Philippians 4:1-5

A heavenly mindset is the way to stand firm in the Lord (4:1). This is how Paul wraps up the previous section. If anyone desires to have a greater stability in the Lord, he must turn his gaze upward! Paul then adds instructions regarding sundry items[1]. The first three are: 1) harmony, 2) joy, and 3) gentleness.

Harmony (2-3): A serious discord was looming in the church. Paul, therefore, calls out those involved by name (Euodia and Syntyche) and brings this issue to the attention of the entire church. Paul himself sides with neither one and impartially addresses both parties.[2] He also pushes for a resolution. He calls Syzygus[3] to step in and help them agree[4] "in the Lord." Even if they could not come to agree on the specific matter, they could reach an agreement on what Christ wants. Every believer can agree in the Lord to love and serve each other and never speak ill of one another and to keep no record of wrong suffered and hold no bitterness toward one another.[5] They can agree in the Lord. In terms of the church body, Paul keeps them from thinking ill of these ladies. These are women who have labored for the gospel, alongside other faithful servants.[6] And in case some may question their faith, Paul affirms: their names are in the book of life![7] Unity is no easy task, and even seasoned saints sometimes need the intervention of a godly intermediary.

Joy (4): Paul then turns his attention to our Christian joy.[8] He commands: "Rejoice in the Lord always." To rejoice is to exhibit joy, not in one's circumstances or any other temporal blessing, but a joy that is specifically "in the Lord." And this is the reason why this joy is expected of believers "always." The Lord, the source of our joy, never changes. Circumstances may change and temporal blessings come and go, but our Lord always remains faithful. He ever intercedes for us and stands as our advocate and never ceases to be holy and never ceases to cherish His church and ever assures us He is coming soon.[9] Our Christian joy is anchored in Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever! Something can, however, rob us of this joy: unrepentant sin.[10] But if we remain in holy fellowship with God, this joy never ever dries up.[11]

Gentleness (5): Paul then moves onto the next command for "gentleness." This is the attitude of gracious reasonableness[12] directed toward all men. Since the Lord's coming is near,[13] aggressive and combative dealings with people are uncalled for. Soon, Christ the Judge will come and right all wrongs. Our responsibility until then is to faithfully reflect Christ's graciousness.[14] We confront and expose sin where we must,[15] but we always treat others the same way we want them to treat us (Luke 6:31). We do away with suspicion, cynicism and impudence. We instead emanate a sweet charitable spirit to all.

[1] This section deals with several unrelated topics. No conjunctions are found until the last set, "Finally" (4:8).

[2] He repeats the exact same exhortation to each one: "I urge… and I urge… to live in harmony…"

[3] Also rendered as "yokefellow" or "companion," this is the name of a man who was to mediate (cf. 1 Cor. 6:5).

[4] "Live in harmony" is literally "think the same thing" and it refers to agreement (so ESV and NET).

[5] Cf. John 13:34 (love), Mark 10:42ff. (serve), Matt. 5:22 (speak), 1 Cor. 13:5 (forget), and Eph. 4:31-32 (gripe).

[6] Nothing is known about Clement, but one fellow worker has already been mentioned in 2:25, Epaphroditus.

[7] This book includes the names of the saved (Rev. 21:27). "Whose" either refers to the ladies or includes them.

[8] This is now the third time Paul gives the command to rejoice. Cf. 2:18 and 3:1.

[9] Cf. Rom. 8:34 (intercede), 1 John 2:1 (advocate), Rev. 3:7 (holy), Eph. 5:29 (cherish), Rev. 22:20 (coming).

[10] Psalm 32 gives us a vivid picture of how sin causes the loss of this joy. "How blessed [happy = Hebrew ash-re] is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! … Be glad in the LORD and rejoice…"

[11] Joy is a normal for the believer: fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and product of abiding in Christ (John 15:11).

[12] "Gentile spirit" is e-pi-ei-kēs (ἐπιεικής) which comes from ei-kos (εἰκός), meaning "reasonable." ESV renders it as "reasonableness" and NASB (1977) "forbearing spirit." "Sweet reasonableness" is the favorite of many.

[13] Nearness here is temporal (Jam. 5:8) not spatial (Matt. 28:20). Coming of Christ was just seen in 3:20-21. Also, given the hortatory nature of this section, this statement is best seen as explaining the prior command.

[14] Paul employs the noun form of this word to describe Christ's own gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1).

[15] Cf. Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Cor. 5:9-13, Eph. 5:11, 2 Thess. 3:14-15, and 1 Tim. 5:20.