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Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord Always” Thesis

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2022

Introduction

The apostle Paul lived in the first century, considered an era when people lived their lives and died in a defined area of a few miles or kilometres (Blank, 2008). In the case of Paul, he was already considered a “world traveller” as he journeyed as a Christian prosecutor until converted and became a missionary.

In his third missionary journey, he was arrested by Roman authorities who accused him of teaching people to be against one another, the law, and even the place of Jerusalem where he was sent from to Rome. He went to Rome to appeal, an exercise of his legal rights as a Roman citizen. There, he was a prisoner for about two years of which the same time, he wrote a very large part of the New Testament, including the epistle to the Philippians, or the church of Philippi. This paper shall strive to analyze, interpret and provide instances on how one can rejoice always and how to apply it to daily living.

Discussion

Background

Harris (1985) proposed that the letter was written to the church at Philippi, one of the earliest churches to be founded in Europe. Paul was very fond of them and they, too, were fond of Paul. It was said that while most of the Philippians were poor compared to members of all the other churches, their contributions are among the only he accepts as may be found in Acts 20:33-35: “I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. 20:35 By all these things, 3 I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

In this understanding, Paul promoted what Jesus has started as a bias on the willingness to give by those who have almost nothing, as against to those who have. It was further suggested that the generosity of the Philippians was conspicuous as seen by Moule (1981, p 31) who proposed that “This was a characteristic of the Macedonian missions, as 2 Cor. 8 and 9 amply and beautifully prove. It is remarkable that the Macedonian converts were, as a class, very poor (2 Cor. 8:2), though the very first converts were of all classes (Acts 16); and the parallel facts, their poverty and their open-handed support of the great missionary and his work, are deeply harmonious. At the present day the missionary liberality of poor Christians is, in proportion, really greater than that of the rich.”

History-wise, it was believed that the Philippians sent their messenger Epaphroditus with their contributions to provide for the needs of Paul. This portion of the New Testament was brought back by Epaphroditus to the Philippians on his journey home. From the Easton’s Bible Dictionary (2008), it was interpreted as:

“The joy caused by his return, and the effect of this wonderful letter when first read in the church of Philippi, are hidden from us. And we may almost say that with this letter the church itself passes from our view. Today, in silent meadows, quiet cattle browse among the ruins which mark the site of what was once the flourishing Roman colony of Philippi, the home of the most attractive church of the apostolic age. But the name and fame and spiritual influence of that church will never pass. To myriads of men and women in every age and nation the letter written in while he was under house arrest in Rome, and carried along the Egnatian Way by an obscure Christian messenger, has been a light divine and a cheerful guide along the most rugged paths of life.”

This opinion, however, has been challenged throughout the ages. Ephesus has been said as the place where Paul was imprisoned when writing to the Philippians. But many cling to the belief that Paul addressed Christians of the city of Philippi in the Roman province of Macedonia whom he shared a remarkable affection. Based on Acts 28:16-31, Paul had been under house arrest. Some reasons for this given as seen in Paul’s final greetings from the “household of Caesar” (Phil 4:22), he apparently had freedom of movement alluding in the letter about facing death, as well as the belief that Paul died in Rome under Nero around the years 60-64. It was further argued that Philippians belongs with the other “captivity letters” which include Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon and that these were written from the same imprisonment in Rome near the end of his life, between 61 and 63 (Getty, 1989).

In Philippi based on Acts 16:14-15 and 16:40, Paul was able to convert gentiles such as a prominent woman Lydia. But Paul also experienced distress with the authorities and merchants of Philippi and even exorcised a “spirit of divination” from a slave-girl (Acts 16: 16-24). He had been beaten and jailed, but he identified himself as a Roman citizen thereby pressured to leave. Paul refused until he had taken leave of the community (Getty, 1989).

