COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“4Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:4-5)
When the heart is lifted up into heavenly realms, caught up in the Spirit, a remarkable versatility takes place. The individual becomes capable of leaping from mountain top to mountain top, lingering for but a moment on profound utterances. With the “hinds feet” of the new creation, remarkable spiritual dexterity is given to the individual. He moves about with liberty in realms unaccessible to those who remain firmly planted in this world. The passage we have been reviewing is a case in point. In a few short verses we have been exposed to a fervent quest for Christ (3:7-17), the identity of the enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18-19), our heavenly citizenship (3:20), the changing of our bodies when Jesus returns (3:21), standing fast in the Lord (4:1), the reconciling of brethren (4:2), and an admonition to help those who have labored in the Gospel (4:3). Our intellects are not capable of moving so quickly in such diverse realms. But our hearts are. Now we will vault from an exhortation to assist two members of the body to be reconciled to always rejoicing in the Lord. Can you see how a remarkable transition is made?
REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS!
“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” Only faith can empower a person to press toward the mark, weep over enemies of the cross, anticipate deliverance from this vile body, assist reconciling brethren, and rejoice in the Lord AT THE SAME TIME. Our spiritual natures are much more versatile than our bodies. Paul could gather with the Corinthians in his spirit, though his body was separate from them (1 Cor 5:4). Our affection can be set on things above while we remain in this world (Col 3:1). Thus when it comes to the matter of rejoicing, the Spirit can admonish us to do it “alway.”
The exhortation is particularly meaningful in view of the times. There had been an environment of grief and trial at Philippi. They stood in danger of being “terrified by their adversaries” (1:28). Not only had they been given to “believe,” but also “to suffer for His sake” (1:29). They were engaged in“conflict” (1:30). They were surrounded by professed Christian leaders who were “seeking their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (2:21). They had heard of the sickness of their beloved Epaphroditus (2:26-27), and were concerned for him. Now the Spirit uses Paul to make them equal to the circumstances that are challenging their faith.
He does not provide a lengthy explanation of the temporal circumstances, but at once elevates their thinking to higher conditions–very real conditions. He fairly shouts, “REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAY!” Look up! Look up from the circumstances! Faith can look up in a lion’s den or a furnace of fire. This word does not come from a man in pleasant surroundings. He is in prison, chained, and facing imminent death. He is in the very heat of persecution and trial. Yet, he not only rejoices himself, but calls upon his spiritual comrades to do the same.
The sum of the matter is this: the believer has a REASON to rejoice! This is no mechanical or perfunctory rejoicing that he prescribes. In our trials, the Lord is with us! When the disciples were in a destructive storm at sea, the Lord was with them (Matt 8:24-26). His Presence is what saved them! We must not allow what is seen to divert us from this consideration. The Lord has promised His perpetual presence with us. “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). And again, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5). Every believer is an ambulatory temple in which Jesus resides. Their faith is the means through which that residence is accomplished (Eph 3:16-17).
Through Isaiah, the Lord revealed this aspect of His nature–that He dwells with the struggling believer who needs help: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa 57:15). It is this prevailing circumstance that empowers the child of God to “rejoice in the Lord alway.” Earthly circumstances do not affect the Lord’s Presence.
By repeating the exhortation, the Spirit emphasizes it is not merely for the moment. Rejoicing in the Lord is continual because His Presence is continual. See how different this joy is from the joy of the world, which is fragile and fading. It cannot sustain the soul because it is not founded upon reality. But rejoicing in the Lord stabilizes the soul because the person is “in the Lord.”
LET YOUR MODERATION BE KNOWN
“Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Here is an admonition that shows the absolute superiority of life in Christ Jesus. Other translations use the following words for “moderation.” “Gentleness” (NKJV), “forbearance” (RSV), “forbearing spirit” (NASB), “gentle behavior” (BBE). The text is addressing the matter of their response to difficulties–how they reacted under the assault of the enemy, persecution, and hardship. The word“gentleness” describes the full scope of “moderation” very well. It is a quality ascribed to Jesus–called “the gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor 10:1). David confessed, “Thy gentleness hath made me great” (Psa 18:35). James uses exactly the same word in his description of the wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17). “Moderation” is remaining meek under provocation, and ready to forgive injuries. It involves sweetness of disposition, and the ability to govern our passions (Macknight).
