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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 4

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-23

Chapter 4


4:1 So, then, my brothers, whom I love and yearn for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

Through this passage breathes the warmth of Paul's affection for his Philippian friends. He loves them and yearns for them. They are his joy and his crown. Those whom he had brought to Christ are his greatest joy when the shadows are closing about him. Any teacher knows what a thrill it is to point at some person who has done well and to be able to say: "That was one of my boys."

There are vivid pictures behind the word when Paul says that the Philippians are his crown. There are two words for crown in Greek, and they have different backgrounds. There is diadema ( G1238) , which means the royal crown, the crown of kingship. And there is stephanos ( G4735) , the word used here, which itself has two backgrounds. (i) It was the crown of the victorious athlete at the Greek games. It was made of wild olive leaves, interwoven with green parsley, and bay leaves. To win that crown was the peak of the athlete's ambition. (ii) It was the crown with which guests were crowned when they sat at a banquet, at some time of great joy. It is as if Paul said that the Philippians were the crown of all his toil; it is as if he said that at the final banquet of God they were his festal crown. There is no joy in the world like bringing another soul to Jesus Christ.

Three times in Php_4:1-4 the words in the Lord occur. There are three great commands which Paul gives in the Lord.

(i) The Philippians are to stand fast in the Lord. Only with Jesus Christ can a man resist the seductions of temptation and the weakness of cowardice. The word Paul uses for stand fast (stekete, G4739) is the word which would be used for a soldier standing fast in the shock of battle, with the enemy surging down upon him. We know very well that there are some people in whose company it is easy to do the wrong thing and there are some in whose company it is easy to resist the wrong thing. Sometimes when we look back and remember some time when we took the wrong turning or fell to temptation or shamed ourselves, we say wistfully, thinking of someone whom we love: "If only he had been there, it would never have happened." Our only safety against temptation is to be in the Lord, always feeling his presence around us and about us.

In vain the surge's angry shock,

In vain the drifting sands:

Unharmed upon the eternal Rock

The eternal City stands.

The Church and the individual Christian can stand fast only when they stand in Christ.

(ii) Paul bids Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord. There can be no unity unless it is in Christ. In ordinary human affairs it repeatedly happens that the most diverse people are held together because they all give allegiance to a great leader. Their loyalty to each other depends entirely on their loyalty to him. Take the leader away, and the whole group would disintegrate into isolated and often warring units. Men can never really love each other until they love Christ. The brotherhood of man is impossible without the lordship of Christ.

(iii) Paul bids the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord. The one thing all men need to learn about joy is that it has nothing to do with material things or with a man's outward circumstances. It is the simple fact of human experience that a man living in the lap of luxury can be wretched and a man in the depths of poverty can overflow with joy. A man upon whom life has apparently inflicted no blows at all can be gloomily or peevishly discontented and a man upon whom life has inflicted every possible blow can be serenely joyful.

In his rectorial address to the students of St. Andrews University, J. M. Barrie quoted the immortal letter which Captain Scott of the Antarctic wrote to him, when the chill breath of death was already on his expedition: "We are pegging out in a very comfortless spot.... We are in a desperate state--feet frozen, etc., no fuel, and a long way from food, but it would do your heart good to be in our tent, to hear our songs and our cheery conversation." The secret is this--that happiness depends not on things or on places, but always on persons. If we are with the right person, nothing else matters; and if we are not with the right person, nothing can make up for that absence. The Christian is in the Lord, the greatest of all friends; nothing can separate the Christian from his presence and so nothing can take away his joy.


4:2-3 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you too, true comrade in my work, help these women, because they toiled with me in the gospel, together with Clement, and my other fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life.