It was also possible that the epistle is a set of letters or letter fragments. Getty’s (1989) impression was the presence of abrupt transitions and the independent character of several passages, non-Pauline language and some poetic verses. Fitzmyer (1968), however, also noted the affectionate yet strident words on Judaizers (3:2 to 4:3). Three basic fragments were interpreted and it was also proposed that these were united only when Philippians came to be used in liturgies. Fitzmyer cited that there were originally three letters or fragments: Letter A (1:1-2, 4:10-20), a thanksgiving for the Philippians’ gifts to Paul; Letter B (1:3-3:1, 4:4-9, 4:21-23) provides news about Paul in prison, the greetings and update about Epaphroditus and Timothy, and instructions for the community incorporating a liturgical hymn in 2:6-11; and Letter C (3:2-4:3) which is a warning about the Judaizers.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians reflects a close personal relationship of giving and take between the writer and his community. Here, Paul shows his appreciation of the support given by the Philippians (4:14-20). Inside the prison, his burden is significantly reduced through the community’s concern for him and in return, Paul also showed his affection for them. In the subsequent portion of his epistle of which this essay shall focus, he advised them against anxiety for him, and for life in general, urging caution about the dangers of their internal divisions even as he opened the verse.

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

In the opening of this fragment of the letter, Paul showed his close affection to the members of the church, with the distinction of letting them know he has loved them for long. He emphasized the Philippians’ importance on him by claiming them as “my joy and crown”, thus:

1Therefore, 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!

As a segue to the personal appeal and relations of Paul to the Philippians, he went as far as name two contending members: Euodia and Syntyche, appealing for them to agree, asking the members to support his plea, which went:

2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, 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.

The plea went as far as invoking a reassurance on the Philippians working for the gospel to a sure place in the heaven, in the book of life.

The following verse had the Philippians convinced to be happy in the name of the Lord, and not only at a certain short or even frequent times but “always.” Here, there is the obvious attempt to signify the importance of consistent rejoicing, which Paul exalted twice. He asked the congregation to abandon their cares as much as Jesus has when he talked about the birds of heaven and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:24-34 and Luke 12:24-27).

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

But in here, Paul tells the Philippians why they should be gentle, rejoice and cast out their cares: because the Lord is nearby. So, from a personal perspective, why worry when one has the most powerful of all beside him? Paul is telling the Philippians, and his current readers to cast their cares for the Lord is on standby as much as Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28).

Then, he urges them to approach God with thanksgiving through prayer and petition. He ends the verse with the assurance of God’s peace that guards the heart, a peace that understands most of all in the name of Jesus.

8Finally, 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. 9Whatever 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.

In this closing verse, Paul urges the Philippians to focus on the positive, to truth, the sublime, to attain them. That it is not only through seeing or learning that beautiful things must be limited, that these should be put into action before the peace of God is attained.

Familial and Ministry Models of Relationships

Getty (1989) suggested a few sociological implications of early Christianity with the epistle to the Philippians which raises questions such as:

  • What are the implications of baptism for church order?
  • What it was like to be a woman during the early Christian communities?
  • What do the letters tell about the complexity of life in urban societies?

Philippians is considered as one of Paul’s more personal epistles as he is perceived to be very attached with the congregation he was addressing. His fears and concerns for the Philippines were very apparent. In here, however, Paul named Timothy as coauthor and that both relied on the support and the fidelity of the Philippians and that they are earnestly concerned about their welfare (2:19-20) as well as that of Epaphroditus (2:25-30) (Getty, 1989).

He calls the Philippians adelphoi or “brothers and sisters” (1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8; cf. 4:21) indicating belonging to the same family in faith. Among other things, Paul called them “beloved” (2:12, 4:1), “partners” (1:5, 4:15), “saints in Christ Jesus” (1:1; cf. 4:21), sharing in the work of spreading the gospel, sharing suffering (cf. 1:29) with unity of mind, heart, and spirit in Christ Jesus (2:1-5), and with joy (4:4, 10).

In addition, Paul identifies his own authority with leaders of Euodia and Syntyche, with Clement and one who was not named (4:2-3) acknowledging their labors but at the same time indicating that the women had prestige and were recognized not only in the community (Getty, 1989) but also by Paul himself.

In fact, there is a freedom enjoyed by women in the Christian communities which underlie the existence of problems for the early church but of which Paul in Galatians, said that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ” (Gal 3:28) with regards to Christianity and baptism.

