Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Trinity 19A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Philippians 4:1-9

1My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.


Given that this passage is not being read as the whole letter would have been, and so we are not provided with earlier references, I have taken out parts of verse 1 which need the link. I don’t have a problem with a reading Bible translating αδελφοι (adelphoi) as ‘brothers and sisters’ because that would have been Paul’s understanding, but a study Bible should keep to the original text and translate it as ‘brethren.’

It’s not clear from the snippet from this letter that Paul was writing from prison, awaiting trial which could result in his death; yet he oozes love and joy. Clearly this church which he set up has been doing well, for it is his joy and crown, but with Paul in prison and pressure from elsewhere in the community which would have had many opposed to Christianity, there could have been doubt among the believers. Hence Paul’s instruction to stand firm in the Lord.

Paul was a great supporter of women’s leadership in a time when women weren’t even counted, and their role was, to use a 20th century description, “at home, barefoot and pregnant” looking after the needs and desires of the men. Euodia and Syntyche aren’t the only women who were prominent in Paul’s ministry and the churches he established. These two had struggled with Paul in Philippi, probably because they were women as well as getting people to convert to Christianity in a hostile world. The unnamed “loyal companion” could have been any one of many people, but the lack of identification allows us to put in place the unsung heroes of our own churches.

The popular Christian song “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” is a direct lift from this passage. Despite his dire circumstances, Paul urges everyone to rejoice always. If you break a leg, rejoice; if you win the mega-lottery, rejoice; if you get a bad dose of Covid-19, rejoice; if you pass your exams with flying colours, rejoice. We may not see what there is to rejoice about it, but God can, and it will turn out for good.

I can see people, now, saying “Rejoice always” is impracticable, and “if the Lord is near I can’t see Him,” but it’s not that difficult to rejoice even if things who awry, and the Lord is always right beside you, in the worst of times, so why not ask for help when things aren’t going the way you want them to go? Maybe that’s because God wants things to go differently. Maybe God also wants us to sing joyful songs as if they inspire us to be joyful, instead of singing them as a dirge. Too often we sing hymns and songs as if we have an audience of thousands when the congregation we are in is only twenties and thirties. Why should Christians have a reputation for being dull and not enjoying fun? Why have we lost the spontaneity for being joyful in our everyday lives? Is it because we’ve become so self-centred and lost contact with our maker?

Hello worry-warts. Sorry, Paul wants you to not worry but “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” When we give thanks for what we have, and ask God to make good from bad, we are moving in the right direction. Even the next part of this passage will be familiar to anyone who frequents a church: “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ”. That’s because God’s peace is far more encompassing than human ideas of peace. God’s peace is not an absence of war, but a celebration of unity and respect for all of creation, even those elements we abhor.

When we listen to what Paul is asking us to do, rather than just hearing someone read those words in a service of worship and let them float into and out of our consciousness, we quite rightly should feel challenged. Think only of things which are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, excellent, commendable, and worthy of praise, and ignore the rest. That list is hard to achieve all the time, but achieving it will bring us closer to God.

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