8. Rejoice in the Lord Always (Philippians 4:1-9)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (28:01)

El Greco, 'Apostles Peter and Paul' (1592), oil on canvas, 121.5 x 105 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
El Greco, 'Apostles Peter and Paul' (1592), oil on canvas, 121.5 x 105 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Dissention and bickering are selfish reactions to not getting one's own way. This passage begins with a plea to Euodia and Syntyche to "agree with each other in the Lord," but concludes with a profound teaching on how to find inner peace through prayer and trust.

My Joy and My Crown (4:1)

"Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" (4:1)

Verse 1 is a transition verse. Paul calls the Philippian believers to stand firm in the face of Judaizers and immoral Christians who would lead them astray. Paul deeply loves this church and this love shows up again and again. Here he refers to them as "dearly beloved" (KJV).[179] He longs to see them again. They are his joy[180] and his crown (stephanos), originally a wreath, here "that which serves as adornment or source of pride."[181] He is proud of them and their faith accomplishments.

Euodia and Syntyche -- Agree in the Lord! (4:2-3)

Now he hits a problem straight on:

"I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (4:2-3)

Here are two Christian sisters, each of whom Paul knows well and has worked with[182] in the Gospel. But they can't seem to get along. Paul's exhortation is quite strong. He uses the word "plead" (NIV), "beseech" (KJV), and "urge" (NRSV), Greek parakaleō, which means here "to make a strong request for something, implore, entreat."[183] He doesn't just use the word once, but twice -- one urging for each of the women: "I plead with Euodia! And I plead with Syntyche!" When they hear this letter read aloud, they won't be able to mistake the intensity and urgency of Paul's command.

He calls them to "agree with each other," (NIV), to "be of the same mind" (NRSV, KJV).[184] Why did it have to come to this? Pride has a way of capturing us. It's not my fault, Euodia argues, it's hers. She should be the one apologizing to me! Sometimes it isn't even a real disagreement, just an attitude thing, a spat that has gone unhealed and begun to fester. Their animosity toward one another has begun to infect the Body. It must stop.

So Paul calls on the women themselves to settle it, and then asks a close confidant in the church, whom he calls his true "yokefellow" (NIV, KJV) or "companion" (NRSV)[185] to assist[186] in the reconciliation. (There have been various theories about who this was, but no one really knows.) He names Clement as another fellow worker. Clement was a common name in this era, so it is speculative to try to link him to Clement of Rome, who wrote a letter to the church at Corinth about 95 AD. Paul concludes this paragraph with a reference to "the book of life," a reminder of the promise of eternal life. Cities had lists of citizens. This book is the book of citizenship in the Kingdom of God, a list of those destined to inherit eternal life. (Other references to the book of life are found in: Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; and 21:27.)

Rejoice in the Lord Always (4:4-5)

Rather than allow dispute, selfish ambition, or vain glory to poison the church's life, Paul commands them to turn their thoughts to the Lord, to heavenly things, not the earthly things that are eating them up.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." (4:4-5)

This verse contains the third and fourth times in this short letter that Paul has commanded his readers to rejoice. (Others are 2:18; 3:1). "Rejoice" is the Greek verb chairō, to be in a state of happiness and well-being, "rejoice, be glad."[187]

Rejoice in the Lord

This isn't just a just an empty encouragement to "be happy" or "have a good day." Paul commands them to rejoice "in the Lord." Rejoicing is not merely a passive, spontaneous reaction; as a command it is to be a deliberate action. The Philippian Christians are to take joy, that is, find joy, in the fact of God's love for them, that Jesus has died for their sins, in the promise that their names are written in the Book of Life, that the Holy Spirit is with them constantly, that they have eternal life with God. "Rejoice in the Lord!"

Bereft of Joy

I hate to say it, but I think some people have little idea what it means to rejoice in the Lord. They believe, yes. They find some peace in Christian teaching. They have friends at church and feel some comfort from the worship service. But joy? Not really. Their faith fulfills them intellectually, perhaps, but not emotionally.

