How To Stand Firm | Philippians 4:1-9
Brian Hedges | August 9, 2020
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Philippians 4:1-9, as we begin this final chapter in Philippians. These first nine verses are really about how to stand firm in the Lord, how to be steadfast, stable in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord.
Most of you probably know by now that Thursday night I received the sad news that my grandfather, Arthur Hedges, passed away, went to be with the Lord. There should be a picture of him up in just a moment. He was 94 years old and had walked with the Lord for many, many years. Every time I’ve seen him over the past several years I have thought, “This could be the last time,” and I’ve dreaded that text or that phone call where I’d get that news. I’ve dreaded that for a long time, and it finally came Thursday night.
I would appreciate your prayers. I’ll actually be flying out tomorrow and will be doing the funeral on Tuesday. It will be, in some ways, the easiest funeral I’ve ever done, because I know him so well and there are so many good things to say about him; but it will also be the hardest, because it’s the closest family member that I have lost through death.
I’ve been thinking about him a lot, obviously, the last few days, and I’ve thought about his life, and I can say without any hesitation he was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, if not the greatest. I can’t think of a person I know who was kinder, who was happier, who was gentler, or who was more generous. I could just give you story after story.
I’ve been talking with my aunts and uncles, my dad, his five children, in the last 24 hours, and I think every one of them said, “He was just the greatest man I ever knew, and I don’t have anything bad to say about him.” Just a remarkable legacy that he left.
I’ve thought about him in relation to the passage this morning, because this passage in Philippians 4 is really about spiritual stability. I’ve thought a lot about my grandfather. Here’s a man who was married to the same woman for 76 years, who was a faithful servant, a deacon of the same church for I don’t know how many years—many, many years. He was just a marvelous, wonderful Christian.
One just personal story. I said he’s one of the most generous men I’ve ever met, and he helped me out a number of times over the years. I remember one time in particular, early in my and Holly’s marriage, and we were fairly newly married; we were dirt poor at the time, and we were struggling, falling behind. We were at their house, and he asked, “How much do you need to get caught up?”
I remember giving him a number that I thought would be sufficient, and then he wrote a check for three times what we asked for. That was typical of my grandfather. Zan-Zan is what we called him. It was typical of Zan-Zan.
I’ve thought many times since then of the words of John Newton’s hymn that goes like this:
“Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring,
For his grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.”
My grandfather put human face on that heart, the heart of God, in his generosity to his children.
So I am so thankful for him, and I know that you’ll indulge me this morning as I used his life for some illustration purposes for some of the things that I think were true of him, that we see in this text.
Philippians 4:1-9. We’re talking about how to stand firm. Let me just begin by reading the passage. Remember that Paul’s writing from prison, he’s writing to a church that is beset with a number of possible difficulties, including opposition from outside, persecution, disunity on the inside, as well as false teaching. In light of all of those threats, Paul begins this chapter or continue his letter with a call to stand firm in the Lord. Listen to what he says.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
This is God’s word.
The first command in a list of many commands in these nine verses is to stand firm. It’s a rousing call to stability. The word “stand firm” is actually a military word, and it carries the idea of standing one’s ground, of holding one’s position, of being steadfast. Paul says, “Stand firm in the Lord.”
Notice that he says, “Stand firm thus in the Lord.” The little word “thus” is a conjunction that usually points forward to what will follow. The New American Standard translates it like this, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”
What follows seems to be Paul’s way of saying, “This is how you stand firm in the Lord,” and he gives a number of commands. Now, in some ways these commands are just a crescendo of application coming at the end of this letter, where he has already exhorted the church to many practical things. So he repeats some of those themes, such as joy and unity. But he’s giving us a number of commands, and I think we could summarize the commands in terms of attitudes that we are to express and practices that we are to observe, and then attached to those commands is a promise, the promise of peace that God will give. I want to break the message down in that way.
I. The Attitudes We Express
II. The Practices We Observe
III. The Peace That God Gives
Let’s look at each one of those.
I. The Attitudes We Express
First of all, the attitudes. There are three attitudes that Paul commands, attitudes that we are to express, we are to embody in our lives that are in this passage.
(1) The first one is found in verses 2-3, and it’s a call to agree in the Lord. We just read the passage, so you know that Paul actually calls out these two women, Euodia and Syntyche, and calls them to agree in the Lord.
