Phlipping Through Philippians
by Jack Wald | May 5th, 2019

Philippians 4:1-3

This is the third year we are looking at Philippians after Easter. We began preaching from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in April 2017. We worked our way through chapter one and then last year moved through chapters two and three. This morning we come to the end of the letter, chapter four. Let me refresh your memory about this letter.

Philippi was a leading city in the district of Macedonia, in modern day Greece. In 42 BC there were two major battles between Cassius and Brutus (who had assassinated Caesar) on one side and Octavian (who later became the emperor Augustus) and Mark Anthony on the other. After Octavian and Mark Anthony won the battles, they honored Philippi by making it a Roman military colony which gave its population Roman citizenship. Veterans of the battles moved to Philippi making it a city loyal to Rome.

One hundred years later, when Paul came to Philippi, its population was both Greek and Roman. Of the four people we know from the early Christian community established in Philippi, three had Greek names (Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche) and one a Roman name (Clement).

Paul, with his companions (Silas, Timothy, and Luke who wrote the gospel and Acts), came to Philippi because of a vision Paul had.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

It is Acts 16 that we learn about what happened when they arrived in Philippi. They met Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman, who believed, was baptized, and then invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home.

Some time after this Paul and his companions were heading to a place of prayer when they encountered a female slave who made a lot of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She kept following Paul and shouting out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” After many days Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

This was good news for the female slave but bad news for her owners. They made money from her and now their source of income was lost. So they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the marketplace to face the authorities. As in Ephesus where the silversmiths rose up against Paul, the problem was not theological but financial.

The magistrates heard the complaint of the owners of this female slave, and because they did not want to cause a riot, ordered them to be flogged and put into prison. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God when there was an earthquake and the prison doors opened and the chains holding the prisoners in their cells came loose. The jailer and his family believed and were baptized.

Lydia and the jailer and his family, and perhaps the woman who had been a fortune teller, were among the members of the church that was started in Philippi. There is no indication of how long Paul and his companions stayed in Philippi, but they stayed long enough to establish a deep and affectionate friendship that made Philippi stand out among all the churches Paul established.

Paul wrote this letter from his prison cell in Rome sometime between 60 and 62 CE. He was “in chains for Christ” and he was aware that the Philippians were also facing opposition. He writes in Philippians 1:29-30
29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

One of the major themes of this letter is God’s concern and Paul’s concern for unity in the church. It was distressing for Paul to receive news of conflict between leaders in the church. At the end of his letter, in the text for this morning, he writes: (Philippians 4:2–3)
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Paul’s heart is broken to see these two women, who are leaders in the church, at odds with each other. He does not take sides. He urges them “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” He writes at the beginning to all God’s holy people.

When I preach through a book of the Bible, one of my goals is to help you become familiar with the book so that when you read that book for your own devotionals, it will mean more to you, speak to you more clearly because you have a deeper knowledge of why that book was written and what issues were being addressed.

We moved through some of the texts in our worship this morning, let me make a few comments about the themes of Philippians.

Paul is writing to a community of followers of Jesus who are being persecuted for their faith.

He reminds them they are a community. They were Greeks and Romans but Paul told them they had a common identity – they were a colony of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

More important than their cultural background, more important than their status in society, more important than their family name, they were all citizens of heaven. And as citizens of heaven their primary loyalty was to the King of Heaven, Jesus.

Again and again Paul reminds the Philippian church and reminds us that our identity is in Christ. In the introduction to his commentary on Philippians, Gordon Fee writes:
Our letter invites us into the advance of the gospel, the good news about Christ and the Spirit. It points us to Christ, both for now and forever. Christ is the gospel; Christ is Savior and Lord; thus Christ is our life; Christ is our way of life; Christ is our future; Christ is our joy; “to live is Christ; to die is gain”; and all to the glory of our God and Father. Amen.

