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Philippian Studies: Chapter 11 - Purity and Peace in the Present Lord

By H. C. G. Moule

      "Now the Christians, O King, as men who know God, ask from Him petitions which are proper for Him to give and for them to receive; and thus they accomplish the course of their lives.   And because they acknowledge the goodnesses of God towards them, lo! on account of them there flows forth the beauty that is in the world."--Apology of Aristides, about A.D. 130; translated by MRS RENDEL HARRIS.

      PHILIPPIANS iv. 1-9

      Euodia and Syntyche--Conditions to unanimity--Great uses of small occasions--Connexion to the paragraphs--The fortress and the sentinel--A golden chain of truths--Joy in the Lord--Yieldingness--Prayer in everything--Activities of a heart at rest

      Ver. 1.   +So, my brethren beloved and longed for+, missed indeed, at this long distance from you, +my joy and crown+ of victory (stephanos), +thus+, as having such certainties and such aims, with such a Saviour, and looking for such a heaven, +stand firm in the Lord, beloved ones+.

      The words are a link of gold between the passage just ended and that which is to follow.   They sum up the third chapter of the Epistle into one practical issue.   In view of all that can tempt them away to alien thoughts and beliefs St Paul once more points the converts to Jesus Christ; or rather, he once more bids them remember that in Him they are, and that their safety, their life, is to stay there, recollected and resolved.   There is the point of overwhelming advantage against error, and against sin; and only there.   "Standing in the Lord," in remembrance and in use of their vital union with Him, they would be armed alike against the pharisaic and the antinomian heresy. Counterfeits and perversions would be seen, or at least felt, to be such while they were thus in living and working contact with the REALITY.   There, with a holy instinct, they would repudiate utterly a merit of their own before God, and a strength of their own against sin. There, with equal inward certainty, they would detect and reject the suggestion that they "should not surely die," though impurity was cloaked and loved.

      But the words we have just rendered look forward also.   St Paul is about to allude, for the last time, and quite explicitly, to that blot on the fair Philippian fame, the presence in the little mission Church of certain jealousies and divisions.   One instance of this evil is prominent in his thoughts, no doubt on Epaphroditus' report.   Two Christian women, Euodia[1] and Syntyche, evidently well-known Church members, possibly officials, "deaconesses," like Phoebe (Rom. xvi. 1), were at personal variance.   Into their life and work for Christ (for workers they were, or however had been; they had "wrestled along with Paul in the Gospel,") had come this grievous inconsistency.   Somehow (modern experiences in religious activity supply illustrations only too easily) they had let the spirit of self come in; jealousy and a sense of grievance lay between them.   And out of this unhappy state it was the Apostle's deep desire to bring them, quickly and completely.   He appeals to them personally about it, with a directness and explicitness which remind us how homelike still were the conditions of the mission Church.   He calls on his "true yoke-fellow," and on Clement, and on his other "fellow-labourers," to "help" the two to a better mind, by all the arts of Christian friendship.   But surely first, in this verse, he leads not only the Philippians generally but Euodia and Syntyche in particular up to a level where the self-will and self-assertion must, of themselves, expire.   "Stand firm in the Lord."   In recollection and faith surround yourselves with Jesus Christ.   The more you do so the more you will find that so to be in Him is to "be of one mind in Him." In that PRESENCE self is put to shame indeed.   Pique, and petty jealousies, and miserable heart-burnings, and "just pride," die of inanition there, and heart meets heart in love, because in Christ.

