15 December 2017

A Plea to Unify Us in Christ Philippians 4:1-3

During the Canadian war between the British and French in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive and to then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ fleet arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons.

No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, it became apparent that the admiral was of no help for he had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”

Sometimes Christians are a little like that. They spend so much time shooting at the saints that when it comes to do the real work all their energy is expended. Right at the beginning of Philippians 4 we meet two women who were at odds with each other. Paul recognised that those differences must be quickly rectified and reconciled, or the church might be torn with serious strife.

Every person ought to find joy in three very important areas of their life. First, we should be happy in our family life: if we are not happy at home then we will have problems everywhere. Secondly, we ought to be happy in our employment: being content and competent in our job is vital. Finally, we ought to be happy in our church life: If we are unhappy in any one of these areas it will affect and influence the other areas of our lives. Paul is making a plea for unity in the Philippian church.

1. Paul’s Estimation of Their Worth

There is no doubt that this was Paul’s favourite church. He already said in the first chapter that he had them in his mind, in his heart and in his prayers. His use of the word “therefore” in 4:1 is a reflection on what was said before in his mention of their citizenship in heaven and the soon coming of the Saviour (3:21).

Presuming he might never see them again Paul addressed the Philippian believers as his joy and crown, his brothers beloved. He exhorted them to stand firm because the coming of the Lord was near. He used the same address in I Thessalonians 2:19. As he thinks of that glorious day, he remembers the trouble in the Philippian church and confronts the disagreement between those two ladies, Euodias and Syntyche.

(a) Paul’s love for them: They were his “dearly beloved.” He did not only like them, he loved them and loved them dearly. He regarded them as being along with himself children of the same heavenly Father by virtue of the merits of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (1:14 3:1). This was a triumph of grace. Paul had been a proud Pharisee, a man aware of his own privileged position as a Jew who looked down upon Gentiles as “dogs.” But now through the cross “the middle wall of partition,” has been broken down and he calls these Gentile believers “brethren.” The phrase “dearly beloved” is used in Matthew’s gospel to describe the Father’s love for His Son. Paul’s love for these saints at Philippi was patterned on God’s love for His dear Son. That must have been a stinging rebuke to their hearts. There was a great difference between the love Paul had for them and the tepid affection they had for one another. If we loved each other the way Paul loved these saints, then our lives would not be marked by selfishness, and our churches would not be dogged by strife. There may be faults and failures in the saints, but the evidence of the new birth is to love each other as God loves us.

(b) Paul’s labour among them: “My joy,” that is the present; “my crown,” that is the future. Paul had the joy of pointing many of these Philippian believers to the Saviour. Now he was rejoicing to see them developing and maturing. Like John, Paul could say, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). Paul looked forward to hearing “Well done good and faithful servant…” Emblazoned on his gleaming crown would be the word “Philippi.” Paul wrote of the church at Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”

(c) Paul’s longing for them: “So stand fast in the Lord…” (4:1). This is a picture of a soldier standing fast in the heat of battle with the enemy surging down on him. Just as the pressure of this pagan city might have been tempting some to give way, Paul cried “Stand fast in the Lord.” Apart from Him we will be forced to yield ground in almost every onslaught of the enemy.

We are to stand fast in our faith against error: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:3).

We are to stand fast in our freedom against the flesh: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1).

We are to stand fast in our fight against division: “That ye stand fast in one spirit with one mind” (Philippians 1:27). One of the greatest factors in the mighty power of the early church was that they were “with one accord.”

2. Paul’s Exhortation to the Women

Although this was Paul’s favourite church there was a fly in the ointment. “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Both ladies were mature in the faith. The same two ladies had ministered with Paul in the work of the gospel. However, they had a great malady: discord. Although Paul had been speaking about heaven, he recognised that while there may be harmony in heaven sometimes there is disagreement between saints on earth. Paul reminded them that they had laboured with him in the gospel. The church has owed a tremendous debt to godly women. However, it is sad when people who have served together end up at loggerheads with each other even though they are going to be together in heaven, for their names are in the same Book of Life. Paul was simply saying, “Your name is in the Book of Life; now try to get on with each other here on earth.” Paul also asked somebody whom he called a “true yokefellow” to help and restore them. It is a worthwhile ministry to bring saints together in the Lord.

We do not know what Euodias and Syntyche were arguing about, and Paul in his wisdom did not tell us. It doesn’t matter. His entreaty applies to every disagreement in the church.

Paul’s Expectation of the Worker Paul addressed the disagreement in the expectation that the problem would be resolved.

(a) Paul expected Christ-likeness in the ladies: “Be of the same mind in the Lord…” (4:2). The word Paul used here is the same as he used in (2:5), “Let this mind be in you…” Paul had already written of the Saviour’s condescension and suffering. To have the mind of Christ is to have a selfless mind which thinks of others; to have a serving mind which is willing to render any service that will help; to have a sacrificial mind which is prepared to go to any length in the welfare of others.

(b) Paul expected helpfulness from the labourers: “Help those women….” (4:3). Paul believed that no effort is too great to maintain the unity and peace of the church. He probably had in mind what he had written in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness…”

A wealthy landowner in India had several sons who were jealous of each other and always bickering. On his deathbed he called his sons and divided his property among them. He then called for a bundle of sticks tightly bound together to be brought to him. Beginning at the eldest, he asked each son to break the bundle. While the sticks were closely bound together no brother could break the sticks. “Now,” the father said to the eldest, “untie the bundle, and try to break the sticks singly.” This was not very difficult. Soon every stick was broken in two pieces. The father thus taught his sons his last lesson before he died: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Victor Maxwell