There can be many causes for this. We're all wired differently. One may have grown up out of touch with his emotions. Another may have attended a church where everyone was so serious and sober about their faith that they left out joy, leaving no role models of joy. A third may have had only a surface acquaintance with Jesus, with little experience of deliverance from difficult problems or sustenance through hard struggles.

My Experience of the Joy of the Lord

I can remember my own experience of coming upon the joy of the Lord (though my experience should by no means be considered a pattern for others). I was born into a Christian home and had surrendered my life to Christ when I was nine. I was what you might call "earnest" about my faith, but emotions didn't seem to have much to do with it. If some old lady were to ask me, "Do you love the Lord, sonny?" I wouldn't know what to say. When I was eighteen, my mother and I were exposed to the Charismatic Movement and I had an experience that Pentecostals would call "the baptism of the Holy Spirit." It took me some time to understand theologically what had happened to me.[188] But right away I realized that I now loved the Lord and others like never before. And I was brimming over with joy -- in the Lord. Now worship was full of meaning for me. I could rejoice.

The Lord Rejoices over You

If you're struggling with this, the answer is not to seek an experience. The answer is found in asking the Lord himself to open your heart and life to joy. Ask Jesus to teach you to rejoice in him. Then follow the promptings he gives you. This is not some magic or spiritual bonus, but your heritage of joy in a growing relationship with your Lord. Did you know that your God takes joy you:

"The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17)

Now he wants you share in this mutual rejoicing. I'll leave it at that, confident that God will teach you how to rejoice as you seek him. He will guide you to this joy.

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Finally, notice that this rejoicing is not to be occasional, but constant, continual -- "always." It is to be an attitude of mind in the Lord and towards the Lord. Just as we are taught to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), we are to rejoice always.

Q1. (4:4-5) Is rejoicing in the Lord a feeling or an action? How should you seek to fulfill this command if you don't feel like it? What is the effect of rejoicing?

Gentleness and Awareness of the Hour (4:4-5)

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." (4:4-5)

Remember the context of this instruction -- the dissension between Euodia and Syntyche. Rejoicing must take the place of bitterness! He counsels them to focus on "gentleness" (NIV, NRSV) or "moderation" (KJV) toward one another instead of rancor. The Greek adjective is epieikēs, "a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all."[189] "Let your gentleness be evident to all," he tells them. Instead of asserting their rights towards each other, Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche to a manifest and open gentleness and a willingness to be wronged without carrying a grudge. That is the path to reconciliation. It starts with you.

Then he adds, "The Lord is near." This was John the Baptist's message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). Jesus picked it up as well (Matthew 4:17) and instructed the disciples to preach the same message (Matthew 10:7). Peter declared, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray" (1 Peter 4:7). With Christ's coming imminent, this is no time to carry on a feud in the church! Get your act together, girls!

Cure for Anxiety (4:6)

Now Paul seems to turn toward more general teaching about finding God's peace when there is turmoil churning around you.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (4:6)

"Be anxious" (NIV), "be careful" (KJV), and "worry" (NRSV) is the Greek verb merimnaō, "to be apprehensive, have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned."[190] Do you find yourself worrying, flirting with fear of the "What if?" Do you wake up at night and can't get back to sleep because some problem captures your mind and forces you to go over the worst possible scenarios in your mind at 2 am? I expect most of us have had this kind of experience. Paul, too.

Here's how to deal with anxiety and worry. This may seem simplistic at first glance, but it's not. Let's examine Paul's instruction phrase by phrase.

Don't Be Anxious (4:6a)

Here's the command: "Don't be anxious!" We aren't just to banish the thought of fear and worry from our mind. That doesn't work. Paul tells us not to be anxious, then explains how to accomplish this.

Anything and Everything (4:6b)

Notice how comprehensive Paul is. He says, "Don't be anxious about anything." Then he gives them instructions that apply "in everything." Your situation and mine do not lie outside the scope of these spiritual principals.

