Whatever You Have Seen in Me (Phil 4:1-9)

Updated: Aug 26




Let me take you to a scene on the playground of a couple of boys in grade 4. They’ve been getting on each other’s nerves and the tension is rising. They haven’t got to exchanging blows yet but they’re both posturing like little boys do. “Oh yeah, and what are you going to do about it?” The bigger boy has the other boy's favorite matchbox car, the red Ferrari, and enjoying not giving it back. You’re all acquainted with how this plays out. The more frustrated the boy without his favorite car gets the more the bully enjoys it.


“Give it back!!”


“Who’s gonna make me!”


And somewhere in the middle of such debates it’s common for the conversation to turn to the boy’s fathers.


“My dad will come and make you!”


“You’re dad’s a wuss just like you are!”


Them’s fighting words and the brawl begins.


Ever been a dad that’s dragged into the midst of one of these episodes? And you’re over at a stranger’s house after supper with your son getting his red Ferrari back from the bully on the playground? This is what fathers get to do from time to time. Hopefully when you find yourself in the middle of these tense moments of life you will model something that makes a real difference in your son’s life. How you behave in those moments will either leave your son filled with confidence and pride or deflated and subject to more playground antics. On the playground your son leaned on his relationship with you to sustain him in the midst of injustice. Will his faith be proven true? Will you see that justice prevails and your son gets what is rightfully his? And how will you see to that?


Fathers are role models. And our sons on the playground are not off the mark when they call upon us in the midst of their crises. We are symbols of power, authority and justice to our children – we teach them this at home when we hoist them overhead and when we insist that the strong do not exploit the weak under our watch.


Little boys who get on the school bus and head for home without their favorite matchbox cars are right when they rest in the assurance that, “My dad will make you give it back!” Little boys who are unintimidated by the bullies on the playground because they know from experience that their dad has got their backs are equipped to live life powerfully and effectively. That’s the confidence that our children ought to have in us. We speak up for them, we defend them and we vindicate them when they’re in the right.


Happy Father’s Day! We’ll draw from this playground story as we process Philippians 4 today.


Philippians 4:1–9 (NIV)

Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity

4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!


2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.


Final Exhortations

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


8 Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. 9 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.

So somehow I’m going to mine a bit of a Father’s Day sermon out of a text about a couple of women in ancient Philippi who are at odds with each other :-). That should prove interesting. I do think there’s a good word for fathers here but it’s not my intent to hijack Paul’s text to serve my Father’s Day agenda. So, fathers, I’m asking you to think with me through this text this morning. Before we’re through we will make an application to fatherhood.


The first thing I want you to notice is that many of our bible translations, this one included, break this text up into four paragraphs. Verse 1 is its own paragraph, verses 2-3 comprise the second paragraph, the third paragraph is verses 4-7 and the final paragraph consists of verses 8-9. On top of that the NIV, which I am using, places two headings in the text, one before verse 1 and one before verse 4. What the NIV is saying is that in these 9 verses there are two main ideas being addressed, an appeal for steadfastness and unity (which they put in two separate paragraphs), and some final exhortations (which they make into two more paragraphs). I’m not at all sure that dividing the text up to this degree is a good idea.


We need to remember that the original text of Paul’s letter arrived in Philippi without paragraph markers, chapters divisions, or verse numbers. Now, to be sure, we don’t write like that today, so somebody needs to decide where the paragraphs begin and end. And different translations make different decisions about these things. We need to be aware of this. Reading multiple translations helps us to notice these things.


My vote, for whatever it’s worth, is to see verse 1 as actually going with the tail end of chapter 3. It’s a ‘therefore’ statement and I think it’s primarily pointing back to what Paul has just said. “Therefore… stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” I think the ‘this way’ refers primarily to the way he lives his life in pursuit of Christ. Last week I titled my sermon In This Way Stand Firm, based on this text. What I’m hearing Paul say is that in the way you see me run after Christ, you run after Christ. “Imitate me,” is how he puts it in 3:17. He describes himself in the previous verses (12-14) as a marathon runner straining toward the finish line – “forgetting what lies behind and stretching forward to what lies ahead”. And so in 3:17 he says, in effect, “Follow my example!” He then offers a warning or two and some more encouragement before he concludes, as I see it, with, “Therefore in this way stand firm in the Lord!” But that’s last week’s sermon.


