Gospel Unity and Joy
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 4:2-4
Life Point Baptist Church
To begin today, “What would you say are the chief marks of a truly godly life?” Or let’s extend it out and ask, “What would you expect to find in a truly godly church?” At the top of the list would be how a person relates to God. Does he fear the Lord, love the Lord, walk humbly before the Lord, and is he striving to obey the Lord in the power of gospel grace? Secondarily, the Scriptures would ask, “Does he demonstrate the love of Christ in how he relates to family, brothers in Christ, and even to an unbelieving world?”
Furthermore, if you really want to see if someone is truly being transformed by the grace of God you have to look under the hood, so to speak. What are they like when no one is looking and where godliness most confronts our selfishness and pride? This is because true godliness is never just about appearances. It changes us from the inside out.
In Philippians 4:2–20, Paul closes out the body of Philippians with some final exhortations. It’s is a wonderful section in part because Paul addresses several of those “under the hood” marks of godliness. They are at the heart of true godliness, because they are nearly impossible apart from the gracious work of God. Today, we are going to look at three of these marks—“Gospel Unity, Joy, and Gentleness”—in Philippians 4:2–5. The first mark of godliness is found in vv. 2–3, where God challenges us that we must…
I. Pursue unity in the Lord (vv. 2–3).
These verses are a little different from the rest of the chapter, because Paul names names while confronting a specific problem. It’s actually the only time in Paul’s epistles where he confronts individuals by name.
We might think this makes his appeal especially strong, but I believe the opposite is the case. Paul has such a strong relationship with this church and with Euodia and Syntyche that he feels free to use names.
I say this because v. 3 is clear that Paul had strong relationships with Euodia and Syntyche. He says they, “Labored with me in the gospel.” The Greek verb (sunathleo) is the same one Paul used in 1:27, where Paul said that we must “strive together for the faith of the gospel.” It describes comrades who fight together to win the game.
Paul had gone to gospel war with these ladies; as a result, he calls them “fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” These women had proven themselves in the church. Therefore, Paul loved them and considered them dear friends.
But if Euodia and Syntyche had this kind of testimony, then what was going on between them? It must have been a substantial conflict if Paul has heard about it, if he feels it’s necessary to urge them to “be of the same mind,” if it was public knowledge, and if they needed help working through their differences.
We can’t know for certain, because we are only listening to one side of the phone conversation, so to speak. But I’m confident that it wasn’t any sort of black and white issue of theology or practice. This is because if one of them were clearly disregarding God’s will, Paul would have said so.
Rather, we can assume the conflict had to do with differing applications of biblical truth. Maybe Euodia felt strongly that the church should invest heavily in ministry among orphans, and Syntyche felt they should put those resources into widows. Or maybe they both wanted to start an evangelistic ministry with slaves, but they had very different ideas about how to do it.
And we’ve all seen what can happen when strong personalities collide, and emotions get high. Tension spreads like a cancer and kills everyone’s spirit.
And when this kind of conflict arises in the church, the gospel always loses, no matter who wins the argument. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul confronts some of the Corinthians for taking their conflicts to a secular judge. Paul is dumbfounded that they can’t resolve the conflict in house, and he says in 7, “It is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” The cost of winning the argument is not worth the damage to their gospel testimony.
Similarly, in our text, Paul is far more concerned that Euodia and Syntyche come to a resolution than he is about what the resolution actually is. As a result, he first challenges Euodia and Syntyche to…
Be of the same mind (read). It’s worth noting that this is the same verb (phroneo) that Paul used in 2:2, where he exhorted the church to be of the “one mind.” Then he used it again in 2:5, which states, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Then he proceeds to describe the mind or attitude that led Jesus to the cross. Finally, Paul says in 3:15, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind,” speaking of Paul’s aggressive pursuit of godliness.
In every instance, this verb speaks of deep-seated convictions and attitudes that are rooted in gospel grace. Therefore, Paul is not merely urging Euodia and Syntyche to put up with each other.
No, he is calling them to rise above their personal opinions and preferences and to be drawn together by something far higher that resided down deep in their souls. Specifically, both of these ladies loved the gospel, and they were committed to the advance of the gospel. Therefore, their common bond “in the Lord” must overwhelm whatever divided them.
We talked at length about this issue when we studied 1:27. Do you remember this chart? So often Christians and churches are held together by fragile forces that can change in a moment. And Satan can easily put a wedge between them. (Chart) Therefore, it is essential that we keep the gospel mission at the center of our fellowship and that we squash any conflict that comes in the way of the gospel.
