Devotional comments on the fourth chapter of Philippians
A. T. Robertson
Peace is one of the greatest of blessings. The peace that Christ gives is better than any “king’s peace” of the feudal times. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). This peace of Christ cannot be taken from us by our environment or by earthly circumstance. And yet peace in itself is not the first blessing. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable’ (James 3:17).
Paul exhorted us to live peaceably with all men, if possible, insofar as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). But we are not to be silent on great moral issues for the sake of a complacent peace with the powers of evil. Christ does not require us to make peace at any price. Rather, He challenges us to victorious conquest of the forces of evil. But even against evil we are to fight in the spirit of Christ and with the weapons of righteousness and truth. A dead church can find no consolation in the peace of God.
“So stand fast in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1). In the previous chapter, Paul has used the figures of running, of pursuing, of walking, and now he adds that of standing. It is very difficult to stand still and let oneself be attacked. In Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14 Paul repeats the command to “stand” as soldiers of Christ. When others run away, it is hard to stand one’s ground. It is not easy to stand against a flood-tide of opposition.
“My brethren dearly beloved and longed for …” Here we see a hint of the pain caused by Paul’s separation from them. “My joy and crown …” (Philippians 4:1). They are now his joy, and they will be his crown of victory in the day of Christ, showing that he did not labor in vain (Philippians 2:16), The word used for crown refers to the chaplet of victory in games, not the diadem worn by kings. Paul spoke of the Thessalonians as his hope, joy, and crown (I Thessalonians 2:19). After his exhortation to steadfastness, he repeats his affectionate appeal by saying once more, “Beloved.” He is not ashamed to show his love for the saints. He earnestly desires that the Philippians be loyal to Christ in this time of trial.
In a physical culture magazine I read an article on “The Joyous Life.” The writer was pleading for a more outspoken manifestation of good will and hilarity, a rather coarse and boisterous view of happiness. But Paul knew the joyous life, the mood of cheerfulness, the serenity and calmness of spirit possible only to the soul stayed on God. So he strikes this refrain: “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Philippians 4:4). There is no other ground of perpetual optimism that is not just blind indifference. Only “in the Lord” is it possible to find a view of life that will consistently stand the shock of sorrow and sin.
Paul knows that he has said “alway” and that this word covers the darker side of human life. So he says it over again, after pausing in contemplation of sorrow, “Again I say, Rejoice.” This philosophy of life is no ephemeral emotion, but a settled principle, a deeper feeling, that underlies all the storm-tossed waves on the surface. Paul’s joy is not grounded in earthly conditions, but in Christ. No one can rob Paul of his joy, for no one can rob him of Christ. Christ satisfies Paul’s soul; He is his all and in all. Paul needs nothing else to make his soul sing aloud for sheer joy.
Joy and graciousness go together. “Let your forbearance be known unto all men” (Philippians 4:5). The word for forbearance (gentleness) is translated in various ways as moderation, reasonableness, or “sweet reasonableness.” Courtesy is not far from the true idea — graciousness, with poise and strength of character. Gentleness is the opposite of obstinacy. The idea is not simply negative restraint, but a positive giving up to the reasonable desires of others. It is the mildness of disposition that leads one to be fair and to go beyond the letter of the law.
In a word, what Paul urges is the grace of giving up, not because one has to surrender to superior forces, but because of the nobler impulses of generosity and gentleness.
A gentleman is a gentle man. “Thy gentleness hath made me great” (II Samuel 22:36), said David of God’s dealings with him. The great illustration is the example of Jesus. “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base (lowly) among you, but being absent am bold toward you (II Corinthians 10:1). The gentleness of Jesus appeals to us to be gentle also, not only to Christians, but to all insofar as we can.
The Heart at Rest
Paul has risen to the pure height of spiritual repose above anxious care. He soars like the eagle above the storms below. “In nothing be anxious” (Philippians 4:6). Here Paul uses a common word in the Gospels for harassing care (cf. Matthew 6:25), It suggests brooding and pondering, into which our human nature’ so easily falls (I Peter 5:7).
Christ is the only cure for anxiety of heart; He can calm the fluttering heart that palpitates with worry and dread (cf. John 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled”). The only remedy for heart trouble is trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul suggests prayer: “Let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Come into the presence of God and open up your heart to Him just as if God did not know all about it. A mother loves to have her sobbing child tell her all her troubles; she understands and the child is sure of sympathy and help; difficulties will be smoothed out in mother’s arms. Even more than human parents, God loves to have us come to Him with our woes “by prayer and supplication” (Matthew 7:11).
We should approach God in the spirit of gratitude. Thanksgiving is the background, the predominant tone of the Christian life. We are to pray always “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6). This is an essential element, for before God dissatisfaction will “clip the wings of prayer.” Remembrance and supplication are the two necessary elements of every Christian prayer, thankfulness for past blessings being a necessary condition of acceptance in offering of new petitions.
In Philippians 4:7, we read, “and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The blessing offered is the result of the attitude of prayer in verse 6. God is a God of peace (Philippians 4:9), and His peace is the inward peace of the soul firmly grounded in God’s presence and promise.
Paul assumes here that we have made our peace with God in Christ, and that now we are enjoying that peace (Romans 5:1). This pax Dei is the tranquillity possible only to the soul that has found rest in the bosom of Christ: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Such inward peace fills the heart “with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13); “for the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Furthermore, this peace of God “passeth all understanding.” Like a peak of sheer granite it towers above the mists and clouds of human speculation. Intellectual apprehension fails to grasp the height of it. The intellect is a noble gift, and is given to us to be honored and used, but at best it is a feeble and fallible instrument of knowledge. Intellect is like a bird with a broken wing. Faith can fly farther and faster and more surely. The Christian must learn to trust the leading of God’s Holy Spirit as well as his reason.
This peace of God will act as a garrison to the soul; this is a promise, not a prayer. “Garrison” is a military term. In Classical Review Hicks mentions the garrisoning of the towns by the Roman soldiers as being a familiar sight. In the same manner, the sentinel of God’s peace mounts guard over our hearts and thoughts. It brings to mind the comfort of the voice of the sentinel who walks the bridge of the ship at night in time of storm and calls out that all is well. A little child is sometimes unable to sleep without the comforting pressure of mother’s hand or the soothing melody of mother’s reassuring voice.
The peace of God quiets both our hearts and our thoughts. When insomnia prevails, the mind is abnormally active and the brain whirls round and round: When fear grips the heart, rest flees, but both heart and thoughts are soothed to calm and rest, as the sea of Galilee was when Jesus stilled the wind and storm. Beautiful tranquillity comes to anyone whose soul rests in Christ Jesus, for the peace of God keeps watch over his life.
Archibald Thomas Robertson 11863-19341 was born in Virginia, reared in North Carolina, converted at the age of 13, and licensed to preach when he was 16. A graduate of Wake Forest College in Winston- Salem, North Carolina, Robertson attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Kentucky.
The greatest contribution of this man of God was in the field of New Testament Greek.
This article was published in Faith for the Family, March / April 1974. It is republished here by permission.