The Lord’s Day Morning
May 18, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“The Shalom of God”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians 4:2, as we continue to work our way through this great book together.
Have you ever wished that your name was in a Bible book? Well, if you did, you probably wanted your name mentioned like Timothy’s name is mentioned (he’s the only New Testament believer mentioned in the book of Hebrews), and you’d want your name mentioned in a positive sort of way, but you probably wouldn’t want your names mentioned the way these two godly women’s names are mentioned here in Philippians 4:2 – that is, to rebuke you because you’re having a fight with one another. Can you imagine being immortalized for the next two thousand years in every culture as being the two ladies in the congregation at Philippi that everybody needed to work together to try and see if they could get them to get along again? Well, that’s how Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in this passage. I say that in an almost humorous way— there is nothing humorous about the situation they’re going through…there is nothing unusual about the situation they’re going through. This kind of thing happens in churches all over the world, and I’ve even heard that once every decade or so it might even happen here at First Presbyterian Church!
It just shows you, as beautiful as this passage is, this is a very practical passage. And of course you know where this passage is headed. It’s headed towards that promise in verse 7, that promise that we all love: that the peace of God which passes understanding will guard our minds and hearts, our understandings and dispositions and desires. It’s a great, great promise in that passage. But before you get to that promise, notice there are four exhortations.
Notice the five parts of the passage.
The first part is in verses 2-3. That’s where that personal exhortation is made to Euodia and Syntyche, and that personal exhortation is very simple: “Be reconciled.” Then if you look at verse 4, you’ll see the second part of the passage. It’s a second exhortation, it’s a general exhortation to everyone, and the exhortation is “Rejoice always.” Then, the third part of the passage comes in verse 5. It’s a general exhortation to everyone: “Be reasonable.” (Or, as the choir beautifully sang, “Let your softness be known.”) Be gentle and reasonable in the way you deal with one another. The fourth part of the passage comes in verse 6. It’s the fourth exhortation of the passage: “Don’t worry.”
And it doesn’t go, “Don’t worry, be happy,” like the song. It goes, “Don’t worry, pray instead.” That’s how the exhortation goes together. It’s “Don’t worry, pray instead.” Those things go together deliberately in this passage.
So, thus far you’ve gotten one personal exhortation to Euodia and Syntyche, and even though it’s a personal exhortation, boy! is it applicable to all of us! And then you have three general exhortations: Be reasonable; Don’t worry; Rejoice always… be reasonable and don’t worry. And then finally comes, not an exhortation, but a promise, and the promise we see in verse 7: God’s peace will surround and flood your understanding and desires.
Now this whole passage is actually telling you how it is that you are enabled to experience that extraordinary supernatural peace of God which is beyond our comprehension. This whole passage explains to you how you go about experiencing that. Is that something important to you? It is to me. If you want to experience that, then you have to listen to Paul’s exhortation as well as to the promise in the passage. Let’s pray to God before we study it together.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. We ask now that You would enable us to give attention to the exhortations, and that You tell us our responsibilities as well as listening with comfort and hope to the promise that you announce here. We pray that You would open our eyes to see how this passage applies not to other people around us, but to ourselves, for Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God, beginning in Philippians 4:2.
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Have you ever known a believer of whom you could say that they know the peace that passes knowing? That they have experienced the peace that passes understanding? I have. There are some of you in this room right now, and if I began to tell your stories there wouldn’t be enough time today for me to tell how in the very darkest hours of your life, God in His mercy by His Holy Spirit gave you a peace that is absolutely inexplicable in human terms. When every earthly comfort was taken away, when the deepest heartbreak possible was administered, you continued to know God’s love, you continued to know God’s nearness, you continued to know God’s strength.
Well, Paul is talking to this congregation in Philippi, and he’s giving them this glorious promise about that peace that passes understanding, but he does it in a specific context, and it is in a surprising context, perhaps.
You see, these Philippians are under duress from the outside – they’re being persecuted by the world around them – but they are also experiencing divisions on the inside, and Paul addresses that very straightforwardly and practically, and talks to them about things that they need to do so that they will experience the fullness of the peace that passes understanding.
We’re going to sing, in just a few minutes, from a hymn that’s so familiar that I’ll bet you, especially most of those of you who are my age and older, you can probably sing it without your hymnal: What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Now in that song we’ll sing, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear! All…” All because why? Because we don’t take it to the Lord in prayer.