Maybe you are struggling to get along with a fellow believer. Step back and to honestly evaluate if the source of your conflict is worth hindering the gospel of Christ, because conflicts between Christians always compromise gospel witness. If not, then you need to do everything in your power to resolve it. Don’t let personal preferences, egos, and other nonsense cost you something far more valuable than what you are fighting over.
The same is true in marriage and family. So often we get bent out of shape over the smallest things, and we forget the unity we have in the Lord. Remember that what unites you is so much bigger than what divides you, and find a way to work it out. So, Paul challenges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind, then in v. 3, he challenges the church to…
Help each other reconcile (v. 3). We can’t know for certain who the “true companion” is. It’s possible that Luke was in Philippi at the time, so it may be him. Regardless, Paul calls on a mature spiritual leader, who was clearly known as Paul’s companion to help Euodia and Syntyche reconcile.
Again, I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 6. People were struggling to work through differences, and Paul asks, “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren” (v. 5)? Sometimes, when we are in the heat of a conflict, it’s very difficult to see clearly. It can be helpful to bring in a 3rd party, with an unbiased set of eyes to help both sides to see the situation clearly. It’s a simple way we can lean on the church and that we can serve each other.
As such, v. 3 challenges all of us that we should be watching for conflicts among brothers, married couples, and families. When you see people struggling, don’t pretend you don’t notice. Instead, love them enough to make yourself available to help or to get help. It may seem small, but you can play a huge role in serving others and advancing the gospel by being a peacemaker. The final challenge in v. 3 is…
Remember our common destiny. Verse 3 ends by saying of all Paul’s coworkers in Philippi, “Whose namesare in the Book of Life.” Paul is gently reminding everyone that we are all brothers who are all going to heaven. We have far more that unites than divides us.
Remember all that you have in the gospel, and keep a big perspective on heaven, because in light of eternity, most of our conflicts are pretty small. So, the first mark of genuine godliness is unity in the Lord. Then notice in v. 4 a second mark of genuine godliness. True believers must…
II. Rejoice in the Lord (v. 4).
This verse is so encouraging and hopeful, because of what it says about the fundamental nature of Christianity. Doug Fee captures the sense well when he states, “The wearing of black and the long face, which so often came to typify some later expressions of Christian piety, are totally foreign to the Pauline version; Paul the theologian of grace is equally the theologian of joy.”
I like that. The fruit of the Spirit is not a boring, cold, fun-sucking life. No, the fruit of the Spirit is joy. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 commands us, “Rejoice always.” And our text commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Joy is the normal state of the believer. And in case we still aren’t sure, he repeats the command, “Again I will say, rejoice!” God wants us to rejoice.
But you might think, “How is that possible considering when my life is so difficult?” That’s a fair question. To answer it, we first need to make sure we are rightly understanding what Christian joy truly is. I’d like to make 4 statements regarding the nature of true Christian joy. First…
Worldly joy is circumstantial and ever changing; biblical joy is permanent (Phil 4:11–13). This is important, because our temperament often rises and falls with the circumstances of life. We’re just riding the waves of circumstances. It’s very hard way to live. But notice what Paul says in vv. 11–13. For now, notice that Paul’s joy was in Christ, not his circumstances. Christ was Paul’s anchor no matter how the sea raged. I’ll say more in a moment about why this so. Second…
Worldly joy is the pursuit of a fluctuating feeling; biblical joy is the pursuit of joy in God (Ps 73:25–26). There is probably nothing that is more American than the desire to feel happy. The fundamental promise of modern psychology, the sexual revolution, most advertisements, and many other things is that we can make you feel good, feel happy.
But the problem with living to be happy is that feelings will always be wobbly. It’s like trying to build a house on Jell-O. It’s bound to collapse. However, biblical joy is much firmer than shifting emotions, because it is rooted in the nature and promises of God (Ps 73:25–26).
The psalmist says “My flesh and my heart fail,” so he didn’t always feel happy. But through it all, God was his strength. He had a deep joy in God that circumstances could not destroy.
Therefore, don’t think that Philippians 4:4 is commanding you to chase a fleeting feeling. Instead, God is calling us to experience a far deeper and more stable joy that it is rooted in the nature and promises of God and the power of the gospel. Third…
Worldly joy is hilarity (I have no problems or I forget them through alcohol or other coping methods); biblical joy includes sorrow and gladness (2 Cor 6:10; 11:28–29). Again, when the world thinks of happiness and joy, it thinks of “Put on a Happy Face,” or playing the “glad game.” Americans are desperate to feel good, no matter the cost. If that means you need to get drunk, divorce your spouse, or change your sex, so be it. But we hate sorrow, grief, and sadness.