Now, you have to remember and try to imagine the scene, that when Paul wrote this letter there was one copy of the letter sent to the church in Philippi. The church is gathered together for a congregational meeting, and someone gets up and reads the letter from “our brother Paul.” In the course of the letter, he’s exhorting them to have have the mind of Christ and to put the interests of others ahead of themselves and to be of the same mind. Then they get three-fourths of the way through the letter, and Paul calls out the two women in the church who have been at odds with each other! Maybe they’re sitting on opposite sides of the room. Maybe they haven’t talked to each other in months. Everybody knows that there’s this rift in the congregation between these two women, and Paul calls them out and entreats them to agree in the Lord.
The phrase “agree in the Lord,” that word “agree” is, again, the same word we’ve seen numerous times in this letter, phroneo. It means to be of the same mind, to have the same mindset in the Lord.
Now, you notice that Paul makes this appeal with great affection, and this is the right way for us to entreat one another towards unity. Paul calls them his brothers, and the word implies a term of affection for all the congregation, his brothers and his sisters. He says, “I love you. You are my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown. You’re my beloved.”
Then, as he appeals to them to agree in the Lord, he also calls on someone to help them, in verse 3 when he says, “I ask you, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” He’s affirming them. These are believers (your names are in the book of life), and he is saying, “You need help from an outside party to be reconciled and to agree together in the Lord,” and he calls upon them to do that.
Then notice just one other thing under this attitude of agreeing in the Lord, an attitude of unity, is that the agreement is in the Lord. That’s how we are to agree; that’s the basis for our agreement, it’s the basis for our unity; it’s our relationship with the Lord, it’s our common identity as those who belong to the Lord, our union with Christ and with one another.
It is true that there are many, many things about which Christians may disagree. When you have a diverse culture, when you have culturally diverse churches, you may have different political ideas, you may have different cultural practices, you may have different perspectives on all kinds of different issues in a local church. That’s okay, as long as we agree in the Lord, we agree in the gospel, we agree in that which matters most, and we are able to lovingly affirm one another and embrace one another, in spite of other differences, because of our common salvation, our common relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the first attitude that Paul says is essential for standing firm.
By the way, when he says, “Stand firm thus in the Lord,” he’s not just talking about stability in our personal, individual lives; he wants to see stability in the church. This is a call to the whole church. It includes our personal lives, but it’s a call to the church to be steadfast in the faith together. Agree in the Lord; that’s the first attitude.
(2) Secondly, as we’ve seen before, rejoice in the Lord. You see this in verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” He repeats the commands. He makes it all-inclusive, that we are to rejoice in the Lord all the time, always, in all circumstances. He’s already made this command in chapter 3:1 when he says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Now he reminds them once again, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Joy, as you know, is a theme in the letter to the Philippians. This word and its various cognates come up at least 13 times in this letter, as Paul calls on people to rejoice in the Lord and also models that joy, even though he’s in these difficult circumstances, as he’s in prison.
Listen, joy is a mark of spiritual maturity. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…and when our joy is rooted in the Lord and our relationship with the Lord rather than in our circumstances, that’s a sign of maturity and it’s a feature of our spiritual stability.
(3) Thirdly, Paul says, “Be gentle to all.” You have this in verse 5. “Let your reasonableness [or your gentleness] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” That could also be translated this way, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near…” He may have in mind the preeminent return of Jesus Christ, that Christ is soon to come back, a theme that he emphasizes again and again in this letter; or he may have the idea that the Lord is near to those who seek him, the nearness of the Lord with us in our lives.
In either case, the exhortation is, “Be gentle to everyone.” That word is kind of a difficult word to translate. Different versions say things like “gentle spirit” (New American Standard) or “gentleness” (NIV) or “graciousness” (CSB). It’s related to the word Paul uses of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 10:1, when he says, “I, Paul myself, entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”
Here he says, “Be gentle to everyone.” It’s a call to a kind of disposition in our hearts, in our attitudes, that we have towards all people. So he has said, first of all, “Agree in the Lord,” and that’s in reference to the church. There is to be unity in the church. Then he said, “Rejoice in the Lord.” We might think of that as a call in reference to our circumstances (to rejoice in all circumstances), and now he says, “Be gentle to everyone,” and this is in reference to the world outside, as well as those in the church, but all people, we are to be gentle towards them. Those are the attitudes that we are to express.
