Key Verse 4:1
“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”
Whatever the past may have been, Paul didn’t dwell on it, but he rather pressed on for what lay ahead in life for him. He tells us that God had promised us all that same prize if we hope and press on with him— to be Christ-like now and in the end. He encourages us to embrace the cross of Jesus and to live as those whose citizenship is not of this world but of heaven as we await the Savior’s return. Let me repeat the exact words he said: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” (3:17-21)
Read 4:1. “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” The word “therefore” is in reference to the last thing Paul said regarding our heavenly citizenship. What he is saying is that since our citizenship is in heaven and we await a savior from there, we should stand firm in the Lord. We will discuss this further a little later but I want to take a moment to consider Paul’s affectionate words to these Christian believers. Listen to his words again. “My brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…… dear friends”. Did you know that this kind of affection is unique to the Christian faith. Before Christ came to the world, humanity had no common bond except in one’s own family. Even then hostilities occurred rampantly between family members. Cain hated and murdered his brother Abel. Even among king David’s, the loving shepherd of God’s, own children such hatred and jealousy existed that makes us shudder at the events. Brother raped his sister, and brother killed his brother. It’s unthinkable that such things happen even among what we know to be God’s household. How much more hostility then existed in a world that knew not love nor affection nor understood it! True godly affection among total strangers didn’t come to exist except after the coming of the Lord Jesus. When Jesus came to dwell with us he was the embodiment of the love and affection of God for all people. Jesus loved as no man had ever loved. He showed a level of affection no other man ever had. But his disciples couldn’t have his affection not even for one another. One day he commanded them saying: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) But they couldn’t do so until he died and rose again.
Then something wonderful happened that changed the course of human history. The Holy Spirit was poured out on all of them by whom all Christians became the children of God— children whose common bond is far stronger than human blood and family but a bond through the blood of Christ. Now in Christ and through his Spirit who dwells in us and by the power of that glorious command to “love one another”, we have a mysterious affinity towards and bond of love for one another because of our common heritage in the Lord. Christians are truly and mysteriously drawn to each another in a bond of love. It is impossible for two genuine Christians not to have affection for one another. It is also difficult for a Christian not to have affection even for a stranger. It is the mark of Christ in us.
Paul’s words to these people “My brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown….. dear friends” are indeed unique to the Christian faith because humankind is incapable of such affection on its own. In other words, even if the most loving and compassionate person on earth had said these words, it would have been doubtful to believe their sincerity and durability. But we believe and trust Paul’s and the Christian sentiment because the sentiment comes not from one’s humanity but as a result of Christ sacrifice. Paul once despised the Gentiles as dogs. He had absolutely no affection for them. He also had no affection for wayward Jews either. He once stood as an approving witness at the stoning of the martyr Stephen with an ice cold heart. Stephen was a beautiful man of grace and love, a Jewish convert to the Christian faith who didn’t deserve to die. His only crime was that he had testified to the love of God through Christ. But Paul hated him with passion and wanted to see him tortured to death. This is the same Paul who is now speaking to Gentile converts with such fatherly affection. We cannot but see the power of the gospel to change a man’s heart so thoroughly to reflect such genuine affection. More than that, we cannot but see the common bond of the spirit of God that binds Christian brother to brother in the blood of Jesus through love. If we have no such affection for the church of the living Christ, we aren’t really Christian.
Read verse 1 again. “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Paul tells us: “that is how you should stand firm in the Lord”. Before we think more deeply about this statement, let us first consider and try to understand the word “stand firm”. The original feeling of this word “stand firm” is that of a soldier standing at his post like a sentinel keeping guard. Better yet, consider an immovable rock that cannot be shifted from its position. Paul tells the Philippian Christians and us: “Stand firm” but he also tells us where to stand firm. He tells us to “Stand firm in the Lord”. As Christians we stand in Christ— always. This is our foremost position. As long as we stand in Christ we are safeguarded and sheltered from the world and from all harm. (Psalm 18:2) The moment we step outside of Christ we are immediately at the mercy of forces that are far too powerful for us to deal with or to resist. Christians who in their arrogant pride step out of Christ find themselves drowning in murky waters. Paul said stand firm in the Lord. You need to stand in Christ always ever and without fail.
“Stand firm” also has another meaning in regard to view. As Christians we have certain views in which we stand firmly. Paul says in verse 1, “This is how you should stand firm”, or another way of saying it is “in this way”. And when we have taken a view in the Lord, we don’t shift our view. Those who often shift their views in the Lord find themselves confused and weakened and often fall into sin, some never to rise again. When we study the Bible we find truths that are absolute, truths that are binding and unchanging. These truths become the truths that we stand firm in. For example, in this case there may be two things Paul intended for us to stand firm in the Lord. Earlier, he had just been telling us that our citizenship is in heaven and that we should fix our hearts and minds and heavenly things rather than on earthly things. This view doesn’t change depending on our situation! For example, if our situation is favorable and trouble free, then we choose to live as if we belong to the world. And if our situation is unfavorable and full of hardship, then we quickly shift our view and cry out to God and ask for heaven’s mercy! We must always stand firm in the Lord that our citizenship is in heaven. We must always live with our hearts and minds fixed on heavenly things and not earthly things.