Present Your Requests to God (4:6e)

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (4:6)

I am taking the final clause first so we know where the sentence is going: "Present your requests to God." "Present" (NIV) and "let be made known" (NRSV, KJV) is the Greek verb gnōrizō, "to cause information to become known: make known, reveal."[191] Why? you may be asking, do we have to tell God what our problems are? Doesn't he know what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:32)? Of course. But he wants you to ask him. He's your Father.

If you had a child who petulantly snapped his fingers expecting you to act at his tiniest whim, you would be angry. "He doesn't even ask me nicely," you'd complain. "He doesn't even say, 'Please.'" God is not trying to raise bratty, self-indulgent kids, but those who have a trusting relationship with their Father. Sure, God knows, but he wants you to ask him, to tell him, to pour out your heart before him, to "present your requests to God."

Have you been expecting God to read your mind? He can, of course, but he would like to engage you in a conversation. Conversations cause relationships to deepen.

By Prayer and Petition (4:6c)

How are we to present our requests to God? By prayer and petition. Let's look at three words:

  1. "Prayer" is the Greek noun proseuchē, "petition addressed to deity, prayer."[192]

  2. "Petition" (NIV) and "supplication" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek noun deēsis, "urgent request to meet a need, exclusively addressed to God, prayer."[193]

  3. "Requests" is the noun aitēma,[194] from the verb aiteō, "ask for, demand."

The words are fairly close synonyms.[195] So we are to spell out our needs and requests before God in prayer -- specifically, clearly.

With Thanksgiving (4:6d)

Now comes a vitally important key. Our prayers are to be made in the midst of giving thanks. "Thanksgiving" is the Greek noun eucharistia, "the expression or content of gratitude, the rendering of thanks, thanksgiving."[196]

God doesn't like whiney, self-pitying prayers any more than you like your children to come to you with that attitude. Whining is a symptom of both unbelief and self-centeredness. It implies that God doesn't really care about the problem or he would have done something already. Whining doesn't exhibit faith. If God doesn't answer your whiney prayers, it's because he doesn't want to raise whining children and so won't reward this behavior.

Instead, he tells us to pray "with thanksgiving." That is, we are to offer our prayers to God in the midst of an attitude of remembering God's faithfulness, love, and power in past situations, and thus an expectation of his answer in this situation. Thanksgiving is the language of faith. I believe that thanksgiving is the key element missing in many prayers.

Why don't you evaluate the way you are praying and add thanksgiving to the mix? Then watch how God will work on your behalf.

Q2. (4:6) How is a request in prayer altered by the presence of thanksgiving in the prayer? How does thanksgiving affect our faith as we pray?

God's Peace Will Guard Your Mind (4:7)

Paul is teaching us how to deal with anxiety. The first lesson is to bring our anxieties to God -- with thanksgiving. The second lesson is to trust God to guard your mind.

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:7)

Anxiety is the antithesis of peace. "Peace" is the Greek noun eirēnē, means first "a state of concord, peace, harmony," then "a state of well-being, peace," corresponding to the Hebrew noun shalom, "welfare, health," then "messianic salvation."[197] In contrast, anxiety is constant worry, lack of rest, a troubled state of mind.

Here is God's promise concerning peace: When you pray with thanksgiving, God's peace will guard your heart[198] and mind.[199] "Guard" (NIV, NRSV) and "keep" (KJV) is the Greek verb phroureō, generally, "to provide security, guard, protect, keep" from phrouros, "a guard."[200] God will provide security over your mind. His peace will banish your turmoil and worry.

How could this happen? you wonder. How could God do this in my situation? My problem is eating me alive!

This peace is described as that which goes beyond your rational understanding and thought processes. "Transcends" (NIV), "passeth" (KJV), "surpasses" (NRSV) is the Greek verb hyperechō, "to surpass in quality or value, be better than, excel."[201] Is this kind of peace new to you? It is your heritage in Christ. You follow Paul's instructions on how to pray with thanksgiving, and then deliberately trust God to bring you this quality of peace that goes beyond your understanding. If it doesn't come fully, immediately, be patient, rest in God that he will quiet your spirit and help you.

