Directives for Joyful Christianity

I. Paul speaks publicly to specific individuals (1-3)

A. Paul began by expressing his deep and heartfelt love for the people of the Philippian church (1).

  1. “Therefore” – Because of the certainty of this final triumph of Christ (3:21), his redemptive act of transforming our corruptible bodies, and his subjecting all things to himself, hear with obedience the following instructions. If it seems that for the present, world powers despise your profession of Christ as Lord and ruler, if all the wrong persons seem to be in control, know that this is but for a moment in the scheme of eternity. Christ is at hand; soon he will show that he rules in righteousness and power.
  2. “My beloved brethren” – Paul reinforces the following instruction with an assurance that his admonitions arise certainly from divine mandate but also from his own love for them. He piles up words to emphasize that these following instructions are said with deep affection and a personal desire for their eternal well-being. They are beloved and he longs to see them. They are, in fact, his “joy and crown.” They are his joy in that their conversion served to confirm that unusual call to go into Europe instead of Asia (Acts 16:6-10). They were his “crown” for their conversion gave evidence of the victorious nature of Paul’s ministry of suffering for the gospel. He used similar ideas in writing to the Thessalonians: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Again, he weaves true affection into his admonitions by repeating, “My beloved.”
  3. Having referred to the foundation of his instruction in the power of Christ and his own love for them, Paul now points forward—“in this way”—he is announcing that instructions are on the way. These are pivotally important apostolic admonitions for they inform as to how they can “stand firm in the Lord.” If they want their lives to reflect the mind of Christ (2:5) and engage in personal and practical ways the instruction of 2:1-4, Paul gives some help.

B. Paul has specific regard for the relation between Euodia and Syntyche (2). Paul does not take sides or even reveal the nature of the tension between these two godly women. Having argued his case concerning the incarnation and its implications, the personal loss that must foundation gaining Christ, the upward call of God, and the glorious appearing of Christ he seems to sense that this urge from him that they “live in harmony” will be sufficient.

C. Paul wants the entire leadership of the church to work together to make sure they avoid division. Because those who are directly involved in the life of the church and know these women well, Paul calls upon a “true companion,” upon a brother named Clement, as well as the “rest of my fellow workers” to work to correct this possible source of division. Their Christian character is such that not only does Paul exhibit strong confidence in their desire to work for unity but in their competence to do so, knowing what is at stake. Their proven character he affirmed in expressing confidence – or perhaps a revelatory statement as an apostle- “whose names are in the book of life.” That phrase is used only here outside of Revelation where it appears in 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.


II. Paul gives general directives for the growth of joy.

A. Paul points toward the atmosphere of heaven to heal the distress of earth—“Rejoice in the Lord.” Paul reiterates what he said in 3:1. Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) preached “A Believer’s Last Day His Best Day.” One great advantage of the last day and the transition of life from earth to heaven is the “Change of Enjoyments.” He wrote, “Death is a change of our more dark and obscure enjoyment of God, for a more clear and sweet enjoyment of God.”

  1. Joy seems to be the sum total of or apprehension of the mercies of God manifest to us in this life. These are mixed in this present life with the obscurities and fluctuations caused by the presence and sometime scoffing of unbelievers, temporal disciplines from God himself, the conflict with the flesh, and the decline of physical and mental sharpness. Even unbelievers find some degree of joy (though they do not recognize its presence from the common mercies of God) in their temporal advantages and pleasures. Heaven and hell are polar opposites in their relation to joy. Among the many other things involved in hell, it is an utterly joyless experience. Everything about the common mercies of God that give glimpses of joy in this life have no presence in hell yet are replaced by active perfect holy wrath. In heaven the mercies of God, both common and special, are obscured by nothing. Peter looks at the revelation of Jesus Christ as that which prompts the believer to “rejoice with joy inexpressible full of glory, receiving the outcome of faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8, 9).
  2. “In the Lord” turns the believer from his present circumstances in this world to his position in Christ. A two-fold emphasis could be intended: we find all the things of which true joy consists in the person and work of Christ as he has honored the Father and sent the Spirit through his redemptive work. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. . . . In him all the fullness of the godhead was pleased to dwell” (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:19). Second, our union with him by grace has given to us all the qualifications by which we find redemption and merit for eternal life. “Because of him [God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus [given union with him in his work by sovereign grace] who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
  3. “Always” – Never will a moment come when we are out of the protective, redemptive, and sanctifying grace of God. Paul has emphasized this truth in other ways in this letter (1:6; 1:19, 20; 2:13; 3:12, 20; 4:11, 12, 19). We cannot flee from his presence nor from his sanctifying purpose for his people. We can and must, therefore, rejoice always.
  4. “Again I say” – The emphasis Paul places on this shows that the joy of a Christian in itself teaches a message of truth about time and eternity. A joyless Christian must have reservations about the glory of eternity and doubts about the present providence of God. Joy, “again I say,” teaches lessons about the goodness and sovereign purpose of God.
  5. I was developing thoughts on this text on the morning of September 22. That day, Spurgeon had this for his “Morning” thoughts.