As I said there may have been two views Paul wanted us to stand firm in. The first was our citizenship. The other we will soon encounter in verse 2 when Paul pleads with the church to make reconciliation a matter of priority. But before we go there, we must ask the question, how do we stand firm in the Lord? It’s not easy to always stand firm. This world is always so treacherous for the children of God. The temptations are so many. The pitfalls are everywhere. No one can stand firm by his or her own power. But take heart! God hasn’t left us without an anchor. 1 Corinthians 16:13 says: “Stand firm in the faith.” We can only stand firm when we stand firm in the faith. Isaiah 7:9 confirms this when the word of God assures us: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” We must stand firm in the Lord, through our faith in him.
Read verses 2-3. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” We have talked about this before on several occasions regarding the only trouble in the Philippian church. There was a problem of division among them. Paul mentions two women who were in conflict with one another. He wanted them to reconcile and bring about unity among them. It was a difficult problem because whatever the case may have been, the fall out between these two women was so pronounced that Paul heard about it and needed to intervene and rescue the church. When two disagree on anything in the church regardless of what it is and the disagreement grows and develops without resolution, it only produces a larger rift between them. Things escalate and the church suffers greatly. How many churches were ruined because of the disagreement among two members. Paul pleads with these two women to agree with each other. He begs them to resolve the issues between them.
Look at the words of verse 3. “I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel”. We are not sure if this yokefellow is Epaphroditus himself or another loyal coworker in the church at Philippi. But no matter. What is important is the request Paul makes of him. He asks him to intervene! He asks him to reconcile these two women. The ministry of reconciliation often involves a third party. Jesus our Lord played the most difficult part in the ministry of reconciliation. All people are cut off from God and have no way to reconcile with God. No human being can on his own reconcile to God. In fact the Bible tells us that all people are God’s enemies and under God wrath— good people— bad people— kind people— mean people— useful people— useless people— the rich and the poor=— all are enemies who are utterly cut off from God and have no hope to ever reconcile (make up) with God. But God provided a Mediator (1 Tim 2.5) who became the agent through which we could be reconciled to God. (2 cor 5.18) To do that, Jesus suffered and died to make reconciliation with God possible for us. It was this third party and his sacrifice that brought peace between us and God. If it weren’t for this third party Jesus we would be forever separated from God and forever condemned to hell. Often a third party is necessary in reconciliation. And it often takes sacrifice on the part of this third party to bring peace between two people in conflict with each other. This role of the loyal “yokefellow” is very important in church function. Often it’s a man or woman of encouragement— a humble man or woman— willing to take abuse and rejection and pay a high price to see reconciliation come about. It’s easy to gossip and complain about others and criticize them and to break relationships. But it’s not easy to mend relationships. It takes a special kind of “yokefellow” to do that. I pray that God will bless this church with many such yolk fellows.
Look at verse 3 again. There are two things about these women to mention. They were in conflict with each other— but not in conflict with the gospel. They had a fall out of sorts with each other. But they strove for the cause of the gospel with Paul. We don’t know anything about the reason of their conflict with one another. But we know they labored for the gospel cause. This was their greatness. Paul said they contended for the gospel with him. There was the first woman Lydia in the church of Philippi who opened her home for Paul to hold services. She was a woman who made history. Lydia was crucial to the life of the church. Other women like her also became crucial in the life of the church. But these two contended with Paul for the gospel cause. They weren’t just attending members but they were involved in church building and growth. In that way they contended with him for the gospel. The gospel calls for us to serve the Lord and his church. These women not only put their faith in Christ and became inactive thereafter like many become after conversion, but their faith compelled them to serve Christ and the church with their whole hearts. They are like Paul whose philosophy of life was “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. Without such women in the church the church cannot grow.
Jesus had such women around him constantly. The Jews didn’t give much importance to women. But Jesus had women in his company wherever he went. Luke 8 tells us that women of all classes followed him and supported his ministry with their own means. They too contended with Jesus for the gospel cause. They left behind husbands and children and homes and families to serve the gospel. From the moment Jesus liberated women from the kitchen by commending Mary for her desire to grow in the word of God, women have been the heartbeat of the gospel work and the church. It wasn’t a small thing that Paul, a traditional Jew reminded the church and these two women of their importance in the church. Their conflict can ruin the work of God. Their reconciliation can be the blessing of the church. They must continue to think about the Lord whom they were both serving. Reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel message. We must all work towards that in every way we can.
Let us read verse 3 again. “Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul chose to remind them that their names are written in the book of life. why? When was the last time you thought about your name having been written in the book of life? Quite honestly, regardless of our assurance of salvation, we are very much earth bound creatures whose hearts and minds are often focused on earthly things. We hardly ever think of heavenly things, let alone our names being written in the book of life, even though the Lord wants us to fix our minds on our heavenly treasures. But everything we read in the gospel tells us that our life is there even now at this moment and not here. Colossians 3.1-11 says…..
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
When our minds are on the heavenly things we are not pretty nor childish nor selfish in our behavior. Our relationships are not strained nor broken nor tense because our hearts are in Christ and we love each other and understand each other, bearing each other’s weaknesses and caring for each other and covering each other’s mistakes rather than backbiting and struggling against each other. When my mind is on my heavenly treasures— who is Jesus— I have nothing but love and appreciation and respect for you because, like me, your name is written in the book of life and we are both covered by the same precious blood of the Lamb. When we think about our names written in the book of life we can forgive each other and reconcile our differences for the sake of the king and his kingdom. Paul mentions the book of life because in the eternal plan of God, the conflict of two women in the church is inferior to God’s greater purpose.