Have you ever tried to tell someone something but have found it difficult either because you feared it might be offensive or because you knew the person might not understand? If so, you can understand Paul’s position as we consider the fourth chapter of Philippians, verses 2-5. Paul was trying to say something to the Philippians that was difficult for him to say because he was afraid that the persons involved might resent it.
Apparently there had been trouble at Philippi. Two of the Christian women had been at odds with one another and the disagreement had grown to the point where it could hinder the unity and effectiveness of the church. Paul wished to warn them of the danger and wanted to urge a more cooperative spirit. But these women were his friends, and every time he approached the subject of unity in the letter he seemed to come short of a direct application. With our verses we are studying today Paul has finally pointed directly to the lack of harmony within the church. Notice he does not elaborate on the problem; he does not even reprove or command those involved. Instead he quietly points to the means by which unity may be restored among us and other Christians.
We must recognize at the outset, however, that the unity referred to here is a Christian unity, and this means a unity only among those in God’s family. Paul says that Euodia and Syntyche are “to agree with each other in the Lord.” Who are those “in the Lord”? Only those, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; Christian unity is only possible for them. There are some practical ways in which the harmony that exists initially among God’s children is to be expressed and maintained. Paul tactfully lists them in his brief remarks to Euodia and Syntyche.
First, Paul says that Christians are to agree with each other in the Lord. This means they are to have the mind of Christ. It is the same thing that Paul had in mind earlier in 2:5. He is speaking of the attitude that Jesus had in relation to others. For the mind of Christ is the humble mind, the lowly mind. It is the mind of One who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but who emptied Himself to die for the salvation and well-being of others. This will never occur apart from a personal and intimate walk with God, for in ourselves we do not like humility, and we cannot achieve it without Him.
Second, we must work with other Christians. Paul calls attention to this aspect of unity by referring to his fellow workers at Philippi. Paul is saying that it is not enough for Christians merely to be thinking in a spirit of unity, they must be working in a spirit of unity also. Paul was looking back to the glorious days he had spent in Philippi among the Christians. He was thinking of the great joy he had as he worked with them for spiritual ends. Now that unity is threatened, he says to them, “Keep on. Do not let your unity be ruined by friction between your members. Work together. Make sure your unity can be seen in your actions.
The third thing that the Philippians must do is to rejoice in the Lord (v. 4). Paul knew that if Christians are rejoicing in God’s mercy and goodness they are not so likely to be nitpicking with their fellow Christians. The word “rejoice” is interesting, for it is only a variant form of the word “joy,” which is one of the great Christian virtues and the fruit of God’s spirit. Consequently rejoicing, like joy, is supernatural. Joy is the Christian virtue; happiness is the virtue of the world. There is all the difference in the world between them. Happiness is entirely external and circumstantial. Joy issues from the nature of God, and it is intended to well up within those in whom God’s Spirit dwells. It is not external; it is internal. It does not hinge upon circumstances. Things may happen to the Christian that no one, including the Christian, would be happy about. But there can still be joy. The Christian who is filled with this supernatural, abounding joy will not be finding grounds for disagreement with fellow Christians.
Finally, Paul says that Christians are to let their “gentleness be evident to all” (v. 5). Literally, Paul means they should be “reasonable.” The sentence is a warning not to be unduly rigorous about unimportant matters. This does not mean that Christians are to be compromising in their doctrinal beliefs. Actually, he is merely saying that those who profess the name of Christ should be a bit bending in their attitudes, especially where other Christians are concerned.
None of these high standards of conduct is easy. The difficulty of doing them and living them is where the problem of unity lies. It is one thing read these Scriptures, but it’s quite another thing putting the words into practice. Fortunately, Paul knew the difficulty also, and he has given us the solution to the problem. Have you ever noticed how many times he speaks of being “in the Lord” in the first four verses of this chapter? Three times! And once he reminds the Philippians that “the Lord is near.” The solution is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who will do in the lives of yielded Christians what we might judge impossible. Christian unity will occur only as we surrender ourselves to Him and seek His will, as his Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins to make us into the kind of men, women, children, and young people that He would have us be.
Philippians 4:2-5 Reflection Questions:
Do you have an ongoing personal and intimate relationship with God?
What does “being in the Lord” mean to you? And how does that help you have Christian unity?
What are some examples of happiness verses being jofuly?