Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you .” Philippians 4:9

During this season of social distancing and quarantine, many of us have turned to different media in order to connect with other Christians. We have watched and listened to online sermons from St. Martin’s, we have read email devotionals written by Clergy and we have spoken with and prayed for our friends on the phone. We do this because community is an important component in the Christian life. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he was facing a similar predicament to the one facing us today. He was in quarantine–actually in prison in Rome or Ephesus–isolated from the wider church community that he loved so dearly. To cope, Paul used the social media of his day. He wrote a number of his letters on papyrus to various Christian communities. The letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians were letters written during Paul’s incarceration. As we study the final chapter of Philippians, we will see that Paul is able to find joy and strength despite his isolation.

Read Philippians 4:1 9
In this first section of Chapter 4, Paul encourages his readers to “stand firm in the Lord.” In fleshing this out, he lays out a series of exhortations for his readers: “be joyful,” (v.4) “be gentle,” (v.5) “do not to worry,” (v.6) and “think about what is noble, right, and pure.” (v.8) Finally, Paul encourages them to “follow his example.” (v.9) For Paul, it is important to realize virtuous living is rooted in the Christian faith and the fruit of this is the knowledge of God’s peace (v.9). God redeems his people in order that they might be changed by the Gospel and live differently. As John Stott reminds us in his classic work, Basic Christianity , “Christianity is not just about what we believe; it’s also about how we behave.” These exhortations help us train in righteousness, they’re given to show us the way of Christ and help us to grow.
Read Philippians 4:10 23
In this final section of Chapter 4, Paul speaks of the themes of contentment and mutual support. Regarding contentment, Paul gives one of the great secrets of the Christian faith. He says in verse 11, “I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me.” The secret to being content, of course, is found not in material possessions, esteem by others, social status or professional success. Paul has known it both in times of feasting and in times of fasting! His contentment is found through the power of Christ in the often quoted v.13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Too often, this is read as a promise that you can do the impossible with Jesus at your side. You can get what you want, succeed where you like and have your dreams and wishes come true because Jesus will help. That’s not what it means! Instead, it means that whatever circumstances Paul faced, he was able to bear with it and even find joy because Christ gave him the strength he needed–a sober reminder for times of quarantine and so many uncertainties.

In the final section, Paul then touches on the importance of mutual support. Several times in this section, Paul thanks the Philippians for their help and support during his confinement. This support was both spiritual, sharing in his troubles (v.14), and monetary, “giving and receiving.” (v.15) Paul summarizes the support he has received as “a sweet-smelling offering” (v.18) and reminds them that they also will have their needs met by God (v.19).
Questions for Reflection
  1. In v.2–3, Paul pleads that two members of the church, Euodia and Syntyche, “work together.” Why do you think getting along with other Christians is important for Paul?
  2. In v.4, Paul says, “Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord.” And, in v.5, Paul says “Let everyone know how gentle you are.” What do you think it means to rejoice, even in hard times? How can we show that to others? What does it mean to be gentle with others?
  3. In vv.6-7, Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything.” Does this mean that Christians should never worry? What does Paul encourage us to do when we do worry? What is the result (v.7)?
  4. In v.12, Paul says that he has learned the secret to being content despite his situation. What is that secret? What are some areas of your life in which you are not content? How does Paul’s testimony in vv.12-13 help?
  5. In v.14, Paul commends the Philippians for “sharing in their troubles.” How did they do this? Given our current context, what are some ways can we share in the troubles of others?
  6. In v.19, Paul says God will meet all of our needs, “in keeping with his wonderful riches.” What are His wonderful riches? How has God met your needs?
A Prayer for this week:

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to thee, that they may find thy mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of Him who suffered for us, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“The Solemn Collects,” The Book of Common Prayer , page 279.

The Rev. Alex D. Graham III
Associate for Children and Family Ministries