Philippians 4:4-9


The Epistle to the Philippians has been called the Epistle of Joy. The verb occurs at 1:18; 2:17,18,28; 3:1; 4:4,10. The noun occurs at 1:4,25; 2:2,29; 4:1, for a total of twelve. But it is a particular kind of joy. Paul speaks of joy in the fact of death. He speaks of joy over the spiritual progress of the Philippians. He even calls them his joy and crown.

The joy of a Christian is like that of his Lord of Whom it is said that because of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross and despised the shame thereof (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus once said that whenever people revile, persecute and say all kinds of evil things against them falsely for Jesus' sake, they should rejoice and exult because their reward in heaven is great. It's not wrong to rejoice over a new car, the success of one's children, one's relationship to spouse, etc. God is not a God of sorrow. He loves to give Christians these bonuses. But there is a joy greater than that. Of that Paul speaks in this text.

Philippians 4:4 (NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

This is an example of the third use of the Law. God tells us what we are to do. The prepositional phrase "in the Lord" occurs nine times in this Epistle (1:14; 2:19,24,29; 3:1; 4:1,2,4,10). Each phrase gets its precise meaning from the context. Here, in verse 4, it amounts to: "Because Jesus is your Savior." 

Note that they are told to rejoice at all times. Rejoicing in the Lord is to be a way of life for the Christian. And so important is this concept to Paul that he says: "I'll say it again 'Rejoice.'" Compare 3:1 where this same expression occurs. There Paul says that he doesn't mind saying it over and over again.

This verse implies that Christians easily become downhearted. Very likely the Philippian Christians felt down because their beloved pastor was now in prison. But Paul tells them to rejoice nonetheless. It's like Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi (Acts 16) when, instead of sitting around and moping, they were praying and singing hymns to God.

Philippians 4:5 (NIV) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Rienecker: 'Gentleness,' a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it.

This definition is certainly a mouthful. The word has variously been translated as "forbearance, gentleness, considerateness, patience, selflessness, equity and mildness." Lenski defines it thus: "Not insisting on one's legal rights." The ICC defines it thus:  "Do not make a rigorous and obstinate stand for what is your just due." It hardly need be said that Paul is not speaking about permissiveness in doctrine and morals. Permissiveness does not mean to let one's self or others live in sin to their own detriment.

"Let it" means "let it be realized."  NIV and JB translate: "Let it be evident." 

Paul says "To all people." Note that no distinction is made between Christian and non-Christian. And "people" means men, women or children. It takes a great deal of self-sacrificing godliness to do what Paul here tells us to do.

Then Paul adds "The Lord is near." Rienecker remarks that this could imply "near in space" or "near in time." TEV translates: "The Lord is at hand." Is it Law or Gospel? Is it a warning for those who are not living as they should or is it a comfort to those who are striving but grieve over the fact that their life is not what it should be? Evidently it refers to the Parousia. If it goes with what precedes, it enjoins watchfulness. If it goes with what follows, it involves the comforting through that all things are in His hands.

Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Perhaps the RSV has the best rendering here: "Have no anxiety about anything." How much don't Christians need to hear this! Sinners worry from morning til night and then sometimes wake up in the night worrying. Worry is sin, a lack of simple Christian faith. Note Matthew 6:25-34, the classic passage in the Gospels on the futility of worry. But Scripture never tells us not to be afraid or not to worry without giving the antidote. And the antidote for worry follows in our text.

"But" after a negative means "quite to the contrary."  "In everything" is "in every situation." It denotes the extent to which we should apply the antidote of which Paul is speaking. Note that the nouns which follow are made specific and individualized by their articles. The first is prayer in general and the second denotes particular requests. For example, parents likely pray general prayers for all their children. But they also bring particular requests for each child to God. In our church services we have collects in which general prayers for all sorts and kinds of circumstance are offered. But we also have particular request for particular people for particular circumstances. These two nouns are datives of manner.

"With thanksgiving." Never a prayer without thanksgiving, in one way or another.

We might ask, doesn't God know our requests without our asking? Of course He does. But prayer is an exercise in faith. Read Luke 18:1-8. We should be persistent in our prayers like that widow was because of our deep convictions. Prayers are evidence of faith, conviction, trust. Worry is an admission that we think we need something, real or imagined. The best antidote is immediate prayer.

