Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE PREACHER AND THE PEOPLE HE LOVES”

Philippians 4.1

 

It was on July 29, 2012 that we began our study on Sunday nights of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. And now, approaching twenty-one months later, I am excited to announce that now we find ourselves beginning the final chapter. Turn to Philippians 4.1, please.

Paul’s letter to his beloved Philippians isn’t really a long letter, as letters written at that time go, but it is absolutely saturated with depth, meaning, and life-changing truths. I suppose your opinion about the theme of Philippians would depend on what mood you are in when you read it. And this is probably because of the several undercurrents that Paul wove together as the occasion for writing to that beloved congregation. On one hand, this communiqué was sent to make absolutely sure that those marvelous people did not misinterpret Paul’s imprisonment as anything like a setback for the advance of the gospel, since his incarceration that began in Jerusalem and continued for several years in Caesaria before his removal to Rome, had given him unprecedented opportunities to present the gospel, culminating with access to Caesar’s own household and the Praetorian cohorts, the elite soldiers of the Imperial Roman Army.[1] Then, too, Paul wanted to make sure the Philippian believers were not offended or troubled by the unexpected return of Epaphroditus, who was sent to Rome to help Paul but he then became sick and almost died. Paul’s great concern for the Philippians’ and Epaphroditus’ reputation, when he was perhaps as busy as he had ever been, is a rebuke to those who think that being busy excuses rudeness and being short-tempered with people. There is never an excuse for committing sin. Never. Not when you are sick. Not when you are tired. Not when you are busy. Paul also dealt with the subjects of unity, humility, and joy in his letter. Humility and joy are especially prominent, with Paul’s examples of humility taking up the most space in the letter and the word “joy” being the most frequently used word in the letter. All of this to point out the richness and depth of these four, short chapters. And we haven’t even started chapter four yet! Let’s stand and read this verse together:

 

“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”

 

The verse forms a conclusion to the first three chapters, and establishes a jumping off point for the final chapter. Imagine Paul at a point in time, as he looks to the past, as he ponders the future, and as he reflects on the present. This is what we find in Philippians 4.1.

 

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE VERSE WE SEE PAUL REMEMBERING THE PAST

 

“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved, and longed for . . . .”

 

The word “therefore” is the connecting word with what he has written before, and then Paul begins a most expressive description of his relationship with those people, based upon past times spent with them.

After the connecting word, he writes, “my brethren.” Paul climbs up on no ecclesiastical high horse with these people. No superiority here, as is so common with some these days. They are his brothers and sisters in Christ. They are members, with him, of the family of God. They are with him of the brotherhood of the redeemed. And in no other letter do you see Paul getting so personal and intimate with a congregation, except perhaps with that other Macedonian church, Thessalonica. The only letter which exceeds this one in personal intimacy is the one to Timothy, where he wrote, “Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith.”[2]

Then comes “dearly beloved.” This phrase actually translates a single Greek word, “agapetoi.” Those of you who have attended church for a while may recognize the sound of this word. In the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3.16, which begins “For God so loved the world,” the verb “loved” is the same basic word as this word “dearly beloved” in Philippians 4.1. So, Paul is expressing his love for them using the highest and most noble of the several Greek words translated into our English word “love,” and frequently translated “charity.” There can be no doubt that he is piling on his affection and fondness for them.

After that comes the word translated “longed for.” This last remembrance of them by Paul goes well beyond the limits required by propriety and courtesy. Every Christian is a brother or sister in Christ, and is to be acknowledged as such. And God grants His love with which to love every other believer. But to long for someone is above and beyond. He first said he longed for them in Philippians 1.8: “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” However, here he uses a word that is used nowhere else in the Bible, the noun form of the word, epipothetoi. It may even be that Paul coined the term himself, since it is found nowhere else in Greek literature until after Philippians was written.[3] For whatever reason, because they were the first church he planted in Europe, or because they were so generous with the offering he had taken up for the starving Jewish Christians in Judea, or just because there was a special chemistry between Paul and those folks, Paul had very special memories of them.[4]

 

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE VERSE WE SEE PAUL ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE

 

“. . . my joy and my crown . . . .”

