Christian Practices

4:1 So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!
4:2 I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 4:3 Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.

True companion –  σύζυγε (suzuge) may refer to Epaphroditus, or it may be a proper name, or stand for the Philippian church as a whole, considered as a unit (Martin, WBC).

Help them – συλλαμβάνω (sullambanō) –

They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers – Kevin Giles (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women) writes:

‘The Greek verb synathleō, translated as “struggled,” means “to compete in a contest.” It suggests an athletic event in which the contestants strain every muscle to win. Euodia and Syntyche had been involved in strenuous and ongoing Gospel ministry. Certainly they were evangelists proclaiming the Gospel, but this implies they were also church planters and as such teachers of their converts. Besides these two women, only a few of Paul’s most trusted companions are called “coworkers”: Clement, who worked with these two women at Philippi; Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25); Timothy (1 Cor 4:12); and Titus (2 Cor 8:23).’

Giles contrasts his view with that of the Kostenbergers (God’s Design for Man and Woman), and complains that

‘The Köstenbergers discount the significance of these two women. They say they were probably unmarried and thus “serve as a source of inspiration particularly for unmarried women today to make an important contribution to the ministry of the Gospel in and through their local church.” This conjecture is just pious platitude. Nothing in the text of Scripture indicates they were single women or that they simply contributed to the ministry exercised by men.’

Once again, it is illuminating to give a fuller quotation from the Kostenbergers:

‘The example of Euodia and Syntyche is both encouraging and convicting. On the positive side, we have here two women (most likely unmarried) who had a vital part in the ministry of their local church. They labored side by side with Paul and suffered for the gospel. They were right in the thick of things and serve as a source of inspiration particularly for unmarried women today to make an important contribution to the ministry of the gospel in and through their local church. At the same time, these two women also serve as a warning. Even for those who contribute significantly to the church’s ministry, it is important to maintain a stance of humility and not to get caught up in ourselves and in promoting our own interests and ambitions so as not to get entangled in personal vendettas or petty arguments.’ (My emphasis)

Some perils of word study

George Guthrie points out that this word (correctly translated here) can also mean ‘to arrest’, ‘to capture’, ‘to become pregnant’!  Hence the importance of doing word studies with discernment.  Guthrie urges:-

  1. Look very carefully at the context of the passage.
  2. Remember that a word is normally going to carry one primary meaning at a time.
  3. Note how the word is used elsewhere in the NT, without assuming that it carries the same meaning in every context.
  4. Check with good resources.

They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me – Macedonia was one of those regions where it was usual for women to be given more authority in religious matters, and so it may have been easier for Paul himself to recognise the ministry of these two women. Cf. Acts 16:14-15.

Whose names are in the book of life

The book of life

G.W. Hawthorne notes that ‘expressions such as “your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20), “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3), “whose name has not been written … in the book of life” (Rev. 13:8), and “I will not blot his name out of the book of life” (Rev. 3:5), crop up several times within the NT. The figure is taken from the OT (cf. Isa. 4:3; Ezk. 13:9; Dan. 12:1), or from the secular world where a criminal’s name was removed from the civic register to take from him all rights of citizenship.’

Hawthorne appears to offer tentative support for a doctrine of conditional immortality when he adds: ‘If one could argue from these statements that all names have been recorded in the book of life, thereby assuring existence for each person, and if one might also argue that for some reason, e.g., wilful disobedience to God’s commands, deliberate refusal to accept Christ as Savior and Lord, etc., one’s name could be removed from this divine register, “blotted out,” then one might argue that that person would cease to exist, for his name would no longer exist.’

ISBE (2nd ed.), art ‘name’

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! 4:5 Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. 4:7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The Lord is near! – This is one of those expressions that have led some to think that the early church believed that Christ’s return was imminent.

It is not easy to decide between two possible interpretations:

1. Spatial.  The expression could be an echo of Psa 145:18, and an assurance that the Lord is close at hand.  This is the view of Caird, Bruce, and others.  Cohick is sympathetic to this view, partly because of the reference to prayer which closely follows.

