Sanctification Part III: Joy, Peace and Contentment (Philippians 4:2-23)


Philippians 4:2-23; Key Verse: 4:7a,9b

"And the peace of God... And the God of peace will be with you."

In keeping with our prayer for 2012 to be the year of Sanctification, we studied "Sanctification, Part I: Change is Possible" (Php 2:12-16) and Sanctification, Part II: Not There Yet (Php 3:12-4:1). In Sanctification, Part III, we study Php 4:2-23 and find that sanctification is not something negative or burdensome or undesirable, for sanctification leads to all the attributes that every human being wants: Joy, Peace and Contentment.

What compelled me to Christ before I became a Christian was that I knew without a doubt that I had no peace, no serenity, no tranquility. This really bothered me. I could study well, become a medical doctor, have wonderful parents who never hurt me, have an inner spirit of resolve to never be defeated by life or by anyone, and yet I had no peace. In today's passage, Paul gives us at least 7 exhortations that leads to the promise of the peace of God which is beyond human comprehension. These exhortations do not teach us the way of salvation. These exhortations are not the gospel. But in these exhortations Paul is expressing how a true Christian lives, how one who is truly sanctified lives the Christian life. Let us examine the 7 exhortations of Paul plus a promise of peace in Php 4:2-23:

  1. Be Reconciled (Php 4:2-3).
  2. Rejoice (Php 4:4).
  3. Be Gentle (Php 4:5).
  4. Do Not Worry, but Pray (Php 4:6).
  5. Think (Php 4:8).
  6. Put It Into Practice (Php 4:9a).
  7. Be Content (Php 4:10-23).
  8. The Promise of Peace (Php 4:7,9b).
I. Be Reconciled (Php 4:2-3)

Perhaps, the "most difficult" task for a Christian is not necessarily to convert someone to Christ. You befriend them, love them, extend grace to them, pray for them, listen to them, be genuine before them, teach them the Bible as much as they can digest, and allow God to transform them. But the "most difficult" task for a Christian practically is to reconcile with another Christian who has hurt you, wounded you, insulted you, ignored you, disrespected you, not trusted you, betrayed you, and the list of wrongs can just go on and on. On UBFriends I have written over 20 articles, and my most viewed article is entitled “Why Do We Have Divisions?” (5,300 views). I began the article with this sentence: The problem with the church is that it has people!

Paul knows the inevitability of conflicts among Christians in the church. He did not give the impression that we in the church of God are united and loving with no problems. Rather, Paul openly and publicly exposed the conflict between 2 senior Christians: Euodia and Synthyche (Php 4:2). Imagine if your name is one of those sent out in a letter to be read in all the churches where people know who you are! "I plead with Kathy and Betty to agree with each other." That's what Paul did. Also, Paul did not just privately address both of them to overcome their differences in Christ. Rather, he involved and enlisted many notable leaders in the church to help resolve this conflict: "my loyal yokefellow," "Clement," and "the rest of my fellow workers" (Php 4:3).

Whenever there is a problem in a church (and there will ALWAYS be problems and conflicts in the church), we want to cover it up, act as though nothing is wrong, involve as few people as possible, so as not to "discourage others." Behind closed doors, we gossip and blame people. But this is not the biblical pattern. In fact, Paul did the very opposite: he exposed the people and the conflict publicly (because he loved them), and he enlisted and involved virtually the whole church leadership to pray for and promote reconciliation. Paul also did not blame anyone. To Paul, reconciliation is so crucial for the church, because God promoted reconciliation with us sinners at a tremendous and priceless cost--the cost of His One and Only Son. Without genuine reconciliation, we will not experience the peace that passes understanding.

II. Rejoice (Php 4:4)

Was there any reason for the church in Philippi to rejoice? They were being persecuted and opposed (Php 1:28). There was envy and rivalry (Php 1:15). There were conflicts and divisions (Php 4:2-3). With such ongoing problems, they could easily become cynical and bitter. How could they possibly rejoice? Only when their joy is not drawn from their circumstances. Any Christian who wants to experience the peace that passes understanding needs to cultivate a heart of joy and rejoicing that comes from the Lord (Php 4:4), and not from circumstances.

III. Be Gentle (Php 4:5)

There are many legitimate ways to translate the word "gentleness" (epieikeia): "reasonableness," "moderation," "generosity," "modesty," "magnanimity," "forbearance," "forbearing spirit," "unselfishness," "considerateness," and "softness." The Greeks explained this word as "justice and something better than justice" (Jn 8:10-11). The Message says, "Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!" But they all get the point across that in our dealings with one another we are to be kind, gentle, generous, respectful, considerate, and reasonable. The reason Paul gives for this is because "the Lord is near" (Php 4:5). If you are having a fight with your spouse, and someone walks in, you stop fighting. Thus, we should interact with others as though Jesus would walk in at any moment. In fact, he is right there in the midst of all that we do and say to one another.

