Over the last three weeks we wrapped up the third chapter of Philippians, and I believe God has graciously given us some important truths that can change our whole attitude and effect how we will live the rest of our lives here on earth. We have talked about the importance of imitating those who are imitating Christ. That means hanging out with people who really want to be like Christ. It doesn’t mean we are just around perfect people, that’s not going to happen, but we can observe those who are serious about being like Christ, walking like Christ, walking in the grace of God. That would be people who humbly say, “I am weak, but He is strong.” I’m talking about dependent people who know God gives them everything they have and need and rely on Him for spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. People who know life will be hard, but God is above hard, and He gives peace in the struggle, joy in the midst of trials and troubles. We are to imitate them.
Along with that we have been reminded that this earth, as it is today, is not our home. This is not all there is. If our attachments are too great regarding earthly things – pleasures, possessions, even with people over God – then we need to consider why, and how we can replace those things with that which is eternal. Joy and hope misplaced in earthly things will bring great disappointment, maybe crushing disappointment. But joy and hope placed in eternal truth will never disappoint. We are to set our minds on heaven. Our citizenship is in heaven, not on this earth. Things that we enjoy here – places, things, people – are to be enjoyed in light of heaven, in light of what is to come. In other words, God is gracious to give us earthly things to enjoy, He has created beauty, so if we have those things and they are from God, and they are not sinful nor are we worshiping them, we can take them as gifts from God and realize that these things, gifts from God, can be a taste of what is to come in our heavenly home. We can enjoy them in that context.
Tammy and I spent some time away last week at a cabin on a river in the woods on the edge of a mountain range. For me, that was a gift from God and a picture of peace and tranquility and enjoyment and fellowship with Tammy and God, and it was a glimpse, I think, of what heaven will be. Heaven will be so much more, but what I enjoyed there physically, emotionally, spiritually, communing with God and Tammy, all a taste, just a taste, like the little bitty sample spoon of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, just a little taste of what heaven will be.
So we don’t worship those things that God gives us, we don’t let them become idols that we must have to be happy, but we keep a perspective of heaven that is to come with our Lord. Our citizenship is in heaven. Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has helped us learn these things.
Now remember, as I gave my illustration of a trip that was a picture of heaven for me, remember that neither Paul nor the Philippian church were on a vacation as they are thinking about heaven. Paul of course was a prisoner, alone, restricted in what he could or couldn’t do, with an uncertain future. The Philippian church people were a persecuted group, swimming upstream in a culture against them, facing trouble outside the church, and as we will see next week, facing much trouble inside the church. Life was hard for them, extremely hard in that setting, and Paul reminds them that their citizenship is in heaven. Whether you would say right now, “Wow, life is great for me now circumstantially,” or if you would say, “Whoa, life is really hard right now circumstantially,” either way our perspective should be, “Heaven is our home, this is temporary, we await our savior, our bodies will be changed, the future is tremendously bright for all of us who know Him and belong to Him. New is coming, heaven is our home, tremendous blessing awaits us as believers, and it will soon be ours. This body of death will pass on, including our weak, scattered, and sinful minds, and new will replace this old, and it will be more glorious than we have ever experienced and even more than we can imagine.”
This is good news for the oppressed and this is good news for those who may be feeling temporary reprieve from trial. Either way, the good news is that heaven will be our home. That is where we have been at the end of Philippians 3. It’s kind of hard to leave that for me, but there is more for us in chapter 4. So with that bit of context, we move on to chapter 4. Remember that the Bible was not written split up into chapters and verses, so we can’t get hung up on a change of chapters. Paul says…
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)
There is one imperative in this verse. One encouraging command in this verse. The direction Paul gives us is what? That we “stand firm thus in the Lord.” Again, this is not a statement that just comes out of the blue, this is a statement surrounded by rich and meaningful context that we need to embrace. Paul is telling an intensely persecuted people, maybe a confused bunch because there are false teachers among them, maybe a frightened group who are struggling to have joy, he is telling them to stand firm. “Don’t run, don’t hide, don’t retreat, don’t make peace at all costs, don’t pretend, don’t make up some dream world to live in, don’t escape by self-medicating,” none of that, instead he says, “Stand firm.” Stand firm in what? In truth, in Christ.