This is a passage about which we would very much like to know more. There is obvious drama behind it, heartbreak and great deeds, but of the dramatis personae we can only guess. First of all, there are certain problems to be settled in regard to the names. The King James Version speaks of Euodias and Syntyche. Syntyche is a woman's name, and Euodias would be a man's name. There was an ancient conjecture that Euodias and Syntyche were the Philippian jailor and his wife ( Acts 16:25-34): that they had become leading figures in the Church at Philippi, and that they had quarrelled. But it is certain that the name is not Euodias but Euodia, as indeed the Revised Version, Moffatt, And the Revised Standard Version all print it; and Euodia is a woman's name. Therefore, Euodia and Syntyche were two women who had quarrelled.

It may well have been that they were women in whose homes two of the house congregations of Philippi met. It is very interesting to see women playing so leading a part in the affairs of one of the early congregations for in Greece women remained very much in the background. It was the aim of the Greeks that a respectable woman should "see as little, hear as little and ask as little as possible." A respectable woman never appeared on the street alone; she had her own apartments in the house and never joined the male members of the family even for meals. Least of all had she any part in public life. But Philippi was in Macedonia, and in Macedonia things were very different. There women had a freedom and a place which they had nowhere in the rest of Greece.

We can see this even in the narrative in Acts of Paul's work in Macedonia. In Philippi Paul's first contact was with the meeting for prayer by a riverside, and he spoke to the women who resorted there ( Acts 16:13). Lydia was obviously a leading figure in Philippi ( Acts 16:14). In Thessalonica many of the chief women were won for Christianity, and the same happened in Berea ( Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12). The evidence of inscriptions points the same way. A wife erects a tomb for herself and for her husband out of their joint earnings, so she must have been in business. We even find monuments erected to women by public bodies. We know that in many of the Pauline Churches (for example, in Corinth), women had to be content with a very subordinate place. But it is well worth remembering, when we are thinking of the place of women in the early Church and of Paul's attitude to them, that in the Macedonian Churches they clearly had a leading place.

There is another matter of doubt here. In this passage someone is addressed who is called in the Revised Standard Version true yokefellow. It is just barely possible that yokefellow is a proper name--Suzugos ( G4805) . The word for true is gnesios ( G1103) , which means genuine. And there may be a pun here. Paul may be saying: "I ask you, Sunzugos--and you are rightly named--to help." If suzugos ( G4805) is not a proper name, no one knows who is being addressed. All kinds of suggestions have been made. It has been suggested that the yokefellow is Paul's wife, that he is the husband of Euodia or Syntyche called on to help his wife mend the quarrel, that it is Lydia, that it is Timothy, that it is Silas, that it is the minister of the Philippian Church. Maybe the best suggestion is that the referent, is to Epaphroditus, the bearer of the letter, and that Paul is entrusting him not only with the letter, but also with the task of making peace at Philippi. Of the Clement named we know nothing. There was later a famous Clement who was bishop of Rome and who may have known Paul, but it was a common name.

There are two things to be noted.

(i) It is significant that when there was a quarrel at Philippi, Paul mobilized the whole resources of the Church to mend it. He thought no effort too great to maintain the peace of the Church. A quarrelling Church is no Church at all, for it is one from which Christ has been shut out. No man can be at peace with God and at variance with his fellow-men.

(ii) It is a grim thought that all we know about Euodia and Syntyche is that they were two women who had quarrelled! It makes us think. Suppose our life was to be summed up in one sentence, what would that sentence be? Clement goes down to history as the peacemaker; Euodia and Syntyche go down as the breakers of the peace. Suppose we were to go down to history with one thing known about us, what would that one thing be?


4:4-5 Rejoice in the Lord at all times. I will say it again--Rejoice! Let your gracious gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is near.

Paul sets before the Philippians two great qualities of the Christian life.

(i) The first is the quality of joy. "Rejoice ... I will say it again--Rejoice!" It is as if having said, "Rejoice!" there flashed into his mind a picture of all that was to come. He himself was lying in prison with almost certain death awaiting him; the Philippians were setting out on the Christian way, and dark days, dangers and persecutions inevitably lay ahead. So Paul says, "I know what I'm saying. I've thought of everything that can possibly happen. And still I say it--Rejoice!" Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ. Two lovers are always happy when they are together, no matter where they are. The Christian can never lose his joy because he can never lose Christ.