I think 4:2 represents a more natural break in Paul’s thought, and so if I was looking for a place to put a paragraph break that’s where it would be. This isn’t me off on my own little tangent; other translations – the NRSV for one – do this very thing. So today we’ll leave 4:1 with the tail end of chapter three, and our text will begin in 4:2. I don’t mean to draw too hard of a line between these two verses; Paul is not beginning a new letter, and he certainly isn’t jettisoning the foundation he has laid thus far.


But now, for the first time in this epistle Paul singles out two members of the Philippian church by name – Euodia and Syntyche – and urges them to get along. Can you imagine that! Paul doesn’t beat around the bush here – he names these two ladies publicly. What might it have been like to be Euodia or Syntyche sitting through this sermon? You both hold places of prominence; you both wield influence in the church, and you haven’t exactly been on the same page for some time. And now Epaphroditus is standing before you reading Paul’s letter and the convictions are starting to pile up. He’s been pounding again and again on the theme of unity. He’s talked about exercising humility like Jesus did, embracing the posture of a servant and emptying oneself in the service of God. And these two godly ladies, I like to think, were being convicted by Paul’s words. Perhaps they’ve exchanged a few nervous glances at each other across the auditorium as Epaphroditus has been reading, wondering if the other is hearing what they’re hearing. And just about the time that they might have thought that Paul was going to wrap up his letter and they would be free to breathe a sigh of relief, he mentions them both by name! I wonder how these two responded to this moment in the reading. Did the whole congregation turn and look at them? Paul is crossing a bold line here in what he is doing but he’s confident, I think, that these dear ladies are going to do the right thing.


Philippians 4:2–3 (NIV)

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.


Paul is pleading with these dear sisters according to the NIV. Other translations use the language of “I appeal,” or “I entreat” or “I urge”, or “I beseech”. The Greek word can go in all these directions. Is Paul angry here? How does he feel about these two women in the church in Philippi? What he says next helps us to put this in context. First, he urges somebody (I think it’s Epaphroditus) to help these two women to sort out their differences. Paul calls whoever it is his “true companion.” Notice what he says next. “Help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel.” And then he lumps these two ladies in with Clement and the rest of Paul’s co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. These ladies are influential and prominent members of the church in Philippi. Paul describes them as contending with him – alongside him – in the work of the gospel – his co-workers. These women did more than make sure the communion trays were filled and the song books were neatly arranged in the pews! They held places of prominence in the church and now they are at odds with one another! This was not a matter of little consequence! The unity of the church was being threatened by these two dear ladies who were not of the same mind.


“Be of the same mind,” says Paul. If you remember, Paul spoke this same kind of language early in the letter, just before the Christ Hymn in 2:6-11. It has been a strong appeal throughout the whole of the letter. The Philippian church was facing hard times; they were being harassed from without; some were turning back to their old ways, to their old allegiances. And as often happens when a church faces trials, factions were beginning to form. And they were forming around Euodia and Syntyche.


Now notice the very next verse, Philippians 4:4. I want you to ignore any headings your bible may put between verse 3 and 4. For a moment to hold verse 4 next to verses 2 and 3.

Philippians 4:2–7 (NIV)

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


What if Paul didn’t intend a break of thought between verses 3 and 4. What if his, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” relates back to his instructions to Euodia and Syntyche? I think we ought to give this some serious thought.


Paul begins in verse 2 by urging these ladies to be of the same mind in the Lord. Here he calls for them – either these two ladies in particular, or the whole Philippian church – to rejoice in the Lord. We know what it means to be “of the same mind.” What does it mean to be of the same mind in the Lord? What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord? I think if we’re paying attention to the context of the whole of the letter that Paul is ultimately pointing us back to the Christ Hymn in chapter two with this phrase.


Philippians 2:9-11 (My Translation)

9For this reason God highly exalted him

and freely gave him the NAME[1],

the name above every name.


10So that at the name of Jesus

every knee will bow

– in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth –

11and every tongue will confess,


“LORD[2] Jesus Christ!”

to the glory of God the Father.