IV. Do Not Worry But Pray (Php 4:6)

We worry to try to feel more in control of a situation. But worry only does 2 things: depresses you and discourages others. Php 4:6 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Paul is not saying that the Philippians do not have anything to worry about. They do have things to worry about. They are persecuted. They are experiencing division in their congregation. There are those who preach out of envy and rivalry. There are a lot of reasons why they should worry. So Paul does not say to not worry because their circumstances are good. He tells them to not worry because they have got a God who is in charge who loves them and who they can pray to (Mt 6:31-32).

V. Think (Php 4:8): "A man is what he thinks about all day long." (Ralph Waldo Emerson) "You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are." (Trinity Seminary Professor)

Before you go to bed at night, do you wonder if you have thought about anything of eternal significance that day? Someone said, "Some people would rather die, than think." We are so preoccupied by the trivial that we do not get around to the profound and the permanent. By being preoccupied with the problems of life, we have no time for any deep reflection. Thus, Paul stresses the utmost importance of thinking deeply in the Christian life. The Puritans made it a practice of meditating on 6 great things from God’s word, which they regarded as absolutely essential for cultivating heavenly-mindedness:

  1. the majesty of God;
  2. the severity of sin;
  3. the beauty of Christ;
  4. the certainty of death;
  5. the finality of judgment; and,
  6. the misery of hell.
Paul's imperative in 4:8 is "think about such things." It suggests that unless we decide to do so, we will not. Paul knew that unless we are deliberate about thinking godly thoughts, we will not grow as a sanctified Christian.

What is Christian meditation? Non-Christian practitioners of meditation say that it is vital that we "empty our mind" in order to meditate. This is a dangerous practice and it is contrary to Scripture. Instead the Bible says that we must fill up our mind with God's word (Php 4:8; Ps 1:2; Jos 1:8). Why? It is because God has already spoken, and that we ARE NOT LISTENING! Meditation is to help us to listen to what God has already said in his Word. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind and thinking over and dwelling on and applying to ourselves the various things that we already know about what God's Word says. Mediation connects the mind and the will – the head and the heart – so that the truth we know is worked deep down into our soul so that it begins to affect what we desire. How do you move the 12 or 18 inches from the head to the heart? A biblical answer is through meditation, through dwelling on, reflecting on, thinking over, looking at every side of the truth in meditation and reflection. The idea is for the truth to so take hold of our desires that we begin to desire the right rather than the wrong thing, the permanent rather than the temporary thing, the lovely rather than the ugly thing, the true rather than the false thing.

Again, these exhortations are not the gospel. Rather, he is telling Christians who have already received the gospel how to live the Christian life, how to think as a Christian. John Stott has written dozens of wonderful Christian books. One book you may not know is about bird-watching. He loves to look at birds, and he has written a book about what he’s learned from birds about the Christian life. In the introduction to the book, he whimsically calls it “ornitheology— not ornithology (or, the study of birds) — but ornitheology (learning about God from the study of birds). On a more mundane scale, when I saw the movie The Descendants, I thought about the Gospel of our salvation.

VI. Put It Into Practice (Php 4:9)

If we are Christians, we already know what we ought to do and what we ought to stop. The question is "How?" An answer is there has to be a desire that is opposite and greater than the desire that is enticing us to what is wrong and trivial if we are going to be able to fight that desire. How do we meditate until our desire for God is greater than our desire for the base?

Paul suggests that we need meditation, instruction, direction and application (Php 4:8-9). Basically, look at him, learn from him, watch what he does, and then just do it, or put it into practice. A Christian never learns just by listening. Unless he puts his Christianity into practice, he remains a spiritual infant and lives as though he has not been sanctified. It is like learning how to play the piano just by reading a book about how to play the piano. But a virtuoso practices the piano 300 times, 600 times, 1,200 times. Sir William Osler (1849-1919), one of the greatest icons of modern medicine, said, "To study the phenomenon of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all." Likewise, if I do not put my Christianity into practice, I am functionally not a Christian, even if I insist that I am.

