During the week, I often find myself on the road with nothing but the radio to keep me occupied. During this last week, I traveled to Lorain OH, Albany NY, and Altoona PA. Along the way, I listened to a variety of political speeches, radio talk shows, and Bible lessons. If you are familiar with radio talk shows, you know that they seem to be very good at getting you mad about the state of the country without providing a workable solution for fixing anything. Although I enjoy hearing the opinions proposed on the shows, I have come to the conclusion that they are like drinking too much Mountain Dew. They produce a lot of energy but don’t always help the situation as much as you would think. In our message today, I would like us to consider some very important things. But let us be sure to temper our excitement with the right attitudes.
Read Philippians 4:1-3.
“Therefore” reminds us of what Paul has taught us at the end of chapter three. He had told the believers to think, live, and wait like a mature believer. Because we are not living for earthly pleasures but are awaiting our heavenly home, we should have right thinking that affects the way we live and what we focus on.
In the first three verses of chapter four, Paul gives three directives to the people in Philippi. We see these in the verbs he uses: stand fast (1), be of the same mind (2), and help (3). These were things that the church at Philippi needed when Paul wrote to them. However, we don’t look at these directives just to think about what other people needed years ago. We look at them to see how they apply to us today. As we look at each one, consider how the directive may apply to each of us.
- Stand fast in the Lord (Phil. 4:1).
This first directive reminds me of something that happened this week. My wife sent me a picture of one of our Pekin ducks. Poor Paddy seemed to be stuck fast in the muck. Thankfully, he was able to extricate himself, but warmer weather would have dried the mud and had him stuck in place. While this verse is not talking about getting stuck in the mud, it is talking about being firmly entrenched in the teaching about the Lord Jesus.
To better understand the situation, let us consider two questions about this Bible verse.
To whom was he talking?
Paul was talking to the believers in the church at Philippi. But they were more than just Christians he had met at some point in the past. He loved them very much. “The apostle’s affection for this congregation is revealed by his love and longing for them and his calling them his brothers…, his joy and crown (stephanos, the runner’s wreath or victor’s crown…), and his dear friends… . These saints were to their spiritual father what victory wreaths were to runners in the Greek races” (Lightner 663). These were people that Paul knew well and had developed a close relationship with. “It is evident from these words that this was, indeed, a fine congregation” (Hendriksen 190).
What did he want them to do?
They were to stand fast in the Lord. Stand fast is another way of saying that they needed a firm foundation so that they would not be easily moved. This reminds me of the short block walls on either side of the basement entrance to our house. When originally built, the block were filled with concrete and iron bars so as to keep the dirt from moving them onto the sidewalk. With such a firm foundation, they have held up against pressure for many years.
But what do retaining walls have to do with standing firm in the Lord? As you may recall, there were some troublesome people who were actively trying to mislead the believers in Philippi. Some were preaching about Christ with bad motives (1:15). Some were trying to convince the church that Jewish practices were still required for Christians (3:2). Some were focused on earthly things instead of heavenly (3:18-19).
With all of these bad influences vying for their attention, Paul wanted his dear friends to stand fast in the Lord. But what did this mean? It meant that they needed to keep their motives right, their understanding of Christ right, and their focus right. They needed to stand firm in the true teaching about Christ so that they would not be moved from that solid foundation.
This is a needed reminder for us today. In the past, there were fewer people influencing us. In Paul’s time, any traveling preacher who claimed to be a Christian would have been received with gladness. The early church was being persecuted by Jewish zealots, the government, and idol worshipers. They were the minority and needed as much encouragement and teaching as could be offered.
But for us today, we can hear Bible teaching all day long. You hear it on the radio, on television, in books and magazines, and on the internet. And how much of it is good? The only way to know what is good doctrine is to compare what is being said to what God has revealed in the Bible. There are many smiling preachers on television, but not all of them will help you to stand firm in the truth of the Bible. So make the time to study the Bible and consider what is true. Then stand firm in that. This is what God wants for every believer.
- Be of the same mind in the Lord (Phil. 4:2).
Being like-minded is something that doesn’t come naturally for us. During a recent trip to Detroit, I stopped at a White Castle restaurant for some sliders. My Ohio State sweatshirt was probably not very welcomed that deep into Michigan. But I still struck up a conversation with a man with a University of Michigan sweatshirt. I found out that his son played in the marching band at U of M and that he was displeased with the current football coach. That led to an interesting conversation which we both enjoyed. I guess love does cover a multitude of sins! While we didn’t root for the same football team, we were able to set aside our differences and enjoy a short conversation.
As we look at Paul’s second directive, you will quickly see that two people were not very like-minded.
To whom was he talking?
Paul was not shy about mentioning people by name in his epistles. These apostolic letters were meant for the betterment of individual people in local congregations. Because of that, the people would not be surprised that he knew them by name or that he knew about sticky situations they were currently facing. And “after such an endearing introduction addressed to each and to all, the needed admonition intended for two individuals cannot seem harsh” (Hendriksen 190).
In verse two, Paul addressed two women whose names are not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Their names were Euodia and Syntyche. While we don’t know much about them, “it seems that they were causing dissension in the assembly” (Lightner 663). It is assumed that these women were not getting along with each other. We don’t know what the issue was, but can imagine the reality of such a situation because we have experienced it before.