Now, there are various ways to take such a statement. You could take it like, “Tough it up, brush it off and be a man.” You know, like, “Hide your feelings, pick yourself up and stop crying, stand firm.” Some of you know what that is like, right? Saying, “Just stand firm,” can sound a bit cold and uncaring. Like you go to a friend and you pour out your heart and your fears and struggles and he turns to you and simply says, “Come on, just stand firm.” “Just be strong” can sound harsh depending on the context. “Just keep going” can sound even self-reliant and self-confident. But we need to notice how Paul wraps his statement here in tender love and in concern. The phrase “stand firm” did not just appear on its own. As he says, “stand firm,” it could be hard to hear, like, “Stand firm when you feel like you are being beat up, attacked like a soldier on a battle field and bullets flying by, one grazing your skull, stand firm.” But Paul does it, says it couched in great loving words of empathy and love. He does it while using five terms of endearment. Paul wants his readers to know that he loves them, he cares for them, and what he says to them is bathed and saturated in loving kindness. He wants them to see that he is concerned with their good. He is not a distant third party barking orders, he is their true friend, a brother born for adversity. He’s there for them, and he’s with them. He understands their plight, he gets what suffering looks like, he has felt the pain of tribulation in his body and mind, he is with them in their suffering. He is not asking them to do anything that he has not charged himself with as well.
How does he accomplish this? He begins by calling them brothers, or you could say brothers and sisters. Paul is not only showing affection here, but he is also being very theologically correct in how he addresses the Philippian church. As Christians we are adopted members of the household of God, that makes us all siblings.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)
As sons and daughters we are all equals. In the Middle East in Jesus’ day, in families there were two classes of children. Even dating way before Jesus’ day, there were two classes of children in the family. Each child fell into one class or another. There was the firstborn, in a class by themselves, and then there were all others. The firstborn was special and received special privileges, including a greater inheritance. Now, I know all you firstborns out there are thinking, “Well yeah, we knew that! We know we are the special ones!” I know how you firstborns are! No really, in God’s family Christ is described as the firstborn. He wasn’t born into creation, but He is firstborn in that He is preeminent over all the rest of God’s children. This is what is meant by Romans 8:29.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16)
Firstborn is about rank, preeminence, privilege, and position, not about literal birth or birth order. Here is the point: first Christ is above all of us, and so we as Christians are all equals before God. None of us gets the special rank of firstborn. When Paul calls the Christians in Philippi brothers and sisters, he is conveying to them a sense of equality. He may be the great apostle Paul, but that really means nothing. He is their equal, he is their brother in Christ. They stand on the same level as siblings and share in a reciprocal relationship with each other. He is not telling them what to do as if it did not also apply to him.
We really need to get this right in the church community, in our minds. If any one of us walk into this building, for instance, with any idea of superiority, then we have lost, somewhere we have lost some sound theological footing. If we think that we are greater because of our earthly accomplishments, our positions at work, our net worth, our level of commitment to Christ, our spiritual understanding, the number of hours we spent last week serving others, whatever it is, we are none of us greater than any other. We are equal before God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Now what is really cool is that Christ shares all with us, He will in heaven, He is a gracious firstborn!
I think Paul is wanting to be sure to communicate equality here. He is not a privileged class, he is one of them, what he says applies to him as well, and that is to be our attitude. This is so important. We don’t teach, instruct, rebuke, encourage, or anything with a high hand, we do so in humility as one who also needs to hear the same words. We are not like a manager who instructs his employees to do what he is too good to do, but more like a co-worker in the faith who must do what he instructs others to do. Paul is relating to those whom he instructs.
He goes on to say, “whom I love.” Paul is talking not only to his spiritual siblings but also to those he loves. Paul is saying “I love you, I really love you.” He says it again at the end of the verse which is translated in the ESV as “my beloved.” A major theme in Paul’s writings is that God loves them as children with a divine love, and this is true for you as a Christian as well. But here Paul wants them to know that he also loves them with the love of Christ. He is not distant with them in his love and affection, nor in his commitment to them. He really loves them as he gives them instruction. Again, this is much different than other teachers. This is not like your college professor. Paul is a teacher, but he is not just interested in passing on information, but it is passing on information to those whom he truly loves. This is a reiteration of what we read back in Philippians 1:7 – “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Let me say, if you can’t instruct someone in biblical truth, whether it is your child or a friend or an acquaintance, and like Paul say, “I love you, I hold you in my heart,” then maybe you are not yet ready to share that truth. Maybe you aren’t yet at a 1 Corinthians 13 place where you can speak truth in love. Paul loved, and then he shared.