 

Of course, Paul uses the word “joy” and “rejoice” throughout his letter to the Philippians, but this phrase describing them using the word “joy” and “crown” together paints a word picture that those predominately Greek folks who lived in that Roman colony city could not have missed.

Picture, if you would, an athlete at an Olympic event. The Olympic Games had been conducted for centuries before the Roman conquest of the Greek world. And after the Romans came they conducted their own version of the Olympic Games, being nothing like the carnage and butchery of the gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Construction of the Coliseum would not begin during Paul’s lifetime, but under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian in around 70–72 AD, funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem.[5] So, whether Roman or Greek, the mental picture of athletic competition that Paul here alludes to would be much the same.

An athlete, let’s say a runner, is racing to the finish line. When he runs his course, when he finishes his race, two things await him: his joy and his crown. His joy is his exhilaration and his delight at striving with all his might and winning the victory. What sweetness. What satisfaction. What fulfillment. But that’s not all. In addition to the joy comes the crown.

I learned something in studying for this message. The Olympic Games were not the only games the Greeks participated in. There were also the Pythean Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games. Winners in the Olympic Games won a crown that was an olive wreath, in the Pythean Games the prize was a crown that was a wreath of bay leaves, in the Nemean Games winners were given crowns of wild celery, and in the Isthmian Games the prize was a wreath of pine needles.[6] Imagine that! Bay leaves. Celery leaves. Pine needles. It adds all new meaning to Paul’s statement, “Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”[7] Whatever you gain in this lifetime will quickly fade away, but what is done for eternity will last throughout eternity.

The mental imagery Paul seeks to convey to his readers is this: those Philippians were to be Paul’s joy and crown. They were his spiritual victory and reward, but only if they finished their course as he planned to finish his. This reminded them of Philippians 2.16, where Paul challenged them to hold “forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.”

Boy, do we have it backwards in modern day Christianity in this regard. So many think, “I led a guy to Christ. Praise God! I’m going to get a reward for getting a guy saved.” In reality, Paul understood that his reward would only come to him if those he supposedly led to Christ actually finished their course. You see, lots of people start out, as the Lord Jesus Christ’s parable of the soils teaches, but only those who finish their course are the ones who were really saved when they were supposedly saved.[8]

In Philippians 4.1, Paul calls his beloved Philippians his joy and his crown because he anticipates them finishing the race of life and running their course to the end, to the glory of God. That done, he would experience joy and would be crowned for his role in their lives.

 

BUT PAUL’S LOOK BACK IN REMEMBRANCE, AND HIS LOOK FORWARD IN ANTICIPATION, WAS FOR THE PURPOSE OF LIVING IN THE PRESENT

 

Some people, especially as they get older, live only in the past. They reminisce and reflect all the time, because they have no present life and are rapidly running out of a future. Other people, especially the younger ones, can sometimes live only for the future. And in living for the future, they fail to properly discharge the duties of the present. With God’s people it is quite different, it is always and in so many ways different. Contrary to the mistaken opinions of some who misread scripture, the child of God is supposed to remember the past. And we are certainly supposed to anticipate the future. But we, of all people, are supposed to live in the present, facing the demands of the day, living out each and every day we have been given, which is the only place you really can live. With regard to the present, listen to what Paul communicated to those people.

First, there is the command.

 

“. . . .so stand fast . . . .”

