Grace Bible Church
Standing Firm – Philippians 4:1
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Sermon Study Sheets
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 22, 2004
Paul begins the fourth chapter of Philippians saying, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” The “therefore” tells us that what Paul is going to say in this chapter is predicated in all that he has already said. So as a quick review is in order. What is Philippians all about? This wonderful book is about being able to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. It is tragic that so many professing Christians live their life without that joy because they either continue to keep one foot in the world, or they do not believe God’s promises, or both.
From the common perspective of the world, Paul would have every reason to feel miserable, upset or despondent. He had been in jail for two years in Judea. The government authorities there would not resolve his case, so he appealed to Caesar. He suffered a harrowing journey getting to Rome where he is still imprisoned. It is a house arrest situation, but he still had a guard chained to him 24 hours a day, and he cannot go where he would like. On top of all this, there are fellow Christians who disdain him and are purposely trying to cause him distress.
What is Paul’s response to all these things? Paul thanks God for the Philippians (1:3). He is confident God will complete His work in them (1:6). He views his circumstances as a positive because Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else (1:13). There are believers who have become bold in their faith because of him (1:14). Paul even rejoices in response to those that are seeking to cause him distress because they are preaching the gospel (1:18). As Paul states it, “I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”
Paul’s desire throughout the book of Philippians is that they, and by extension, we as well, would live in a similar manner as he. He longs that we might also trust God as he did and live a life controlled by Christ and experience the joy that comes with that.
There is joy when there is unity among the brethren, but that unity only comes when we are of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit and intent on one purpose (2:2). That can only occur if we are humble with one another reflecting the attitude of our Lord Jesus Christ in regarding one another as more important than ourselves (2:3f). There is joy in proving ourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (2:15f). Those who are doing that are not grumbling and disputing about things. There are too many more important matters in life to be concerned about than to be caught up in the petty things that cause most interpersonal conflicts.
There is also joy in setting aside the things of this world we once considered to be so important, and instead press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3). That is when life has real meaning because only then are we fulfilling the reason for which God created us. Everything else is, as Paul put it, “rubbish” (3:8). Paul’s life is a good pattern for us to follow because he had to learn to follow Christ just as we have to learn to do. God has also placed other mature Christians around us so that we can follow their pattern. That is another cause for joy, because it is a lot easier to mature when there are others around to help in the process. God never intended any of us to live the Christian life alone. That is why Paul describes the church as a body in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 12. Each of us has different gifts, ministries and abilities, but we all need each other in order to mature and fulfill God’s purposes in our lives.
Another cause of rejoicing is that our citizenship is even now in heaven and our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will one day return from there to take us to be with Him forever (3:20,21). In the process our bodies will be transformed to be like His. That is a wonderful promise, and as I pointed out the last two weeks, it is something we eagerly await because Christ could return at anytime. The imminence of Jesus’ return is a reason for not only our hope, but for diligence in living a godly life. Paul uses it here as a reason for following the pattern set by him and other godly believers. Your citizenship is already in heaven, therefore live according to who you are in Christ.
All of that is the background context for chapter 4
The next thing we note in verse 1 is that Paul refers to the Philippians as “beloved.” He does this twice in this verse. The term itself, agaphtoiV / agapetoi, is an adjective of the word used for sacrificial love, agaph / agape. Similar to his use of the term “brethren,” which is also used in this verse, Paul is calling attention to the close relationship that they already have with one another. This softens the commands he gives in this verse and those following by first affirming his love for them. Remember that earlier he had expressed to them that they were in his heart (1:7). Paul’s commands arise from this love for them.
The phrase, “I long to see,” is the translation of another adjective, (epipoqhtoV / epipothLtos), which further expresses this love and reminds them of what he said earlier in 1:8, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The relationship between Paul and the Philippians is a good role model of the relationship that should exist between all Christians, especially between the spiritual leader and those he is shepherding.
Contrary to how people in the world behave, leadership in the church is not about power or any personal gain, except perhaps the “unfading crown of glory” mentioned in 1 Peter 5:4. Leadership in the church is about service and giving because of a heart of love for the people. As Peter states in 1 Peter 5:1-4, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Jesus was even more concise on this point in Matthew 20:25-28. “But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and [their] great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant , 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Leadership in the church is about service, not control. Those who seek it for the purpose of power and control will cause damage to the church as they attempt to force things to be the way they want it instead of humbly seeking for things to be the way God wants it.
Joy & Crown
Paul also refers to the Philippians in verse 1 as his “joy and crown.” This is another expression of his deep relationship with them.
By calling them his “joy,” Paul makes a clear statement about the fundamental source of this emotion in his life. Paul’s joy was founded in seeing God at work, not circumstances. There is a fundamental difference between what we have as Christians in Christ and what the world has to offer. Perhaps I make too much of this sometimes, but I also see this as the difference between joy and happiness.