Again, as I’ve thought about my grandfather, I’ve seen him as an example in all of these ways. He is a man who was deeply, deeply concerned for the unity of the church. I rarely saw him distressed or concerned or even with a serious look on his face. He was just a cheerful, jovial, smiling almost all the time. But when I did see him concerned, it was either about concerns in his family or it was concerns about his church. That would deeply concern him, when he saw trouble in the church. He was a cheerful man and he was a gentle man.
I’ll tell you just one story that an aunt and my grandmother told me about yesterday. When they still had kids at home (this probably would have been in the 1950s), they were very involved in youth ministry in their church, and one week, during a youth revival in their church, in the middle of winter, they came home one night, and as soon as they pulled into their home they could see that someone was in the house. Their house had been broken into, and someone was inside.
Sure enough, they came inside and there was a man in the kitchen. The refrigerator was open and the man was eating. He immediately said that he didn’t mean any harm; he was cold, he had come in from outside to get out of the cold. He was obviously hungry.
You know what my grandfather did? He did not call the police, he did not pull out a weapon, he didn’t throw the man out of the house. He sat down at the kitchen table and he got to know this man who had broken into their home. As the man finished the sandwich he had made from their refrigerator, he found out that the man was from a nearby little town, community called Sudan, eight miles from Amherst, Texas, where my grandparents lived. Then Zan-Zan drove him to his house in Sudan, through the snowstorm.
It was only when he got back home that he found that my grandmother discovered that many of their possessions had been taken out and were ready for the man to take off with them; the man was going to steal them. My grandfather’s response was simply, “He probably needed it more than we did.”
That was the kind of man he was. He was a gentle man. I think that’s the attitude, that’s the disposition that Paul encourages here. It’s very much like the character that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, where you’re to go the extra mile. When someone asks for your coat, you give them your cloak also.
These are the attitudes that Paul commends: unity, joy, gentleness.
II. The Practices We Observe
But he also commands us to observe certain practices. These are what we might think of as spiritual disciplines. Sometimes that word gets a bad rap. We think about disciplines and we might think about white-knuckling it through something that’s really hard, really difficult, that we don’t want to do. We have to remember that the Bible does tell us to discipline ourselves for godliness, so there is a place for effort in the Christian life. But maybe it’s more helpful to think of these as practices; that is, things that we do that help us to connect with the Lord. They are means of grace, they are means of connecting to the Lord, but they nevertheless require our obedience. These are things that Paul commands us to do, and I think he commands them so that we will be steadfast, so that we will be stable, so that we will stand firm in the Lord.
(1) There are three of them, and the first one is prayer. Pray your concerns. Look at verse 6. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
This is one of the most comprehensive verses on prayer in any of Paul’s writings. He uses four different terms to describe the full spectrum of petitionary prayer in the life of the Christian. Prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and request.
Notice that he says that we are to pray in contrast to being anxious. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says. The word carries the idea of anxious care, of worry in our lives. Paul doesn’t mean that we should never have concern of any kind for anything; in fact, he uses this word in another context, in chapter 2 of this letter, when he talks about how Timothy was concerned for the Philippian church. It’s right for us to have concerns, but not to let those concerns become excessive worry.
The antidote to worry, Paul says, is prayer. Again, it’s comprehensive prayer. He says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer...let your requests be made known to God.” What should you and I pray about? We should pray about anything that would tempt us to worry, to concern that would distract our thoughts from the Lord or that would pull us off-center in our lives.
I think so often in our lives when we do begin to fret and to worry, our default is not necessarily to pray. I know that oftentimes mine has not been, and sometimes it takes Holly gently reminding me, “Why don’t you pray about that?” It’s like, “Oh, yes, I should do that.” Prayer helps when we do.
I think of the words of the hymn (I’m sure many of you know this),
“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”
Well, Paul is exhorting us to pray. If you’re worried, if you’re concerned, if there’s any burden on your heart, take it to him, take it to the Lord, and pray those concerns. That’s the first practice, the practice of prayer.
(2) The second practice is in verse 8. We might say it this way: Control your thought life. Again, look at verse 8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I love the balance that we find in Paul’s letters. He exhorts us to pray (that is, to put things in the Lord’s hands), and he exhorts us to control the way we think. Control your thought life. This is what psychologists would call self-regulation skill, the ability to control your thinking, to govern your thinking.
We do that as we bring our thinking in submission to the Lord. Paul elsewhere (2 Corinthians 10) talks about bringing every thought captive into obedience to Jesus Christ. Here he gives us a list of qualities that should define the way we think.
