Philippians 4:1-7 is part of Paul’s concluding word to chapters one, two, and three. What he says in 4:1-7 is based on what he has previously written about living Christ, magnifying Christ, taking Christ as our pattern, knowing the excellency of Christ, pursuing toward the goal, and living in the out-resurrection.
In 4:1 he says, “So then, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, beloved.” We know from chapter three that Paul aspired to be found in Christ. In 4:1 he tells us to stand firm in the Lord. Standing firm in the Lord is the key to letting our forbearance be known to all men. If we do not stand firm in the Lord, there is no way to make our forbearance known. In order to do anything we must have a proper standing. This is true of making known our forbearance. For this, we must stand firm in the Lord; that is, we must remain in Him. Hence, Paul’s word about standing firm in the Lord is equal to the Lord’s word about abiding in Him (John 15:4).
In verse 2 Paul goes on to say, “I beseech Euodias, and I beseech Syntyche, to think the same thing in the Lord.” As those who stand firm in the Lord, we should also “think the same thing in the Lord.” Apart from the Lord, we cannot think the same thing. If we would think the same thing in the Lord, we must first stand firm in Him.
Verse 3 continues, “Yes, I ask you also, genuine yokefellow, assist them, who contended with me in the gospel, with both Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Here Paul is asking those who were genuine yokefellows to help Euodias and Syntyche to think the same thing. Paul seems to be saying, “These two sisters are my co-workers, but at least temporarily they are not in the Lord. I encourage you, genuine yokefellow, to do your best to bring them back to the Lord and help them to think the same thing in the Lord.” These sisters were co-workers who had labored with Paul and contended with him in the gospel and whose names were in the book of life. Nevertheless, for the time being they were not in the Lord.
In verse 4 Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” When in our experience we are not in the Lord, we do not have any joy and we cannot rejoice. Formerly Euodias and Syntyche could rejoice, but now, because they are not in the Lord, they cannot rejoice in Him.
There is a practical way by which we can know whether or not we are in the Lord. As long as you are not one with a certain brother or sister in the church, you are not in the Lord. Of course, as far as position is concerned, you are in Christ eternally. Nothing can affect our position in Christ. But practically and experientially we may not remain in Him. The fact that we are not one with a particular saint proves that we are not in the Lord.
It is very serious not to be one with even one brother or sister. Most of the saints have at least one other saint with whom they are not one. For example, suppose some sisters are serving together at a love feast. One sister may not like the way another sister is serving and she may refuse to serve with her. She may even walk away from this sister. By walking away from the sister, she actually walks out of the Lord. Instead of refusing to serve with the sister, she should make her forbearance known in that situation.
It is not easy to serve with the saints in the church. If an employee in a factory does not do a good job, the boss can fire him. But in the church life no one is hired and no one can be fired. Just as we have been born into a family and cannot be fired from being a member of the family, so we have been born into the church and cannot be fired from being a member of the church. When difficulties arise, we should not walk away from the saints or refuse to serve with them. Instead, we should exercise our forbearance.
If we exercise forbearance, we shall not be anxious. Whenever we make our forbearance known, our anxiety is crossed out. When we exercise forbearance, we can rejoice in the Lord, and when we rejoice in the Lord, our anxiety disappears. Thus, forbearance maintains our rejoicing, and rejoicing drives away our anxiety. But whenever we do not exercise forbearance, we are not able to rejoice. Then the way is open for anxiety to enter in. This is not a mere doctrine; it is a word which touches the actual situation of our Christian life.
At this point we need to consider in a fuller way the meaning of forbearance. Forbearance means that we are easily satisfied, even with less than our due. This is the meaning of the Greek word rendered forbearance. To be satisfied with less than our due is in contrast to being just in an exacting way. To forbear is to make no demands on others; it is to be satisfied with whatever another party does to us or for us. Suppose a brother’s wife serves him a cold drink when he preferred a hot one, and, very dissatisfied, he rebukes her for what she has done. This is not forbearance; it is being just in a very exacting manner. If the brother had shown forbearance toward his wife, he would have been satisfied with whatever she served him, even if he had not been able to drink it. He would have been satisfied with less than his due.
In his Word Studies Wuest points out that the Greek word rendered forbearance not only means satisfied with less than our due, but also means sweet reasonableness. The word includes self-control, patience, moderation, kindness, and gentleness. Furthermore, according to Christian experience, forbearance is all-inclusive, for it includes all Christian virtues. This means that if we fail to exercise forbearance, we fail to exercise any Christian virtue. If a brother’s wife serves him a cold drink contrary to his preference and he complains about it, then at that time he does not exhibit any Christian virtue. But if by the grace of Christ he is satisfied with less than his due and exercises forbearance toward his wife, not criticizing her or condemning her, he will show in his forbearance an all-inclusive Christian virtue. His forbearance will include patience, humility, self-control, looking to the Lord, and even the virtue of admitting that the Lord is sovereign in all things.
The reason we sometimes behave in an unseemly manner is that we lack forbearance. Negative attitudes and unkind words also come from a shortage of forbearance. When we fail to love, it is because we have no forbearance. Likewise, we may be intolerant because we lack forbearance. Even talkativeness may result from having no forbearance. If we do not have forbearance, we shall not have peace. If we do not show forbearance toward the members of our family, there will be no peace in our family life. Peace comes out of forbearance.