In other words, the hymn is acknowledging that sometimes we don’t experience the peace of God in the way that we could because we don’t do some of the things that He has appointed for us to do in His word that are designed to administer to us that peace. That is exactly what Paul is addressing in this passage. He wants you to experience the peace of God that passes understanding, dear Christian friend. But in order to experience that to its fullness, you have to be ready to do the things which God says are means to your experiencing that peace in its fullness.
And so I want you to see these four exhortations and this promise with me today, and it begins with this: Be reconciled.
I. Be reconciled.
Look at verses 2-3. Paul addresses these two godly women, Euodia and Syntyche, and he urges them in the strongest terms. He entreats them; he begs them to agree in the Lord, to be reconciled to one another. For whatever division has come in between them that has separated them in their friendship and in their co-working in the gospel, he wants that to be overcome. He wants them to come back together again.
Can you imagine, if you had come to me this week about a problem with a family member or a friend in this congregation which had caused estrangement…can you imagine, if I stood up in this pulpit and I called you and that friend or family member by name? And I urged you to be reconciled to one another? Why, I wouldn’t live past the next hour if I did that! Do you realize what it means that Paul feels the freedom to speak to these women that he so clearly loves and respects by name in this passage? Do you realize what that says about his love and respect for them, and their love and respect for him? Do you realize what it says about this congregation that he knows that he can call these women by name and know that the congregation is not going to for a second think that he doesn’t respect them and love them? And that not for a second are those women going to feel demeaned by his calling them out? It’s an indication of how deep Paul’s love and respect for these women is, and yet at the same time it’s an indication of how seriously Paul takes division in the congregation.
These women were part of the core group in Philippi. If you’ll remember, women were always an important part of the core group in a congregation in Philippi. How had it started? Well, you remember Paul started by speaking at that prayer meeting at the river where Lydia, that very famous businesswoman who was a seller of purple fabric, was gathered with other people. That’s where he preached the gospel. That’s where the core group of this congregation came, and Paul indicates that Euodia and Syntyche, these godly women, had been part of working with him shoulder to shoulder to advance the gospel in this church from the very beginning, and yet somehow these godly women (and he does not question their godliness or their Christian credentials in the least…in fact, he says of all of the people mentioned in verses 2 and 3 – what? – their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. He’s not talking about pagans. He’s not talking about people who claimed to be Christians but who weren’t really. He’s not talking about people who turned their back on the gospel. He’s talking about real godly women who had worked shoulder to shoulder with one another and with him, but now they’ve gotten crosswise with one another. And Paul is deeply concerned about that.
I am so thankful that we just don’t have that problem at First Presbyterian Church. There is not a family here where there’s anybody that’s crosswise with somebody else. There are no friends in this congregation that once were close and now have drifted apart and become estranged. That doesn’t exist at First Presbyterian Church. We’ve never had that problem, have we?
So you see how relevant this personal exhortation is. This exhortation is perennially relevant. Paul expects this kind of struggle and situation to exist in the church, but he refuses to take it lying down. He is deeply concerned to see reconciliation between those that are estranged in the context of the congregation.
And here’s the encouraging thing: Gospel forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be manifested until there has been a break in a relationship which requires gospel forgiveness and reconciliation. So every estrangement that exists in this congregation is not simply something that burdens God’s heart that He longs to see corrected, but it is an opportunity for gospel forgiveness to be shown. You can’t show the gospel grace of forbearing a wrong against you and forgiving a brother or sister who has wounded you until they’re wounded you…until they’ve wronged you. And so I simply want to say however deep your estrangement may be from a friend or from a family member, even in this congregation, do you understand that it is then and only then that the power of God’s grace in gospel forgiveness and reconciliation can be shown? So, cheer up! When that long uncomfortable timeframe finally comes home to roost and you realize, ‘You know, it has been months since I have had sweet fellowship with a person who is a dear friend,’ or, ‘It has been years since I have been able to have a civil conversation with a family member who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, but for whatever reason has become estranged from me,’ cheer up. That is precisely the occasion in which the power of God’s gospel grace can be most gloriously manifested in your life. And the Apostle Paul is saying at the very outset, Be reconciled. Make it a priority, congregation, to work for these kinds of reconciliations.
And do you notice how he calls on the rest of the congregation? He doesn’t just say, ‘Euodia and Syntyche, work it out. Come on, ladies. Just work it out. Bury the hatchet.’ He’s not…obviously this thing has gotten so deep that they’re beyond working it out between one another. They need help. And so he tells Epaphroditus, who’s delivering this book, and he tells Clement, who’s already there ministering in the congregation, and he tells other fellow workers, ‘Look, I need all of you to work together to bring these dear sisters in Christ back into fellowship with one another.’