This is all pretty obvious, but I find D.A. Carson’s series of contrasts helpful. This is from his little exposition on Philippians, Basics for Believers. Carson says, “Think about true things, Paul insists, not about the false; think about noble things, not the base; think about whatever is right, do not dwell on the wrong (what does this say about the programs you watch on television?); think about whatever is pure, not the sleazy; think about the lovely, not the disgusting; think about the admirable, not the despicable. Whatever is excellent, think about it.”
It’s a call to govern our thought life, and again, it’s a part of spiritual stability. If your thinking is not right, your life is not going to be stable. If your mind is always going to the darkest place, to the most worrisome place, to the most fretful place; if your mind is going towards things that are base or vile or forbidden; if your mind is going towards selfishness and self-centeredness, those various self-oriented sins, you’re not going to be stable and fruitful in your Christian life. But if you think about these things, the things that Paul lists, it will help develop this stability in your heart and in your life. So pray your concerns, control your thought life.
(3) Number three is, obey what you know; that is, put into practice the things that you already know to be right and to be true. Look at verse 9. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul here is once again reminding the church to follow his Christian example. Now, on one hand he speaks as an apostle, as an authoritative ambassador and representative of the risen Christ. So we could apply his words in this way: The apostolic word that we have received from Paul and the other apostles, we are to obey it, we are to put it into practice, obey what Scripture commands.
We could also apply it in this way, that we need good examples (we’ve talked about that in this series), and when someone is able to say sincerely, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” we should follow their example, and Paul is doing that here.
I think it just reminds us of the importance of actually putting what we know into practice, and not resting on the theoretical knowledge of truth, but to actually push down into the application of that truth into our lives.
I think it’s pretty easy for us (I certainly think I’m like this, and I think all of us can be), when we hear messages or we read books or things on just basic Christian living—read your Bible, pray, go to church, just basic of discipleship—we hear those things, and it’s easy for us to just kind of check out and say, “Yes, I’ve tried that. I’ve tried that, but it’s not really helping me a lot.”
I wonder, really, are we giving time and effort and devotion? Do we really cultivate lives of prayer, and do we really govern our thoughts? It was G.K. Chesterton who said that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It’s hard. It’s hard to keep up spiritual disciplines. It’s hard to keep up a strong prayer life, but it’s part of the path towards spiritual stability. It’s to put these things into practice, to do what we know we should do, what we intend to do but often fail to do, to put it into practice.
Then we should just ask ourselves this: could we say this to anybody else? Could you look someone in the eye and say, “The things that you have learned from me, put it into practice. The things that I have taught you, you do that. What you’ve seen me model, you do that. If you do that, then the God of peace will be with you.” That’s what Paul says; we should be able to say the same.
Once again, I just think my grandfather was a wonderful illustration of these basic, simple patterns of obedience in his life. Listen, he wasn’t a great theologian. He was a great man, but he didn’t really study theology. He probably never read anything by John Calvin or John Owen or most of my heroes of the faith. But this is what he did do: he read his Bible faithfully, and he read it over and over again. That’s the most important thing. Even at 94 years old (I learned this from an aunt a few days ago), he was reading through his Bible this year, at 94 years old. He was just reading straight through.
My dad shared a story that he said made a deep, deep impression on him as a young man, when he was a teenager, and it was my grandfather’s pattern of preparing for worship on Sunday morning. He would get up and he would put hymns on (a record, probably, at that time), a record of hymns or of worship music or of gospel music; he would sit in his chair, he would pull out his Bible, and he would read. Then, after he’d read, he’d close his Bible and he would sit and he would think, and he would just sit quietly for a long time. My dad said that made a deep, deep impression on him as a young man, as he would see my grandfather do that every Sunday morning, and he knew that he was communing with the Lord, he was meeting with the Lord.
Part of spiritual stability, is to develop these patterns, these practices in our own lives.
III. The Peace That God Gives
Then there’s something that God gives. It’s a promised that’s attached to obedience here in prayer and in our putting these things into practice, and it’s the peace that God gives, the peace that God promises to give his people. You see this in two ways: you see it in verse 7 and then you see it again in verse 9.
In verse 7 we read, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Now, this is attached to the command to not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving to let your requests be made known to God.
What Paul is saying is that if you will handle your concerns in this way, if you will, rather than fretting in worry, if you will take it to the Lord in prayer, the Lord will give you peace, He will give you the peace of God.
