READ PHILIPPIANS FOUR
This week we are diving into the final chapter of the book of Philippians. And, with savor, we’ll revisit the overarching theme of the book in chapter four: spiritual friendships.
Read the last section of chapter three through chapter four verse one. Try to read it seamlessly, remembering that chapters and verse dividers were a modern addition and that Paul would have written this letter as a single document.
Does he seem to transition in tone? Concept? What shift do you sense between chapter three and the beginning of chapter four?
Paul is the Philippians’ teacher and, in many ways, church planter. He is leading them in a deeper understanding of doctrine and proper theology. And yet, he is not only their teacher. He is their friend. This is the tonal shift that we sense between the two chapters – Paul is transitioning from filling the role of their teacher to the role of their spiritual friend. He has passionately taught them – even with tears – about the coming Kingdom of God, their citizenship in heaven, and how that should be lived out in their daily lives. Now, it seems his voice is softening. I can picture his tone is a bit more hushed as he writes these words:
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends.”
Looking at just this verse, how many affectionate words does Paul use to reference the Philippian believers?
What do you think each reference tells us about his relationship to the believers? What do you think Paul wanted to tell the Philippians about his relationship to them by using each? Name a new things for each reference:
Brothers and sisters:
You whom I love:
You whom I long for:
Though Paul’s tone may have changed, nothing that he is saying here is incongruous with what he says at the end of chapter three. Paul has reminded the Philippians that they are members of God’s Kingdom, citizens of heaven rather than of this world. Whenever we see the word “Therefore” at the beginning of a section of Scripture, we know that the author is referencing what has immediately been said, and this is absolutely the case here. Paul has told them all about the Kingdom of God, and in THIS light, he loves them as brothers and sister. These believers are his family, even more so than his earthly family. He loves them and longs to see them, because they have a deep and abiding spiritual friendship that binds them together in the Gospel by the Spirit of God. They are his joy, filling up his reservoir of elation and anticipation as he hears about their growth in the Gospel. They are his crown, the due reward for his faithful ministry and preaching. And, as we have abundantly seen, they are his dear, sweet, faithful friends.
In the middle of this string of affectionate language, we find a command. What is it?
How do you think this command relates to Paul’s teaching at the end of chapter three?
How do you think it relates to his affectionate language in chapter four verse one?
When we recall what we’ve seen about spiritual friendships in this letter, we know exactly why and how Paul finds it appropriate to call the believers to stand firm! Because, we’ll remember, one of the key aspects of spiritual friendship is partnership in the Gospel! Paul’s affection for them leads him to explore them to stand firm in Christ – even in the face of a world that opposes them, even in the face of a heavenly Kingdom that is yet on the horizon, they are bound to one another in Christ. And together they will stand firm in the Lord.
This is one of the amazing things about spiritual friendships: they call each other to stand firm in the Gospel. Spiritual friendships are affectionate, yes. But they don’t stop there. They also call each other further and further into Christ.
Spiritual friendships would not be what God intended them to be without either affection or a call to stand firm in Christ. Without affection, a spiritual friendship that simply calls another to grow in Christ will become authoritarian, manipulative, and potentially spiritually abusive. These friendships do more harm than good. On the other hand, spiritual friendships with only affection are prone to become co-dependent, limp, and will lack true rootedness. We need both for spiritual friendships to flourish! We need deep affection and a deep desire to call one another to stand firm in the Lord. This is absolutely key to spiritual friendships – praise God!
Are there any friends in your own life that you could write the words of chapter four verse one to? What would a modernized version of Paul’s words look like? Ask the Lord to show you by His Spirit if there are any friends who He would have you call to stand firm in the Lord through a text, phone call, or letter.
Take a minute to reflect on the past seven weeks. As we’ve talked about spiritual friendships, has the Lord started to do a new work in your heart on the topic? Are there any friendships He might be causing to grown or asking you to initiate? Think about what God has done and praise Him for it.
PRAY & REFLECT
Ask God to lead you as you consider spiritual friendships in your own life – those that exist now or those who He might be prompting you to start. Praise Him for the work He has done in your heart and friendships over the course of the last seven weeks. Ask Him to continue doing his work in your heart and life.