December 5, 2020

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (16)

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Sixteen: Friends Helping Friends

• • •

Philippians 4:2-9, JB Phillips NT

Euodius and Syntyche I beg you by name to make up your differences as Christians should! And, my true fellow-worker help these women. They both worked hard with me for the Gospel, as did Clement and all my other fellow-workers whose names are in the book of life.

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.

Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.

Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians (WBC), p. 177

If you’re a friend, you want to help your friends. When they are struggling with issues, you want to be there for them. As we have said often here at Internet Monk, the best way of doing that is simply by being faithfully present with them, listening, loving, letting them know you are available should they want counsel or assistance.

Paul had no such access to his Philippian friends. There he was, a long distance away, sitting in prison, incapable of providing the companionship and pastoral care they needed. And although we have no specific picture of how serious and dangerous the spirit of disagreement and dissension had become at Philippi, it was alarming enough that the apostle felt he had to address it. After all, he did not know if he would ever be able to be with them again. The only tools he had in his pastoral toolbox were words.

So he gets real with them, and he gets specific:

  • He appeals to two prominent women in the congregation, women who had worked faithfully with Paul himself, to work out a dispute they were in.
  • He appeals to a leader in the congregation who may have had special credibility and influence to help these women resolve their differences.
  • By urging them to rejoice in the Lord, he is reminding them again to focus their attention on their True Leader, who did not pursue selfish interest but humbled himself to serve others (2:1-11).
  • He encourages them to cultivate a spirit of to epiekes,(v. 5), which may be understood as, “magnanimity,” “generous selflessness,” “respectful courtesy that does not insist on its own rights but seeks to benefit others.”
  • He encourages them to remember that “the Lord is near” — he is with them, among them, his real presence and help available to them — the same Lord who emptied himself and set the pattern for their own relationships.
  • He addresses the anxiety that was apparently besetting the congregation — was it related to the relational conflicts that were intensifying? — and urges them to seek God’s peace (both within and with each other) by praying together.
  • He urges them to work on thinking differently as a congregation by accessing two resources:
    • The virtues that all human beings recognize as being healthy and positive — the list in v. 8 is taken right from the moral philosophy of Paul’s day and is not exclusively “Christian” but the common heritage of wisdom and love that is recognized among their neighbors as well.
    • The example of loving service Paul and his coworkers have showed them throughout their friendship.

This is a path to experiencing “the peace of God” as we trust and walk with “the God of peace” in our midst.

Gerald Hawthorne comments on this list of practical exhortations and encouragements from Paul to his friends:

There have been indications throughout the letter that all was not well at Philippi. Hints have been given of selfishness, self-interest, conceit, pride, and so on existing with harmful effects within the Christian community. Now one of these problems surfaces: that of intense disagreement, along with the names of those party to the quarrel. Two women could not agree and the church may have been in danger of taking sides and dividing. What was equally troubling to Paul was that the spiritual leaders within the congregation were not taking the problem seriously enough to become involved in solving it. He was forced to ask them specifically to do what they should already have been doing.

In the rapid-fire commands that Pul now flings out in all directions one gets the impression that there were many other spiritual irritants present at Philippi, such as depression, harshness of spirit, anxiety, failure to take prayer seriously, troubled minds, minds filled with all the wrong kinds of things, and so on. Paul is confident that there are solutions to the problems at Philippi, and thus he encourages them to change not only their actions, but more fundamentally their attitude.

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

Study One: A Friendship Letter

Study Two: Background

Study Three: Greetings in the Gospel

Study Four: Before Anything Else, Thanks

Study Five: All You Need Is (Overflowing) Love

Study Six: The Persevering Pastor

Study Seven: Every Way You Look at It You Win

Study Eight: Courage and Unity

Study Nine: Tending to the Roots

Study Ten: Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Study Eleven: Tom Wright on Phil. 2:12-18

Study Twelve: Examples of the Jesus-shaped Life

Study Thirteen: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy

Study Fourteen: Get Up and Finish the Race

Study Fifteen: I’m a citizen of heaven, but heaven is not my home


  1. Ronald Avra says

    This post addresses one of the most necessary and lacking skills in Christian community: that of resolving disagreements between believers. It is a learned art and not easily acquired. It is further impeded by the current emphasis on the self-fulfillment, self-realization of the individual believer. Supposedly, by pursuing individual realization of personal gifts and ministry, one will contribute to the welfare of the body. In truth, the pursuit of personal fulfillment excuses one to marginalize or ignore the interests and needs of others in the faith community. The calling of Jesus is to concern ourselves foremost with those in the faith who cannot carry themselves, carry them as He carries us, and having learned those skills, take our faith into the world.

    • The calling of Jesus is to concern ourselves foremost with those in the faith who cannot carry themselves, carry them as He carries us, and having learned those skills, take our faith into the world.

      Well said.

    • –> “This post addresses one of the most necessary and lacking skills in Christian community: that of resolving disagreements between believers.”

      Made almost impossible when one or both parties involved are of the ilk “easily offended.”

      –> “It is a learned art and not easily acquired.”

      Some people who think they’re really good at this…aren’t.

      –> “It is further impeded by the current emphasis on the self-fulfillment, self-realization of the individual believer.”

      Yes. See my first point about the “easily offended,” those who tend to think of the world only on their terms and around their “rock solid” belief system.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Not just “most easily offended” but Righteous True Believers of the One True Way.

        (Even if the One True Way has only ONE Believer….)

        • Yep. I referred to those types in the third point of my post, hinting that the “easily offended” and the “True Believers” tend to be one and the same.

          The thing is…

          The “easily offended” can get all bent out of shape over the strangest things. True story: two people in my church actually got in a shouting match over whether treats (donuts, cookies) at our “donation only” coffee shop should be held behind the counter to be served or placed out in the open for people to help themselves! I mean, seriously!!! What kind of belief system was ingrained in each of these people to end up shouting about it!?

          • Burro [Mule] says

            The argument is seldom about the argument.

            I’m certain that my antipathy towards Pentecostals is based primarily on the fact that cute working-class Pentecostal girls didn’t give me the time of day, preferring less abstract dudes who could put in a driveway.

  2. Ronald,
    Just a different twist.
    I find you to be sound minded and thoughtful in your approach. I’m not sure I differ with you in what you said, “…the current emphasis on the self-fulfillment, self-realization of the individual believer.” The reason I say that I don’t differ with you is Language! Firstly I don’t know what the “current” emphasis actually entails. I hardly keep up, usually reading older stuff with Jung being one of the more contemporary. I think we all use similar words but talk right past each other regularly so on the face of it I would say, “Yes, self fulfillment and individualism are antithetical to Christian virtue.” If that is what the “current” movement is about then +10000! Oooonnn the other hand, there is an ancient movement of individuals, mystics, monks and peons who know that they must start with the seed that has been planted in them and nourish it to a tree that will feed others and all the time with that in mind. In that sense self realization, or actualization, is the unfolding of the best possible, God breathed, God ordained Self that is all about the positive behaviors you lauded. I’m a huge proponent of genuine self actualization and I know that process ultimately leads to charity. I could toot my own horn and tell you about a lot of good things I do as one of those self actualizers but we’d both be bored. I will just mention one. I am writing this from the side of my dad’s hospital bed where I will be spending the night getting no sleep (know it from experience) in order that he will sleep. Suffice it to say that the ancient process, which I believe Jesus typified going off into the desert and so forth, is still going full tilt and it does not lead to selfishness. It leads to laying that whole found self, lock, stock and barrel, on the cross. As for the “current” emphasis I can’t say. Anyway, I think it’s a lot about words.
    Your friend,