And here is another thing. It is not just that we need to speak truth in a way that sounds loving. It’s not like, “Let me practice how to speak lovingly and then speak.” No, it’s, “Let me get my heart right before God so that I really love that person, and then speak accordingly.” We are not actors. We can’t pretend to love, read a script that sounds loving. No, that is hypocrisy. Let us love, and then speak the truth in love. Do you see the difference? Paul loved, and so Paul spoke the truth lovingly. We don’t need sappy pretenders, we need and God expects and gives us grace to really love one another, and so to speak. Paul demonstrates that for us here.
Not only did he think of them as equals and love them, but he longed to be with them. He loved being with his brothers and sisters in Christ. He not only loved them in a committed way, but he really liked them. He was homesick for them. Paul felt pain of separation being away from them. He wanted to be with them.
Do you get the picture here as Paul piles on these various terms of endearment? Can you picture the sincerity here as he speaks? If someone is going to tell you hard truth, don’t you want it to be someone who thinks of you in these ways, who really loves you?
Are there people in your life that you would say, “Of all the people I know, this one person, he or she really loves me, wants to be with me, does not talk down to me but thinks more of me than they think of themselves, and is looking out for my good. No matter what they say, I know and am assured of his or her love for me.” Are you that person in other people’s lives?
Paul finally describes them as his “joy and crown.” They are his joy in the Lord and like a prized crown to him. He glories in their salvation and in their faithful work. He is so happy to see their love for Christ and for each other. It is like a great reward to him to see them grow in this way.
All of this Paul says from his heart. All of these descriptions point to his love for the Philippian church. All of that surrounds the instruction that he gives them. He assures them of his love, he describes his love and affection, he leaves no doubt in their minds that he is for their good, and then he says the thing that could be hard to hear, “stand firm thus in the Lord.”
Why might this be a hard thing to take? Because they are surrounded by evil. They are enduring persecution in their culture. They are being inundated with false teachers. There is even a faction growing in the church. It must have seemed that at every turn, wherever they looked, all around they were being attacked. It’s in that context that Paul said, “stand firm.” These are all external things, things going on around them, but they like all of us also had to deal with personal sin that is coming from their own flesh as well. So wherever they look, wherever they turn, inside or outside, it looks bad. And Paul says, “Stand firm in the Lord.”
I met a man a few months ago who described for me how he grew up. He grew up in a small town, in a highly religious family. His family as well as a few others believed very strongly and passionately that the end was near, very near. As they thought about that, they believed that the whole world was so helplessly evil that the best thing they could do was separate from the world completely, hunker down in their own small community, cut themselves off from their neighbors, and simply wait it out until Christ returns. They literally did just that for a long time. Instead of standing in the Lord, they hid from the world. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like hiding. But standing is different than hiding.
Standing firm is like holding your position while under attack. Don’t collapse, don’t compromise, don’t yield, but stand. Stand in truth and in Christ, without wavering. When persecution is strong, stand. When it seems dangerous, stand. When it is unpopular, stand. When it looks foolish, stand. When it seems the odds are against you, stand. When it is painful, stand. When it feels bad, stand.
This standing has to do with spiritual stability. It is the opposite of being tossed by every wind of doctrine. It is standing on the Rock of our faith, and on the character of God, who is our Rock, and in the truth of His Word. It is the opposite of standing on sand that’s always shifting and moving. Sand moves every time the rain falls or the wind blows. We stand on the Rock of truth and our God or we fall in the shifting sands of worldly philosophy, false hopes, and ever-changing feelings.
Paul knows that to not stand is to fall to temptation, to fear, to put hope in what will fail. Paul knows that to not stand will be to believe lies and face severe consequences of that choice. He knows that to give in, in order to try and make life temporarily easier, will lead to what is hard and grievous before God, and so he tells those whom he loves to stand. To hold on to truth, to live in truth. To believe God no matter what your eyes may show you. It is to live by faith in God’s Word, that is to stand.
In Ephesians 6 we see the repetition of this same phrase, “to stand,” at least four times. It surrounds the passage talking about the armor of God. Standing in the truth of our salvation, of the righteousness we have in Christ, with the shield of faith. It’s not living by feelings, but planting ourselves firmly in the truth God has given us.
In closing, I want to read Psalm 46, one of my favorite Psalms. It goes well with Paul’s instruction for us to stand.
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Psalm 46)
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)