Chapter 4 verses 5-7: EXHORTATION ON PRAYER
Having dealt with the disagreement between two prominent sisters in the Philippian assembly, Paul next turns to exhortations that transcend their difficulty and apply to the entire congregation. Prayer is essential to live the joyful life amid persecutions and problems. The Christian life is an ethical one, and virtues that even the world recognizes as salutary must be cultivated by believers.
Thielman succinctly defines the structure of the passage:
‘The short, pithy, and rhetorically sophisticated admonitions of verses 4-9 flow from four theological sources: The Lord is near, God is sovereign and merciful, the world belongs to God, and those who live in the world can only be fully obedient to God by following his revelation of himself in the gospel. The first two principles are bound closely together and dominate verses 5-7; the second two are also tightly linked and stand beneath verses 8-9’.1
The first admonition concerns their display of ‘moderation’, a word with a wide variety of meaning that is hard to translate into English. Hendriksen describes the richness of the term:
‘One may substitute any of the following: forbearance, yieldedness, geniality, kindliness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, magnanimity, generosity. All of these qualities are combined in the adjective-noun that is used in the original. Taken together they show the real meaning …
The lesson which Paul teaches is that true blessedness cannot be obtained by the person who rigorously insists on whatever he regards as his just due. The Christian is the man who reasons that it is far better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong (1 Cor. 6:7). Sweet reasonableness is an essential ingredient of true happiness. Now such big-heartedness, such forbearance, the patient willingness to yield wherever yielding is possible without violating any real principle, must be shown to all, not only to fellow-believers. This Christian magnanimity probably stands in very close connection with the comfort which the Christian derives from the coming of the Lord, which coming has already been mentioned (Phil. 3:20, 21) and is about to be mentioned once more (4:5b, ‘the Lord is at hand’). The idea seems to be: since Christ’s coming is near, when all the promises made to God’s people will become realities, believers, in spite of being persecuted, can certainly afford to be mild and charitable in their relation to others’.2
Another Greek authority adds, ‘Fairmindedness, the attitude of a man who is charitable towards men’s faults and merciful in his judgment of their failings because he takes their whole situation into his reckoning”. Perhaps “graciousness" is the best English equivalent; and, in the context here, it is to be the spirit of willingness to yield under trial which will show itself in a refusal to retaliate when attacked’.3 Eadie agrees in these words:
‘It is not gentleness as an innate feeling, but as the result of self-restraint … It does not insist on what is its due; it does not stand on etiquette or right, but it descends and complies. It is opposed to that rigour which never bends nor deviates, and which, as it gives the last farthing, uniformly exacts it. It is not facile pliability – a reed in the breeze – but that generous and indulgent feeling that knows what is its right, but recedes from it, is conscious of what is merited, but does not contend for strict proportion. It is, in short, that grace which was defective in one or other, or both of the women, who are charged by the apostle to be of one mind in the Lord. For slow to take offence, it is swift to forgive it. Let a misunderstanding arise, and no false delicacy will prevent it from taking the first step towards reconciliation or adjustment of opinion. And truly such an element of character well becomes a man who expects a Saviour in whom this feeling was so predominant’.4
Clearly, Christians must put others first, even in the face of unreasonable attitudes or provocative behaviour on the part of their adversaries. Having an attitude that is both joyous and gentle is made easier when one remembers that ‘the Lord is at hand’ – or as others render it, ‘the Lord is near’ JND and NASB. Some Bible students hold that this refers to the Lord’s ongoing spiritual presence in the assembly. Others maintain that it is a reference to the Lord’s coming. While both are certainly true, I find the latter interpretation more consistent with the context of Philippians chapter 3 verses 20-21 and the opening section of chapter 4. Passages like 1 John chapter 3 verses 1-2 also show the lifestyle impact that the Lord’s return is to have on saints. Ash plausibly takes safe ground when he writes, ‘It is possible that we have here an intentional double meaning. The Lord who was near to care and help could also return at any time’.5