This is a matter Jesus Himself expounded. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt 5:39-42). The Thessalonians were admoinished, “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (1 Thess 5:15). Peter also spoke of this moderation. “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing”(1 Pet 3:8-9). Flesh will remonstrate when hearing these words, declaring it puts the person at a great disadvantage to do this. But this is not so.
We have the example of our Lord Jesus Himself, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet 2:23). Isaiah foretold this aspect of our blessed Lord’s character. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isa 53:7). When we are tempted to be overcome by the assaults of our enemies, we must consider our Lord. As it is written, “For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb 12:3).
This is the “moderation” of which the Spirit is speaking. It is conducting ourselves with spiritual poise and calmness before those who would abuse and oppose us. Our flesh is not capable of doing this, but our new nature is. Further, the presence of the Lord Himself with us assures that we can be victorious in this matter. A retaliatory spirit robs the soul of joy, and causes one to plot and plan as though this world were the only one. But it is not! Further, we are citizens of heaven, and have received the gift of the Spirit from heaven. Our moderation, gentleness and fairness, can be experienced by our enemies, bringing great glory to God (1 Pet 4:14).
THE LORD IS AT HAND
“The Lord is at hand.” Here is the reason we are to allow our“moderation” to be apparent to everyone: “The Lord is at hand,” or “near”(NASB, NIV). Flesh will conjecture that being gentle and non-retaliatory in the face of our enemies will only provoke them to more ferocity. And, indeed, this appears to be good reasoning in the flesh–but it is “in the flesh.” Thus, this single rebuttal is given: “The Lord is at hand.” He is closer to us than our enemies. His intentions are more firm than those of our enemies. Because we can see them more readily does not mean they are preeminent, and because we cannot see the Lord does not mean His presence is less sure. This is the fact of the case, appearance notwithstanding: “The Lord is near.”
Someone has well said, An ignorance of the providence of God is the cause of all impatience. Conversely, the awareness of this reality, brought to us by faith, calms the soul, convincing us that our enemies are not as free to do what they want as they suppose. Believing God puts everything in a different light. If oppressed, we can soundly sleep “between two soldiers,”even when we are in prison, so to speak (Acts 12:6-7).
The point of the Lord being “at hand,” or “near,” is that He will both deliver us and deal with our enemies. He takes quite personally what men dare to do to us out of hatred and contempt. Jesus said God would “avenge His own elect,” and avenge them He will (Lk 18:7). In fact, “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (2 Thess 1:6). It is not righteous for us to undertake such vengeance. Such attempts are a flagrant denial that “the Lord is at hand.”
There are two senses in which “the Lord is at hand.” The first is that He is “a very present Help in the time of trouble” (Psa 46:1). In this sense, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth”(Psa 145:18NKJV). We do not walk alone, whether in the valley or on the mountain, whether in soul-debilitating trouble or exhilarating joys. The persuasion of this will keep us from being disconcerted by the opposition of the ungodly. Their aggression is duly noted by Jesus. “The Lord is near,” and “If God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31). Persuaded of this, “we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb 13:6). As James would say, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).
There is another sense in which “The Lord is at hand.” His second coming is drawing closer. “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). We can ill afford to become involved in ungodly retaliation or weakening fear. Both of them cause us to forget “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet 4:7). When our enemies seem to get the best of us, we must remember “the end is not yet” (Matt 24:6). The time has been appointed, and will surely come, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 1:7). Until that time, our circumstances must not be allowed to overcome us, or cause us to conduct ourselves out of harmony with the Spirit of Christ. Your salvation brings all that is required to do this.