“Let Israel rejoice in him.”-Psalm 149:2

Be glad of heart, O believer, but take care that thy gladness has its spring in the Lord. Thou hast much cause for gladness in thy God, for thou canst sing with David, “God, my exceeding joy.” Be glad that the Lord reigneth, that Jehovah is King! Rejoice that He sits upon the throne, and ruleth all things! Every attribute of God should become a fresh ray in the sunlight of our gladness. That He is wise should make us glad, knowing as we do our own foolishness. That He is mighty, should cause us to rejoice who tremble at our weakness. That he is everlasting, should always be a theme of joy when we know that we wither as the grass. That He is unchanging, should perpetually yield us a song, since we change every hour. That He is full of grace, that He is overflowing with it, and that this grace in covenant He has given to us; that it is ours to cleanse us, ours to keep us, ours to sanctify us, ours to perfect us, ours to bring us to glory-all this should tend to make us glad in Him. This gladness in God is as a deep river; we have only as yet touched its brink, we know a little of its clear sweet, heavenly streams, but onward the depth is greater, and the current more impetuous in its joy. The Christian feels that he may delight himself not only in what God is, but also in all that God has done in the past. The Psalms show us that God’s people in olden times were wont to think much of God’s actions, and to have a song concerning each of them. So let God’s people now rehearse the deeds of the Lord! Let them tell of His mighty acts, and “sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.” Nor let them ever cease to sing, for as new mercies flow to them day by day, so should their gladness in the Lord’s loving acts in providence and in grace show itself in continued thanksgiving. Be glad ye children of Zion and rejoice in the Lord your God.

6. This rejoicing is indeed “in the Lord.” As Spurgeon noted, “Every attribute of God should become a fresh ray in the sunlight of our gladness.” There is no lasting joy, or even true joy, except as it is grounded in the purpose and character of God. Our joy unites with God’s joy in himself and thus has an everlasting foundation, an infinitely glorious content, and unwavering expression.

B. A gentle spirit, or a sweet reasonableness, will go a long way toward healing—or even preventing—the uneasiness that comes from disagreement. “The Lord is near” could mean that he is near through his omnipresence. Be aware that the church is his, not ours, and that we should in unity seek his will and do what pleases him. It is his habitation and he dwells in his people and among his people. It could mean also that his coming is near. He sees all and knows all and will bring to light every thought. “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). We should avoid a recalcitrant spirit so as not to offend our fellow Christians and not make our actions and attitudes susceptible to the fires that destroy vain work (1 Corinthians 3:13).

C. Have such confidence in the nearness and purpose of God that situations do not breed anxiety in your heart. “Be anxious for nothing.” God desires our recognition of his nearness and that he is ready to calm the concerns of his people through the means of supplicating him through prayer.

  1. Do not be anxious about anything but pray about everything. Prayer consists of supplication, thanksgiving, and requests. In supplication we come to God with the full confidence that he is a prayer-hearing God and able to do all that we ask and exceedingly more (Ephesians 3:20). In thanksgiving we recognize that he has been and will continue to be filled with mercy toward us and already has brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Having given us his Son, how would he not freely give us all that pertains to life and godliness (Romans 8:32; 2 Peter 1:3). We bring specific requests to God. We must count nothing too small, nothing too large, or anything as within our own power apart from his blessing.
  2. In cultivating this spirit of absolute dependence upon prayer to an omnipotent prayer-hearing God, we enjoy the “peace of God” that passes all understanding. We find peace when we might be worried, peace when we might be fearful, peace when a solution seems impossible. We learn that prayer to a Near-God rescues us from the oppression of circumstances and releases us from the captivity of being victim to merely natural causes. We who pray in the context of thanksgiving know we implore a God who works “all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). The “Peace of God” means that we begin to dwell in the unperturbed environment of God himself who is perfectly at peace with all his decrees for they exist in the context of eternal, infinite wisdom. If God is at peace with his will, so should his children be.
  • T. Robertson reflects on the word for “guard” by writing, “God’s peace as a sentinel mounts guard over our lives.” This peace will “guard your hearts.” The believer’s affection for God will not waver but will increase as prayer ascends with requests made in the wrapping of thanksgiving.
  • This peace will “guard . . . your minds.” Such a conviction of God’s absolute goodness, wisdom and sovereignty will keep the mind in a position to think thoughts of truth based upon a submission to and delight in God’s independent wisdom and decrees: “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has taught him? With whom did he take counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13, 14).


III. Paul gives directives for the cultivation of God-likeness (8, 9). Still pursuing the way in which a Christian will persevere in standing firm (1), Paul gives greater concentration to the thought life of the Christian. Though this probably does not represent a complete list of things that would edify, there is internal connection in these traits that presses both the heart and the mind toward increasing spiritual maturity.