Happiness has a strong component of pleasure, which is why it must be pursued. Pleasurable circumstances bring happiness and non-pleasurable ones do not. In addition, happiness is also fleeting because even when you do catch up to it, the pleasure of the pursuit has now ended, and the particular circumstance that has been captured soon becomes boring to us. Interest in a new toy quickly diminishes. Food is not desirable when you are full. Happiness over the same circumstance decreases over time.
Joy is different. It has a basis in peace and contentment. While positive circumstances are helpful in making us joyful, they are not necessary. We can be joyful in the midst of very negative circumstances, even as Paul was as he wrote to the Philippians. Joy is based in something more stable than circumstances. Paul’s joy was based in seeing God at work, and when it came to the Philippians, Paul had seen God do mighty work in them. That is why they were such a joy to him. He rejoiced in all his remembrance of them (1:3). They not only heard and responded to the gospel message that he brought to them, but they grew in love and in real knowledge and all discernment (1:9). Their lives demonstrated the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (1:11).
This is something that is true for any minister of the gospel. We have great joy when we see people with have worked with responding to the moving of God in their life and walking well with Him. I like pleasant circumstances as much as anyone, but what causes me to rejoice the most is when I see you folks walking in godliness. Like anyone else I like to hear others praise my efforts and say it was a good sermon. But real joy only comes when God has used my efforts to make a change in your life to draw you closer to Christ. God’s work in the lives of the Philippians and their positive response to that caused them to be Paul’s “joy.” What is the source of your joy?
Paul also refers to the Philippians as his “crown.” The word used here, stefanoV / stephanos, does not refer to a royal crown as on a king, but rather the wreath that was placed on the head those who won a game or contest. It was a symbol of public honor. Those of you who have seen any of the medal ceremonies at the current Olympic Games being held in Athens, Greece will know what I am talking about because the winning athletes not only get their medals, but they also have an olive wreath placed on their heads.
Paul states that the Philippians were his “crown.” They were the public symbol of honor belonging to him. They were the proof that his ministry in Philippi was effective. They were the fruit of his work.
Paul had good reason to view them as his crown or symbol of honor that was due him. Remember that there were those that sought to cause him distress in his imprisonment. Part of this would have been other believers that sought to build up their own reputation at his expense. Their claim to somehow be better than Paul was based simply on the fact that Paul was in jail and they were not. But circumstances are not the evidence of God’s blessing or favor.
Too often we are also prone to fall into following the success models of our society instead of God’s models. We tend to view ease of life as the proof of God being pleased with a person. We also tend to think that big and / or expensive is success. Success in ministry would then be judged by how many people come or how large and nice are the facilities. God counts faithfulness to Him as success. The long list of people in Hebrews 11 is evidence of this since most of them lived through difficult circumstances and rarely had any large number of people listening to them.
The Philippians were the evidence of Paul’s success. They were his crown. If you wanted to know his character and what God had done through him, you needed to look at those to whom he had ministered. Their godly lives proved Paul’s faithfulness to God as a minister, as well as God’s pleasure in using him. What is your crown? What is the evidence of your faithful service to God and His blessing on that ministry?
Paul gives the command at the end of verse 1. “So stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” The word “so” here, ( outwV / houtôs),
speaks of the manner in which they are to stand firm. It could also be translated as “thus,” or “in this way.” In the rest of the chapter Paul will give them specific ways in which they are to stand firm. They are to work through problems and live in harmony (2,3). They are to maintain a joyful spirit through proper prayer (4-7). They are to keep their minds focused on what is godly (8,9), and they are to learn to be content in their circumstances by trusting in the Lord (10-19). Paul had complete confidence that they would be able to carry out these commands for two reasons. First, as already mentioned in 1:6, he was confident God would complete the work He had begun in them. There is no lack in Christ’s power to accomplish His will (3:21). Second, they had already demonstrated what was needed by the same qualities that made them Paul’s joy and crown.
But why do we have to “stand firm?” This is a miliary term meaning to “hold your position.” There is to be no retreat. Why doesn’t Paul tell us to “press on” here as he said of himself in 3:14? One reason is that each of these commands is related to an area in which we will be attacked by both our enemy, the devil, and our own sinfulness. In addition, some of these are more things to keep than things to gain.
Harmony in the church exists because of our common bond and love for Jesus Christ, but it is continually threatened by our own selfishness as well as those from without that would seek to disrupt our unity. Joy is a natural characteristic of Christians because of their relationship with Jesus and His precious promises to us, but it is under constant attack by our adversary to doubt God and be anxious about the future. The believer is being “transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2), but the process is difficult for the world seeks to conform us to its image by having our minds dwell on what it does – the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes. Peter tells us that God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Jesus promised to meet all the needs of those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). The reason we are not content is that we are resistant to give up our own desires for God’s decision about what is best for us. We want to remain in control of our own kingdom instead of resting in His promises to care for us as part of His kingdom. To successfully live the Christian life we must “stand firm in the Lord” and resist the attacks that come against us.