Over the years, we have all seen individuals not get along. Sad to say, it is a common thing with us. One person has a certain view about something but another person differs strongly. The disagreement ferments for a while and then the emotions get involved. There have been times (or so I have heard) where church business meetings have turned into fist fights. This is certainly not good. Jesus Himself told us that his disciples would be known by their “love for one another” (John 13:35). He also told the Jewish believers to get things right with a brother before offering an offering on the altar (Matt. 5:23-24).
Apparently, there were two women in the church at Philippi who had a strong disagreement about something and everyone in the church knew about it. These two women were the subject of Paul’s second directive.
What did he want them to do?
He wanted them to have the same mind in the Lord. What exactly does this mean? “He did not mean they must be carbon copies of each other. They may have differences of opinion about many different things, but that will not separate two people who have the mind of Christ. It is one of the glorious truths about the body of Christ that each member can be different and yet all are one in Christ” (McGee 320).
So what does it mean to have the same mind in the Lord? It means that they were both to have the same attitudes that Jesus had. We often look at the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). But do you remember the attitudes of Christ mentioned earlier in this epistle? They were love and humility (Phil. 2:1-8). If these women were to love one another and show Christ-like humility, they would find it much easier to get along with each other despite their differences.
Applying this principle to other people is easy, but much harder to apply to ourselves. We tend to get caught up in our own thinking about issues and then forget to be loving and humble toward the other person. Maybe this is something that we need to hear today. It may be that there is something bothering you about someone else in the church. Maybe your ideas are different than theirs. Or maybe it is someone outside of the church. Whatever the case may be, allow the love and humility of the Lord to temper the differences and discussion. Only then can we hope to “be of the same mind in the Lord.”
- Help those who have labored for the Lord (Phil. 4:3).
Over the last several years, our church has had a number of people visit and minister to us. Some have been pastors of churches. Some have been missionaries. As we recall their time with us, there is one thing that they all had in common. They were people who were laboring for the Lord. As Paul addresses the need of these two women, he enlists the help of another Christian but also notes the ministry experience he had with these two women.
To whom was he talking?
As I studied this verse, I learned something new. When Paul addressed his yoke fellow in verse 3, he may have been using “yokefellow” as a proper name (see Lightner 663). The Greek word σύζυγε means “an associate, comrade, fellow laborer” (Mounce) or “a person who pulls well in a harness for two” (Hendriksen 191). If Paul was calling this person by name, he certainly “was true to his name. A similar pun occurs in Philem. 11 ‘Onesimus (Useful) who once was useless to you but now it useful to you and to me.’ It is safe to infer that Syzygus, about whom we have no further information, was one of Paul’s comrades or associates in the work of the gospel” (Hendriksen 191).
We may not have enough evidence in this verse to make a definitive declaration about the individual addressed by Paul. But we do know that the one being addressed was someone Paul trusted to take care of the situation.
What did he want him to do?
Paul’s love for these two Christian women is evidenced by his concern for them. Because of this, he wanted this man to help them. “Paul knew he could count on him to work with the women and bring them back to fellowship with each other and with the Lord” (Lightner 663). They needed help and Paul directed his friend to do what was needed to reconcile the two.
As if it wasn’t enough to just ask for help, Paul explained why he was so concerned. These women had labored with him in the gospel. Somehow, they were part of his ministry either there in Philippi or somewhere else. “Well does the apostle remember the time when they contended at his side … against a common foe and in the gospel-cause” (Hendriksen 191).
This is quite interesting as we often think that men are the Scriptural ministers of the church. But here Paul mentions these women as a vital part of his ministry team. Ladies, do you feel that you are a useful part of your church’s ministry. I can think of many things that would not get done if it weren’t for the ladies in our church. While our roles may be different, please know that your ministry is noted and applauded.
How could these women be helped?
The practical application of this verse is both simple and difficult. Helping two people to overcome their differences is not as easy as you would think—especially if you have gone through such an experience. There is often more heat than light and personal feelings can get in the way of reconciliation. But this shouldn’t keep us from trying to help others. As noted earlier, the key to overcoming differences is having the love and humility of our Lord. When we love others, differences don’t seem as important. When we are humble, we don’t view ourselves as the only one with the right perspective.
Something that goes along with this is found at the end of verse three. When Paul refers to all of his fellow workers, he purposely states that their names “are in the Book of Life.” This is a good reminder that even though we may have personal differences with other Christians, we must remember that God has placed them in the Book of Life just as we were. We are all sinful people whom God has graciously chosen to save. Try to keep this in mind when conflict arises with a fellow believer.
As we think back on what we have learned today, we should remember the three main points. First, we need to stand fast in the Lord. Each of us needs to have a biblical foundation for what we believe and how we act. Without it, we can easily be moved by the next popular religious speaker on television. Read your Bible, meditate on the Scriptures, and base your thoughts and actions on it. Second, we need to be of the same mind in the Lord. Each of us needs to base our thinking on the love and humility of the Lord. When we do this, our interactions with others will be much different. Third, we need to help other Christians. No matter how much experience one may have, each of us needs the help of others in the Body of Christ.
One of the things that I have learned is that standing firm and being humble are not the same. It is easy to march with others for a great cause. And if you think about it, we have a great cause to stand for. We are serving the Lord and should not let anything pull us away from what He desires. But along with a firm stand, we need to be humble in how we do it. There may come a time when some of us have differences of opinion about somethings. Let’s remember to be humble when that day comes.
Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994, pp.189-92.
Lightfoot, J. B., St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, pp. 157-59.
Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 663.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, p. 320.
σύζυγος as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/syzygos on 5/6/2023.