Exploring the Scripture
Paul’s messages to church leaders at the end of his letters provide a glimpse into the early church’s personalities and everyday life. We hear Paul’s love for the church in Philippi, his joy in their faithfulness, and his yearning for them to remain steadfast and fearless. He advises two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to put aside their differences to join in ministry. He asks his “companion”—perhaps the church pastor or Epaphroditus, the messenger bringing Paul’s letter—to help with reconciliation.
From prison and in chains, Paul calls the Philippians to rejoice (live joyfully) despite persecution, arguments, and strife. Joy goes beyond fleeting happiness. Joy outlasts prosperity, celebrations, and frivolity. It embodies trust in God, longing for the things of the Spirit, and selflessness. “Gentleness” can also be translated as generosity or consideration for others, given unconditionally to “everyone” (v. 5). Focusing outward lessens anxiety about one’s sufferings and reflects the life of Christ.
“The Lord is near,” is an echo of Psalm 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” Prayer implies humility and trust as we turn our worries over to God. Prayer is an invitation to Christ’s presence now and his future return. Paul calls the people to face both the present and the future with rejoicing, gentleness, patience, acceptance, and thankfulness in all things.
Many of the disciples at Philippi would have been poor, struggling for existence. Some would have been slaves, anxious, insecure. Paul counsels them to rely on God rather than worldly matters and remember the gift of life they have been given. Gratitude reminds us to look to the needs of others, who may have less than we, and build up the community for which God’s blessings have been given. Paul’s thankfulness expresses gratitude for God’s unconditional gift of love, grace, and presence among us. We receive the best of God’s gifts, not because we ask, but because God gives before we ask. As an antidote to anxiety, gratitude offers all our concerns to God, and we find Christ’s peace.
In verse 8, Paul moves from the thankful heart to the Christ-mind, which can fill life with uplifting thoughts and values instead of anxiety and conflict. It does not dictate but is a gift. We can choose what is true, honorable, just, and pure. All that is pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, fosters the same attitude as Christ Jesus.
In verse 9, Paul encourages the Philippians to put those thoughts into practice by learning and to do what they have heard and seen Paul model. By aligning their lives with the traditions and teaching of Christ, they will indeed receive the peace of Christ. This peace is founded on a trusting relationship with God and is present despite difficulties. It is an irrational peace, a gift we receive when we surrender our thankful hearts, Christ-mind, and kingdom-living to God without reservation. It comes one small step at a time, to banish anxiety and fear—indeed a peace beyond our understanding but held in the heart of God.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Paul urges the Philippians to embrace the deep joy that life in Christ offers even amid difficulties.
- Christ is near to transform us and make us like himself.
- Christians display gratitude as a Christian way of life, both within and outside the community of faith.
- Both a grateful heart and a Christ-like mind combat anxiety, despair, conflict, and hopelessness.
Questions to Consider
- How has deep, lasting joy been a source of strength to you in facing diversity and despair?
- When have you felt Christ near to you, in your prayer life, in your daily activities, and your conflicts?
- How can thankfulness banish anxiety in your own life? In the life of the church?
- What does it mean for us, as a community, to have the mind of Christ?