This concept of standing firm in the Lord against the things that may come against us is a common one with Paul. He tells believers to “stand firm” in 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:11,13,14; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; and 2 Thessalonians 2:15. How are we to stand firm?
First and foremost it is by cultivating our relationship with Jesus. It cannot be stressed enough that we are to stand firm “in the Lord.” You cannot stand firm in your own strength or that of some other human or group of humans.
We cannot resist the temptations that come against us without the Lord’s strength. If we try to face temptation on our own, we will be carried away by our own desires which in turn will give birth to sin. There are many that claim to have kicked some bad habit on their own, and many people have, but they do so by trading it for some other habit that still does not meet God’s standard of righteousness. A person may be able to exchange one curse word or vulgarism for another, but only the Christian standing firm in the Lord can turn their complaints into praise. The Christian resists temptation by looking for the way of escape that our faithful God always provides that we might be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).
We cannot resist the actions of our adversary, the devil, in our own strength. In Acts 19 we find the story of the seven sons of the Jewish chief priest, Sceva, who attempted to cast out an evil spirits from a man, but instead the demonized man overpowered them and they fled out of that house naked and wounded (Acts 19:13-16). We can resist the devil only by first submitting to God, only then will the devil flee (James 4:7).
We cannot make wise decisions except that we first stand firm in the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). If we do not seek the wisdom from above, we will be overwhelmed by worldly wisdom and suffer its consequences (Psalm 1; James 3:13-18).
We must also stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). That means that we must know and believe what the Bible teaches and then not waver from those beliefs (2 Thess. 2:15). While there is a mystical element in our walk with Christ since our relationship with Jesus is a spiritual one, there is also a large portion of it that is not mystical, but straight forward and even somewhat academic. There is a body of doctrine we must know in order to walk with Christ. We must know the truths that He and His apostles taught. We cannot be free without those truths (John 8:32). The Bible sets us free because it is the lamp for our feet and light for our path. It is as we hide God’s word in our heart that we learn not to sin against Him (Ps. 119:11).
Finally, we must stand firm against our adversary by putting on the whole armor of God. Turn over to Ephesians 6:10.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.] 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil [one.] 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I have preached on this passage before, so I am not going to go into any depth here. The tapes are available or I would be happy to print out a set of notes for you on request. But I do want to briefly go over each of these.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written at the same time as his letter to the Philippians. As Paul looks at the soldier chained to him, he uses the military gear he is wearing as an analogy for the spiritual preparation we must have as we face the schemes of the devil.
We need to understand that Satan is an usurper and seeks to take away the glory that belongs to God which includes destroying the testimony of God’s followers. Satan is not omniscient, but he is methodical in his effort to discover our weaknesses and find ways in which he can cause us to stumble into sin.
One of his most effective schemes the devil uses against the Church was stated well by Warren Wiersbe, “We are wasting our time fighting people when we ought to be fighting the devil who seeks to control people and make them oppose the work of God.” People are never the enemy. This is probably most damaging when we think of some other Christian as the enemy because of some conflict we have with them. People are never our enemies no matter how much they may irritate you, attack you or hurt you. People are the mission field. The devil and his followers are the enemies. If we lose this focus we not only end up wasting our time and energy, but we will also be obstructions to the gospel message.
The KJV translates verse 12 as “we wrestle,” which is a good description of our struggle. This is the language of face to face combat. This is front line action and hand to hand fighting.
If we are to be victorious in this struggle, we must have on all the pieces of armor that God provides for us. Only then can we stand firm and resist the attacks of our enemy.
The first piece of equipment allows us to “gird up our loins with truth.” The Roman soldier typically wore a long gown or robe often called a “tunic.” It was usually made of a square piece of cloth with holes cut out for the head and arms. It would hang down from the shoulders. This was great for most activities, but it would hinder you if you had to move fast or agilely. A girdle or belt would be used to hold the clothing up off the legs so that the person could move quickly. That belt would also provide a place to hold the sheath for the sword. It was an essential piece of equipment that tied everything together.
Truth is the belt that ties everything together in a believer’s life. Truth keeps us from becoming encumbered with the nonsense and fables of human wisdom. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 4:6). Jesus said God’s word is truth (John 17:17), and it is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32) from the devil’s lies and deceptions. That name, “devil,” means “slanderer,” for that is what he does. He slanders God and everything related to God. That is how he enticed Eve to sin. He slandered God’s character and commandments, and the same plan has worked effectively against humans ever since. Truth overcomes slander. Do you know the truth? Are you seeking to the truth in all your dealings in life? Truth is the essential element of the armor of God because it ties everything else together. Are you making sure on a daily basis that you are wearing the belt of truth?
