An Apostle of Christ in Chains

In a world where everyone wants to be told about health, wealth and prosperity, the scripture “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) has been misunderstood in a way…

Most of us forget the specifics of the context…

We need to understand the circumstances under which Paul wrote this profound statement…

These words were not anything similar to the modern day emphasis on mind power and motivational speaking -these words were written by an apostle of Jesus Christ who was in chains!

Text:  Philippians Chapter 4:1-13

Here is a brief description of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and held in prison in Caesarea for two years. During this period, he appealed to Ceaser and as a consequence, he was taken as a prisoner in Rome. He was placed under house arrest in Rome for two years as he waited to appeal. Roman guards kept watch of him for 24 hours a day. Paul saw this as a great opportunity to witness.  It was during this time that the Philippian church took up an offering for Paul, sending him a very generous offering. (Philippi was the first place that Paul had gone to when he took the gospel to Europe). This offering was brought to Paul by Epaphroditus, who would fall very sick on his way, but received healing from God. This is the state of affairs within which Paul wrote this epistle. Historical sources suggest that Paul wrote this letter some 30 years after his conversion on the Damascus Road.

He writes to the church in Philippi from the prison in Rome; this letter is basically a letter of thanksgiving and gratitude for the monetary offering that they had sent to him by Epaphroditus.

In Chapter one, we see Paul’s prayer for the church, that they may discern what is best and excellent. He mentions his imprisonment as a benefit to the Kingdom of God and his readiness to die.

In Chapter 2, the Apostle gives practical exhortations and Christian injunctions to the church…

He exhorts them to have the same mind that was with Christ who, despite His Greatness, died for the church.

In Chapter 3, Paul discards confidence in the flesh and expresses his quest for the Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. He lifts Christ so high that nothing else matters to Him.

He opens Chapter 4 with very moving words that express his love and affection for them:

Philippians 4

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.

3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Exposition

Paul opens Chapter four with astoundingly moving words to the church. This is an expression from his heart, expressing his love for those that he ministered to and those that ministered to him.

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

The use of the word “therefore” shows that Paul is reaching back to the content of the preceding text- in which he had exhorted the church to mind the high calling of God. He now exhorts them to stand fast in The Lord.

The exhortation in verse 2 is directed to some particular persons. It seems as if two women in Philippi, Euodias and Syntyche, were having a fight. Paul beseeches them to be of the same mind in The Lord.

In v3, we find another exhortation directed to particular persons. The exhortation here is to mutual assistance:

Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

It is not clear who Paul was referring to here as a “true yokefellow/companion.” The root/ etymology is a masculine noun which means one who labored together with another… There have been several guesses in theological circles about who the yokefellow may have been…

Most probably, the women were part of the first converts there, including Lydia to whom Paul had preached; their names are in the Book of life – This should be an encouragement to every believer, that there is a glorious destiny awaiting everyone who is following Jesus.

In verse 4, the apostle exhorts to holy joy and delight in God: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.” Notice that this is a repetition because he said it before in chapter 3:1.

Joy in God is our duty and privilege, irrespective of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

He continues to exhort to gentleness and moderation (v5), because The Lord is coming.

In verse 6 Paul communicates a profound theological principle: That the answer to worry is prayer. He challenges the church to trust God to take care of the things that may otherwise cause them to worry, because God is in control of their circumstances.

They may face difficulties, uncertainties, reasons to doubt… but they can trust The Lord God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

The believer is to avoid anxious care and distracting thoughts in the wants and difficulties of life.

The result of that, as stated in verse 7, is the peace of God!

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In v8, the believer is exhorted to think on things that are noble, pure, and right…

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

We are living in times when we are getting exposed to all sorts of things to influence our thoughts;  a good example is the media (social and mainstream) that has become saturated with all sorts of sinful suggestions and temptations to sin.

Another example is the proclivity to think on disappointments, past hurts, past failures, fears and doubts about the future.

There is every opportunity to focus ones thoughts on unconstructive things; but here we have a practical Christian injunction from the apostle. We are to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure…

In v 9 Paul gives his own example to the church,

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Here is a challenge to every one of us. Are we able to have consistency in what we say and what we do?

Notice that in v 10, Paul expresses thanks for the church’s renewed concern for him, acknowledging their kindness to him.

It seems as if, for some time, they had not sought to know how he had been doing; this suggests that their support to Paul had dropped off!?

Paul however downplays this; he excuses their temporary neglect…And, somehow, even though he may have been disappointed, he does not find fault in them.

 “Wherein you were also careful, but you lacked opportunity.”

He supposes, in favor of them, that they would have done it if a fair opportunity had been availed to them. This is a direct contrast to the behavior of many to their friends…

Excusable neglects/ forgotten duties have ended friendships.

Paul presents an amazing example of how we can overlook such for the sake of relationship and fellowship.

In verse 11 -12, the apostle Paul states that he has learnt to be content; he is in prison; he is chained; he is in extremely difficult circumstances… yet he finds reason to express joy and contentment. This is almost contradiction. How can he express contentment under such circumstances?

11- 12 KJV “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

What the apostle is saying is that…

I am content, because my contentment does not lie in my circumstances,

My contentment lies in my relationship with Jesus Christ…

He seems to have an unshakable conviction that his contentment is not a function of his physical circumstances! Even when his physical circumstances get tough and challenging, his contentment remains unshaken, because it is in Christ.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

In the original Greek, the word is a participle of the present tense, en to endynamounti me Christo, (εν τω ενδυναμουντι με χριστω) showing a present and continued act; as if he had said, “Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by his constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in everything; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.” Matthew Henry

In a world where everyone wants to be told about health, wealth and prosperity…

The scripture “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has been misunderstood in a way…

Most of us forget the specifics of the context…

We must understand the circumstances under which Paul wrote this profound statement…

 These words were not anything similar to the modern day emphasis on mind power and motivational speaking -This was spoken by an apostle of Jesus Christ who was in chains…

This is a challenge to every one of us… Where is our security?

Where do we find contentment?

Are we waiting for a certain set of circumstances to finally say that we are content?

There is every temptation for us to lack peace and contentment until we achieve particular levels of prosperity,

But, through Christ’s strength, we can be content, at this present moment, just like apostle Paul.

May God grant us to be content in Christ.  Amen.

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