      It is not guaranteed to us, I think, that we shall certainly be brought here on earth to perfect intellectual agreement by a realized union with Christ all round.   Such agreement will certainly be promoted by such a realization; we all know how powerfully, in almost all matters outside number and figure, feeling can influence reasoning; and to have feeling rightly adjusted, "in Him that is true," must be a great aid to just reasoning, and so a great contribution to mental agreement. Thomas Scott, in his Force of Truth, (a memorable record of experience,) maintains that vastly more doctrinal concord would be attained in Christendom if all true Christians unreservedly and with a perfect will sought for "God's heart" (and mind) "in God's words."[2] But it is a law of our present state, even in Christ, that "we know in part"; and while this is so, certain discrepancies of inference would seem to be necessary, where many minds work each with its partial knowledge.   It is otherwise with "the spirit of our mind," the attitude of will and affection in which we think.   In the Lord Jesus Christ this is meant to be, and can be, rectified indeed, as "every thought is brought into captivity" to Him.   If so, to "stand firm in Him" is the way of escape out of all such miseries of dissension (whether between two friends, or two Churches, or two enterprises) as are due not to reasoning but to feeling.   "In Him" there is really no room for envy, and retaliation, and "the unhappy desire of becoming great," and the eager combat for our own opinion as such.   "Standing firm in Him" the Euodias and Syntyches of all times and places must tend to be of one mind, one attitude of mind (phronein).   So far as they are, in a sinful sense, not so "minded," it is because they are half out of Him.

      But now St Paul comes to them, name by name.   What must the tender weight of the words have been as they were first read aloud at Philippi!

      Ver. 2.   +To Euodia I appeal+ (parakalo),[3] +and to Syntyche I appeal, to be of the same mind, in the Lord+; to lay aside differences of feeling, born of self, in the power of their common union in Christ.[5]   +Aye+ (read

      Ver. 3.   nai, not kai), +and I beg thee also+, thee in thy place, as I seek to do in mine, +thou genuine yoke-fellow,[5] help them+ (autais)--these sisters of ours thus at variance, +women who+ (aitines) +wrestled along with me+, as devoted and courageous workers, +in the+ cause of the +Gospel+, when the first conflicts with the powers of evil were fought at Philippi; yes, do this loving service, +with Clement[6] too, and my other fellow-workers, whose names are in the Book of Life+; the Lord's own, "written in heaven," His for ever.[7]

      Wonderful is the great use of small occasions everywhere in Scripture. Minor incidents in a biography are texts for sentences which afford oracles of truth and hope for ever.   Local and transitory errors, like that of the Thessalonians about their departed friends, give opportunity for a prophecy on which bereaved hearts are to rest and rejoice till the last trumpet sounds.   The unhappy disagreement of two pious women at Philippi is dealt with in words which lead up to the thought of the eternal love of God for His chosen; as if the very unworthiness of the matter in hand, by a sort of repulsion, drove the inspired thought to the utmost height, without for one moment diverting it from its purpose of peace and blessing.   And now, in the passage which is to follow, the thought still keeps its high and holy level. It says no more indeed of the Book of Life.   But it unfolds in one sentence after another the manifestation here below of the eternal life in all its holy loveliness.   It invites Euodia, and Syntyche, and us with them, to the sight of what the believer is called to be, and may be, day by day, as he rejoices in the Lord, and recollects His presence, and tells Him everything as it comes, and so lives "in rest and quietness," deep in His peace; and finds his happy thoughts occupied not with the miseries of self-esteem and self-assertion, but with all that is pure and good, in the smile of the God of peace.

      The passage now to be translated has surely this among its other precious attractions and benefits, that it stands related to what has gone just before.   The precepts and promises are not given as it were in the air; they are occasioned by Euodia and Syntyche, or rather by what they have suggested to St Paul's mind, the crime and distress of an unchristian spirit in Christians.   It is with this he is dealing. And he deals with it not by an elaborate exposure of its obvious wrong, but by carrying it into the sanctuary of holiness and peace, there to die.

      With this recollection let us read the words now before us.

