The apostle begins the chapter with exhortations to divers Christian duties.
I. To stedfastness in our Christian profession, Phil. 4:1. It is inferred from the close of the foregoing chapter: Therefore stand fast, etc. Seeing our conversation is in heaven, and we look for the Saviour to come thence and fetch us thither, therefore let us stand fast. Note, The believing hope and prospect of eternal life should engage us to be steady, even, and constant, in our Christian course. Observe here,
1. The compellations are very endearing: My brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown; and again, My dearly beloved. Thus he expresses the pleasure he took in them, the kindness he had for them, to convey his exhortations to them with so much the greater advantage. He looked upon them as his brethren, though he was a great apostle. All we are brethren. There is difference of gifts, graces, and attainments, yet, being renewed by the same Spirit, after the same image, we are brethren; as the children of the same parents, though of different ages, statures, and complexions. Being brethren, (1.) He loved them, and loved them dearly: Dearly beloved; and again, My dearly beloved. Warm affections become ministers and Christians towards one another. Brotherly love must always go along with brotherly relation. (2.) He loved them and longed for them, longed to see them and hear from them, longed for their welfare and was earnestly desirous of it. I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ, Phil. 1:8. (3.) He loved them and rejoiced in them. They were his joy; he had no greater joy than to hear of their spiritual health and prosperity. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in the truth, 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4. (4.) he loved them and gloried in them. They were his crown as well as his joy. Never was proud ambitious man more pleased with the ensigns of honour than Paul was with the evidences of the sincerity of their faith and obedience. All this is to prepare his way to greater regard.
2. The exhortation itself: So stand fast in the Lord. Being in Christ, they must stand fast in him, be even and steady in their walk with him, and close and constant unto the end. Or, To stand fast in the Lord is to stand fast in his strength and by his grace; not trusting in ourselves, and disclaiming any sufficiency of our own. We must be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, Eph. 6:10. “So stand fast, so as you have done hitherto, stand fast unto the end, so as you are by beloved, and my joy and crown; so stand fast as those in whose welfare and perseverance I am so nearly interested and concerned.”
II. He exhorts them to unanimity and mutual assistance (Phil. 4:2, 3): I beseech Euodias and Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord. This is directed to some particular persons. Sometimes there is need of applying the general precepts of the gospel to particular persons and cases. Euodias and Syntyche, it seems, were at variance, either one with the other or with the church; either upon a civil account (it may be they were engaged in a law-suit) or upon a religious account—it may be they were of different opinions and sentiments. “Pray,” says he, “desire them from me to be of the same mind in the Lord, to keep the peace and live in love, to be of the same mind one with another, not thwarting and contradicting, and to be of the same mind with the rest of the church, not acting in opposition to them.” Then he exhorts to mutual assistance (Phil. 4:3), and this exhortation he directs to particular persons: I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow. Who this person was whom he calls true yoke-fellow is uncertain. Some think Epaphroditus, who is supposed to have been one of the pastors of the church of the Philippians. Others think it was some eminently good woman, perhaps Paul’s wife, because he exhorts his yoke-fellow to help the women who laboured with him. Whoever was the yoke-fellow with the apostle must be a yoke-fellow too with his friends. It seems, there were women who laboured with Paul in the gospel; not in the public ministry (for the apostle expressly forbids that, 1 Tim. 2:12; I suffer not a woman to teach), but by entertaining the ministers, visiting the sick, instructing the ignorant, convincing the erroneous. Thus women may be helpful to ministers in the work of the gospel. Now, says the apostle, do thou help them. Those who help others should be helped themselves when there is occasion. “Help them, that is, join with them, strengthen their hands, encourage them in their difficulties.”—With Clement also, and other my fellow-labourers. Paul had a kindness for all his fellow-labourers; and, as he had found the benefit of their assistance, he concluded how comfortable it would be to them to have the assistance of others. Of his fellow-labourers he says, Whose names are in the book of life; either they were chosen of God from all eternity, or registered and enrolled in the corporation and society to which the privilege of eternal life belongs, alluding to the custom among the Jews and Gentiles of registering the inhabitants or the freemen of the city. So we read of their names being written in heaven (Luke 10:20), not blotting his name out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5), and of those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life, Rev. 21:27. Observe, There is a book of life; there are names in that book and not characters and conditions only. We cannot search into that book, or know whose names are written there; but we may, in a judgment of charity, conclude that those who labour in the gospel, and are faithful to the interest of Christ and souls, have their names in the book of life.