Notice how this peace is described. It’s called “the peace which surpasses all understanding.” That is, this is peace that is not merely or purely rational. This isn’t something that you can always just make sense of. It is an experience of peace that transcends circumstances.
I’m sure that many of you as believers have experienced this, that when you are going through difficult times, when you are stressed, when you have gotten really bad news, when you are uncertain about the future, that there have been seasons where you have sought the Lord and you have felt a supernatural peace, a sense of serenity that is just sustaining you.
That’s what Paul’s talking about here. Notice how he says this peace works. He says it is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, and he says it will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That word “guard” really carries the idea of a sentry who is standing watch, or a garrison of soldiers who are watching a city. Perhaps the Philippian church would have immediately thought of a garrison of Roman soldiers (remember, they were a colony of Rome), who perhaps would have stood guard, watching over the city of Philippi. What Paul is saying here is that if you look to the Lord in prayer, his peace will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
Bunyan, I think, does well with this in his book The Holy War. It’s his allegory about the city of Mansoul, and how that city is besieged by Diabolos, who’s the enemy of the King, and how the only rightful ruler of Mansoul was Emmanuel, the King’s Son. They city of Mansoul, when it’s besieged by Diabolos and invaded, there’s great loss in the city, and the whole story of The Holy War is about how Emmanuel is taking this city back.
There’s a character in the story whose name is Mr. God’s Peace, and he was a patrolman, and his job was to patrol the city and to guard the town. Bunyan said, “Nothing was to be found but harmony, happiness, peace, joy, and health so long as Mr. God’s Peace maintained his office.” But when they grieved Emmanuel, the prince, and Emmanuel left, then Mr. God’s Peace would lay down his commission, and chaos would result.
How often is that the case in our own lives? We grieve the Lord, and then God’s peace is no longer guarding us, and what we have instead of stability, instead of peace, instead of calm in our hearts and our lives, we have chaos, we have turbulence, we have distress.
Well, Paul in verse 7 says, “The peace of God will guard your heart,” and then notice what he says in verse 9. He says, again, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” That’s an advance. That’s something even more. In verse 7 he’s saying, “The peace of God will guard you”; now he’s saying, “The God of peace, God himself, will be with you.” This is more than just the peace of God; this is the presence of God, the God who brings peace, who himself comes and who is with us and grants peace in our lives. The only way that we get peace is through the Lord himself. It’s God’s peace that comes to us through Jesus Christ.
I love the way Spurgeon says it (he always says it so well). Spurgeon says, “Without Christ Jesus, this peace would not exist. Without Christ Jesus, this peace, even where it has existed, cannot be maintained.” What does it take? Listen to what he says. “Daily visits from the Savior, continual lookings by the eye of faith to him that bled upon the cross, continual drawings from his ever flowing fountain, make this peace broad and long and enduring. But take Christ Jesus, the channel of our peace, away, and it fades and dies and droops.”
Brothers and sisters, I wonder where this finds you this morning. Does it find you enjoying the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, the God of peace with you? Is your life fruitful? Is it stable? Are you standing firm in the faith? Is there a steadfastness in your life, or do you find that you are rocked by every storm that comes?
Are you fretful, worried, distressed, uncertain? If so, look to the Lord this morning. Trust in him and trust in his grace. Listen, the very one who died on the cross for you, the Lord Jesus, is the same one who is there, is available to help you right now in your present circumstances. He loved you enough to go to the cross, and he loves you enough to give you his peace and to sustain you and to help you as you look to him. Let’s imitate these qualities; let’s practice these disciplines. Let’s look to the Lord, and let’s trust in his promise to give us peace. Let’s pray together.
Our gracious, heavenly Father, we thank you for your goodness, for your mercy and grace. We thank you that you have promised to give peace to your people and you’ve secured that peace for us through the blood of the cross. You communicate that peace to us through the indwelling of your Holy Spirit, and you lead us in the way towards peace as we study and as we understand and apply your word. So, Lord, give us today humble hearts, obedient hearts. Help us put in practice what we’ve learned. Help us learn to live this kind of life, this kind of faithful, stable, steadfast life. Lord, we pray that you would draw near to us this morning.
As we come to the table, we pray that the table would be a means of grace to us, that more than just taking the elements of bread and juice we would by faith come and feed on our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life. May we receive from him strength and help, mercy and grace for whatever our needs are this morning. We ask you to draw near to us; in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.