2. Temporal.  This statement could be a variation on Maranatha, and thus an invocation of our Lord’s return.  See 1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20.  This is the view of most commentators, including Fee, O’Brien and Hanson.  It is also the view of Martin, who comments: ‘the eschatological sense of the Lord’s coming to vindicate his oppressed people requires the second meaning (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7ff.).’

Do not be anxious about anything – An echo (conscious?) of our Lord’s teaching, found in Mt 6:25-34.

‘Because many often pray to God amiss, with complaints or murmurings, as though they had just ground for accusing him while others cannot brook delay if he does not immediately obey their wishes, Paul joins thanksgiving with prayers.  It is as though he had said that those things which are necessary for us ought to be desired from the Lord in such a way that we nevertheless subject our affections to his will, and give thanks while asking.  And, unquestionably, gratitude will have the effect upon us that the will of God will be the chief sum of our desires.’ (Calvin)

And = ‘and so’; here is the result ‘which the compliance with verse 6 will have for the inner man.’ (Meyer)

The peace of God – Peace from God is inextricably related to peace with God: ‘We cannot think of the one, indeed, without the other.  We cannot have peace of heart, until our real and actual separation from God is bridged by the blood of Christ.  We cannot have the breach between God and us healed without a sense of the new relation of peace stealing into our hearts.’ (Warfield)

‘We have peace of God as soon as we believe, but not always with ourselves. The pardon may be past the prince’s hand and seal, and yet not put into the prisoner’s hand.’ (William Gurnall)

‘Much of our difficulty in standing firm for Christ is that people do not see why we want (as they say) to be different. The world puts our attempts to live by different standards down to personal whim—like the lady whose obituary notice remarked that ‘her chief hobby was religion’. What we need today—as at every period of history—is the touch of the supernatural, something that cannot be explained except by saying, ‘This is the finger of God.’ This is what is now promised, a peace which passes all understanding standing guard over our hearts.’ (Motyer, BST)

That surpasses all understanding – Modern counselling approached, such a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, may go some way towards providing insight and resolution for a troubled mind.  But ‘God’s peace produced far better results than human scheming; it is superior to all man’s devices for security, and is more efficacious in removing disquietude than any intellectual effort or reasoning power.’ (Plummer)

Will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – As preachers often like to point out, the City of Philippi was guarded by a Roman garrison, and so Paul’s metaphor is very apt.

‘The peace of God is the garrison of the soul in all the experiences of its life, defending it from the external assaults of temptation or anxiety, and disciplining all lawless desires and imaginations within, that war against its higher purposes.’ (Kennedy)

4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 4:9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Finally – may mean ‘and so’; or ‘therefore’. In this case, this verse continues the thought of how to enjoy God’s peace, v7. Alternatively, it may mean, ‘in conclusion’, in which case there is a distinct break betwen vv 7 and 8.

The ethical qualities listed in this verse are similar to those found in Stoic moral philosophy. ‘The virtues listed are not specifically Christian; they are excellent and commendable wherever they are found. But in a Christian context such as they are given here they take on the distinctive nuances associated with the mind of Christ.’ (Bruce) They are qualities ‘which will command the admiration of their heathen neighbours, though they known nothing of the grace that enables believers to manifest such virtues.’ (Wilson)

Whatever – introduces each item in a list of of six. We are called to demonstrate not just one Christian character trait or another, but ‘all the graces in choral order and festal array.’ (Johnstone)

True – whether in thought word, word, or deed.  ‘They are to think on “the true” in everything of which it can be predicated – both in reference to God and man, the church and the world, themselves and others – the true in it spiritual and secular relations, in thought, speech, and position.’ (Eadie)

 ‘The word “true” has many meanings. Truth includes facts and statements that are (1) in accordance with reality (not lies, rumors, or embellishments); (2) sincere (not deceitful or with evil motives); and (3) loyal, faithful, proper, reliable, and genuine. Truth is a characteristic of God (Romans 3:4).’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

‘Satan is the liar (John 8:44), and he wants to corrupt our minds with his lies (2 Cor. 11:3). “Yea, hath God said?” is the way he approaches us, just as he approached Eve (Gen. 3:1ff). The Holy Spirit controls our minds through truth (John 17:17; 1 John 5:6), but the devil tries to control them through lies. Whenever we believe a lie, Satan takes over!’ (Wiersbe)