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that every member of the congregation has a part and a vested interest in the congregation’s forgiving and reconciling; and, therefore, every member of the congregation is to be praying towards and helping as you are able cultivate a culture of reconciliation in the church where forgiveness is offered and where relationships are restored. It’s that serious to the Apostle Paul, and it’s going to be connected, we’re going to see (in verse 7) to the experience of peace that passes understanding.
II. Rejoice always.
The second thing he says by way of exhortation you see in verse 4: “Rejoice always.” Now this has been a steady concern of the Apostle Paul, and we’ve said over and over there is nothing about the Philippian situation that would make them rejoice. They’re not going to get any joy from persecution, and they’re not going to get any joy from division in the church. In fact, they could look at division in the church and they could become what? Cynical and bitter.
I was at a book-signing at a local bookstore on Saturday of this week, and while there I bumped into a friend whom I had not seen in some time, and we got off into a conversation. And he told me about a history professor of his at university who had once upon a time been a professing believer in Jesus Christ and a member of a local evangelical church, but that church had split over the profound issue of principle as to whether they were going to use wood or brick to cover the exterior of the new structure that they were building. And he had left the church and left Christianity, and never ever come back.
Well, it is no accident that the Apostle Paul, right after talking about (what?) a church division, would turn around and say, Rejoice always. Because Paul expects there to be struggle and divisions in the church, and if you get cynical about that you either weren’t listening or you’re not paying attention to Paul as to where you get your joy, because joy is not drawn from circumstances, it’s drawn from the Lord. And so the Apostle Paul says, ‘Hear this. If you’re going to experience the peace that passes understanding, you’re going to need to cultivate a heart attitude of joy and rejoicing that comes from the Lord, not from your circumstances.’ So there’s his first general exhortation: Rejoice always. Cultivate joy in your heart to the Lord.
III. Be reasonable.
Then he says in verse 5, Be reasonable. First you’re to have an attitude of joy and rejoicing in your heart, not because of your circumstances, but because of what the Lord has done for you and because of the hope that the Lord has set before you; and, secondly, Be reasonable.
And notice he says be reasonable because the Lord is at hand. In other words, he gives you a reason to be reasonable! There are lots of legitimate ways you could translate this word. You could translate it be gentle, or in the words of the Old English, let your softness be known. You could translate it be generous in the way you deal with one another. You could translate it be magnanimous in the way you deal with one another. But they all get the point across that in our dealings with one another we’re to be kind and gentle and generous, and respectful and reasonable. And the reason he gives for this is because the Lord is at hand. The Lord Jesus is coming back at any moment.
Have you ever been having a fight with your wife and a dear friend walks in? Ahem…things straighten up real quick, don’t they? I was making a hospital visit just a few weeks ago, and a dear and godly couple in our congregation were…I mean, they were going at it! And I walked in the room, and it stopped! You know, I knocked on the door, poked my head in…it stopped. And the husband looked at me and he said, “Well, welcome, Ligon! You’ve caught us in the middle of a domestic dispute.” And it stopped when I walked in. I understand that…done it myself before!
But Paul’s saying, ‘Look, what would happen if Jesus walked in right in the middle of your dispute with your family member or your congregational friend with whom you have this disagreement?’ What would happen? You’d straighten up pretty quick. If Jesus walked in the door, suddenly things would straighten up real, real quick! Well, here’s Paul saying the Lord is at hand. He could come back at any time. Now, look. Conduct yourselves towards one another like it was Jesus who was getting ready to poke His head in the door, because He is! He’s coming back at any time. So deal with one another with a kind of reasonableness that is drawn from the fact that you know the Lord Jesus is coming at any moment.
IV. Don’t worry. Pray instead.
And then he says, Don’t worry. Don’t worry. Pray instead, because God knows your needs. Look at verse 6:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
He’s calling on us to show trust and confidence in God in all situations.
Now Paul is not saying that the Philippians don’t have anything to worry about. They do have things to worry about. They’re persecuted, for crying out loud! They’re experiencing division in their congregation. There are lots of reasons why they could worry, so he doesn’t say don’t worry because their circumstances are good. He tells them don’t worry because they’ve got a God who’s in charge who loves them and they can pray to.