VII. Be Content (Php 4:10-23)

Are you content? Exactly in your present situation, are you perfectly content? In this part, Paul expresses something that is vitally important in the Christian life, without which, a Christian will not experience the peace that passes human understanding. Being content is crucial for a Christian (11-12; 2 Cor 12:10; 1 Tim 6:6-8; Heb 13:5). Paul teaches us several things about contentment which would encourage us if we are not content:

  1. Paul had to learn how to be content.
  2. Contentment is not innate to the Christian.
  3. The greatest likelihood of finding real gospel contentment is when you sense you lack it. On the contrary you are least likely to find real gospel contentment when your life circumstances provide you a greater measure of contentment.
This is confounding and counter-intuitive. You are more likely to find real contentment when you realize your lack of real contentment than if you are in a circumstance in life where your situation provides you with such comforts that you are not thinking about your lack of the real thing. This is why Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:23; Mk 10:23; Lk 18:24). Why? Because the rich man can mistake circumstantial contentment for gospel contentment. He can mistake a superficial temporal contentment with a deep, permanent and eternal contentment. He cannot seek real contentment, because he doesn’t sense his lack of real contentment, for he is in circumstances that make him content. The first thing to realize about gospel contentment is that it is non-circumstancial.

What is the secret of contentment? Buddhism stresses the cultivation of contentment. 1 brand of Buddhism says that the way to cultivate contentment is to lower your expectations. But gospel contentment does not come from circumstances or lowered expectations, but "through him who gives me strength" (Php 4:13). The secret of contentment is God’s providence apprehended by your soul. It is the God of providence embraced by your soul so that you believe it. Gospel contentment rests on a deep personal doctrinal experiential embrace of God’s providence.

God will never ask me to do something that I can do myself. Rather, God will call me to do something that I cannot do without Him. The secret of gospel contentment is knowing that without Jesus, I am not able to do anything. But with Jesus and by His help alone, I am able to do all things, especially things that I know that I am totally unable to do.

VIII. The Promise (and the Prayer) of Peace (Php 4:7,9b,19)

One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible is Php 4:7: "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." There is a way for a Christian to experience the peace that surpasses human comprehension. Paul is saying that even when we are hurt, wounded, wronged, discouraged, disheartened, betrayed, misunderstood, maligned, marginalized, and when the world around you seems to be caving in on you, you can experience the peace of God that just does not make any sense humanly. How is that possible? The peace of God is never dependent on your circumstances. The peace of God is a gift of God. The peace of God comes from the God of peace (Php 4:9). The peace of God comes from fully enjoying and embracing the truth that "my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus" (Php 4:19).

Generally people do not like the Bible because they think that the Bible is intrusive, that it is "Do this" and "Don't do that." The Bible is no fun. Sadly, even some Christians think that the Bible has commands that wants them to just "suffer and die." Some Christian leaders might even teach and promote that. Some Christians might rather prefer to die than to reconcile with someone who hurt them deeply. Or they might prefer to blame others or throw a pity party for themselves than to be content in their undesirable or unfavorable situation. But when we take to heart the imperatives and exhortations of the Bible, Paul says that we will experience the peace of God from the God of peace who will meet ALL our needs according to the riches of God's glory in Christ Jesus (Php 4:7,9,19)! May God bless you with the peace of God from the God of peace, as you enjoy living out Paul's exhortations that are all for our own good: Be reconciled. Rejoice. Be gentle. Don't worry, but pray. Think. Put it into practice. Be content.


  1. What did Paul plead with Euodia and Syntyche (2)? Who were they (3)? Whose help did Paul enlist (3)? What can we learn about conflicts in the church? About creating and cultivating a culture of reconciliation and forgiveness?
  2. Is there anything about the Philippian situation to rejoice about (4)? What is the key to rejoicing?
  3. The word "gentleness" (5) has been translated "reasonableness," "moderation," "generosity," "magnanimity" and "softness." What reason does Paul give for being gentle with one another?
  4. How can we live worry-free in a care-filled world? (6; Mt 6:32-32)? Who can do so? What is God's promise to those who practice Paul's exhortations (7,9b)?
  5. Why is it important cultivate godly affections and thinking (8)? What if we don't (Rom 8:6)? What is the difference between Christian meditation and transcendental meditation? How did the Puritans cultivate heavenly-mindedness? How do we do this (9; 3:17)?
  6. How does Paul encourage Christians with regard to contentment (11-13)? Why should Christians be content (11-12; 2 Cor 12:10; 1 Tim 6:6-8; Heb 13:5)? Why is gospel contentment hard for the rich (Mt 19:23; Mk 10:23; Lk 18:24)? What is the secret of contentment (13,19,20)? What can we learn from Paul's final greetings (21-23)?
  1. The Shalom of God (Php 4:2-7). L. Duncan.
  2. Do As I Do (Php 4:8-9). L. Duncan.
  3. Content in Every Situation (Php 4:10-20). L. Duncan.
  4. Grace, with Your Spirit (Php 4:21-23). L. Duncan.
  5. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible, 1975, 2003.

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