In contrast, the Bible sees no contradiction between joy and sorrow. Paul didn’t see it as a contradiction to say, I am “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And his life was filled with weighty burdens (2 Cor 11:28–29). Therefore, when Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” he cannot mean always put on a happy face. Instead he is calling us to stay enjoy confidence and rest in the Lord even as we face the harsh realities of life in a sin-cursed world. Fourth…
Worldly joy is based on uncertain dreams; biblical joy is based in future certainties (1 Pet 4:12–13). Very often people seek happiness in things they hope will happen (e.g., job, marriage, retirement, etc.). “I can be happy today, because my real happiness is just around the corner.” But the problem is our plans often don’t work out like we had hoped for, and even when they do, there is no worldly foundation strong enough to support the superstructure of happiness we want to build on it. It always disappoints.
In contrast, the Christian doesn’t have to hope in worldly things, and our joy doesn’t have to be crushed when life disappoints, because we have all eternity to be happy beyond anything we can imagine today (read). The hope of the gospel radically transforms how we look that the hopes, dreams, and crushing disappointments of life. They all become far less significant, because our hope does not depend on them.
In sum, we need to read Philippians 4:4 in light of Scripture, not the world’s definition of happiness and joy. God is calling us to a far deeper, richer joy than this world will ever offer. So, the question is, how do we get there?
First, remain anchored to God’s character and the promises of the gospel. It’s important that we not miss a little phrase in our text. God doesn’t merely tell us to rejoice. He commands us to “rejoice IN THE LORD.” He is the anchor of our joy, and praise the Lord that he is able to support our joy no matter what happens, because, the following facts are always true for the believer. I stand in the righteousness of Christ (Rom 8:31–34). My God is in control (Job 1:20-22). There is a purpose behind my trials (James 1:2-4). And my hope is in heaven (1 Pet 1:6-9).
These are great truths. They are far more significant than any early reality about my life. And what is so incredible about all of them is that they are constant and sure. You can lose a lot of things in this world, but these things will always be true. Therefore, I always have reason for joy. So, if I want to experience joy in the Lord, I must remain anchored to these truths (Col 3:2).
Second, obey God’s commands (John 15:10–11). Satan likes to tell us the opposite, that God’s commands rob you of joy. But Jesus taught the opposite (read). There is fullness of joy in the Lord’s will, and obedience is at the heart of his will. So many people want the joy of the Lord without submitting to his lordship. But that’s not how it works. See that the Lord’s commands are good, obey him, walk in the Spirit, and he will give joy.
Third, wait on the Lord (Ps 27:13-14). I want to emphasize that Philippians 4:4 is not calling us to merely perform some mental exercises or breathing techniques that will change our spirit. No, God calls us to rejoice in the LORD. Ultimately, true joy is something that he produces by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not of our making.
Therefore, joy is a choice. God commands it here. But we can only obey this command by God’s grace. Maybe you are struggling with depression or grief. Maybe you find yourself in long periods of brain fog, where you feel nothing. I feel for you, but I would also say that you can choose to experience joy (as Scripture defines it) by forcing your mind to the truths we’ve discussed. But I would also urge you to follow the pattern of Psalm 27:13–14. Our God is faithful and his grace is powerful, so lean in on him. Believe his promises, and wait on him to transform your spirit.
We live in a fallen, broken world. Paul knew that. He was on trial for his life. So did the Philippians. This was a poor and persecuted church. But praise the Lord that we have great hope beyond this world, and praise the Lord that we always have reason for joy and strength to have joy. So, don’t be content to live a life of anger, bitterness and discontentment. Determine by the grace of God that you will “rejoice in the Lord always.” Finally, notice in v. 5 a 3rd mark of genuine godliness. We…
In conclusion, this passage teaches that new life in the Lord produces unity, joy, and gentleness. We need to see the standard God has set and pursue it. But I also want to emphasize that ultimately, these are fruits of the Spirit that come through the gospel. God produces them in a way we never could as we lean on his grace and walk in his will.
Maybe there is someone here who is simply dumbfounded by this picture. It’s foreign to you, because you have never truly been born again. It may be that you have always put on a show of religion, but it has never worked down into your heart like this.
I’d urge you to see that when Jesus rose from the dead, he provided radically new life for those who believe on Christ. I want to be clear that Jesus is not a Prozac pill. You can’t pick and choose which parts of Christ you want. But if you believe on him, his Spirit will progressively bring you into an entirely new life. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can know the Lord and know the unity, joy, and gentleness only available in him.