Because this is our identity, our behavior on earth is measured against the standards of heaven. Because it is the perfect unity between Father, Son, and Spirit that makes three persons one God, unity among the believers in Philippi – and among us – is of highest importance.

Paul is disheartened to hear that there is discord, selfish ambition, rivalry, grumbling and murmuring. The news of the major discord between Euodia and Syntyche that comes at the end of the letter is reflected in what Paul writes all through the letter.

The witness of the church is strongest when it comes out of a community that is living as citizens of heaven. We are witnesses for Christ as individuals, but it is the community that shines brightest in a dark world.

So in chapter 2 Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to live like citizens of heaven. (Philippians 2:1–4)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

A community that lives like this casts a brilliant light into the dark. We need to read this passage often. We need to print it out, write it out, and post it where we can see it every day. We will struggle to live like this, but this is how God wants us to live.

If Euodia and Syntyche had lived like this, there would have been no conflict. If husbands and wives lived like this, marriages would be perfect. If people who drive the streets of Rabat lived like this, driving would be a pleasure.

Paul does not simply tell us how to live, he points us to Jesus whose life was lived like this. Paul either quotes an early hymn of the church or writes what became an early hynm of the church. (Philippians 2:5–11)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus descended, leaving behind all the rights and privileges that were his in heaven. He was born as a baby boy in Bethlehem, grew up in Egypt and Palestine, gathered men and women to be his followers, discipled them, trained them, and then went to die on a cross so we could come with him into his eternal kingdom.

Because Jesus descended, died and was buried, he ascended. He burst from the grave and is exalted to the highest place where he is worshiped and adored as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus descended and ascended. We have a slightly different path. Paul wrote about his credentials. (Philippians 3:4–6)
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Paul, Saul was his Hebrew name, was born and then ascended. This is what we do. We try to make our way in this world, have a family, make a career, grow in our skills and abilities, build our reputation. We work to ascend in wealth, power, and influence in this world.

But then, when we come to faith in Christ and as we grow in our relationship with Christ, we begin our own descent. Paul continues: (Philippians 3:7-8)
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage,

It is not that Paul had no regard for all he had accomplished. His knowledge of scripture was of great value to him and allowed him to preach the good news of Jesus immediately after discovering that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. I don’t think he devalued the time he spent with his teacher, Gamaliel. But now he was able to take all he had learned and use it for Jesus who called him from a legalistic pursuit of perfection to a new life lived in relationship with God.

As we begin to see how temporary our worldly accomplishments are, we begin our own ascent. (Philippians 3:8-10)
I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope that as we hold on to him, we too will rise from the dead. We descend so that we will ascend.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about his struggle with his “thorn in the flesh,” perhaps a problem with his eyes. (2 Corinthians 12:8–10)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Jesus told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Our strength comes from the life and power of Christ in us when we submit to him, acknowledging that we cannot do it ourselves. I would love to preach on this again. It is such a powerful truth.

Descending to ascend is not a one time event in our lives. It is a life-long process. Paul writes, (Philippians 3:12-14)
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

When we began our journey by surrendering to the love of God for us in our relationship with Christ, this became the call of our life.

There is a choice to be made between following Jesus or seeking the wealth, comfort, pleasure, and fame of this world. It is not wrong to be wealthy. It is good when we are able to live comfortably. God created us as sensual beings in a sensual world and we need to be grateful for what we receive. It is good to be respected and valued for what we do.

But when we live for pleasure, make wealth our dream, make decisions based on how much comfort they will bring to us, or seek fame above all other things, then we have become idolaters, worshiping something other than God.

Paul writes (Philippians 3:16)
Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

When we submit to Jesus we become beloved sons of God, beloved daughters of God. This is who we are, despite what other people think and despite what we may think ourselves. We set out to live like a beloved child of God.

(Philippians 3:17-19)
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

We have a choice in this life. We can live for ourselves, or we can live for God. We can fix our eyes on this world and its rewards, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus and the eternal home he is preparing for us. We cannot do both. We have to choose one or the other.

