned from Paul and received his teaching. They had learned1 from him. This involved his teaching them God’s truth which, as an apostle, he had received directly from God and from studying the Old Testament Scriptures. If this were happening today, what would you teach a group of new believers? You would teach about God, sin and judgment, the birth, life, teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, forgiveness, the new birth, the future, and many other things. They had received2 things from him. Teaching is good and necessary for people to learn what God says, but teaching must be received for it to make a difference in your life. It is one thing to learn about the truth; it is altogether another to actually “receive, take possession of, [or] acknowledge”2 it.
Do you know what God says in the Bible? Perhaps you have been taught what the Bible says or you have read some it, but there must come a time in your life when you receive it for yourself. This is called faith. Throughout the Bible, we are told to not only hear but to believe what God says. Have you come to that place yet? If not, I encourage you to keep studying the Bible. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
His personal example — The Philippian believers had heard and seen Paul in person. His example had shown them what a true believer is like. They had heard3 him. When you are around a person for a while, you hear not only the words that they say but the personality and motivation behind those words. If Paul was anything like his epistle in person, his words must have been filled with graciousness and love. Do you remember how the epistle begins with grace and peace and thanks to God for them. When they heard Paul they saw a genuine Christian man. They had seen4 him. The Philippian believers had been visited by Paul on at least two occasions. “On his first visit and on subsequent stopovers, they had seen these graces displayed in Paul.”7 In other words, they saw the very things he was teaching in his personal life. He wasn’t just telling them to do something; he was actively living it out in his own personal life. They had seen it.
Paul was a good example for the Philippian believers. His doctrinal example was such that they had received and believed God’s truth from him. But they had also seen the truth lived out personally by Paul. Over the years, I have had different Christian heroes. These were people who were examples to me like pastors, teachers, or individual Christians who taught me and lived a godly life. None were perfect but they each showed me something about their relationship with the Lord. I also hope to be a good example to other people but am well aware of my own failings. So, I will say what Paul said elsewhere: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). If you see something in me that points you toward Jesus, follow that.
What were they to do with Paul’s example?5
They were to follow his example and do the same things. The word “do” could also be translated as “practice.”6 Paul had given them an example not just to watch from afar but to actually put into practice. The word do “implies an ongoing, daily effort. This is not a one-time attempt or short-term effort to follow God.”9 What Paul wanted is for the Philippian believers (and for us as well) to follow his example and to become examples themselves.
Do you think that you could ever become an example for others to follow? Your first response might be an emphatic no. But let’s think about that for a moment. Every Christian is called to practice the things Paul talks about in this epistle. And as we do these things (with God’s help), others will be watching. For example, when we help those who are not getting along, when we rejoice in the Lord even during bad times, when we are gracious to others, when we have God’s peace from praying to God, and when we are careful what we think about, do you think others will notice? In these ways, each of us who knows the Lord can be an example for other Christians to follow.
- Enjoy God’s presence.
Paul concludes this verse with a promise. Christians who do the above-mentioned things will have the God of peace with them. Having God with us at all times is a special blessing. Jesus told his disciples to preach the gospel to the world but also mentioned that He would be with them (Matt. 28:18-20). That must have encouraged them to keep going during hard times. We have sung songs like “God Himself is with Us” and “God Will Take Care of You” because we value God’s presence with us. However, Paul describes God’s presence a little bit differently here.
Why is God called the God of peace?
If you were to give a description of God, what would make the list of his qualities? You might say that God is holy, loving, patient, all-powerful, wise, and perfect. But here, Paul calls Him the God of peace. Why is that? I think that Paul emphasizes God’s peace because of what he had been teaching them in Philippians 4:1-8.
There were two church members, Euodia and Syntyche, who were not getting along. They needed God’s peace (4:2-3). There were events that would try to steal away their joy in the Lord (4:4). There would be situations where they would not feel like being gracious but God’s peace would help them especially as they thought about His imminent return (4:5). There were things that caused anxiety but God’s peace would be available when they prayed and thanked God (4:6-7). And there could be many worthless things that would fill their minds unless they chose to meditate on godly things (4:8).
Think about that. God is the God of peace. He wants you to have the peace that only comes from Him. Whenever you are going through troubling or anxious times, think about the God of peace whom you know. Turn your troubles over to Him and find the peace that passes all understanding.
Why would He be with them?
Paul told the Philippian believers that the God of peace would be with them when they followed his Christian example. This makes me think back to the beginning in Genesis 3. After God created Adam, he interacted with him, spoke to him, and had a relationship with him. While we often think that God is far off, He actually is here with us today. He is wanting to be with us and to have a relationship that is good and enjoyable.
Paul knew this by personal experience. “By pursuing the course of life which he had led, and which he here counsels them to follow, [he] had found that it had been attended with the blessing of the God of peace, and he felt the fullest assurance that the same blessing would rest on them if they imitated his example.”8 Once again, Paul was sharing with them (and with us) the wonderful news that God is with those who follow God’s ways. As was true for him, it is true for us. If we are willing to not only believe the Lord but to follow His instructions, our relationship with God will be good.
Sadly, there are many people who claim to be Christians but who do not enjoy their relationship with God like Paul did. It isn’t that they are not true believers or that they aren’t apostles like Paul. The real problem is that some Christians don’t practice what they have been taught. Are you one of these people? Each of us begins our relationship with God through repentance and faith. We acknowledge our sin against God and turn to Jesus. When we place our faith in Jesus, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, we are forgiven and given new life in Him. But after we have become a Christian, we should not sit back and be lazy. We should learn from the Bible and practice what we learn from God. This is how we will develop our relationship with the Lord. And this is where we will find God’s peace.
In today’s Bible study, we have seen several things. We are to follow the example of godly Christians like Paul. Those who have taught the truth from the Bible and lived it in their lives should be the ones we pattern our lives after. And as we do that, God will be with us providing the peace that we need.
Will you follow Paul’s example this week? Although he was not perfect, we can learn a lot from Paul. He often put his life in jeopardy to preach the gospel and to teach Christians God’s truth. Will you be an example this week? Just like the rest of us, you are not perfect, but your life can be an example to others. As they hear your words and see your life, you can show what God has done in your life. That is being an example. Will you work on your relationship with the Lord this week? The Bible promises that God’s peace and presence will be with you as you do the things mentioned here. So take advantage of God’s offer to you. Get to know the Lord as you faithfully do what you have learned.
1 Mounce, ἐμάθετε (aor/act/indic/2/pl) – “to learn, be instructed”
2 Mounce, παρελάβετε (aor/act/indic/2/pl) – “receive, take possession, acknowledge”
3 Mounce, ἠκούσατε (aor/act/indic/2/pl) – “to hear, pay attention, understand, take in”
4 Mounce, εἴδετε (aor/act/indic/2/pl) – “to see, watch, realize”
5 Mounce, πράσσετε (pres/act/impv) – “to do, act, practice, execute, perform, practice, commit, be engaged in”
6 McGee 326.
7 Hendriksen 200.
9 Bible Ref
Barnes, Albert, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. as viewed in Pocket Bible.
Bible Ref, “What does Philippians 4:9 mean?” as viewed at https://www.bibleref.com/Philippians/4/Philippians-4-9.html on 6/10/2023.
Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994, pp. 199-200.
Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 664.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, p. 326.
Moule, H. C. G., The Epistle to the Philippians, Cambridge; The University Press, 1889, pp. 115-16.
Mounce, Bill, “Greek Dictionary” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary on 6/8/2023.
Richison, Grant, “Philippians 4:9,” as viewed at https://versebyversecommentary.com/1996/03/17/philippians-49 on 6/10/2023.