The Assembly at Philippi (4)

Its Unity

There has been the underlying theme throughout the epistle, of something that was marring the harmony of the assembly at Philippi. Now Paul puts his finger on the difficulty by singling out two sisters (4:2). While the assembly at Philippi was in less danger with regard to unity than the assembly at Corinth, there was the necessity of stopping the difficulty before it got out of hand. There have been assemblies that have been rent asunder by difficulties that began as a private quarrel between two believers.

“I beseech Euodias and I beseech Syntyche” (4:2). Paul is not taking sides, nor is he assuming that one is more at fault than the other. Proverbs (18:13 and 18:17) indicates that there is often fault on both sides. In Acts 7:26-27 it indicates that the one most opposed to anyone acting as a peacemaker is the one most in the wrong. These were two of the best sisters in the assembly. Paul gratefully remembers how they each labored with him in the gospel. Their past faithfulness is not forgotten in the present difficulty.

“That they be of the same mind in the Lord”(v2). There is a sense in which Christ is, and must be, a divider of men (Matt 10: 35), but Christ is also the One who unites men. In fact, He is the only one Who can unite them completely and permanently. “In the Lord” is the best ground for uniting differences between believers.

We read, “And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women” (v3). We do not know who the yokefellow was but it is possible that it was Epaphroditus. Whoever he was, he had labored with Paul and was now called upon to help in this delicate situation. They are the “sons of God,” who are manifestly acting as sons, facilitating peace. “Help” seems to indicate that the two sisters had tried to patch things up, but found themselves unable to do so.

The first and seventh beatitude are a contrast to the first and seventh thing that God hates in Proverbs 6. The first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is a contrast to Proverbs 6: 17, “a proud look.” The seventh beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers” is a contrast to the seventh thing that God hates, “he that soweth discord among brethren.”

There is an assembly responsibility regarding unity. We read in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul’s imprisonment did not hinder the gospel (1:12) but their lack of harmony could hinder it. It is no wonder that we read, “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (2:3). And, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Paul writes seven wonderful verses about the Lord Jesus, simply to encourage them to live harmoniously together (2:5-11).

In chapter 2:12-13 we read, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” Primarily, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to work out their assembly problems by themselves.

Joy is the major theme of the epistle. “Joy” or “rejoicing” is 18 times in the KJV. Joy is better than happiness because it does not depend on circumstances. The assembly began with Paul and Silas rejoicing in song (Acts 16: 25) though in prison. The Philippian jailor rejoiced with all his house, even though a few moments earlier he was on the verge of committing suicide. Joy helps unity, stability, liberality, and activity. In return those things help joy.

It helps unity for it draws us closer together when every saint in the assembly fellowship finds their joy in the things of God. Also, we are less easily offended. Most saints know that they are less easily offended when they are rejoicing in the Lord. Immediately after we are told to rejoice in the Lord, we are exhorted to “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” Matthew Arnold translates it, “Let your sweet reasonableness be known unto all men.” How? Not by proclaiming that we are sweetly reasonable, but by so acting daily in all our dealings with others that they learn by their experiences with us that we are sweetly reasonable. The Lord is at hand. He is right at our elbow to help us to be sweetly reasonable. Joy helps us too. As the late J. J. Rouse (who came from a large family) said, his mother knew how to get a quarrel stopped by saying, “soup’s on.” Soon all would be seated at the table enjoying soup and not quarrelling.

Stability: Just before Paul warned them of the Judaizers (v2) he exhorted them, “Rejoice in the Lord.” The more comfort we get from Christianity the closer we will cleave to it. The more we rejoice in the Lord, the more willing we will be to suffer for His sake and the less danger of being drawn away from Him. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8: 10). We read in Acts 5: 41, ” they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.” What made them superior to the suffering? It was the value of the Name of Christ to them. The more that we value the name of Christ, the more reproach we can bear for Him.

Liberality: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9: 7). The Philippian assembly’s liberality caused Paul to rejoice. We read very commendably about them, “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2Cor 8: 1-5). The next verse says that they gave beyond their power. Verse 5 gives the secret of their liberal giving, “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave themselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” If we give ourselves to the Lord, He has everything – our time, our treasure, and our talents.

Activity: Joy is a tremendous evangelical force, as a good many verses of Scripture indicate. The Queen of Sheba took notice of that in 2 Chronicles 9: 7, “Happy are thy men, and happy are these thy servants.” Psalm 40: 3 reads, “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Psalm 51:12-13 says, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit … then shall I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.”

I’ll never forget the first person that I heard say in my hearing that he was saved. As he gave his testimony, I could tell that he had a peace and joy of which I knew nothing. I didn’t rest content until I also had that joy in My Savior!