(ii) Paul goes on, as the King James Version has it: "Let your moderation be known to all men." The word (epieikeia, G1932) translated moderation is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words. The difficulty can be seen by the number of translations given of it. Wycliffe translates it patience; Tyndale, softness; Crammer, softness; The Geneva Bible, the patient mind; the Rheims Bible, modesty; the English Revised Version, forbearance (in the margin gentleness); Moffatt, forbearance; Weymouth, the forbearing spirit; the New English Bible, magnanimity. C. Kingsley Williams has: "Let all the world know that you will meet a man half-way."

The Greeks themselves explained this word as "justice and something better than justice." They said that epieikeia ( G1932) ought to come in when strict justice became unjust because of its generality. There may be individual instances where a perfectly just law becomes unjust or where justice is not the same thing as equity. A man has the quality of epieikeia ( G1932) if he knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law, when to relax justice and introduce mercy.

Let us take a simple example which meets every teacher almost every day. Here are two students. We correct their examination papers. We apply justice and find that one has eighty per cent and the other fifty per cent. But we go a little further and find that the man who got eighty per cent has been able to do his work in ideal conditions with books, leisure and peace to study, while the man who got fifty per cent is from a poor home and has inadequate equipment, or has been ill, or has recently come through some time of sorrow or strain. In justice this man deserves fifty per cent and no more; but epieikeia ( G1932) will value his paper far higher than that.

Epieikeia ( G1932) is the quality of the man who knows that regulations are not the last word and knows when not to apply the letter of the law. A kirk session may sit with the book of practice and procedure on the table in front of it and take every one of its decisions in strict accordance with the law of the Church; but there are times when the Christian treatment of some situation demands that that book of practice and procedure should not be regarded as the last word.

The Christian, as Paul sees it, is the man who knows that there is something beyond justice. When the woman taken in adultery was brought before him, Jesus could have applied the letter of the Law according to which she should have been stoned to death; but he went beyond justice. As far as justice goes, there is not one of us who deserves anything other than the condemnation of God, but he goes far beyond justice. Paul lays it down that the mark of a Christian in his personal relationships with his fellow-men must be that he knows when to insist on justice and when to remember that there is something beyond justice.

Why should a man be like this? Why should he have this joy and gracious gentleness in his life? Because, says Paul, the Lord is at hand. If we remember the coming triumph of Christ, we can never lose our hope and our joy. If we remember that life is short, we will not wish to enforce the stern justice which so often divides men but will wish to deal with men in love, as we hope that God will deal with us. Justice is human, but epieikeia ( G1932) is divine.


4:6-7 Do not worry about anything; but in everything with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all human thought, will stand sentinel over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

For the Philippians life was bound to be a worrying thing. Even to be a human being and so to be vulnerable to all the chances and the changes of this mortal life is in itself a worrying thing; and in the Early Church, to the normal worry of the human situation there was added the worry of being a Christian which meant taking one's life in one's hands. Paul's solution is prayer. As M. R. Vincent puts it: "Peace is the fruit of believing prayer." In this passage there is in brief compass a whole philosophy of prayer.

(i) Paul stresses that we can take everything to God in prayer. As it has been beautifully put: "There is nothing too great for God's power; and nothing too small for his fatherly care." A child may take anything, great or small, to a parent, sure that whatever happens to him is of interest there, his little triumphs and disappointments, his passing cuts and bruises; we may in exactly the same way take anything to God, sure of his interest and concern.

(ii) We can bring our prayers, our supplications and our requests to God; we can pray for ourselves. We can pray for forgiveness for the past, for the things we need in the present, and for help and guidance for the future. We can take our own past and present and future into the presence of God. We can pray for others. We can commend to God's care those near and far who are within our memories and our hearts.