Noble – Worthy of honour or veneration.  ‘These matters are worthy of respect, dignified, and exalted in character or excellence.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

‘As the Christian is a child of God, an heir of heaven, a brother of the Lord Jesus, a fellow-citizen with the angels, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, the master and teacher of all men, it is clear that such high qualities must oblige him to maintain a holy and grave deportment; and that he could not fall in with the oppositie vices, without betraying his honour and scandalously belying his profession.’ (Daille)

Right – or ‘just’.  Our thoughts, plans and desires should accord with God’s standard of rectitude.

Pure – Not only morally chaste, but pure in the sense of being ‘neither tainted nor corrupt – free from all debasing elements, clear in nature, transparent in purpose, leaving no blot on the conscience and no stain on the character.’ (Eadie)

‘Paul probably was speaking of moral purity, often very difficult to maintain in thoughts.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Lovely – Worthy of admiration. The word is found only here in the NT. There are traits that are not only commensurate with the word of God, but also generally pleasing to others. These include patience, gentleness, cheerfulness, and generosity.

The word might well have connotations of beauty.  Paul wants our minds to be filled with thoughts that are good and beautiful, rather than those which are evil and ugly.

Admirable – Commendable; winning and gracious, and not causing needless offence.  Although we must not curry the world’s favour, we will not carelessly bring Christ’s name into disrepute.

Think about such things – means more than ‘ keep these things in mind’; rather, ‘reflect on these things and let them shape your whole life-style.’ Note the intimate connection between thought, v8, and behaviour, v9. ‘If “the mind is dyed the colour of its waking thoughts,” then what one things about gives character to life. As good food is necessary for bodily health, so good thoughts are necessary for mental and spiritual health.’ (Bruce)

‘He desires us to “think” of them, because the mind is the root of all human actions. It is the mind which influences the will, stirs up the affections, and conceives and produces every action. He therefore would have the act follow the intention. For it is not merely to indulge the mind in the pleasure of vain speculations that we are to exercise ourselves in this lofty study, but rather that we may put in practice all that we have understood.’ (Daille)

‘Paul knew that a person’s thoughts determine who that person is, his or her attitudes, and how he or she acts toward others. What do you spend time thinking about? With what do you fill your mind?’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

This verse has important implications for how we spend our time, and with what we fill our minds. Certain thoughts, ideas, images are ennobling, and other corrupting. We are responsible for what we expose our minds to, and for the thoughts we entertain. Good stewardship of our leisure time will incline us to choose activities that bring us closest to God and whatever is good and ennobling.

‘What you put into your mind determines what comes out in your words and actions. Paul tells us to program our mind with thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Do you have problems with impure thoughts and daydreams? Examine what you are putting into your mind through television, books, conversations, movies, and magazines. Replace harmful input with wholesome material. Above all, read God’s Word and pray. Ask God to help you focus your mind on what is good and pure. It takes practice, but it can be done.’ (HBA)

Learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – Paul could, with a clear conscience, draw his readers’ attention both to his teaching and to his life.  He practiced what he preached, and he preached what he practiced.

Appreciation for Support

4:10 I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me. (Now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything.)

Paul will now mention, with great tactfulness, a delicate matter: though deeply appreciative of the gift he had received from them via Epaphroditus, he nevertheless asserts the contentment he has found in relying on Christ for all things needful.

‘The passage presents as tactful a treatment of a delicate matter as can well be found int he whole range of high literature.’ (H. von Soden)

At last you have renewed your concern for me – the underlying metaphor here is of a tree sprouting afresh in the Spring.

Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it – ‘As this might seem like a reproach for a “winter of neglect”, he at once proceeds to absolve them from any blame by acknowledging that, though their concern for him was constant, they had lacked the opportunity to give it practice expression.  Perhaps this was due to their uncertainty regarding the apostle’s movements in recent years, or it may have been because they had no one to send with their gift.’ (Wilson)

4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

Two little teardrops were floating down the river of life. One teardrop asked the other, “Who are you?” “I am a teardrop from a girl who loved a man and lost him. But who are you?” The first teardrop replied, “I am a teardrop from the girl who got him.” Life is like that. We cry over the things we can’t have, but we might cry twice as hard if we had received them. Paul had the right idea when he said, “…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….” (Php 4:12)

(Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 79)

Although Paul is deeply appreciative of their generosity, he wants them to know that he has learned to be content in all circumstances.

Paul does not use the word content in the Stoic sense, which was a self-sufficient resolve based on detachment from the world.  Paul, rather, finds his sufficiency not in himself but in Christ, v13.

I can do everything – lit. ‘I have strength through the one who strengthens me for all things (or everything)’ (Witherington).  

Tyler Kenney: ‘The circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment would have crushed any man left to his own strength. As if his being incarcerated were not enough, insincere preachers were seeking to afflict him further (1:17), he was “troubled” by meager provisions (4:14), and death seemed as likely an outcome as release (1:20). But rather than forsake God or grumble against Him in pain or hunger or fear, Paul was at peace in his circumstances.’

'I can do all things'

4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

Witherington has characterised this the ‘Superman Verse’, on the basis of its common misinterpretation.

Popular self-esteem preacher Joel Osteen ignores the context of this verse, and seeks to soothe and reassure his readers with the following message:

‘No matter what’s happening in your life, remember that you are not limited by your resources, your family or your background. Almighty God has anointed, equipped and empowered you. He has given you creativity, ideas, inventions, skills and talents. Don’t you dare settle for a mediocre life! Today, I call forth the seeds of greatness inside you. Today, I declare that your best days are ahead, that you are blessed with success, with supernatural strength, with promotion, and with divine protection. I declare that you can do all things through Christ.’

Even more serious reference works fall into the same error.  Clinical Psychologist N. Abi-Hashem advises individuals with low self-esteem to:

‘Practice self-affirmation by countering old negative thoughts and messages. Gradually reverse them with positive and constructive ones. For example, an extreme negative thought would be: “I am a failure! I can’t do anything right.” Changing it to a realistic positive, would become: “Although I make some mistakes at times, I know I can do so many things right, and I have proven that before.” Furthermore, it is highly recommended to compliment or fortify the new statement by adding an appropriate and powerful Scripture verse like “… and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Hopefully, this begins to repair the pathological cycles and allows the positive input to penetrate into deeper layers of the soul until it reaches the core of the person’s being.’
(Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counselling)

Murrary Harris (Navigating Tough Texts) notes

‘the temptation to apply the statement personally and define the “all things” by one’s individual situation or need and then claim Christ’s power to achieve that goal, whether it be financial success, academic achievement, or sporting performance.’

Noting that this verse is often claimed by athletes, the Apologetics Study Bible for Students explains:

‘Paul is not claiming that Christians can do absolutely anything. After all, is it really possible to run three-minute miles or bench press one thousand pounds? The context shows that Paul actually had Christian perseverance in mind. He wrote this letter from prison. Part of his emphasis was to commend the Philippians for their care and support of him in his tough circumstances (v. 10). Paul said that he had learned how to be content even in the midst of tribulations such as poverty and hunger (vv. 11–12). The secret to this contentment was trusting God’s provisions and strength, which so often had enabled Paul to overcome hardships in his life as a missionary (v. 13). This is the meaning of Philippians 4:13. We can do all the things God calls us to in our Christian walk because God will strengthen us.’

To be sure, a justification for a relatively broad application of this verse, can be found in v19.

In the previous verse, (Php 4:12) Paul says that he has learned how to live in plenty and in want, to live with and without; he has learned how to endure all kinds of circumstances. The second translation offered above of Php 4:13 better suits this context. This verse does not suggest that one can do anything so long as one relies on God’s strength. It is not a call to superman Christianity. Rather, it suggests that God can give us strength to endure any and all of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’

As D.A. Carson writes:

‘The “everything” cannot be completely unqualified (e.g. jump over the moon, integrate complex mathematical equations in my head, turn sand into gold), so it is commonly expounded as a text that promises Christ’s strength to believers in all that they have to do or in all that God sets before them to do. That of course is a biblical thought; but as far as this verse is concerned it pays insufficient attention to the context. The “everything” in this context is contented living in the midst of food or hunger, plenty or want (vv10-12). The meaning, then, is ‘‘I can be contented in all these circumstances”. Whatever his circumstances, Paul can cope, with contentment, through Christ who gives him strength.’
(Exegetical Fallacies, 115f).  