III. He exhorts to holy joy and delight in God: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice, Phil. 4:4. All our joy must terminate in God; and our thoughts of God must be delightful thoughts. Delight thyself in the Lord (Ps. 37:4), in the multitude of our thoughts within us (grievous and afflicting thoughts) his comforts delight our souls (Ps. 94:19), and our meditation of him is sweet, Ps. 104:34. Observe, It is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for him, or are afflicted by him. We must not think the worse of him or of his ways for the hardships we meet with in his service. There is enough in God to furnish us with matter of joy in the worst circumstance on earth. He had said it before (Phil. 3:1): Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. Here he says it again, Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say Rejoice. Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it. If good men have not a continual feast, it is their own fault.
IV. We are here exhorted to candour and gentleness, and good temper towards our brethren: “Let your moderation be known to all men, Phil. 4:5. In things indifferent do not run into extremes; avoid bigotry and animosity; judge charitably concerning one another.” The word to epieikes signifies a good disposition towards other men; and this moderation is explained, Rom. 14:1-23. Some understand it of the patient bearing of afflictions, or the sober enjoyment of worldly good; and so it well agrees with the Phil. 4:6. The reason is, the Lord is at hand. The consideration of our Master’s approach, and our final account, should keep us from smiting our fellow-servants, support us under present sufferings, and moderate our affections to outward good. “He will take vengeance on your enemies, and reward your patience.”
V. Here is a caution against disquieting perplexing care (Phil. 4:6): Be careful for nothing—meden merimnate: the same expression with that Matt. 6:25; Take no thought for your life; that is, avoid anxious care and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life. Observe, It is the duty and interest of Christians to live without care. There is a care of diligence which is our duty, and consists in a wise forecast and due concern; but there is a care of diffidence and distrust which is our sin and folly, and which only perplexes and distracts the mind. “Be careful for nothing, so as by your care to distrust God, and unfit yourselves for his service.”
VI. As a sovereign antidote against perplexing care he recommends to us constant prayer: In every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Observe, 1. We must not only keep up stated times for prayer, but we must pray upon every particular emergency: In every thing by prayer. When any thing burdens our spirits, we must ease our minds by prayer; when our affairs are perplexed or distressed, we must seek direction and support. 2. We must join thanksgiving with our prayers and supplications. We must not only seek supplies of good, but own receipts of mercy. Grateful acknowledgments of what we have argue a right disposition of mind, and are prevailing motives for further blessings. 3. Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God, or making them known to him: Let your requests be made known to God. Not that God needs to be told either our wants or desires; for he knows them better than we can tell him: but he will know them from us, and have us show our regards and concern, express our value of the mercy and sense of our dependence on him. 4. The effect of this will be the peace of God keeping our hearts, Phil. 4:7. The peace of God, that is, the comfortable sense of our reconciliation to God and interest in his favour, and the hope of the heavenly blessedness, and enjoyment of God hereafter, which passeth all understanding, is a great good than can be sufficiently valued or duly expressed. It has not entered into the heart of ham, 1 Cor. 2:9. This peace will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; it will keep us from sinning under our troubles, and from sinking under them; keep us calm and sedate, without discomposure of passion, and with inward satisfaction. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, Isa. 26:3.
VII. We are exhorted to get and keep a good name, a name for good things with God and good men: Whatsoever things are true and honest (Phil. 4:8), a regard to truth in our words and engagements, and to decency and becomingness in our behaviour, suitable to our circumstances and condition of life. Whatsoever things are just and pure,—agreeable to the rules of justice and righteousness in all our dealings with men, and without the impurity or mixture of sin. Whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, that is, amiable; that will render us beloved, and make us well spoken of, as well as well thought of, by others. If there is any virtue, if there is any praise—any thing really virtuous of any kind and worthy of commendation. Observe, 1. The apostle would have the Christians learn any thing which was good of their heathen neighbours: “If there be any virtue, think of these things—imitate them in what is truly excellent among them, and let not them outdo you in any instance of goodness.” We should not be ashamed to learn any good thing of bad men, or those who have not our advantages. 2. Virtue has its praise, and will have. We should walk in all the ways of virtue, and abide therein; and then, whether our praise be of men or no, it will be of God, Rom. 2:29.
In these things he proposes himself to them for an example (Phil. 4:9): Those things which you have learned, and received, and heard and seen in me, do. Observe, Paul’s doctrine and life were of a piece. What they saw in him was the same thing with what they heard from him. He could propose himself as well as his doctrine to their imitation. It gives a great force to what we say to others when we can appeal to what they have seen in us. And this is the way to have the God of peace with us—to keep close to our duty to him. The Lord is with us while we are with him.