(iii) Paul lays it down that "thanksgiving must be the universal accompaniment of prayer." The Christian must feel, as it has been put, that all his life he is, "as it were, suspended between past and present blessings." Every prayer must surely include thanks for the great privilege of prayer itself. Paul insists that we must give thanks in everything, in sorrows and in joys alike. That implies two things. It implies gratitude and also perfect submission to the will of God. It is only when we are fully convinced that God is working all things together for good that we can really feel to him the perfect gratitude which believing prayer demands.

When we pray, we must always remember three things. We must remember the love of God, which ever desires only what is best for us. We must remember the wisdom of God, which alone knows what is best for us. We must remember the power of God, which alone can bring to pass that which is best for us. He who prays with a perfect trust in the love, wisdom and power of God will find God's peace.

The result of believing prayer is that the peace of God will stand like a sentinel on guard upon our hearts. The word that Paul uses (phrourein, G5432) is the military word for standing on guard. That peace of God, says Paul, as the Revised Standard Version has it, passes all understanding. That does not mean that the peace of God is such a mystery that man's mind cannot understand it, although that also is true. It means that the peace of God is so precious that man's mind, with all its skill and all its knowledge, can never produce it. It can never be of man's contriving; it is only of God's giving. The way to peace is in prayer to entrust ourselves and all whom we hold dear to the loving hands of God.


4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things have the dignity of holiness on them, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are winsome, whatever things are fair-spoken, if there are any things which men count excellence, and if there are any things which bring men praise, think of the value of these things. Practise these things which you have teamed and received, and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The human mind will always set itself on something and Paul wished to be quite sure that the Philippians would set their minds on the right things. This is something of the utmost importance, because it is a law of life that, if a man thinks of something often enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it. His thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which he cannot jerk them. It is, therefore, of the first importance that a man should set his thoughts upon the fine things and here Paul makes a list of them.

There are the things which are true. Many things in this world are deceptive and illusory, promising what they can never perform, offering a specious peace and happiness which they can never supply. A man should always set his thoughts on the things which will not let him down.

There are the things which are, as the King James Version has it, honest. This is an archaic use of honest in the sense of honourable, as the Revised Standard Version translates it. The King James Version suggests in the margin venerable. The English Revised Version has honourable and suggests in the margin reverend Moffatt has worthy.

It can be seen from all this that the Greek (semnos, G4586) is difficult to translate. It is the word which is characteristically used of the gods and of the temples of the gods. When used to describe a man, it describes a person who, as it has been said, moves throughout the world as if it were the temple of God. Matthew Arnold suggested the translation nobly serious. But the word really describes that which has the dignity of holiness upon it. There are things in this world which are flippant and cheap and attractive to the light-minded; but it is on the things which are serious and dignified that the Christian will set his mind.

There are the things which are just. The word is dikaios ( G1342) , and the Greeks defined the man who is dikaios ( G1342) as he who gives to gods and men what is their due. In other words, dikaios ( G1342) is the word of duty faced and duty done. There are those who set their minds on pleasure, comfort and easy ways. The Christian's thoughts are on duty to man and duty to God.

There are the things which are pure. The word is hagnos ( G53) and describes what is morally undefiled. When it is used ceremonially, it describes that which has been so cleansed that it is fit to be brought into the presence of God and used in his service. This world is full of things which are sordid and shabby and soiled and smutty. Many a man gets his mind into such a state that it soils everything of which it thinks. The Christian's mind is set on the things which are pure; his thoughts are so clean that they can stand even the scrutiny of God.

There are the things which the King James Version and the Revised Standard call lovely. Moffatt translates attractive. Winsome is the best translation of all. The Greek is prosphiles ( G4375) , and it might be paraphrased as that which calls forth love. There are those whose minds are so set on vengeance and punishment that they call forth bitterness and fear in others. There are those whose minds are so set on criticism and rebuke that they call forth resentment in others. The mind of the Christian is set on the lovely things--kindness, sympathy, forbearance--so he is a winsome person, whom to see is to love.