      Ver. 4.   +Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say+ (ero), +Rejoice+; I have said it above, as my antidote-word to every subtle error; I come back (palin) to say it again, as my antidote to self-will.   Your

      Ver. 5.   +yieldingness+, your selflessness, the spirit which will yield in anything that is only of self, for Christ's sake, +let it be known to all men+, let it be proved a reality in real life, by all and sundry who have to do with you; +the Lord is near+, always beside you, to

      Ver. 6.   know, to love, to elevate, to calm.[8]   +About nothing be anxious+ (merimnate); never let yourselves be burthened and distracted as those who are alone from your Lord; +but in everything+, however great, however little, +by your+ (te) +prayer+, your whole worshipping approach to Him, +and your+ (te) +supplication+, your definite petitions of Him, +with thanksgiving+, thanks at least for this, that you have Him to speak to and to trust, +let your requests be made known towards our God+ (pros ton Theon), with perfect simplicity of detail, putting aside all the mysteries of prayer in the

      Ver. 7.   recollection that He bids you pray.   +And+, and thus, not anyhow, but thus, in adoring, trusting communion with Him, +the peace of God+, the innermost tranquillity caused by contact with Him, breathed by His Spirit into ours, the peace +which transcends all mind+, for no reasoning can explain and define its nature and its consciousness, +shall+ (it is nothing less than a promise) +safeguard+, as garrison, as sentinel (phrouresei), +your hearts+, in all their depths of will, affection, and reflexion, +and your thoughts+, the very workings of those hearts in detail, +in Christ Jesus+.   In Him you are, as your Fortress of rest and holiness; and, while there you rest, this sacred keeper watches the door; the peace of God is sentinel.

      Such was to be the condition for the true play of the inner life; such, not in a dream but at Philippi, were to be their "hearts and thoughts, in Christ Jesus"; thus happy, gentle, unanxious, prayerful, thankful, all the day.   And now, what is to be the matter for such conditions, the food for such thinking and such willing?   There is to be no vacuum, called peace.   These "hearts and thoughts" are to be active, discursive, reflective; "reckoning," "calculating," "reasoning out" (logixesthai) innumerable things--all with a view, of course, to the life-long work of serving God and man.

      Ver. 8.   For, +finally, brethren, all things that are true, all things that are honourable+, serious, sacred, venerable, self-respectful, +all things that are righteous+, as between man and man in common life, +all things that are pure+, clean words, clean deeds, +all things that are amiable+, gracious, kindly; for manner as well as matter falls under the will of God; +all things that are sweet to speak of+, things prompting a loving and noble tone of conversation; +whatever virtue there is+, truly so called, not in the pagan sense of self-grounded vigour, even in right directions, but in that of the energy for right which is found in God; +and whatever praise there is+, given rightly by the human conscience to deeds and purposes of good; +these things think out+, reckon, reason on (logixesthe).   Let right in all its practical, all its noble forms, be the subject-matter of your considering and designing activities within.   Strong, not in yourselves but in your Lord's presence and His peace, use His strength in you to work out every precept of His Word, every whisper of His Spirit, every dictate of the conscience He has given.

      Then follows one word of a more personal kind; it is no egotism, but as if he would remind them amidst these great generalities of principle that they well knew a human life which strove to realize them in practice.

      Ver. 9.   +The things you learnt+ of me, +and received+ as revealed truth from me, and +heard and saw in me, these things practise+ (prassette), make them the habits of your lives; and so +the God of peace+, Author and Giver of peace within, and of harmony around, +shall be with you+; your Companion and Guardian, "Lord of the Sabbath" of the soul, secret of the true unity of the group, and of the Church.

      Thus we read over again this golden chain of "commandments which are not grievous" and "exceeding precious promises."   Few passages of equal length, even in St Paul's Epistles, at once invite more attention to details of language and convey richer spiritual messages.   Very passingly and partially I have noted the more important details of word and phrase, in the course of the translation.   It remains to say not what I would but what I can, in brief compass, upon the messages to the Christian's soul.

      Let us be quite practical, and let our study take the simplest form. In this wonderful paragraph let us not only wonder; let us take its sentences as revelations of fact.   Here the Holy Spirit through the Apostle sets before us some of the intended facts of the normal Christian life.   These precepts were not meant to dissolve into bright dreams; they were to be obeyed in Philippi then, and in England now; they were spoken for not ideal but actual human beings, the rank and file of the followers of the Lord.   These promises were not meant to be met with an aspiration, followed by a sigh.   They were to be received and used, as certainties of the grace of God, "before the sons of men."

      Come then to the paragraph once again, to study it with real life in immediate view, and in the full consciousness of our own sin and weakness.   Here are some of the normal "possibilities of grace," not for the strong and holy but for the very weak, for those who know that "in their flesh dwelleth no good thing," but who come to Jesus, and (if only for very fear and need) stay by Him.

      Here then is the fact, first, that the Christian life, as such, is to be, and may be, a life of "joy in the Lord always."   Such is "the Lord" that He is indeed able to be a perpetual cause of joy.   The believer has but to recollect HIM, to consider HIM, to converse with HIM, to make use of HIM, in order to have in himself (not of himself) "a well of water, springing up unto eternal life."   "In joy and sorrow, life and death, His love is still the same"; for HE is still the same; and the believing man is His.

      He will henceforth covet, and cultivate, this life of holy "joy in the Lord always."   It is not a boisterous mirth; it is pure and chastened; but it is joy.   It is an unfigurative happiness, a deep practical cheerfulness, full of health for him who has it, and a most powerful secret for influence over those who have to do with him.   Think of the track of light left behind by lives of holy joy which we have watched! It was good to be near them.   The very things and places round them were warmed and beautified by them.   And their source and strength lay, not in the believer, but in "the Lord"; therefore the way is open for us too; we may be bearers of such sunshine too, happy and making happy.

         "By influence of the light divine
         Let thy own light to others shine;
         Reflect all heaven's propitious rays
         In ardent love and cheerful praise." [9]

      Again, here is the fact that the normal Christian life is, as such, a life of "moderation known unto all men," in the controlling calm of the nearness of the Lord.   The meaning of this "moderation" (to epieikes) we have seen; it is that blessed facility, that unselfish yieldingness, which is not weakness at all but the outcome of the meekness of a heart which Christ has overcome.   It is the instinctive spirit, where He is in full command of thought and will, when personal "grievances" cross us, when our personal claims are slighted, our feelings disregarded, and even our legitimate rights overridden.   Of course more considerations than one have to be taken as to our action when our rights are overridden.   We have to ask whether our yielding will be helpful or hurtful to others; we have even to ask whether to yield may not do harm to the invader.   But these questions, if honestly asked, stand clear of the spirit of self; they regard others.   And wherever they can be so answered as to leave us free to yield in view of others, we, if Christians indeed, living really our Christian life, shall find it quite possible, in the Lord Jesus, to let our "yieldingness be known unto all men," in the deep calm of "the Lord at hand."   Yes, this can be so, in the most complicated life, and with the most irritable character, if we will fully "receive the grace of God" (2 Cor. vi. 1).   And the "all men" who "know" it will note it, and will recognize, sooner or later, the Master in the servant.

      Yet again, the normal Christian life is given here as a life free from care, from that miserable anxiety, merimna, which blights and withers human happiness far and wide, whether it comes in the form of a weight of large responsibilities or of the most trifling misgivings.   "Be careful for nothing"; "care-ful" in the antique sense of the word; "burthened with care."   In the modern sense of careful, no one should be more careful than we; "faithful in the least," "shewing all good fidelity in all things," "walking circumspectly," accurately, akribos (Eph. v. 15), "pleasing the neighbour for his good unto edification," "whether we eat or drink, doing all to the glory of God," "watching and praying always."   But in the other sense we are, we positively are, enjoined to live "without carefulness"; to take pains, but in peace; to work and serve, but at rest within; to "provide," to think beforehand (pronoeisthai, Rom. xii. 17), but in the repose of soul given by the fact that with the morrow will come the Lord, or rather that He will walk with us and lead us into it.   It is a great triumph to live such a life; but it is His triumph, not ours.   Let us leave Him free (may the word be used in reverence?) to win it; to "do this mighty work," to "bear our burthen daily" (so we may render Ps. lxxviii. 19).   Nothing will much more glorify Him in eyes that notice our daily walk than to see us always taking care, yet always unanxious while we take it.

         "In the calm of sweet communion
            Let thy daily work be done;
         In the peace of soul-outpouring
            Care be banish'd, patience won." [10]

      The sweet hymn leads us straight to the next point.   The normal Christian life, according to this paragraph, is a life of perpetual, habitual, converse with God, converse about everything.   And such converse has everything to do with the unanxious life.   The man who would be unanxious is to cultivate the practice of reverent, worshipping (proseuche), thankful, detailed prayer; so shall he enter into peace.   Here is a large subject; it is inexhaustible; from every aspect prayer is wonderful; and there are many kinds and types of prayer, as regards the act and exercise of it.   But the all-important thing to remember here is that we are called to pray as the great means to a divine unanxious peace; and that we are called to pray in the sense of "making our requests known in everything."   Shall we, in the grace of God, set ourselves to do it?   Shall we remember the presence of the Hearer, and "practise the Presence"?   Shall we act upon it?   More, and more, and always more, shall we really "in everything" turn to Him, and tell Him?   Thought is good, but prayer is better; or rather, thought in the form of prayer is, in ten thousand cases, the best thought.   Let us make it a rule, God helping, "in everything" which calls for pause, for consideration, for judgment, to pray first and then to think.   Innumerable futile thoughts will thus be saved, thoughts made fruitless by a hurry of spirit, or a heat, or a hardness, which puts all our view out of order.   We shall indeed need to take pains.   For while nothing is simpler in idea than the act of speaking to the unseen Friend, nothing is more easy, alas, to let slip in practice.   But the pains will be infinitely worth the while; it will be all applied at the right point.   Wonderful result, guaranteed here by the Hearer of prayer; His "peace shall safeguard our hearts and our thoughts, in Christ Jesus," in the living Sanctuary of security and strength.   There all our powers shall be active, yet at rest; dealing with a thousand things, yet always conditioned by Him who is "the One Thing Needful."   Unity will lie at the heart of multiplicity; Christ will rule life from the centre.

      Lastly, the normal Christian life, thus conditioned, is a life whose mental energies (logixesthe) are fully at work, always gravitating towards purposes and actions true, pure, gracious, virtuous, commendable; "sowing the fruit of righteousness in peace," at the side of "the God of peace."   True, the man may have many things to think of which are either perfectly secular in themselves (he may be a servant, he may be a man of business, he may be a physician, he may be a minister of state); or which are evil in themselves (he may be an investigator, or a judge, of crime).   Nevertheless, this will not deflect the true current of the mind.   These "thinkings" will all find place and direction in the "thought" which remembers that the thinker is the Lord's, and that in his whole life he is to be true to the Lord's glory and the good of man.   "The God of peace will be with him" wherever he goes, whatever he does; deep below the surface, but so as to control the whole surface all the while.

      Such is the Christian life, where the Christian "stands firm in the Lord."   It was thus at Philippi.   In the early generations of the Church (let the Apology of Aristides alone be adequate witness) it was thus, to a degree and to an extent most memorable, in at least very many Christian circles.   It is thus still, in many an individual life. But is it in any sense whatever thus in the rule and average or even earnest Christian lives?   Is it thus in ours?

      "Henceforth, let us live--not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us, and rose again."   To Him, in Him, by Him, we are bound to live so (Rom. viii. 12, opheileta), we are able to live so.   Let us "present ourselves to God" (Rom. vi. 13), watching and praying, and it shall be.

         "Two arms I find to hold Thee fast,
            Submission meek and reverent faith;
         Held by Thy hand that hold shall last
            Through life and over death.

         "Not me the dark foe fears at all,
            But hid in Thee I take the field;
         Now at my feet the mighty fall,
            For Thou hast bid them yield." [11]

      [1] So certainly read, not Euodias, which would be a man's name, a contraction of Euodianus.   Euodias as a fact is not found in inscriptions.   Euodia on the other hand is a known feminine name; and the words just following ("help these women") make it practically certain that the two persons just named were both female converts. (Euodian of course may be the accusative of either Euodias or Euodia.)

      [2] Cor Dei in verbis Dei; Gregory the Great's noble description of the Bible, in a letter to the courtier Theodoras, begging him to study daily "the Letter of the heavenly Emperor."

      [3] "I exhort," R.V.   A slightly tenderer word seems better to represent parakalein in this personal connexion.   "I beseech" (A.V.) is perhaps rather too tender.

      [4] "As a curiosity of interpretation, Ellicott (see also Lightfoot, p. 170) mentions the conjecture of Schwegler, that Euodia and Syntyche are really designations of Church-parties [the imagined Petrine and Pauline parties], the names being devised and significant [Euodia='Good-way,' Orthodoxy; Syntyche='Combination,' of Gentiles and Jews on equal terms].   This theory of course regards our Epistle as a fabrication of a later generation, intended as an eirenicon.   'What will not men affirm?'"   (Note on ver. 2 in The Cambridge Bible for Schools).

      [5] We know nothing for certain of this person.   Lightfoot suggests that it was Epaphroditus, whom St Paul would thus commission not only orally but in writing, as a sort of credential.   One curious and most improbable conjecture is that it was St Paul's wife.   Renan (Saint Paul, p. 148) renders here ma chere epouse.

      [6] Perhaps the bishop of Rome of a later day.   So Origen and Eusebius. But we cannot be certain of the identity.

      [7] "Cp. Rev. iii. 5, xiii. 8, xvii. 8, xx. 12, 15, xxi. 27; and Luke x. 20.   And see Exod. xxxii. 32, 33; Ps. lxix. 28, lxxxvii. 6; Isa. iv. 3; Ezek. xiii. 9; Dan. xii. 1.   The result of the comparison of these passages with this seems to be that St Paul here refers to the Lord's 'knowledge of them that are His' (2 Tim. ii. 19: cp. John x. 27, 28), for time and eternity.   All the passages in the Revelation, save iii. 5, are clearly in favour of a reference of the phrase to the certainty of the ultimate salvation of all true saints . . . so too Dan. xii. 1 and Luke x. 20.   Rev. iii. 5 appears to point in another direction (see Trench on that passage).   But in view of the other mentions of the 'Book' in the Revelation the language of iii. 5 may well be only a vivid assertion that the name in question shall be found in an indelible register. . . .   Practically, the Apostle here speaks of Clement and the rest as having given illustrious proof of their part and lot in that 'life eternal' which is 'to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent' (John xvii. 3).--The word 'names' powerfully suggests the individuality and speciality of divine love." (Note in The Cambridge Bible for Schools.)

      [8] I think the Apostle has in mind Ps. cxix. 151, where the Septuagint version has su eggus ei, Kurie.   He is thinking of "the secret of the Presence" (Ps. xxxi. 20).   We need not shut out the calming thought of the Lord's approaching Return; but it does not seem to be the leading thought here.

      [9] Bishop Ken.

      [10] G. M. Taylor, in Hymns of Consecration, 349.

      [11] In the House of the Pilgrimage.

Back to H. C. G. Moule index.

See Also:
   Preface and Introduction
   Chapter 1 - Introductory
   Chapter 2 - The Intimacy of Human Hearts in Christ
   Chapter 3 - The Apostle's Position and Circumstances
   Chapter 4 - The Christian's Peace and the Christian's Consistency
   Chapter 5 - Unity in Self-Forgetfulness: The Example of the Lord
   Chapter 6 - The Lord's Power in the Disciple's Life
   Chapter 7 - Timotheus And Epaphroditus
   Chapter 8 - Joy in the Lord and its Preserving Power
   Chapter 9 - Christian Standing and Christian Progress
   Chapter 10 - The Blessed Hope and its Power
   Chapter 11 - Purity and Peace in the Present Lord
   Chapter 12 - The Collection for St Paul: The Farewell


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