The next piece of armor is the breastplate. It would extend from just below the neck to either the thighs or just below the stomach in both front and to the top of the buttock in back. Its purpose was to protect the thorax, i.e., the portion of your body between your neck and legs. All your vital organs except the brain are located in this region. In Jewish culture, this area was also seen as the seat of emotion and will.
Satan is an expert at exploiting our emotions in order entice us to sin. The breastplate of righteousness is there to protect your emotions and will. This breastplate is made out of the imputed righteousness of Christ which enables me to be in a relationship with God and grants me access to Him. It also changes my character so that I seek to live out that righteousness in daily life. That desire for righteousness can out weigh the emotional enticements the devil brings before me.
The next piece of equipment is having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The shoes of the Roman soldier enabled him to move without slipping. The gospel of peace removes one of Satan’s most potent weapons, fear. Satan is more powerful than we are, but he is not more powerful than the Holy Spirit who indwells us (1 John 4:4). I need not fear the devil or anything he can do, for ultimately, it is my God who loves me that is in control.
Paul emphasizes the next piece of armor, the shield of faith, by introducing it with the phrase, “in addition to all.” In essence, he is telling us to make sure we do not forget our shield. Faith is my belief in whom Jesus is and what He has promised. This faith is not a blind leap, but a very reasonable conclusion to the quest for truth. It is by faith that we extinguish Satan’s fiery darts by which he seeks to cause us to doubt God. Let’s face it, we do not know everything, and if the devil he can, he will prod us in one of these areas to start doubting God. Faith enables us to rest on God’s character in the midst of our uncertainty. For example, I don’t know why God has allowed the members of my family to have their various medical problems, but I do know that God loves us and He has a plan for it all. By faith I place my trust in Him and patiently wait to see how He will work it all out and use it for His glory. My faith in what God has revealed of Himself enables me to trust Him in what He has not yet revealed in His plan.
The 5th piece of spiritual armor is the Helmet of Salvation. The helmet protects the head. The head is the source of four of our five senses plus the brain. When a person is saved there is a radical change that takes place which not only makes alive in Christ a person who was dead in the trespasses and sin, but it also changes a person’s whole perception of reality and how they think. The helmet is a defensive piece of equipment that is needed with the enemy has gotten through our other defenses. The helmet of salvation is our confident assurance in our eternal future with God which protects us when Satan has smashed through our other lines of defense. We can stand firm against our adversary even when the circumstances of our lives seem to be crumbling around us. When I do not know anything else, I can always go back to Romans 5 and know that God loves me because Jesus Christ died in my place to save me from my sins.
The last piece of armor mentioned is the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The sword is both a defensive and offensive piece of equipment. The Bible is called here the Sword of the Spirit because the Bible cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is its author and interpreter (2 Peter 1:20,21), and the one that teaches it to believers (1 John 2:27). The Bible reveals to us God and His will and corrects us to walk in it. It is “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). We are to be diligent to present ourselves approved unto God as workmen who handle accurately the word of truth and need not be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15).
Are you standing firm in the Lord? Are you being diligent to put on the whole armor of God? If not, you are an open target for the devil, and you will probably pull others down with you when you fall. If you need help, that is what the body of Christ is for. There are plenty of people around to pray with you, encourage you, or even disciple you. Talk with myself or any of our church leaders and we will joyfully direct you so that you can stand firm in the Lord.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “stand firm” is said. Talk with your parents about how you can stand firm in the Lord and against the devil.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why is Paul joyful even in the midst of bad circumstances? What are some of the sources of joy that he wants us to also experience? How does Paul express his affection for the Philippians and why is that important? How is leadership in the church different from leadership in the world? Why are the Philippians Paul’s “joy”? What is the difference between happiness and joy. What is your source of joy? Explain. What does Paul mean that they are his “crown”? What is your crown? Explain. In what specific ways does Paul want the Philippians to “stand firm”? Why does Paul say to “stand firm” instead of “press on”? Why do we have to stand firm “in the Lord”? What are the dangers of standing based on our own abilities? What does it mean to “stand firm in the faith” – cf. 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Thess. 2:15? Why must we put on the armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-18? Who are our enemies? Explain each piece of armor & its importance.
Sermon Notes – August 22, 2004
Standing Firm in the Lord – Philippians 4:1
Review & Context
Joy & Crown
The Manner (4:2-19)
How to Stand Firm
In the Lord
In the Faith
Against Our Adversary
The Armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-18
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