A. Paul gives a profile of a Christ-centered thought life. He has already pointed to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Now he would have us look at the glory of Christ by partitioning different aspects of this excellence for consideration.

  1. The first quality of meditation is truthfulness—”Whatever is true.” If a thing is untrue, no matter how fascinating in its report or presentation, it has no quality by which it could be profitable for spiritual growth. None of the other traits listed here would have any value apart from the bearing in the first place the quality of truth. “Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth,” so Jesus prayed (John 17:17). To Philip Jesus made te claim,”I am the way, the ruth, and the life” (John 14:6). To Pilate, Jesus responded, even as it seemed that Pilate had all power and leverage on his side: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listen to my voice” (John 18:37). “Whatever is true in the eternal absolute sense is finally about Christ and comes from Christ.
  2. Some things might be true as detached points of information but are not a proper subject for meditation or edifying contemplation. For that reason, meditation on truth must be modified by the idea of honor. The word derives from the concept of worship—bearing traits worthy of the divine character. The attributes of God as they are in himself would be both true and honorable. The character of individuals, the speech of certain persons, activities of certain kinds could reflect the property of being honorable.
  3. Whatever is “right” or “just.” brings out the element of divinely-given law. We are made right, we are justified by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Meditation on what is just means looking at the moral law of God—and for that matter the civil and ceremonial law—to see how Christ honored it, lived as a man in perfect conformity to, fulfilled it and passes it on to us as a picture of living rightly and justly before God. Mental energy spent in thinking through the application of divine justice and righteousness will give wonderful energy to one’s determination to live a holy life.
  4. Purity – Words, thoughts, plans, ideas are pure that are unblemished with vanity, jealousy, selfish-ambition, lust, anger, malice, deceit or slander. Any thought that harbors element of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are destructive and fail the test of purity. Like the works of the flesh, such thoughts lead to destruction. Peter instructed, “I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:11, 12).
  5. Think of things that are “lovely,” that is, amiable, intrinsically drawing forth affection because the idea is worthy of Christ. As in English, the Greek contains a word for “love,” an exalted kind of love that finds its root in the attraction or worthiness of the thing loved. Agape is a love that seeks an object, not on the basis of its loveliness or worth, but out of the infinite benevolence of the one loving. Phileo is not an unworthy kind of love, but it could be identified with complacent love, that is, a love that is exhibited on the basis of something inviting, worthy, or lovely in the thing itself. While we should seek to love with agape love, the way in which God loves us as unworthy rebels, it is perverse not to love with phileo love. Purposely develop affection for attributes that are worthy of your love.
  6. Things of “good repute” are things about which knowledgeable persons speak well. They have examined the worth of a thing and have passed the word around that it is good. When taken in the context of this passage, we know we are not talking about the rides at Disneyworld, the cuisine at an exquisite restaurant, or a unanimous report of scouts concerning the talent and skill of an athlete. It is in reference to the other attributes already considered.
  7. “Virtue or praise” refers to intrinsic strength of character and praiseworthiness. A thing truly virtuous should draw forth praise, seen in the inhabitants of heaven as they acknowledge the worthiness of the Lamb: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language, and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. . . . Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. . . .To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12, 13).
  8. “Think on these things.” Let your mind be occupied with these things so that your logic about life flows from seeing this composite of excellence and virtue as the presupposition of all of life. When we contemplate the incomparable beauty of the person of Christ, his condescension to persons of low estate, his death on their behalf, his approval by the Father ratified in the resurrection and ascension, we have an inexhaustible paradigm for all of these moral qualities. They present a wholeness of nobility exhibited in an unflawed way by Jesus and a goal toward which we should strive (3:14) with the apostle as he pressed on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In occupying our minds and our reasoning with these things, we begin to reflect their qualities.

B. Again, Paul highlights his position as an apostle in giving true instruction and imitable practical living for their well-being (9).

  1. “The things that you have learned and seen and heard”—these constitute the teaching ministry of Paul the apostle. They should reject none of what he taught them for he, along with the other apostles, was a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).
  2. “And seen in me” – here he refers to his actions under the immediate leading of the Spirit of God, such as led him to Philippi in the first place (Acts 16:9), his faithfulness in gospel proclamation (Acts 16:14, 31), his joy in trial (Acts 16:23-25), his care to give instructions for their growth in grace (Acts 16:40).
  3. “Practice these things” – Pay attention to my teaching and make it a major element of your thought life; pay attention to my consistency in seeking the honor of Christ and make it your lifestyle.

C. “The God of Peace” refers to the stance of reconciliation that God has taken toward the redeemed in Christ (Ephesians 2:15-22). Paul uses this phrase in Romans 15:33; 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. In this last verse Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who call you is faithful; he will surely do it.” The “God of peace” is the God who has been reconciled to us by Christ and will accomplish his purpose of holiness in us. Paul has just given his readers an extended exhortation to and inspired guidance for this pursuit of sanctification. What could be better as the end result of our thought-life and prayer-life than holiness?

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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