Philippians - Lesson 11

By Curt Niccum

Philippians 4:2-9


  1. The class will apply verses 8-9 to the contextually relevant situation.
  2. The class will define "joy” as a conscious choice rather than an emotion.
  3. The class will state two ways Paul gives for finding joy and God's peace.


  1. Bibles for every student.
  2. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


Paul provides specific solutions to relationship problems. 

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 4:2-9
  2. Sing up to two songs. (The following are suggested tunes.)
    1. Rejoice in the Lord Always
    2. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
    3. Sing and Be Happy
    4. Blest Be the Tie That Binds
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. For us to forgive each other as God has forgiven us
    2. The cares of the class
    3. Thanksgiving for the peace that only God can provide

Introduction (10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Review the previous lesson.
    1. Having established, based on what Christ did on the cross, the need for reconciliation between the two ladies and those in the church who had taken sides, Paul in 4:2-9 states what needs to be done. Before looking at Paul's instructions, it might be good to review what has been said so far.
    2. Q: What was Paul's prayer for the Philippians? A: That they might love more (1:9).
    3. Paul shows what this love should look like by providing examples of it in action. Q: Who are the four people he uses in the letter as examples of abundant love? A: Paul (chapters 1 & 3), Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (the last three in chapter 2).
    4. Q: Who among these presents the model that all others should follow? A: Jesus.
    5. Read Philippians 2:5-11. Note that Paul in 4:2 commands each of the two women involved to "think” the same way (using the same word used of Christ's "thinking” found in 2:5).

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. Paul in his letters always provides the reason for action before asking for action. In this case, the mind of Christ on the cross should motivate one to act a particular way in one's own relationships. Q: How might you describe the relationship between God and humanity before Christ's death on the cross? A: Broken. Q: To what extent did God go to fix it? A: God did everything possible to fix it (2:5-11). He sent his only Son to die for a world hostile to him (John 3:16). Q: If God did that for us, on what basis, then, can we exclude anyone from having a relationship with us? A: None. All of the things that people could do to me to hurt me over a lifetime cannot compare to what my sin did to God. If I could be forgiven, then I can forgive others. (Note that Jesus' teaching on forgiveness emphasizes this very thing. See especially Matthew 6:9-15). Q: How hard should we work and how far should we go to fix broken relationships in our lives? A: As far as God did through Jesus Christ.
  2. Having shown how "thinking” like Christ has transformed Paul's own life and the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus, he commands the two ladies to action. (The phrase translated "I urge” is a strong injunction that marks the most important points in Paul's letters.)
    1. Q: Why does Paul write, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche,” rather than "I urge Euodia and Syntyche”? A: Paul is not going to play favorites, and both Christian women have a responsibility to heal the broken relationship.
    2. Q: In light of Philippians 1:1, what role might the "loyal yokefellow,” Clement, and the other "fellow workers” in the church have? A: Probably they are elders and deacons.
    3. Q: What role then do our spiritual leaders have in our personal lives? A: A huge role. (This answer will not be very popular in our American culture that so idolizes individuality, even in relationship to God. Remind the class that we are called to be a community, a family, a church, citizens in God's kingdom. Therefore we have a responsibility to each other. What one person does affects the entire group. There is nothing in Christianity that is "just between me and God.”) Q: Specifically, what might church leaders do to help relationships between two feuding members?
  3. After directly addressing the two ladies, Paul then provides more general instruction for resolving tensions that might linger in the church as a result of the ladies' problems and for avoiding similar relationship problems in the future. Q: What is Paul's solution? A: Rejoice in the Lord always!
    1. On the surface, the answer seems overly simple and a bit odd. This is not just advice, but a command. Can one command emotion? It sounds vaguely like a parent's attempt to force an attitude adjustment on a grumpy kid right before church. "You put a smile on your face right now!” In my experience, such commands do not work. In this case, though, it does work. It does so for two reasons:
      1. "Rejoicing” is a conscious "thought” process, not an emotion triggered by external events. Christians choose to rejoice. (See especially Acts 5:41.)
      2. Paul explains in the following verses precisely how to do this.
    2. The first rule for having a constant sense of joy is to be gentle with others and to direct your cares, concerns, and worries to God with an attitude of thanksgiving (4:5-6). Q: How do we show gentleness to someone?
      1. Note that gentleness should be extended to all, and in such a way that it is apparent in the world. This is a testimony to Christ the Lord.
      2. Often worries and concerns affect our demeanor. Even the kindest Christian can be turned into a grump if he or she allows present circumstances to override his or her eternal "standing” (see last lesson; 4:1 and 1:27). Jesus himself warns believers of this danger in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4).
      3. Q: What is promised those that follow this rule? A: The peace of God! (See also verse 9.) Q: In such situations, how might peace be beneficial? A: (Almost any answer given in a Sunday School class will be on the right track. The focus should be on the peace granted in tense situations. Note also that the heart and mind in the ancient world were seats of thought and feeling. Thus part of God's peace is emotional stability in hard times.)
    3. The second rule is to both think (4:8) and act (4:9) on the positive. (Again, the importance of having excellent living examples cannot be over-estimated. Paul points to his own rule of living, which he gained from Christ, as something to be emulated.)
      1. Verse 8 has often been used as a motivational passage. One can often find it on bathroom mirrors and refrigerator doors. Because of its popularity, it is easy to view it as abstract - almost romantic.
      2. Verses 8-9 must be understood within the context of the letter and the situation of the Philippians. Paul's use of "finally” does not indicate an unrelated "warm fuzzy” added at the last minute by Paul. Instead, Paul places here the heart of his advice on how to maintain healthy "cross-shaped” relationships. Here is the central point of this letter and this series of lessons!
      3. Here is the gist of what Paul means: "Whatever is true (in the person who tells lies about you), whatever is noble (in the person who treats you ignobly), whatever is just (in the one treating you unjustly), whatever is pure (in the one who acts with impure motives [see 1:15 & 17]), whatever is lovely (in the one being ‘ugly' to you), whatever is worth saying something good about (in the person always saying bad things about you), if there is any excellence and anything praiseworthy, take only these things into account.” Paul's instruction here is pertinent and to the point. "Thinking” on the bad breeds hatred. "Thinking” on the good produces admiration.
      4. Beyond the thought process, though, must be action. This is why Paul has offered himself, Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as living examples. The "mind of Christ” leads to action. Christ did much more than "think” about reconciling the sinful world to a holy God. We must also do more than just "think” about fixing our broken relationships and maintaining our healthy ones. They require action. Q: What are some specific actions that will flow from the thinking Paul requests?
      5. Q: What is promised those that follow this rule? A: Nothing less than the presence of the God of peace! (See verse 7.)

