THE MOUSEHOLE OF REJOICING

Philippians 4—a mousehole where we can stand firm in the Lord.

This is Paul’s practical “how to,” advising the Philippians on standing firm in the Lord. Most of the teaching in the New Testament on practical discipleship is in Paul’s letters, because he was entrusted with particularly deep revelations on the subject and gifted with an intensely pastoral heart for his charges. He really wanted to protect them from the sin traps they faced in the areas of the world, the flesh, and the enemy.

This post is an extension of an earlier post, “Meditate on honest and holier mice,” based on the Mouse Companion translation, “Philippians + notes,” primarily to inspire readers to dive into these translations for themselves and see where the Greek actually goes in comparison to where our favourite translations have gone.

1    So then, dearly loved brethren for whom I long, my joy and wreath, this is how to stand firm in the Lord my friends.

Translation note: the Greek says “wreath” here which is odd in English so other translations have put “crown,” but the idea is that their faith gives Paul “honour” so I let it stand since “crown” implies too much.

2    I urge Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord;

Paul’s first point is that we are “to agree with each other in the Lord.” We are not told how these ladies have disagreed, but if they both chose to agree with the Holy Spirit, ie “in the Lord,” their important differences would simply evaporate.

3    and I call on you, true comrade, to assist these women who who have struggled for the gospel at my side, also Clement and all my co-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.

I don’t know if Paul had a particular individual in mind with his “true comrade,” but he is directing assistance towards these ladies to help them “agree with each other in the Lord.” Failure to do so will compromise their labours for the gospel. Not only outreach, but regular day-to-day discipleship is supposed to be a team effort—the assembly (ecclesia) was designed to be a vibrant community, where the disciples cared for each other, particularly in a spiritual context, with the elders helping the rest to know who and what they were in Christ and how to overcome. This would involve being alert to the struggles and hurts of the brethren and praying with them, releasing them from the deceptions of the enemy and his world system, and from the traitorous nature of their own flesh. Always the most important aspect is to keep clear of sin in all its forms, not through the idolatrous practices of confession, penance and absolution, but through abiding in Christ, letting the peace of God be one’s heart’s arbiter (see note on Colossians3.14-15), and overcoming in Christ by faith.

Paul is not carefully ruling out those who laboured with him but were not written in the book of life, he is just reminding them that they are to encourage them to keep pressing on in Christ.

4    Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say: rejoice!

One of the most important directions in the Bible… repeated for emphasis.

Rejoicing in the Lord has to be built on a solid ground of faith and trust, and a firm foundation of loving obedience—images from the building trade. Note: the word often translated “carpenter” in the gospels is the same word as “builder.” If Joseph were a builder, and Jesus his apprentice, this would explain why in all Jesus’ parables and teachings he never once uses a carpentry image but often uses practical images from building; then He also says, “I will build my assembly (with living stones).”

If we have this solid ground and firm foundation, rejoicing will come naturally and will, in itself, become a cozy mousehole, where we can stand, if we’re very small, strengthened in our faith in Christ.

5    Let your graciousness be seen by all. The Lord is at hand

Our lives are supposed to be so Christ centred that everyone we come into contact with should notice His character in us—even if it repels them… and we’re specifically not to hide it.

Almost every translation misses the point that the end of this verse is the first part of the sentence in the next verse so they end up stressing that we are to reveal our graciousness because the Lord is watching. This is not what Paul is saying.

6    so don’t be concerned about anything: just pray about everything. Through prayers and thanksgiving let God know your needs,

His point is that we never have to do without the Lord’s support in living this life. If we could get into the habit of praying “about everything” and simply trusting in the basic truth of God’s word instead of getting anxious, our lives as disciples would be far more relaxed and fruitful. We often fail to realise quite how firm are the words of God—they are firmer than the structure of the earth itself, utterly immovable. They are righteous and holy and therefore we can, and must, trust our entire existence to their certainty.

7    and the peace of God, which is superior to all reasoning, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Here again we see that our lives are to be focused utterly on the peace of God, allowing us to understand His promptings, directions and instructions, and keeping us safe from dangers He can see but we can’t.