 

Here we find the ultimate reason behind Paul’s desire for the congregation’s humility that would lead to unity. He wanted those church members to stand fast together. And the construction of the verb shows that Paul’s directive is to the congregation as a corporate body. It’s second person plural.[9] You see, you are saved yourself, just you and the Savior. Oh, there is oftentimes someone dealing with you. But when that moment comes that you come to Christ, it is just you and the Lord Jesus Christ. However, after that, after you are saved, it is supposed to be you in concert with others, you in conjunction with a multitude. And that group, which is your church congregation, that is where you make your stand, and they are who you stand with. Sure, there are times when your stand has to be made alone. However, the vast majority of the times you will be called on to make your stand for Christ will be in concert with those of us here. I only wish pastors would teach these truths to their congregations. That is one of the many reasons why a church is so important. That’s why God’s will is for you to spend your life in your church. You see, Philippians, it is with these other Philippians that you will make your stand. Notice how well what the Apostle Paul writes fits in with the contemporary tendency to hop from church to church? Actually, it doesn’t does it? God’s plan is for us to live our Christian lives by building each other up in the faith, supporting one another, and certainly not betraying each other for short term gains.

Next, there is the context.

 

“. . . stand fast in the lord . . . .”

 

The lord, here, is the Lord Jesus Christ. Being “in the lord” is a position that only those who are truly born again occupy. To the Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote, “therefore, if any man be in Christ.”[10] To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth.”[11] From this you must realize that your ability to “stand fast,” or your opportunity to “stand fast,” comes only after you are saved and find yourself according to the Bible “in Christ.” To even attempt to “stand fast” for Christ before you are saved is folly, since unsaved people are enemies of God. And how bizarre it is for an enemy of God to attempt to stand on God’s side of any issue.

Finally, the concern.

 

“. . . so stand fast in the lord, my dearly beloved.”

 

Here we see Paul’s love for those people bursting through again. Twice in the verse we see, “dearly beloved.” This is difficult for people raised in homes without much physical affection to really grasp. Understand, folks, Paul and these people were huggers, kissers, and criers. They expressed their love, as well as simply saying the words. But for the fact that it is Paul (and we know he is not one given to exaggerations), we might think he is overdoing this. But that’s not the case at all. God really has given him a great love for them, as he had given to them a great love for Paul.

 

Paul remembered the past, and took those people back with him. Then he anticipated the future, and shared his vision for the future, when Jesus Christ would come again . . . with them. But he didn’t stop there. Both of those glimpses, the one back and the one forward, were for the purpose of challenging them to live in the present.

I feel as strong a connection with this verse of the Bible as I do any other passage in God’s Word. And the reason is because Philippians 4.1 describes my feelings toward you. Those of you who are now saved, you are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We will spend eternity with each other. I love you. And I long for you. I miss you when you are gone or when I’m gone. And I crave time spent with you. The only reason I don’t invade your homes is because I don’t want to bug you or intrude, because I am conscious of being socially clumsy. But I’d rather spend time with you folks, each and every one of you, than do anything else in the world. When I go on vacation, I’d like to take you along with me. I mean that. And I anticipate you being my joy and my crown. Oh, what a glorious day that will be. How excited I get at the thought of seeing each of you presented faultless to the Savior.[12] What exhilaration. What victory. What delight. But what’s needed right now, just as with the Philippians, is for you to stand fast in the Lord. Stand fast in the Lord by being faithful in church, by faithfully witnessing to the lost, by faithfully representing Christ to your children in the home, and by serving in a ministry here at the church.

You see, God’s plan, as presented by Paul, is for you to humble yourself. As you are humble, God will give you grace. And as you are humble, God will give us unity as a church. This is how we cope with the grievous wolves who enter in to do harm, without concern for the harm done to the flock. Individual grace and combined unity will enable us to stand fast in the heat of battle. No defections. No turncoats. No dropouts. No wimps. Casualties? Yes, but we can nurture each other back to spiritual health by God’s grace. Because we are in this together, all the way, until Jesus comes.



[1] Yann Le Bohec, The Imperial Roman Army, (New York: Hippocrene Books, English translation 1994), pages 20-21, 64-65, 99

[2] 1 Timothy 1.2

[3] Moisés Silva, Philippians - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Second Edition, 2005), page 186.

[4] Acts 16.6-40; 2 Corinthians 8.1-6

[7] 1 Corinthians 9.25

[8] Matthew 13.3-9; 18-23

[9] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 388.

[10] 2 Corinthians 5.17

[11] Ephesians 1.13

[12] Jude 24

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org