READ PHILIPPIANS FOUR
We’ve seen Paul’s passion for the Philippian believers’ unity throughout the book, and today we’re going to see another theme he holds dear.
Read Philippians 4:4-7. Why do you think Paul repeats the exhortation to “rejoice”?
Paul’s first exhortation to the Philippian believers is to rejoice. And he doesn’t just want them to rejoice once, or to rejoice mindlessly – he wants them to rejoice always and in the Lord.
This encouragement comes right on the heels of Paul’s teaching on unity. With the great reminder and command to seek Christian unity because of our union with Christ, believers can, and should rejoice. When I imagine Euodia and Syntyche’s situation – the possible years of conflict, the passionate disagreement, and potential for deeply-rooted bitterness in each heart – I can imagine that nothing was further from their minds than rejoicing. If I’m honest, when I’m in the middle of some tough stuff with a friend, there are few times I allow myself to be enveloped in joy in the Lord. But the promise that Paul is holding out to the believers is that unity is still possible! Because of the Gospel of Christ, these believers can have unity! And that is a reason to rejoice!
It’s only in this light that true gentleness can be made clear to those around us (verse 5). The word that Paul uses here for gentleness is ἐπιεικής (“ep-ee-i-kace”), and it’s meaning goes beyond what you and I generally think of when we hear of gentleness. Let’s do a quick word study to help unfold Paul’s meaning in Philippians 4:5.
Look up the following passages and note the contextual use (how the word is used in the passage) of the word ἐπιεικής:
1 Timothy 3:3
1 Peter 2:18
The word ἐπιεικής means more that someone who is has a sweet spirit and is non-abrasive (though, it might include that), but indicates a person who has a peaceable spirit about them. The person who is aptly described as ἐπιεικής will be agreeable, a peace-maker, and reasonable.
With this understanding of ἐπιεικής, how does this fit into the overall context of chapter 4?
Paul wants the believers to have spirits that seek unity! He doesn’t want them to be cloyingly sweet or mushy with sentimentality, but he wants them to set their minds towards unity, to have gentle hearts that are willing to come to an agreement, and a peace-prioritizing mindset. This gentleness is the only attitude in which we can seek unity and peace with other believers.
What “reason” or reminder does Paul give the believers to let their ἐπιεικής be evident to all?
Paul reminds the believers of the impending reality of the Kingdom of God. Your King is coming, he tells them! He doesn’t want them to waste time in division among themselves, because soon Christ will return! His day is at hand!
How does this “reason” line up with Paul’s call to unity in the first part of chapter four?
Just as Paul pointed the believers towards the Kingdom by reminding them that their names were in the Lamb’s book of Life, he reminds them that the day of God’s return is coming soon! Christ is coming, Paul wants to remind them, so live into the unity that is your reality in Christ!
How often do you think on the return of Christ?
When you do think of it, what do you think about?
The coming of Christ is the ultimate hope of the Christian life. This is the reality that the martyrs of the past and present fix their eyes on – Christ is coming! His Kingdom is real! It’s easy for many of us to forget that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We can easily go about our lives without much thought to what God is doing in the grand narrative of redemption, and only consider His activity in our own lives. But, brothers and sisters, He is coming! One day, we can be confident, our King will come and finally and permanently establish His Kingdom. This is the glory of the Church and the hope of every Christian heart!
How might this reality put any experiences of disunity in your own life in perspective?
How might the Lord have you respond to Paul’s reminder of His return?
PRAY & REFLECT
Ask God for a spirit of ἐπιεικής. Ask Him to fix the hope of His return in your heart with joy and gratitude. Ask Him to help you seek unity with other believers as a result.