Q3. (4:7) How does make our requests known to God help build a relationship and trust? What is God's part in the promise of peace?

Think About These Things (4:8)

There's a final element to Paul's instruction: (1) pray with thanksgiving, (2) let God's peace guard your mind and heart, and (3) finally turn your thoughts to good things.

"Finally, brothers, 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." (4:8)

If you're trying to get victory over anxiety but always let your mind go back to your worries, you'll lose. Instead, you need to deliberately turn your mind to something else and dwell on that. "Think about" (NIV, NRSV) and "think on" (KJV) is the Greek verb logizomai, primarily a mathematical and accounting term, then of cognitive processes. Here it means, "to give careful thought to a matter, think (about), consider, ponder, let one's mind dwell on something."[202] Isn't this just mind control? you ask. The answer is: Yes.

Learning to control your mind is essential to successful living. When you're in class you must exert your will to pay attention or you'll fail the class. When you're at work you must discipline yourself to tend to business or you'll get fired. When you see a curvaceous woman or a hunky man, you can appreciate their physical beauty, but you must control your mind so that you aren't imagining yourself having sex with them, or you'll be in bad trouble. The thought may be there, but you must choose not to dwell on it. Martin Luther is attributed with the advice: "You can't help it if a bird flies over your head, but don't let it make a nest in your hair."

Disciplining your mind is just as important in dealing with anxiety, but strangely, we often have never learned discipline in this regard. Now is the time!

You can't banish fear and anxiety by trying to block them out of your mind. You must choose something else to think about, something else to go to when your mind flits back to that fear and anxiety.

Paul lists eight things to prompt healthy thought patterns. Find something, he says, that fits one or more of these characteristics. What follows is a list of virtues:

  1. "True" is alēthēs, "pertaining to being truthful and honest, righteous."[203]
  2. "Noble" (NIV), "honorable" (NRSV), and "honest" (KJV) is semnos, "honorable, worthy, venerable, holy, above reproach."[204]
  3. "Right" (NIV) and "just" (NRSV, KJV) is dikaios, "right, fair, equitable, obligatory in view of certain requirements of justice."[205]
  4.  "Pure" is agnos, "pure, holy," a cultic word, originally an attribute of the divinity and everything belonging to it."[206]
  5. "Lovely" (NIV, KJV) and "pleasing" (NRSV) is prosphilēs, pertaining to causing pleasure or delight, "pleasing, agreeable, lovely, amiable."[207]
  6. "Admirable" (NIV), "of good report" (KJV), and "commendable" (NRSV) is euphēmos, from which we get our English word "euphemism." The word has the basic idea of "pertaining to what is being said with cautious reserve," then in a transferred sense, "praiseworthy, commendable."[208]
  7. "Excellent" (NIV, cf. NRSV) and "virtue" (KJV) is aretē, a term denoting consummate "excellence" or "merit" within a social context. Here, "uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue."[209]
  8. "Praiseworthy" (NIV, cf. NRSV) and "praise" (KJV) is epainos, refers first to the act of praise, then to "a thing worthy of praise."[210]

In other words, select something really worthwhile to focus your mind on and shift focus from your worry or anxiety to a worthy train of thought. You've heard the expression, "Just don't go there!" Here's your opportunity to practice it.

Q4. (4:8) Why is mind control necessary for success? For mental and spiritual peace? What have you decided to focus on instead of your anxieties? How is this working for you?

Put into Practice These Lessons (4:9)

The only way this works is to actually do it. "Put it into practice,"[211] Paul says. It's all in the execution -- and God can help you with that.