(Philippians 3:20-21)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life was transformed. His passion for the law was turned to passion for Jesus and his call to take the good news of Jesus, the gospel, to the Gentile world. This is what carried Paul through all his suffering along the way. This is what allowed him to persevere.

Elliot preached from Saul’s meeting with Jesus last week. How important was Jesus to Paul? How much were his decisions based on his revelation of Jesus to him? Jesus was everything to Paul. When he asked, “Who are you Lord?” and heard the reply, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he thought he was a dead man. But he was lifted up, given back his sight, and he never looked back.

How important is Jesus to you? How much are your decisions based on your experience of Jesus? Unfortunately, too many Christians drift into the church by following the culture of their community. They may know some stories of Jesus but they do not have much of a story to tell themselves. Jesus is too small for them to make their relationship with him the determining factor in decisions they make. Jesus is in their life, but he is only a small part of their life. They live for themselves because they don’t know who Jesus really is.

J.B. Phillips, who wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, also wrote a book titled, “Your God Is Too Small.” In this he writes:
many people who have a vague childish affection for a half-remembered Jesus, have never used their adult critical faculties on the matter at all. They hardly seem to see the paramount importance of His claim to be God. Yet if for one moment we imagine the claim to be true the mind almost reels at its significance.

If we knew Jesus as he is, we would not struggle so much with trying to live the life God wants us to live. Our choices would be much simpler.

On the road to Damascus, in the heat of the noonday sun, Saul fell to his feet and thought he was going to die because of the glory of the risen Christ. The Apostle John, in his revelation on the island of Patmos, had a vision of the risen Jesus and “fell at his feet as though dead.” We see a picture of Jesus on a wall and go about our business. We need a more true picture of who Jesus is. We sing this chorus.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth
will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

We need to see Jesus in all his glory.

We are not alone in this. As the early church grew and as the people who had walked with Jesus died, Jesus became more distant. The early church struggled with grumbling and murmuring, discontent, and other relational issues.

Throughout the centuries of the church’s existence, Jesus has too often been reduced to a sentimental figure, a good luck symbol, a mascot for the church that works to increase its influence, or as a tool to be used to get as much of the world’s resources as possible.

The weakness of the church comes from a Jesus who is too small. That was not the case with Paul.

In the first three chapters of Philippians, Paul has poured out his passion for serving Jesus and the hope that keeps him going, and then he writes, “Therefore.”
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

When I was a young follower of Jesus, someone came to our church and in his teaching told us, “Whenever you see a ‘therefore,’ ask what the ‘therefore’ is there for.”

As Paul comes to the end of his letter, in light of all the incredibly marvelous truth he has proclaimed, he grieves for the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche that is dividing the church.

Paul writes, “Therefore,” in light of all I have written in this letter, in light of all the marvelous truth of Christ and his love for us, in light of who he is making us and where he is taking us…

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

If Paul had written his plea for Eudoia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord at the beginning of the letter, it would not have carried the same weight. Imagine that you are in Philippi when this letter is being read. Imagine that you are Euodia or Syntyche. The letter has so much powerful truth. They sat their saying, “Amen!” to what Paul wrote. And then, at the end, they heard this plea. “Therefore, in light of all you have heard in this letter, in light of who you are in your relationship to Christ, be of the same mind.”

There are many reasons why we are offended. There are many reasons why we distance ourselves from others. There are many reasons why we have broken relationships. Churches and Christian organizations have many fights among the leadership. Churches split because of these fights. The history of churches and organizations has some marvelous stories to tell, but also some terribly discouraging stories as well. I imagine most of you have stories to tell about how you have been hurt by church conflicts.

Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche to settle their dispute and work together in unity. Jesus and the saints of heaven plead with the church to settle their disputes and work together in unity. Disunity in the body of Christ breaks the heart of God.

Why settle disputes, forgive, and seek reconciliation?