Application (10 minutes)

  1. Q: In what situations today could this advice of Paul's make a big difference? A: Marriage (see #2 below), the church (see #3 below), and work (see
  2. Having a healthy relationship is hard work. It does not come easy, and it requires gentleness, patience, understanding, and forgiveness.
    1. The story is told of a psychiatrist who was counseling a woman recently divorced. It was clear that she still loved her husband. His advice to her was to start each morning by spending the first five minutes of every day thinking of all the bad things her ex-husband had done to her. After a month, her love for him had gone.
    2. Oklahoma has the second highest divorce rate in the U.S., and "conservative Christians” are more prone to get divorced than unbelievers! Something is wrong. Imagine what could happen to marriages if Philippians 4:2-9 were put into practice!
    3. Finally, if a holy God could reconcile sinful humanity to Himself, there is no such thing as "irreconcilable differences.”
  3. What is true of marriage also applies to life in the church. People focus too quickly on the bad and turn a brother or sister's mistake into a "witch hunt.” How much stronger would the church be if all focused on the positive rather than the negative?
  4. In our culture, peace is often hard to find. Our busy schedules along with worries related to jobs, terrorism, illnesses, and economic futures sometimes control the agenda of life. In addition, for many the addiction of home entertainment monopolizes whatever free time they might have had. All of these are selfish in nature. They are concerns about my standing, my situation, my future. Perhaps it is time we changed what we "think” about.
  5. Under these conditions, when we do "think” of others, it is often in terms of what they can do for me or what they have done to me. (If the four categories of love referred to in Lesson 9 were not used, then it might be useful to introduce them here.)
  6. Q: So what is the one thing Paul asks us to do (twice even)! A: Rejoice in the Lord. Q: So what are the two things that we need to do to be constantly joyful? A: 1) Be gentle and pray strong, and 2) think and act on the positive in the negative.

Assignment (1 minute)

  1. Each class member should resolve to have an "attitude adjustment.” If any relationships still remain broken, they should try all the harder this week to fix them.
  2. Each class member should read 4:10-23.

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