Jesus was given the name above every name when he was exalted by God – and that name is the name of God himself, a name we find in all caps in our Old Testaments – LORD. It’s a reference to God’s name, YHWH, which the Jewish people, out of reverence, refused to even say. (When you’re reading in the Old Testament and you come across this ‘all caps’ version of Lord you are encountering a text that mentions God by name.) In his Christ hymn Paul is interacting with Isaiah 45 – he quotes it.


Isaiah 45:22–24 (NIV)

22 “Turn to me and be saved,

all you ends of the earth;

for I am God, and there is no other.

23 By myself I have sworn,

my mouth has uttered in all integrity

a word that will not be revoked:

Before me every knee will bow;

by me every tongue will swear.

24 They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone

are deliverance and strength.’ ”

All who have raged against him

will come to him and be put to shame.


If we take pay attention to the larger context of this quote from Isaiah we will hear, over and over again, the name of God – YHWH – exalted. “I am YHWH, and there is no other.” (Is 45:5,6,18) In this glorious text there is no doubt whatsoever that the name above all names is YHWH. In the Christ hymn this name is given to the exalted Jesus!


The English translations of Phil 2:11 typically have, “And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” And English readers can hear this simply as a declaration that Jesus is the master, that he is sovereign. But Paul is making a bigger point than that. The Greek word ‘kurios’ which is translated ‘Lord’ here is the same word that translates the name of God – YHWH – in Isaiah 45. This is the name above all names, and it is given to Jesus. “Every tongue will confess, YHWH Jesus Christ.” Or, “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is YHWH.”


So, when Paul urges the Philippians in 3:1 to “Rejoice in the Lord!” he means, I believe, that they are to rejoice in light of the fact that Jesus has been given the name above all names, that he is Kurios (YHWH). That confession, Paul tells us, will be acknowledged by every tongue; it will be made while every knee is bowed. It is a confession of Jesus’ profound authority and power. Acknowledging that truth has the capacity to utterly reshape all of our trials. After all the outcome of Jesus’ greatest trial ended in this glorious exaltation. It was through the cross that God exalted Jesus and gave him the name that will one day be on everybody’s lips as they bow before him. To rejoice ‘in the Lord’ is to rejoice in light Jesus’ exaltation. And because you belong to him your trials are redefined in the process. Your trials will result in exaltation as well. So rejoice! To rejoice in the Lord is to stand in the midst of all your trials and do the most unimaginable thing – to rejoice because you know that your wagon is hitched to Jesus’ train.


Back to Euodia and Syntyche. These ladies are urged to “think the same thing” or “be of the same mind” in the Lord. In view of who Jesus is – that he has been given the name above every name – Paul is urging these ladies to set aside whatever it is that is dividing them and to embrace the path that Lord Jesus has laid out. Paul is urging these ladies to refocus on Christ; to let go of whatever it is that is causing them anxiety and fear (division always comes from those roots) and to rest assured and confident in the hope and power that is found in Lord Jesus.


And so when Paul gets to 4:4 and his, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” I think this relates precisely to Euodia and Syntyche’s situation. This is the remedy for what ails them; this is the cure for a divided church. Paul has not moved on in verse 4 to envision a wonderful situation where everything is smooth sailing from here on in. No! Paul is urging these two women, and the whole of the church in Philippi, to rejoice in the midst of their trials. How can they do that??? Back to the Christ Hymn! If you can see yourself in union with Jesus, his trial becomes wedded to yours and his victory and exaltation becomes your victory and exaltation! That’s how you and I can rejoice.


Notice Paul says, for the first time in this letter, “Rejoice always!” Always Paul?? Yes, always! And notice where Paul goes immediately after this.


Philippians 4:4–7 (NIV)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


“Let your gentleness be evident to all…” Gentleness? Is that what we do in the face of great trials – be gentle? Yes! Sound insane? It is insane! It’s the very same insanity Jesus was afflicted with! And Paul’s not done yet. “The Lord is near!” Jesus is not off somewhere at the end of the cosmos oblivious to our trials. No, Jesus is in our very midst. He’s in you and he’s in me – he’s in us, his church, his body. And one day he's going to make his grand appearance. So act like it. The Lord is near! And still Paul is not finished. “Don’t be anxious about anything!” Anything? Yes, anything! Rejoice always. Gentleness towards all. Don’t be anxious about anything. How can we do this? It all goes back to Jesus, his emptying of himself, his humility, his service, his obedience, even to death on a cross, his exaltation and glorification, and the name above every name. This, and only this permits us to sing when normal people weep. This and only this permits us to be humble servants when the rest of the world runs after arrogance and power games. This and only this is what gives us peace when no one else can sleep at night.


