One result of Paul’s preaching ministry was the large number of close friendships that came with the experience. This is reflected in the final chapter of his letter to Rome in which he mentions 24 people by name (and that was before he had ever been there!) The depth of that relationship with believers in Philippi is reflected in his reference to them as those he “loves and longs for . . . his joy . . . his crown . . . dearest friends.” Undoubtedly it was when Paul was presenting the message that many of them opened their hearts to the Lord. Such an experience binds heart to heart.
Paul counsels his friends to “stand firm in the Lord.” A steadfast commitment to a common goal is essential for growth in any movement. E Pluribus Unum was true in the early church as it is in current nation building. Believers were to stand firm “in this way,” that is, as Paul was related to them.
It is against this background that Paul urges two of the women in the church to get together and work out whatever it was that had sent them in two directions. The women were Euodia and Syntyche, or, as one wag put it, “You, Odious and Soon-Touchy.” They had both been prominent in the establishment and growth of the church (v. 3). Paul urges them “to be of the same mind in the Lord,” and that is more than simply reaching a workable solution. Since both were “in the Lord” they should consider the issue from his standpoint not their own. They should have, as Paul wrote in 2:5, “the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” To think like Jesus diminishes those things that separate. Two believers working together to learn what Christ would do or say in a given situation leads quickly to a solution that satisfies both. The problem is not the problem but the way we tend to solve the problem.
To help satisfy whatever wasn’t working, Paul urges his “loyal companion” (syzygos) to become involved. The Greek word is probably not a name but a designation of the relationship between Paul and a dear friend. Here we find a basic operating principle for the Christian church: When some issue has separated two believers, they are to get together and look at the issue from a Christ centered point of view. If necessary, they are to bring in a spiritual leader of the congregation to provide insight and guidance.
“So then, my dear friends, stand firm in the Lord. You are so dear to me and I miss you so; you’re my joy and my crown.”
Paul’s deep affection for the Christian converts in Philippi stands out so clearly as he moves from theology in chapter 3 to application in chapter 4. Note the “So then” that alerts the reader that Paul is is about to list the practical implications of what has just taught. Since the readers are citizens of heaven and look forward to being transformed into Christ’s glorious likeness, they are to live accordingly. Paul uses six words or phrases in the one verse to describe his remarkably close relationship. The two I would like to consider refer to them as Paul’s “joy” and “crown.”
One can picture the apostle, a converted Jew, going to Philippi to tell the people about a Galilean itinerant preacher by the name of Jesus who, after being crucified, came back to life, walked and talked with his friends for 40 days and then went back to heaven. Who would believe that? The Jewish priests are the experts in that field and they were the ones who had him crucified. But some of the men and women listened, believed and became devoted followers. Imagine the joy of these new converts as they gathering to learn more and more about this life-changing event. Paul speaks from his heart when he tells them, “You are my joy.”
But they are also his “crown.” The Greek stephanos was a wreath awarded to the winners in athletic contests and a number of civic affairs. A gold crown served to honor kings. For Paul, the Philippian converts themselves were his crown. He, as it were, worn them proudly in honor of their accepting the message and becoming one with him in the case of Christ. They were what he had accomplished in their midst. Paul wore the crown proudly but not ostentatiously. It was evidence of the power of the Spirit to change life.
A question for each of us, “What does my crown look like?"
At the posting of this blog it will be just a few short hours until a brand new year begins. We’ve all gone through the experience again and again (95 times for me!). January 1 marks a new period of time, the old is gone and the new stretches out before us as yet unmarred by mistakes. Hopefully it reminds us all that as believers we are to live in a new and different way. In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul writes of our heavenly citizenship and how it changes our outlook on the way we view life. While we have nothing to do with the passing of time – that’s entirely in His hands – we are very much involved in changing our lifestyle in view of the fleeting nature of time.
The two groups that Paul compares are those who belong to this world and those whose citizenship is in heaven. The god of the first is their “bodily desires” (TEV). Their wanton exercise of a supposed “freedom” that has no boundaries allows them to live as they please. The God of the other group is “the Lord Jesus Christ” who redirects one’s concerns to the life that lies beyond time. The question is, “To which one have you turned over the control of your life?”
In a world without absolutes you can do what you please. One’s time on earth consists of an extended sequence of episodes driven by earthly desires, concentrated on the here and now, and involving no shame. That sounds good until you come to the end and realize that “destruction “ will be your eternal home. The other option is to have heaven as your home. While you are still here, you wait with eager expectation for the return of your Savior who will transform your present body into one that is like his glorious body. I see the two as a sort of “concerned father / rich uncle” story. The rich uncle would gain your affection by giving you stuff right now – whatever your old nature might crave. The responsible father, however, withholds certain things because he knows they will work against your best interest down the road. One lives in a fantasy land, the other in reality. Since wisdom is the awareness of unintended consequences, the father is wise and the uncle is a fool. In either case you will become like the one you to whom you give your life.
It is interesting how certain truths have a way of staying in one’s mind. I remember a SS class some 60 years ago when the teacher, my friend Dave Hubbard, taught that the only “restrictions” God places on the believer are those that, if pursued, would bring heartache and sorrow. God’s “laws” are for our benefit. They are gracious warnings designed to show us the better way.
The new year has come; let’s allow God to make it a genuinely NĖW year.
In the race of life Paul, runs directly toward the finish line. He knows why he is here and where he is going. In Philippians 3.14 he identifies that goal line as ”the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The metaphor pictures life as a foot race in which the winner is called up to the judge’s stand to receive a trophy. In the race of life the winner is called up to heaven for a heavenly reward.
Against this background Paul encourages the believers at Philippi to adopt a winner’s attitude in their own race of life. He is saying that this intense desire to live for a goal that is yet future is what it means to be a mature Christian. And then in the middle of v.15 he adds the highly significant point, “and if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (NIV). This means that if, in your Christian walk, you are diverted somehow from the right goal, God will call it to your attention.
This basic truth has relevance for every part of life. During my years of teaching in a Christian college I remember that a major question for so many students was what was the will of God for their life. What profession has God in mind for me? Has He chosen this girl, or that girl, to be my wife? I used to tell students that Philippians 3:15 guarantees that the committed Christian can not make a mistake in those decisions because, as the text says – “God will make this clear to you” (TEV). What a great privilege for life! If you have adopted a Christian world-view you simply can’t go wrong. He won’t let you.
So one of great benefits of a mature Christian life is that you never need to question whether something could be out of God’s will for you because if it is, he’ll warn you about it ahead of time. Looking back I have to confess the mistakes I did make were not accidental but because I intentionally did/said what He said I shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a friend who will always warn you in every situation whether a proposed act is right or wrong. All we have to do is pay attention and follow his warning. This allows you to consider anything you want to because if it is against his will he has promised to tell you. If you are surrendered to God you never have to sin again!