It doesn’t matter how intelligent we are, and how practised in creative or logical thought, nothing we can conceive will come close to the true peace of God which simply comes from prayer, followed by complete trust in God’s guidance and provision. That peace forms an impenetrable barrier round our hearts which allows our thoughts to remain pure and true in Christ. Our trouble, if we remember to pray at all, is that we then forget our prayer or fail to trust, and so we scamper off and try to answer it for ourselves in His place… goodbye peace of God!

8    Finally brethren, if anyone is honest, if anyone is honourable, if anyone is virtuous, if anyone is holy, if anyone is loving, if anyone is reputable—if anyone has virtues or any commendable attribute—think about them.

All the translations I have access to have assumed that this says “whatever things” are true etc, but the Greek word can just as easily be translated “whoever” and so “if anyone” is a perfectly good way to put it in English. A careful assessment of the qualities listed makes it clear that these are all virtues of godly people, not of true or beautiful things.

The point is that we are to meditate on the virtues displayed by those who are further on in the Lord than we are, in order to make them our own by practicing them, and so we will daily grow more Christlike. This is confirmed in the next verse.

9    Practice also all that you heard, accepted and learned from me, and all that you have seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Careful observation of Paul’s character through his responses to people and circumstances, and of all that he taught (which they have accepted and learned from him) has shown the Philippians many virtues which they can add to their own character by meditating on them in the Holy Spirit.

There is no hint of boasting in his drawing attention to what he is in Christ, he is simply encouraging them to aspire for themselves to the heights Christ has enabled him to reach.

10  So I greatly rejoice in the Lord that you have just renewed your concern for me—the concern you’ve not had opportunity to show.

This is their first opportunity in a while to contribute to Paul’s ministry and he is delighted that they have stepped up to the plate to support him, not because he needs their help but because it is evidence that they are already thinking in the way he is describing, and therefore maturing properly.

11  I’m not saying that I am in need, as I have learned always to be content as I am:

12  I know how to be destitute and I know how to be wealthy. I have been taught how to be content in all circumstances, well fed or hungry, in plenty or in want…

This is an important skill for all of us to learn: to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. The less we need, the less power those in the world can have over us. If we accept every circumstance from the Lord, with gratitude, we free Him to provide for us. And He may of course use other believers to deliver His provision as in this situation, thereby also maturing them in the process.

13  for all these I am strong in Christ who empowers me.

This isn’t quite the universal claim many translations make it, as it only refers to our contentment when faced with various levels of deprivation: Christ empowers us to be content whatever our circumstance. I’m not saying that we can’t “do all things through Christ who strengthens [us],” only that it doesn’t actually say so here in the Greek.

14  Nevertheless you have done excellently in sharing the burden of my afflictions,

Here Paul is telling the Philippians that depriving themselves to help him has been the right choice, because it is the choice that will lead towards their spiritual maturity.

Many translations simply record that he is grateful for their support, which is clearly an inadequate rendering of the original.

15  and you Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, none of the other assemblies partnered with me in giving and receiving, except for you,

16  and that in Thessalonica more than once you supplied my needs.

Many of the early assemblies apparently failed to live up to the ideals of discipleship which Paul would have liked to have seen, but Philippi were the exception, repeatedly sending him supplies even while he was ministering to other assemblies such as Thessalonica.

17  Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for fruit which will add to your account,

Again he stresses that he is not looking for supplies in his own interest, since he is relying on God to provide, not the Philippians—he is looking for them to do the right thing and thereby credit some value to their own spiritual account with God. Interesting to note that the account is singular, ie, the Philippian assembly itself has some kind of account, not just the individual believers.

18  for I have plenty, having received in full everything you sent by Epaphroditus. They are a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice and pleasing to God,

The availability of Epaphroditus was perhaps the opportunity the Philippians were waiting for to reinstate their support for Paul in the field. He reassures them that God finds their contribution more than acceptable.

19  and my God will meet your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,

Note that Paul refers to our God as his God. This is probably to do with Paul being the recipient of their gifts, so his God is the one who responds with blessings, even though He is also our God. This verse implies that to qualify for God’s provision, we must share what we have with those in need, particularly with the saints who are spreading the gospel.

20  so to our God and Father be eternal glory, amen.

21  Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. Those with me greet you

22  as do all the brethren, particularly the saints in Cæsar’s household.

23  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Bless you guys, Geoff  >ᴥ<

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