In context, then, Paul has been expressing thankfulness for the monetary help he has received from the church at Philippi.  At the same time, he doesn’t depend on financial security for his sense of contentment.  Indeed, he has learned the secret of being content in whatever material circumstances he finds himself in.  And the secret is to do this in Christ’s strength.

Harris summarises:

‘Whatever our circumstances may be, our ability to cope and our contentment are dependent on the constant empowering of the risen Christ. His power is needed as much to cope with affluence as with poverty, although that strength will be felt in different ways. Significantly, the tense of “who strengthens me” is present continuous. Our situations that require his strength may change, but his enabling power remains constant.’

Roger Ellsworth gives two examples:

‘When [Paul] pleaded with the Lord to remove a physical condition from him, the Lord responded: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
‘He would later write, when completely forsaken by others, ‘But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me …’ (2 Tim. 4:17).’

Jared Wilson and Matt Chandler write summarise:

‘Philippians 4:13 is not about chasing your dreams, following your passion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, accomplishing anything you want with God’s help? It is instead the testimony of those who have Christ and have found Him supremely valuable, joyous, and satisfying. In a life constantly marked by these extreme highs and lows, Paul has found the great constant security, the great centering hope: Jesus Christ Himself.’ (To Live is Christ; to Die is Gain p.202)

See also the discussion in Croteau. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions. and this, by George Guthrie.


4:14 Nevertheless, you did well to share with me in my trouble.
4:15 And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 4:16 For even in Thessalonica on more than one occasion you sent something for my need. 4:17 I do not say this because I am seeking a gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account. 4:18 For I have received everything, and I have plenty. I have all I need because I received from Epaphroditus what you sent—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, very pleasing to God.
4:19 And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

My God will meet all your needs – ‘Martin Luther said once that religion consists in personal pronouns. That is why Paul could say, ‘My God shall supply all your need’. (Php 4:19) See the glory of that! The covenant promise is tantamount to God saying, ‘I shall use my God-ness for you. All my God-ness is yours. All my wealth (of attributes, of prerogatives, of functions), all I have and all I am is yours.’ That is God’s commitment. And it is as true for each individual believer as if no other entity existed. We have God’s undivided attention. He is for us in all the splendour of his resources.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘In the midst of their “poverty,” (2 Cor 8:2) God will richly supply their material needs. In their present suffering in the face of opposition, (Php 1:27-30) God will richly supply what is needed (Steadfastness, joy, encouragement). In their “need” to advance in the faith with one mindset, (Php 1:25 2:1-4 4:2f) God will richly supply the grace and humility necessary for it. In the place of both “grumbling” (Php 2:14) and “anxiety,” (Php 4:6) God will be present with them as the “God of peace.” (Php 4:7,9) “My God,” Paul says, will act for me in your behalf by “filling to the full all your needs.”‘ (Fee)

‘Over against the insufficiency of the creature stands the fulness of the Creator. They are the two poles of the same conception, and reciprocally imply each other. Prayer establishes the circuit between the two, and puts them in actual connection. Man feels the urgency of his need, and turns to his Maker from whose fulness it may be met; as it is written, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”‘ (B.M. Palmer, Theology of Prayer, 38).

On a tradesman’s table I noticed a book labeled WANT BOOK. What a practical suggestion for a man of prayer! He should put down all his needs on the tablets of his heart, and then present his “want book” to his God. If we knew all our needs, what a large book we would need! How comforting to know that Jesus has a supply book, which exactly meets our want book! Promises, providences, and divine visitations combine to meet the necessities of all the faithful.’ (Spurgeon)

4:20 May glory be given to God our Father forever and ever. Amen.

Final Greetings

4:21 Give greetings to all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me here send greetings. 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.