"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." (4:9)

Paul appeals to the Philippians' own observance of how Paul himself handled anxiety. Some spiritual lessons are "caught" more than "taught." Find a spiritual person in your church who seems to handle stress well and ask her how she does it. Perhaps you can find a prayer partner in whom you can confide who will hold you accountable to work through the steps to peace in times of stress. Gradually, as you practice these things, you'll find that you do better in stressful situations. You'll find your faith rising.

Philippians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, JesusWalk Bible Study Series
Available in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats

Oh, there'll be times that you feel overwhelmed. Don't despair! Paul had some of those times, too (2 Corinthians 1:8; 4:8-10; 12:7-10). Don't give up. These principles work if you apply them. And the promise remains for us: "And the God of peace will be with you." Yes! Amen! Grant it, Lord Jesus in me!


Father, I confess that there are times when fear grips my stomach and when stress seems to overwhelm me. But you have promised, Lord, and I take you at your promise. Help me to learn to pray with thanksgiving. Help me to let your peace guard my mind. Help me learn to focus my thoughts in wholesome ways. I am weak, but you are strong. I rely on your strength to help me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)


[179] Agapētos, pertaining to one who is dearly loved, "dear, beloved, prized, valued" (BDAG 7).

[180] "Joy" is the Greek noun chara, "joy, the experience of gladness" (BDAG 1077).

[181] Stephanos, BDAG 943-944.

[182] "Contended" (NIV), "laboured" (KJV), "struggled" (NRSV) is the Greek verb synathleō, "contend or struggle along with someone" (BDAG 964).

[183] Parakaleō, BDAG 764-765.

[184] Greek verb phroneō, "to have an opinion with regard to something, think, form or hold an opinion, judge" (BDAG 1065-1066).

[185] Greek noun syzugos, used in Greek to express the idea of "companion, true comrade," literally "yoke-fellow" (BDAG 954).

[186] "Help" is the Greek verb syllambanō, to help by taking part with someone in an activity (literally "take hold of together"), "support, aid, help" (BDAG 955-956).

[187] Chairō, BDAG 1074-1075.

[188] See my article, "Spirit Baptism, the New Birth, and Speaking in Tongues," (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/spirit-baptism.htm).

[189] R. Leivestad, "The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1)," NTS 13 (1965-1966), 156-164; cited by O'Brien 487.

[190] Merimnaō, BDAG 632.

[191] Gnōrizō, BDAG 203.

[192] Proseuchē, BADG 878-879.

[193] Deēsis, BDAG 213.

[194] Aitēma, "request" (BDAG 30). "What is" or "has been asked for" (Thayer 18).

[195] O'Brien 492-493. Here proseuchē probably has a particular reference to the "supplication" or "petition" the Philippians offer on their own account, especially from circumstances that cause anxiety. Deēsis occasionally stresses the sense of need, though here is used synonymously with proseuchē.

[196] Eucharistia, BDAG 416.

[197] Eirēnē, BDAG 287-288.

[198] "Hearts" is the noun kardia, from which we get our English word "cardiac." It means, "heart" as the seat of the physical, spiritual and mental life (as frequently in Greek literature). In the New Testament it is often thought of as the center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition (BDAG 508-509).

[199] "Minds" is the noun noēma, "thought" (that which one has in mind as a product of the intellectual process). Or it could refer to the "mind, understanding" (BDAG 675).

[200] Phroureō, BDAG 1066-1067.

[201] Hyperechō, BDAG 1033.

[202] Logizomai, BDAG 598.

[203] Alēthēs, BDAG 43.

[204] Semnos, BDAG 919.

[205] Dikaios, BDAG 247.

[206] Agnos, BDAG 13.

[207] Prosphilēs, BDAG 886-887.

[208] Euphēmos, BDAG 414.

[209] Aretē, BDAG 130.

[210] Epainos, BDAG 357.

[211] "Put into practice" (NIV), "keep on doing" (NRSV), and "do" (KJV) is the Greek verb prassō, "do, accomplish," to bring about or accomplish something through activity" (BDAG 860).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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