Paul is not just throwing a few one liners around because he has a few extra inches of parchment to fill up here. He’s summing up! He’s urging us to embrace what he’s been preaching on! This is not time to nod off but to wake up!


Notice verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is the fallout of “Rejoicing in the Lord always!” This is what happens when we recognize that the Lord is near. This is what happens when instead of being anxious like the pagans we present, with thanksgiving , all our requests to God. With thanksgiving! This is not an option. This is a critical point. Thanksgiving is the first cousin of rejoicing. If you don’t know how to be thankful in the midst of your despair go read the Psalms! If you don’t know how to celebrate even in the midst of trials sing a Psalm; it’ll show you how! Ancient Israel did this and they didn’t have the cross of Christ to meditate upon. We do! We can do this!! It’s not a matter of waiting for your emotions to get you to this place. This is about wrestling yourself into this position; a position of celebration, a position of thanksgiving. You get there by singing the words that have been written for us to sing.


And now to verses 8 and 9.


Philippians 4:8–9 (NIV)

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. 9 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.


Once again don’t separate these verses from what has come before. I’m hearing this ‘finally’ as “Summing it all up, brothers and sisters…” And then what does Paul do? He urges us to renew our minds. He’s been doing this throughout the letter. How you think is profoundly important! Paul runs off a long list here of how we ought to think – “think about these things,” he says. What’s on this list? These are virtues that will win the day. Thinking about these things reminds us that ‘in Christ’ truth will prevail, nobility will rule, righteousness will win, purity will conqueror, and loveliness is not a foolish dream. The most glorious things we can imagine – think about them.

 

This my brothers and sisters is to dream of the future that is ours in Christ.

 

This is to give our minds to the certainly of the hope that is ours. And now verse 9… He has told us, “Think this way!” And now he says, “Live this way!” What way? “The way I live!”


Philippians 4:9 (NIV)

9 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.


Now, fathers, let’s return to the playground scene where we began. The bully and the red matchbox Ferrari and your son. What is it that will give your son the courage not to be intimidated on the playground? It’s you! It’s his relationship with you! It may take him a little while to figure this out but in time when he finds himself once again defrauded of what is rightfully his by the schoolyard bully, he will no longer be anxious. He won’t have to fight to hold back the tears anymore. He won’t feel like he needs to take matters into his own hands. He instead will be at peace, even when justice is temporarily suspended. And stranger still, somewhere deep down inside, your son will have a sense of celebration, a sense of joy, even in the midst of his pain.


How will that be possible for him? That calm confidence and assurance, that inner peace, that sense of deep joy in the midst of great trials will arise because you, fathers, have given your lives to seeing to it that justice and truth will prevail in the lives of your children. Their capacity to look evil in the face and be unafraid, even joyful, flows directly out of their relationship with you.


Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard or seen in me – practice these things!”


Fathers, if you will spend your time day after day in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2, if you will cultivate that relationship with Jesus. If you will permit him to redefine how you respond to the bullies you encounter on the playground of life you will find yourself rejoicing even in the midst of your trials. You will find yourself non anxious, you will find yourself welling up with gratitude as you present all your requests to God, and the God of peace will fill you with the peace of God.


Then you will be able to say to your children as you urge them to faith in Jesus even in the most difficult circumstances of life, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard or seen in me – practice these things!”


[1] This has been capitalized in order to draw our eye to the fact that this text is pointing to Lord/Yahweh in verse 11.

[2] In the Greek kurios is the word translated frequently as Lord in the NT. It is also the word that translates YHWH in the Greek OT. Paul is telling us that Jesus has a been given God’s name – Yahweh. He is interacting with Isaiah 45:23-24. I have place it in ‘all caps’ here to help us with this association.




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