By the way, there's a sermon idea in this verse:

Theme: Let Your Requests Be Known. 

  1. In every circumstance;

  2. In general and particular prayers;

  3. With thanksgiving;

  4. To God.

Just one concluding thought here: note the antithesis between "nothing -- in everything." The first is forbidden at all times. The second is commanded at all times.

Philippians 4:7 (NIV) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

ATT translates "and" as "then." Very good. Many pastors use this verse immediately after their sermons. Perhaps it might be a good idea to preach a sermon on the context of this verse. Under what circumstance does God assure us of the contents of verse 7? When we observe verses 4-6.

By the way, it is remarkable that Paul does not say that we will get everything just the way we want it. But he does assure us of the contents of verse 7.

Jesus tells us at John 14:27 about the kind of peace He is talking about. The genitive  "of God" is likely adjectival, informing us that it is a particular kind of peace, the only one of its kind. NASB renders the following words:  "Which surpasses all comprehension." These words do not mean that the human mind does not experience peace but rather that the human mind, owing to the fall of man, is incapable of dealing with anxiety. Look at Psalm 73. JB has an interesting translation: "Which is so much greater than we can understand." Besides being sinners, we are so frail, weak and helpless. But such people God invites and does not despise them.

Rienecker: 'Guard,' the word is a military term picturing soldiers standing guard duty and refers to the guarding of the city gate from within, as a control on all who went out.
ICC: The metaphor is beautiful. . . . The peace of God as a sentinel mounting guard over a believer's heart.

What will the peace of God guard? Your hearts and your thoughts. Note the individual articles and "your" used twice. "Heart" is the center of the personality. "Mind" are the products, the inner thought, of the inner-most being.

The last three words, a prepositional phrase, are very important. None of the foregoing would be true or possible were it not for the fact that Christ Jesus is our Savior. The phrase is causal. The peace of God will guard. . . . because of Christ Jesus.

Just one question in conclusion at this point: Don't Christians experience evil thoughts? Don't Christians experience seasons of confusion and distress? How can Paul say what he says in verse 7? The disciples of Jesus found themselves in this very situation when He said in John 14:27:  "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." And John 16:33:  "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulations, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (NASB)" The tearful, frightened, sorrowing, confused Christian is a fit subject for the Gospel in all its sweetness. And that Gospel will guard the heart and thoughts in spite of the many attacks of the flesh. Verses 4-6 tell the Christian what to do. Verse 7 is a promise of God for this Christian.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

"Finally" introduces the conclusion of the letter.

Lenski: 'For the rest' these two, that you reckon in your thoughts with the right things, verse 8, and that you practice them by deed, verse 9.

The eight adjectives and nouns in verse 8 likely do not indicate eight different items but rather different aspects of the same things. The new man is directed to purity of doctrine and living.

Martin: All the terms used here, except the word translated 'good report' are found in the LXX.

Note the imperative verb at the end of the sentence, which means "keep your mind on." The Christian occupies his mind with truth, not with falsehood. Satan is the father of the lie, John 8:43. Jesus is truth.

Before going to the last verse, we stop to summarize. Verses 4-6 tell us to cast all our needs on God in prayer, followed by the promise in verse 7. Verses 8-9 direct our attention to what we should think and do, followed by the promise in 9b.

Philippians 4:9 (NIV) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

The first and second verse in verse 9 likely denote doctrine. The third and fourth likely denote living.

Rienecker: The last two verbs 'heard and saw' refer to Paul's personal contact with the Philippians.

"Put into practice" means "constantly practice." Unlike Rienecker, the NIV indicates that Paul was speaking to the Philippians as a model not only of living but also of doctrine. NEB translates: "The lesson I taught you, the tradition I have passed on, all that you heard me say or saw me do, put into practice." Our only objection to this translation is the use of the word "tradition." Scholars sometimes use this term in a sense which detracts from the true nature of Scripture.

AAT and NEB translate the last "and" in verse 9 with "then." AAT reads: "Then the God of peace will be with you." Perhaps both here and at the beginning of verse 7  "and" means "and thus." 

"Of peace" is adjectival genitive, informing us what kind of God we have. Verse 7 spoke of the peace of God. This verse speaks of the God of peace. The first stresses the quality, the second the person. Peace is common to both. We live in a world of war, strife and conflict. We find the peace of God and the God of peace only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 8-10. Used with permission.

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