Given the persecution that the Philippians faced, Phil. 1. 28-29, it is not surprising that they would worry. Yet Paul tells them, ‘Be careful for nothing’, v. 6, thereby urging them to forsake anxiety. One writer observes the difficulty of this ‘admonition that touches the quick of every person’.6 But this instruction was no groundless platitude, but rather a tangible benefit of their relationship to Christ. They may ‘be anxious for nothing’ NKJV, because they may take everything to God in prayer. The word translated ‘be careful’ does not mean ignorance or indifference, as Barnes explains, ‘[it] does not mean that we are to exercise no care about worldly matters–no care to preserve our property, or to provide for our families (comp. 1 Tim. 5:8); but that there is to be such confidence in God as to free the mind from anxiety, and such a sense of dependence on him as to keep it calm’.7
Another commentator adds:
‘His offer of prayer is not an easy solution; no magic formula here, no bedtime or morning rote repetition of words that we have labeled prayer. He is talking about the serious business of bringing our lives before God, examining our dependence upon God, placing our lives in God’s hands to be used, remembering and celebrating what God has already done, confessing our needs and dedicating our gifts, committing ourselves and all that we are to make our common cause God’s kingdom, not our own kingdom. When prayer is seen in that fashion, then it is not glib to say that anxiety is an attempt to carry the burden of the present and the future oneself; prayer is yielding it to and leaving it in the safe hands of God’.8
Verse 6 comprehensively describes this activity as ‘prayer’ – which is a general term including the ideas of fellowship and worship; ‘supplication’ – meaning bringing specific needs before the Almighty and asking Him to act on our behalf; ‘with thanksgiving’ – being grateful for who God is, what He has done in the past, not to mention our present and future. Of course, the phrase ‘let your requests be made known to God’ does not undermine His omniscience. Just as a father delights to hear his child say he is hungry at supper time and wants fish and chips (his favourite food, as the parents are well-aware), so our Father in heaven knows our needs and supplies them according to His perfect will. As Hole writes, ‘though there are a thousand and one matters in our lives that we could hardly present to God in prayer as being directly connected with the Name and interests of Christ, yet we have full liberty to present them to God, and indeed are bidden to do so. As we do so we may be in the enjoyment of the peace of God. We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything’.9
The result of this dedication to prayer is a practical enjoyment of peace that transcends human understanding and worrying circumstances for it is divinely bestowed – it is explicitly called ‘the peace of God’, v. 7. What is more, this peace is said to ‘keep’ – meaning ‘guard’ NKJV, ESV, JND, etc. – the hearts of the praying Christians. The answer for anxiety also includes the instructions of verses 8-9, as Wiersbe cogently notes, ‘If we are to conquer worry and experience the secure mind, we must meet the conditions that God has laid down. There are three: right praying (Phil. 4:6-7), right thinking (Phil. 4:8), and right living (Phil. 4:9)’.10 This is real New Testament Christianity. Believers possess a resource of unfailing strength and comfort in petitioning the throne of grace, Heb. 4. 14-16. God’s peace garrisons them against external opposition and internal fears, 2 Cor. 7. 5.10
Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, pg. 223.
William Hendriksen, Exposition of Philippians. New Testament Commentary, Vol. 5. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 193f. [Italics original.]
Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 11. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, pg. 174. The beginning quote is by I. H. Marshall.
John Eadie, Commentary on the Greek Text on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859, pg. 248.
Anthony L. Ash, The College Press NIV Commentary: Philippians. College Press Publishing Co., 2000, pg. 56.
Maxie D. Dunham, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31: Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, pg. 308.
Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians. London: Blackie & Son, 1884-1885, pg. 214
Dunham, pp. 309-310.
F. B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed., accessed here: http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/fbh_54_philippians.htm#Philippians4 Accessed on 28/11/11.
Warren Wiersbe, Be Joyful: Philippians. 1974; electronic ed. (Quickverse, 2006).