There are the things which are, as the King James Version has it, of good report. In the margin the English Revised Version suggests gracious. Moffatt has high-toned. The Revised Standard Version has gracious. C. Kingsley Williams has whatever has a good name. It is not easy to get at the meaning of this word (euphema, G2163) . It literally means fair-speaking, but it was specially connected with the holy silence at the beginning of a sacrifice in the presence of the gods. It might not be going too far to say that it describes the things which are fit for God to hear. There are far too many ugly words and false words and impure words in this world. On the lips and in the mind of the Christian there should be only words which are fit for God to hear.

Paul goes on, if there be any virtue. Both Moffatt and the Revised Standard Version use excellence instead of virtue. The word is arete ( G703) . The odd fact is that, although arete ( G703) was one of the great classical words, Paul usually seems deliberately to avoid it and this is the only time it occurs in his writings. In classical thought it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of a man. Lightfoot suggests that with this word Paul calls in as an ally all that was excellent in the pagan background of his friends. It is as if he were saying, "If the old pagan idea of excellence, in which you were brought up, has any influence over you--think of that. Think of your past life at its very highest, to spur you on to the new heights of the Christian way." The world has its impurities and its degradations but it has also its nobilities and its chivalries, and it is of the high things that the Christian must think.

Finally Paul says, if there be any praise. In one sense it is true that the Christian never thinks of the praise of men, but in another sense it is true that every good man is uplifted by the praise of good men. So Paul says that the Christian will live in such a way that he will neither conceitedly desire nor foolishly despise the praise of men.


In this passage Paul lays down the way of true teaching.

He speaks of the things which the Philippians have learned. These are the things in which he personally instructed them. This stands for the personal interpretation of the gospel which Paul brought to them. He speaks of the things which the Philippians have received. The word is paralambanein ( G3880) which characteristically means to accept a fixed tradition. This then stands for the accepted teaching of the Church which Paul had handed on to them.

From these two words we learn that teaching consists of two things. It consists of handing on to men the accepted body of truth and doctrine which the whole Church holds; and it consists of illuminating that body of doctrine by the personal interpretation and instruction of the teacher. If we would teach or preach we must know the accepted body of the Church's doctrine; and then we must pass it through our own minds and hand it on to others, both in its own simplicity and in the significances which our own experiences and our own thinking have given to it.

Paul goes further than that. He tells the Philippians to copy what they have heard and seen in himself. Tragically few teachers and preachers can speak like that; and yet it remains true that personal example is an essential part of teaching. The teacher must demonstrate in action the truth which he expresses in words.

Finally, Paul tells his Philippian friends that, if they faithfully do all this, the God of peace will be with them. It is of great interest to study Paul's titles for God.

(i) He is the God of peace. This, in fact, is his favourite title for God ( Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). To a Jew peace was never merely a negative thing, never merely the absence of trouble. It was everything which makes for a man's highest good. Only in the friendship of God can a man find life as it was meant to be. But also to a Jew this peace issued specially in right relationships. It is only by the grace of God that we can enter into a right relationship with him and with our fellow-men. The God of peace is able to make life what it was meant to be by enabling us to enter into fellowship with himself and with our fellow-men.

(ii) He is the God of hope ( Romans 15:13). Belief in God is the only thing which can keep a man from the ultimate despair. Only the sense of the grace of God can keep him from despairing about himself; and only the sense of the over-ruling providence of God can keep him from despairing about the world. The Psalmist sang: "Why are you cast down, 0 my soul?... Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" ( Psalms 42:11; Psalms 43:5). F. W. Faber wrote:

For right is right, since God is God,

And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin.

The hope of the Christian is indestructible because it is founded on the eternal God.

