Joy and Contentment – Philippians 4

Read the Passage: Philippians 4

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Philippians 4

Exhortation (4:1–7)

As Paul does in all of his letters, he ends this epistle with some closing exhortations and greetings. Phil. 4:1 begins Paul’s conclusion as he reminds the church that they are his “joy and crown.” Next, Paul exhorts two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, toward Christian unity. Perhaps these women were among those to whom Paul had first preached the gospel by the Gangites River in Philippi (cf. Acts 16:13). In any event, Paul encouraged unity in the church, for unity validates the gospel itself (cf. John 17:20–21). In Phil. 4:3 the “true companion” that Paul mentions may be the pastor of the church, although this is uncertain. Observe that in Phil. 4:4 Paul commands joy, which is a helpful reminder to the church that rejoicing is a Christian discipline that must be practiced (cf. Deut. 28:47–48; Eccl. 11:9). Rather than being known for bickering and sadness, the church ought to be known for unity and joy.

Positively speaking, it is challenging for some believers to remain joyful. Negatively speaking, it is equally as hard for many Christians to not be anxious. Yet, just as he had earlier commanded joy, not being anxious is commanded by Paul in Phil. 4:6 (cf. Ps. 94:19; Prov. 3:21–26). The secret, writes Paul, of not being anxious is to pray and to “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In Phil. 4:7 Paul notes that prayer will not only ease anxiety, but also that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). This verse does not teach that the peace of God will guide Christians to prayer and then right conduct. Rather, Paul’s teaching here is that the right conduct of prayer will produce in believers the peace of God that will then guard their hearts. Said differently, the peace of God does not lead to right conduct; rather, right conduct produces the peace of God.

Meditation (4:8–9)

Earlier, when Paul wrote to the Roman church, he exhorted them to redeem their minds (cf. Rom. 12:2). The way in which Christians can renew and transform their minds is by “the washing of the water by the Word” (Eph. 5:26), for “faith comes by hearing . . . the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Here in Phil. 4:8 Paul gives a similar admonition to the Philippian church as he exhorts them to fix their minds upon things that are characterized as being true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Whether they are explicitly found in Scripture or not, the people, places, and ideas that resonate with these traits will be in harmony with biblical ideals. Since we become like those whom we are around (cf. Prov. 13:20; 1 Cor. 15:33), Paul’s teaching in this passage is a call to sanctification. Note, too that in Phil. 4:9 Paul holds himself up as an example to follow.

Contentment (4:10–23)

Phil. 4:10–13 is one of the more well-known passages in the book of Philippians, if not in the entire Bible. In these few verses Paul writes about the Christian discipline of contentment. In Phil. 4:10 Paul mentions the care that that Philippian believers had shown to him, by which he likely meant a financial offering (cf. Phil. 2:30; 4:18). To clarify that he was not coveting their resources, Paul revealed to the church, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased and I know how to abound” (Phil. 4:11–12). Indeed, contentment is a difficult state both to attain and to maintain. Yet, Paul writes that he had learned this discipline (cf. Phil. 4:12). With his often-quoted claim, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), Paul was both claiming contentment and revealing the secret to achieving it, which is trusting in Jesus Christ for all things.

As Paul concludes this epistle, in Phil. 4:14–20 he thanks the Philippian church for the offering he had mentioned at Phil. 4:10. In this passage Paul lists two reasons for his thanksgiving. First, the offering aided in his “distress” (Phil. 4:14), as well as with his “necessities” (Phil. 4:16). Second, Paul was thankful for “the fruit that abounds to your account” (Phil. 4:17). In other words, Paul was affirming that the good works performed by the Philippian believers were proof that their salvation was genuine. In another often-quoted verse Paul declares, “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). This reminder must have been a comfort to the persecuted Christians in Philippi. As he did in many of his epistles, in Phil. 4:21–23 Paul greeted the church and passed along blessings from his traveling companions.

Application Questions:

  1. How can Christians manifest and experience the joy that is oftentimes commanded of them in Scripture?
  2. Have you ever heard a Christian justify a decision based on a felt personal peace? Is this a valid method of decision-making?
  3. Are there any people, places, or things in your life that have a de-sanctifying affect upon you? If so, how can this be remedied?
  4. Do you find contentment to be a difficult state to achieve and to maintain? Are you more content when you are abased or when you abound?
  5. Have you ever been blessed by another believer’s benevolence toward you? How do good works confirm the authenticity of faith?