First, God has forgiven you. We talked about this during Lent in the parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a huge debt and then refused to settle a small debt owed to him. The price of your forgiveness was the death of Jesus on the cross. Can any debt owed to you measure up to this? Forgive because you have been forgiven.

Second, when your dispute is with someone who is a follower of Jesus, know that you are fighting with someone whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

What is the book of life? In the earlier writings of the Old Testament, the book of life refers to those who have not died. But in the later writings of the Old Testament and in the New Testament it refers to those who have been brought into the eternal family of God.

(Revelation 3:5)
The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

This is what Jesus referred to when he talked with the disciples who were thrilled with what has happened on their missionary trip. (Luke 10:20)
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

It is enjoyable to see your name in an article (assuming it is for something good you have done). I like seeing the book I wrote about international church ministry with my name on it. But no matter how famous you are, no matter how many times your name is listed in the media, whether or not you have a Wikipedia page, none of this compares to the significance of having your name written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is such a privilege and your name and the name of the person you are fighting with are written in the book of life at such great cost, that no dispute is worth continuing.

When you arrive in heaven, you will deeply regret the fights and disagreements that ended without forgiveness, without reconciliation.

Some months ago I had a difficult conversation with someone. For an hour a man criticized my preaching and my character. He referenced sermons he disagreed with. He thought I valued secondary sources more than the Bible. He accused me of being manipulative and controlling. He accused me of things I did not do. He did not trust me as a pastor and he did not trust me personally.

This was not a pleasant conversation, but as I sat there, listening, what I felt was sadness. At the end I told him that my greatest sadness was that as a pastor I am supposed to encourage and care for the sheep of the congregation and it hurt me that I was not able to encourage and care for him.

My reaction surprised me a bit. Two or three years ago I would not have had such a positive reaction. I have talked about meeting with a counselor in the past couple of years and in that process there has been a lot of healing from hurts that go all the way back to my childhood. God used that counseling to bring healing and I feel loved at a much deeper level. I have known that God loves me for all of my Christian life, but my ability to feel loved has been a much slower and more gradual process.

Because there is this deep stream of being loved in my self, I know who I am and where I am going. I live in the reality that I am a beloved son of God and heading toward my eternal home. I know that I am loved and don’t have to perform well to get approval.

So when I was listening to this man attack me as a pastor and as a person, I did not feel the need to defend myself. I did not feel crushed by his critique and accusations. I did not feel anxious or insecure about what he might tell others about me. I was able to see this man’s pain and feel compassion for him and before I left I prayed for him.

I still care about him and know that one day, we will be standing side-by-side in heaven, giving praise to Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

How are you doing in conflicts in your home, your marriage, your family, your friends, your church community, your work?

Resolution begins with two questions: How big is your Jesus? How much do you feel loved by Jesus?

Work on the hurts from your past, from your childhood, that prevent you from experiencing the love of Jesus deep in your being. Pray for healing. Talk with a counselor. As you uncover the hurts and deal with them, you will open up deep parts of yourself where God’s love can penetrate.

Jesus is far more than a religious symbol or a picture on a wall. Jesus is the pre-existing creator God of the universe. See him in all his glory and majesty. Grow in your awe of who he is. As you do, your life will be transformed. This is how we become men and women of peace. This is how we are able to forgive and seek reconciliation. This is how we build the unity of the church so we can shine brightly for all to see.

You hear me tell you often that you are a beloved child of God. But my telling you is not enough. The defenses you have created to protect yourself from being hurt by others will block the message that you are loved by God. It will come into your head but to get to the depths of who you are, the defenses have to be let down.

Don’t despair. You are not alone in this. God wants the experience of his love for you to go deep in your being. The Holy Spirit is at work in you to open the way for love to penetrate. Cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in you and the love of God will work its way deeper and deeper into your being.

This is your walk, this is your path, this is your journey – a discovery of how much you are loved and who it is who is loving you.

I am with you on this journey. Let’s walk together.