Into Practice

Currently, most and many individuals experience an onslaught of modern difficulties, challenges and problems. Despite the “interconnectivity” hyped on the internet, there is much longing and loneliness to break into a connection (Gypsypunk, 2007) beyond the superficial level of poking, or adding one new acquaintance to a list of friends on a website for networking. There is much loneliness, sadness, and the need to forget how much life could be disheartening to ponder about.

To rejoice is too happy beyond doubt, thankful at most, and to have no cares at all. It seems this is quite an extravagance these days as people close up their individual rooms and selves and lose themselves to a web of machines that are in their control, to see and experience what they want with a price of a plastic card.

Believers and their loyal congregation seem maybe a world away. But these cannot be ascertained in itself. Personally, I find it a great challenge how rejoicing may become a part of a modern man’s life. Happiness is something that is borrowed, with the help of an intoxicating agent and paid entertainment to let an individual escape a reality bereft of caring and personal affection. It is superficial and temporary, something that goes out the window once a person gets up in the morning to face the reality of a day’s shift in work or chores.

Incidentally, we may still capture the real essence of rejoicing and throwing our cares away, like the birds and the lilies, if only we could start it among ourselves to care without expecting any in return. As was observable, everything has a price nowadays. But the people who care for us, be it family or friends, remain priceless, invaluable, and their affection as much as Paul’s to the Philippians must be treasured as they should be. As we still have the people around us who empathize, we should take advantage of it and multiply the caring feeling for others like there will be no tomorrow.

Conclusion

The epistle of Paul to the Philippians, specifically the verse where he admonishes the believers to rejoice, to resort to what is good, lovely and beautiful so that God’s peace will be with them always, is a challenge to the people of that congregation in the said period. It was a difficult time for Paul being in the prison and having to preach and uplift the morale of his new converts. The same may be said to the church of Philippi, which is said to have been mostly from the poor.

Yet, the epistle showed that beyond the support given by both Paul the leader and Philippians his congregation, is affection and love that transcended material support as well as political power. Much as they had been lacking in wealth, the Philippians gave Paul enough support to fill him with happiness beyond reproach.

In return, Paul reflects back on the happiness he feels for the caring they gave. With the strength they made him feel in his lowest moments, he was able to convince them that even in the lowest moments of a person, little acts of kindness amount to the peace and great love of One who is beyond all and who understands the deepest needs we all have.

The exchange of giving and taking between the Philippians and Paul climaxed in the verse “Rejoice in the Lord Always” as even during what may be perceived as the lowest point of one’s life, little acts which to many may seem insignificant become everything to a person. Everything that is filled with God’s promise and abundance of a life which itself is a gift from Him.

This, as already pointed out, can be realized only when there is the resolve, the strong desire of an individual to start from himself a dedication to be happy and thank God for all the blessing, insignificant and otherwise, that actually creates a big difference in our lives.

Reference

Gaebelein, Frank E (Gen.Ed).(1978). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11 Grand Rapids: IVP.

Boice, James Montgomery (2000) Philippians: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Blank, Wayne (2008). “Paul in Prison.” The Church of God Daily Bible. Web.

Moule, H. C. G. (1981). . Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Prof. Beet).

Epistle to the Philippians. Mary Ann Getty. The Books of the Bible. Ed. Bernhard W. Anderson. Vol. 2: The Apocrypha and the New Testament. New York: Scribner’s, 1989. From Scribner Writers Series.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “Philippians.” In Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968. Pp. 247-253.

Gypsypunk (2007). “Chatroom Adventures” from Gypsy. Web.

*…….(1989) Philippians: NIBC.Peabody: Hendrickson.

*Carson, D.A., Moo, DJ., Morris, L.(1992). An introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids.

*…….(1994) Philippians: New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

*Hawthorne, G.F.(1983). Philippians: Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word.

*Stirewalt, M. Luther(2003) Paul the letter writer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

*Theissen, G(1982). The Social Sting of Pauline Christianity. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

*Ziesler, J. (1983; rev.1990) Pauline Christianity Oxford: University Press.

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