(iii) He is the God of patience, of comfort, and of consolation ( Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Here we have two great words. Patience is in Greek hupomone ( G5281) , which never means simply the ability to sit down and bear things but the ability to rise up and conquer them. God is he who gives us the power to use any experience to lend greatness and glory to life. God is, he in whom we learn to use joy and sorrow, success and failure, achievement and disappointment alike, to enrich and to ennoble life, to make us more useful to others and to bring us nearer to himself. Consolation and comfort are the same Greek word paraklesis ( G3874) . Paraklesis is far more than soothing sympathy; it is encouragement. It is the help which not only puts an arm round a man but sends him out to face the world; it not only wipes away the tears but enables him to face the world with steady eyes. Paraklesis ( G3874) is comfort and strength combined. God is he in whom any situation becomes our glory and in whom a man finds strength to go on gallantly when life has fallen in.

(iv) He is the God of love and peace ( 2 Corinthians 13:11). Here we are at the heart of the matter. Behind everything is that love of God which will never let us go, which bears with all our sinning, which will never cast us off, which never sentimentally weakens but always manfully strengthens a man for the battle of life.

Peace, hope, patience, comfort, love--these were the things which Paul found in God. Indeed "our sufficiency is from God" ( 2 Corinthians 3:5).


4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that now at length you have made your thoughtfulness for me to blossom again. That was a matter indeed about which you were always thoughtful, but you had no opportunity. Not that I speak as if I were in a state of want, for I have teamed to be content in whatever situation I am. I know both how to live in the humblest circumstances, and how to have far more than enough, In everything and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of being hungry, of having more than enough and of having less than enough. I can do all things through him who infuses strength into me.

As the letter draws to an end Paul generously expresses his gratitude for the gift which the Philippians had sent to him. He knew that he had always been much in their thoughts, but circumstances had up till now given them no opportunity to show their mindfulness of him.

It was not that he was dissatisfied with his own state, for he had learned the gift of content. Paul uses one of the great words of pagan ethics (autarkes, G842) , which means entirely self-sufficient. Autarkeia ( G842) , self-sufficiency, was the highest aim of Stoic ethics; by it the Stoics meant a state of mind in which a man was absolutely independent of all things and of all people. They proposed to reach that state by a certain pathway of the mind.

(i) They proposed to eliminate all desire. The Stoics rightly believed that contentment did not consist in possessing much but in wanting little, "If you want to make a man happy," they said, "add not to his possessions, but take away from his desires." Socrates was once asked who was the wealthiest man. He answered: "He who is content with least, for autarkeia ( G842) is nature's wealth." The Stoics believed that the only way to content was to abolish all desire until a man had come to a stage when nothing and no one were essential to him.

(ii) They proposed to eliminate all emotion until a man had come to a stage when he did not care what happened either to himself or to anyone else. Epictetus says. "Begin with a cup or a household utensil; if it breaks, say, 'I don't care.' Go on to a horse or pet dog; if anything happens to it, say, 'I don't care.' Go on to yourself, and if you are hurt or injured in any way, say, 'I don't care.' If you go on long enough, and if you try hard enough, you will come to a stage when you can watch your nearest and dearest suffer and die, and say, 'I don't care."' The Stoic aim was to abolish every feeling of the human heart.

(iii) This was to be done by a deliberate act of will which saw in everything the will of God. The Stoic believed that literally nothing could happen which was not the will of God. However painful it might be, however disastrous it might seem, it was God's will. It was, therefore, useless to struggle against it; a man must steel himself into accepting everything.

In order to achieve content, the Stoics abolished all desires and eliminated all emotions. Love was rooted out of life and caring was forbidden. As T. R. Glover said, "The Stoics made of the heart a desert, and called it a peace."

We see at once the difference between the Stoics and Paul. The Stoic said, "I will learn content by a deliberate act of my own will." Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who infuses his strength into me." For the Stoic contentment was a human achievement; for Paul it was a divine gift. The Stoic was self-sufficient; but Paul was God-sufficient. Stoicism failed because it was inhuman; Christianity succeeded because it was rooted in the divine. Paul could face anything, because in every situation he had Christ; the man who walks with Christ can cope with anything.

THE VALUE OF THE GIFT ( Php_4:14-20 )

4:14-20 All the same, I am most grateful to you for your readiness to share the burden of my troubles. You too, know, Philippians, that in the beginning of the. gospel, when I left Macedonia, no Church entered into partnership with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone, for in Thessalonica not merely once but twice you sent to help my need. It is not that I am looking for the gift; but I am looking for the fruit which increases to your credit. I have enough and more than enough of everything. I am fully supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts which came from you, the odour of a sweet savour, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will gloriously supply every need of yours according to his wealth in Jesus Christ. Glory be to our God and Father for ever and ever. Amen.

The generosity of the Philippian Church to Paul went back a long way. In Acts 16:1-40; Acts 17:1-34 we read how he preached the gospel in Philippi and then moved on to Thessalonica and Berea. As far back as that, the Philippian Church had given practical proof of its love for him. He was in a unique position in regard to the Philippians; from no other Church had he ever accepted any gift or help. It was in fact that very circumstance which annoyed the Corinthians ( 2 Corinthians 11:7-12).

Paul says a fine thing. He says, "It is not that I desire a present from you for my own sake, although your gift touches my heart and makes me very glad. I don't need anything, for I have more than enough. But I am glad that you gave me a gift for your own sake, for your kindness will stand greatly to your credit in the sight of God." Their generosity made him glad, not for his own sake but for theirs. Then he uses words which turn the gift of the Philippians into a sacrifice to God. "The odour of a sweet savour," he calls it. That was a regular Old Testament phrase for a sacrifice which was acceptable to God. It is as if the smell of the sacrifice was sweet in the nostrils of God ( Genesis 8:21; Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17). Paul's joy in the gift is not in what it did for him, but in what it did for them. It was not that he did not value the gift for its own sake; but his greatest joy was that it and the love which prompted it were dear to God.

In a last sentence, Paul lays it down that no gift ever made any man the poorer. The wealth of God is open to those who love him and love their fellow-men. He who gives makes himself richer, for his own gift opens to him the gifts of God.

GREETINGS ( Php_4:21-23 )

4:21-23 Greet in Christ Jesus every one of God's dedicated people. The brothers who are with me send you their greetings, especially those of Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

The letter comes to the end with greetings. In this final section there is one intensely interesting phrase. Paul sends special greetings from the Christian brothers who are of Caesar's household. It is important to understand this phrase rightly. It does not mean those who are of Caesar's kith and kin. Caesar's household was the regular phrase for what we would call the Imperial Civil Service; it had members all over the world. The palace officials, the secretaries, the people who had charge of the imperial revenues, those who were responsible for the day-to-day administration of the empire, all these were Caesar's household. It is of the greatest interest to note that even as early as this Christianity had penetrated into the very centre of the Roman government. There is hardly any sentence which shows more how Christianity had infiltrated even into the highest positions in the empire. It was to be another three hundred years before Christianity became the religion of the empire, but already the first signs of the ultimate triumph of Christ were to be seen. The crucified Galilaean carpenter had already begun to rule those who ruled the greatest empire in the world.

And so the letter ends: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." The Philippians had sent their gifts to Paul. He had only one gift to send to them--his blessing. But what greater gift can we give to any man than to remember him in our prayers?

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)



J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (MmC; G)

R. P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (TC; E)

J. H. Michael, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (MC; E)

M. R. Vincent, Philippians and Philemon (ICC; G)


CGT: Cambridge Greek Testament

ICC: International Critical Commentary

MC: Moffatt Commentary

MmC: Macmillan Commentary

TC: Tyndale Commentary

E: English Text

G: Greek Text

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Philippians 4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/philippians-4.html. 1956-1959.
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