Paul realized that forbearance is an all-inclusive virtue. This is the reason he says, “Let your forbearance be known to all men.” This forbearance is actually Christ Himself. In 1:21 Paul says, “To me to live is Christ.” Since Christ is forbearance, for Paul to live was forbearance. Paul’s earnest expectation was that Christ would be magnified in him, whether through life or through death. For Paul to magnify Christ was for him to make known his forbearance. Thus, for Christ to be magnified in us is equal to making our forbearance known to all men. The reason for this is that forbearance is Christ experienced by us in a practical way. We may speak of living Christ and testify that for us to live is Christ. However, day by day in our life at home what we need is forbearance. If we have forbearance, then in our experience we truly have Christ. If a brother’s wife offends him, what he needs to make known to her is Christ as his forbearance.
It is very difficult to be a good husband or wife. The key to being a good husband or wife is forbearance. To repeat, forbearance includes much more than gentleness or humility. As an all-inclusive Christian virtue, forbearance is Christ Himself. In both the family life and in the church life, we need to live Christ by living a life of forbearance.
The more we consider the significance of forbearance, the more we can appreciate why Paul spoke of it in 4:5. Our failures and defeats in the Christian life come because we are short of forbearance. All the saints, young and old alike, have a tendency to neglect forbearance. If we would live Christ, we must be satisfied with less than our due. We should not make exacting demands on others.
The Lord Jesus lived a life of forbearance when He was on earth. In one sense, He was very strict, but in another sense He was very tolerant. For example, although He prayed a great deal, He did not make demands of His disciples concerning prayer or condemn them because they did not pray enough.
Immediately after speaking about forbearance, Paul goes on to say, “The Lord is near.” As I have indicated, I do not oppose the understanding that this refers to the nearness of the Lord’s coming. Nevertheless, according to experience, not according to doctrine, I would say that this word refers to the Lord’s presence with us today. It also strengthens Paul’s exhortation that we make our forbearance known to all men. Because the Lord is near, we have no excuse for not making known our forbearance. Often we fail to exercise forbearance because we forget that the Lord is near. We do not even remember that He is actually within us. When a brother’s wife serves him a cold drink instead of a hot one, will he care for the drink or for the Lord? If he cares about the drink instead of the Lord, then in his experience only the drink will be at hand, for the Lord will be far away. Because we do not realize that the Lord is near, we do not exercise forbearance. Instead, we are strict in dealing with others and make exacting demands of them without considering their situation. The more we realize the nearness of the Lord, the more satisfied we shall be and the more we shall be considerate of others and sweetly reasonable regarding their situation. If we realize that the Lord is near, we shall turn from the old creation to the new creation, to the out-resurrection, which is expressed as forbearance.
For Jesus, the Nazarene, to live a life full of forbearance required that He live a life in resurrection. Only a life in the out-resurrection can be a life of forbearance. Forbearance is actually the expression of a living which is in the out-resurrection, in the new creation instead of the old creation. To let our forbearance be known to all men is not simply to be kind or patient. Rather, it is to let others see a proper Christian living. This living is Christ as the out-resurrection expressed through forbearance.
We have emphasized the need of forbearance in the church life and in our family life. If we are forbearing, we shall be considerate in dealing with others. For example, suppose one sister wants to help another sister improve her way of serving in the church. The sister who wants to offer help needs to consider whether or not the sister she intends to help is able to receive correction. She should also consider whether in offering correction she herself is in the spirit or in the flesh.
Forbearance requires that we not speak to others in haste. On the contrary, we need to have much consideration before saying anything. We can damage brothers and sisters in the church and also members of our family by being too hasty in dealing with them.
I can testify that, as an elderly man, I now deal with my family in a way much different from the way I practiced forty years ago. Today I show much more forbearance than I did then. Previously I stood on my position as a husband and father and said whatever I felt was necessary. However, I learned that this practice was often harmful to others. Now before saying certain things to my wife, I consider her and her situation. I ask myself if she is able to bear what I intend to say and when is the right time to say it. I also consider how happy and comforted she is and how much she is able to receive what I desire to say to her. All this is involved in showing forbearance.
When the Lord Jesus walked with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, He displayed forbearance. When He asked them what they were talking about, one of them replied, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). Even though He knew all things, the Lord asked them, “What things?” (v. 18). Then He patiently listened to them while they told Him what had happened. Later, at the appropriate time, the Lord made Himself known to them. He certainly was forbearing with those disciples.
If we show forbearance toward others, they will be nourished, healed, and helped to grow. We shall not cause them to stumble or hurt them in any way. However, because of our lack of forbearance, we have damaged others in the church and in our family life.
I wish to emphasize the fact that forbearance is not a matter of ethics. Forbearance is Christ. In chapters one, two, and three of Philippians, Paul has much to say concerning Christ. Then in 4:5 he speaks of forbearance, not of Christ. Actually, when he says, “Let your forbearance be known to all men,” he is saying, “Let Christ be manifested and magnified before all men.” After speaking about living Christ, magnifying Christ, taking Christ as the pattern, and pursuing Christ as the goal, Paul indicates that we need to live this Christ as our forbearance. We all need the Lord to be our forbearance. To live Him as forbearance is truly to live in the out-resurrection.