You know, worry is a thing that we do to try and feel more in control of a situation that we are out of control of. Worry is a thing that we do to try and feel more in control of a situation that we are out of control of…and you know what? The ineffective thing in worry is it doesn’t do a single thing except depress you and discourage those around you. It doesn’t give you more control over the situation that you’re out of control of. All it does is depress you and discourage those around you. And the Apostle Paul says here’s the solution: instead of worrying, pray to the one who is in control of everything in your situation, because He loves you and He’ll take care of you.
Now you need to understand. If you’re here today and you’re not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul is not giving this encouragement to anyone except those who trust in Jesus Christ. He’s saying, ‘Christian, don’t worry. You have no reason to worry because your loving heavenly Father knows you, knows your needs, and He will take care of you. Just pray to Him.’ He’s saying exactly what Jesus said to His disciples in the Gospel of Matthew: Don’t worry; don’t be anxious; don’t be caught up in cares about what you’re going to wear and what you’re going to eat, because your heavenly Father knows you and loves you, and He’ll provide for you. Paul’s saying the same thing, but he’s not saying that to everybody.
You see, if you’re here today and you’re not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you do have something to worry about. Because the only one who can do anything about your situation, you’ve turned your back on. You haven’t trusted Him. So you really do have something to worry about.
But here’s the good news. Instead of turning your back on Him, if you’ll look Him in the face and you’ll trust in Him, and you’ll cast all your cares upon the Lord, you’ll rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll trust in Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you know what? You too can know what it is like to live worry-free in a care-filled world, because you have a heavenly Father who has forgiven your sins, and you have a heavenly Father who has promised you in His Son Jesus Christ that He will provide for all your needs. So Paul says to Christians, Don’t worry. Trust in God.
V. The promise.
Then comes the promise, and you see it in verse 7:
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, Paul says when you have been cultivating joy in your heart, joy in the Lord, joy that’s not derived from your circumstances, but joy which is derived from the gospel grace that God has shown to you in Jesus Christ, when you have been seeking to live in gentleness and reasonableness with your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you have…instead of worrying 24/7…you have been entrusting yourself to God to provide for your needs, and then in your time of need, in your hour of plight and trial, here is what I’m going to do. I am going to give you a peace beyond your comprehension, so that when everything in your circumstance is screaming to you “Despair! Hopelessness!” you will have a hope in you that you don’t know where it came from. And when you are in poverty and the things that you want the most seem to have been denied to you … [It might not just be financial. It might be the poverty of friendship. You may be in isolation. You may be in a state of alienation.] …and God says, ‘I’ll give to you riches that you will know don’t come from the circumstances that you’re experiencing. And when you’re weak, so weak that you don’t feel that there is strength left in your bones, I’ll give you strength, and you’ll know it didn’t come from you, and you’ll know it didn’t come from anybody around you, and you sure know it didn’t come from your circumstances, I’ll give you total well-being…peace…shalom…that passes your comprehension.’ And you’ll know that it didn’t come from you and it didn’t come from your situation, it came from the Holy Spirit testifying to your spirit this: God’s promise is true, despite everything in your circumstances.
But do you see how following the exhortation that Paul has just talked about in verses 2-6 enables you to do – what? – to receive that promise. Following those exhortations help you to be ready to receive the promise. The promise is there. It’s there for believers. It’s there for every believer. But do you know what happens? If we won’t pray, we won’t experience the promise like God wants us to. If we don’t cultivate reasonableness and gentleness with one another, we won’t be ready to experience the promise the way the Lord wants us to. If we’re not cultivating joy in the Lord in our hearts, we won’t be ready to receive and experience the promise the way the Lord wants us to receive it.
Isn’t it interesting how God never tells you to do something that isn’t ultimately for your good? So each of the exhortations in this passage, including the exhortation to be reconciled, is designed to do what? So that in your hour of need when all the lights go out, you’re readied by your heeding of these exhortations to experience the peace that passes understanding.
We need that peace. We need that peace in this church. But receiving that peace begins with our cultivating peace with one another, with our cultivating joy in our hearts, with our cultivating reasonableness and gentleness with one another, and with our praying and not worrying, because we have a God that we know loves and cares for us. And when we do that, the amazing thing is the Holy Spirit comes and gives a direct testimony to our souls that God’s promise is true and will hold you up when there is nothing else in this world to hold you up.
Heavenly Father, You are so kind and wise that You would command us things that are good for us. This moves us to praise, and we confess, O God, today that there are some of us here who are in trials so hard that it’s hard for us to think straight. We need that peace that passes understanding. Lord, ready us in our response to these exhortations to receive a peace that we can’t even describe, and get glory out of that, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s take our hymnals in hand and sing No. 619, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit.