Do you know, believer, that you are God’s beloved? Do you see that those around you in Christ are also His beloved and worthy of love, service, and unity in truth? Things to reflect on about your relationships to other believers in Phil. 4:1-3.
Part 16 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Find the whole series in Philippians here.
After a lengthy section of exhortations to single-minded focus on Christ, His cross, and the coming resurrection glory, Paul transitions to a collection of short exhortations and commands about unity, joy, prayer, and right and godly thinking. I’ll get to a few of them today and more next time.
Love For Believers
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
It’s interesting to see the ways in which Paul expresses his feelings for the Philippian believers: whom I love and long for…beloved. Paul assembles a few Greek words (agapētoi and epipothētoi) to convey his deep affection in the Lord for them (related: Phil. 1:8).
The word for “beloved” (agapētoi) actually appears twice in the Greek. This isn’t a word we use that often and there’s a rich beauty under its surface. He’s conveying the idea of these believers being dear to him, as being “divinely loved ones,” as Kenneth Wuest puts it. We are Christ’s beloved — His treasured ones, His precious possessions, His children that He holds and cares for tenderly. Paul longs to see these people who dwell so profoundly in his heart again in person; it is not enough that they have sent gifts or sent a messenger.
Loving the Beloved
If God looks at us in this way, as divinely loved ones, do we not have a greater motivation to love and respect each other? Do we feel this way about other believers in Christ? Do we long for fellowship so that we can mutually encourage and serve one another?
So many people who claim Christ’s name don’t care for His people and go so far in this apathy and indifference that they have abandoned regular fellowship with them. We have all read the Hebrews 10:19-25 imperatives to fellowship, love, and service as well as the verses about placing ourselves under a local spiritual authority (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13), yet we still come up with excuses for not doing it.
There’s a connection to what Paul’s talking about here in Philippians in John’s first epistle as well where he writes extensively about brotherly love: Beloved, let us love one another and Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another [1 John 4:7, 11 NAS].
This kind of love:
- Speaks and acts in kindness, humility, and self-sacrifice, with an awareness of the vast grace that has been bestowed upon us (related: 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:7)
- Encourages, edifies, builds up, bears with, corrects, warns, with a motivation to see others grow more mature and established in Christ (related: 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- Witnesses to the world about who we are and how Christ has changed us: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another [John 13:35 ESV].
It’s hard to fathom how we can show this kind of godly love if we are not in regular fellowship with each other, at least making efforts to pursue authentic relationships. Paul was only able to speak about these believers with this level of love and affection because of their mutual fellowship, service, and work in the gospel.
I am not saying this is simple. In fact, I struggled with it for a very long time and have only recently started to understand that regular fellowship in a gathering of believers was both a command and a way God shapes us. We see both others’ weakness and our own when we commit ourselves to a body of believers. I began to see that “church” and “going to church” is not about “what’s in it for me?”, but rather “what can I give?”.
It’s about submitting to each other and it’s rare to find people willing or who understand we are told in scripture to do that — even within the body of Christ (sadly). This takes the biblical understanding of self-sacrifice and humility. And it’s not a one-time, “okay I got it now” event; it’s an ongoing journey of learning to see people as God sees them.
Relationships and people are messy. But this is how God has chosen to work, through these very people who can often be challenging or difficult. Pray for your attitude toward other believers. Pray for the relationships in your local body!
The Fruits of His Labor
Paul says of these believers, you are my joy and crown. You are all that I work for, in terms of building up your faith and seeing you mature in Christ, Paul says, in these ideas of joy and crowns. It’s a joy to Paul to see the faith of the Philippian believers grow stronger. And from a heavenly standpoint, the work that Paul did for these believers was part of the crown he would ultimately receive (reward) (related: 1 Cor. 9:24-25; 1 Thess. 2:19-20).
Today we also have the opportunity to experience joy at seeing brothers and sisters, older and younger, progress in the faith. If we invest ourselves in the work God is doing in them, we become part of each other’s mutual journey.
Those Who Stand Firm
stand firm. Earlier in Philippians 1:27 and 2:2, Paul exhorts the believers to stand firm, to be of one mind, in the truth. Paul refers to standing firm in the truth not only in light of what he has said previously in the letter, but specifically in relation to allowing the cross of Christ to spur them on to holy living. There’s no value in merely standing together under a “Christian banner” unless you are standing for biblical truth and allowing that truth to produce godly change in your life.
Do you know that as a believer you’re in the midst of a battle? (related: Eph. 6:13-18) The battle is for your mind and for the truth. Today more than ever this battle is raging on. You cannot stand on your own. You need Christ, you need God’s word, you need other believers.
United By Christ
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Clearly Paul speaks here to an issue between these two women believers — two fellow workers in the gospel. We don’t know what this issue was. What we can see is that these women literally worked by Paul’s side in ministry. He also mentions Clement (a male believer at Philippi) and includes him among others as one of those who worked alongside Paul.
It’s worth noting that Paul deliberately moves from speaking of the love he has for these brothers and the idea of standing together firmly in the truth to the unity between two particular believers. Perhaps this is an example to us how we can lose sight of what is truly important for the sake of proving ourselves right or winning a battle. Perhaps it’s also a reminder to us that we — those of us who truly and authentically profess Christ — are one body with one purpose: to glorify, honor, and serve the living God by professing His gospel, living holy lives, and loving and serving one another.
A few things to note here:
- You sometimes hear that Paul’s perspective on women was one of denigration and chauvinism. Even from this text alone, we can see that is not true. He articulates the role of these women as fellow workers, giving them a respect that in the patriarchal society of the time was highly unusual.
- His appeal to true companion — also seen by many expositors as a proper name, Synzygus — indicates this particular person may have had a special peacemaking ability. Perhaps he was particularly gentle and gifted in resolving conflict between others. He is also described here as being true — sincere, genuine — and it lets us see just how much trust Paul placed in him as a reliable friend.
There was clearly a difference of opinions between the two named women, and in light of all the fruitful labor of the ministry as well as their own individual journeys in the Lord, Paul did not want to see them driven apart by what were very likely non-essential matters. He wanted them to remember that they were fellow believers and called to love one another, and even if they had conflict, to resolve it for the sake of Christ and their own fellowship.
Written in Permanent Ink
whose names are in the book of life.
Paul reminds these women, and all the rest of the individuals referred to here, that all of their names are in the book of life — that book in which God has written for all time those who trust Christ, are irrevocably His, and who will spend eternity with Him (related: Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 20:15).
Life here is the Greek zōḗ, denoting both physical and spiritual life:
“All life (2222 /zōḗ), throughout the universe, is derived – i.e. it always (only) comes from and is sustained by God’s self-existent life. The Lord intimately shares His gift of life with people, creating each in His image which gives all the capacity to know His eternal life [by God’s drawing grace and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit of course!]” (HELPS Word-studies; my interpolation in brackets).
This is yet another motivation to us to see our fellow believers in Christ as precious: God has saved them and sovereignly written their names into the book of eternal life.