By Mike Willis
In Philippians 4, Paul gives several exhortations to Christians which provide principles for living which result in the Lord’s “keeping our hearts and minds” (4:7). In studying these exhortations, I am emphasizing the theme that these principles provide for good spiritual health in the most bleak circumstances.
In the previous two articles, I presented material on the Christian’s obligation to “rejoice in the Lord” and to “let his moderation be known to all men.” A reason is given for this in the latter half of v. 5 – “The Lord is at hand.”
The passage cannot be understood to teach that Jesus’ second coming was imminent in the days of the apostle Paul. This cannot be so for the following reasons: (a) The apostle wrote under inspiration. The Holy Spirit did not reveal that Jesus’ second coming was imminent and then allow 2000 years to pass before he came. To so understand the passage is to charge that the Bible has errors in it, thereby undermining inspiration. (b) Elsewhere the apostle Paul foretold that a great apostasy would occur before the second coming (2 Thess. 2:23). That apostasy had not occurred by the time of the writing of Philippians.
There are two understandings of this passage which do make sense and both of which are necessary for good spiritual health.
I. Live with the awareness of the Second Coming.
The passage can be interpreted to say that the Lord’s second coming is “at hand.” This interpretation of the passage ties to the previous exhortations as a motive for “rejoicing in the Lord” and “letting your moderation be known to all men.”
In order to live pleasing to God, one must ever be aware that the second coming of Christ could occur at any moment. The first century writers, like us today, spoke of the Lord’s second coming as if it could occur at any moment, although they did not know the day or hour of Jesus’ coming (Matt. 24:36). They spoke as if they might be alive when Jesus comes again (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:15), the same as all living men speak. They also recognized the possibility of their dying before he came (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). Not knowing which would occur, the first century saints were exhorted to be ever ready for the Lord’s coming.
Jesus gave several parables designed to teach the lesson: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matt. 24:42). Following this statement he gave the parable of the foolish virgins, concluding with the statement, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 25:1-13). Then followed the parables of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46).
In the parable of the two stewards, Jesus warned about the danger of thinking that the Lord’s coming was long delayed. He said,
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Lk. 12:42-48).
Having a constant awareness of the Lord’s second coming will influence the choices we make in life. Peter spoke of the Lord’s coming as a thief in the night and then said, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. . . . Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. 3:14,17).
Good spiritual health requires that we live always aware that the Lord’s second coming could occur at any moment and, therefore, we should always be ready for that coming.
II. Live with an awareness that the Lord is near.
A second understanding of the phrase “the Lord is at hand” (eggus, near) is to recognize that the Lord is always with us and near us. This understanding has the same teaching as Psalm 145:18 – “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Psa. 145:18). Christians know that the Lord has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20). There is no problem we face but that he is there to help us through it. We are aware that “he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
This understanding of the text has the advantage of tying to the following context. We can cast our burdens on the Lord because he is near to us and we are dear to him (Phil. 4:6).
Certainly we should live with the awareness that the Lord is ever near us. He will be ever present to help us through the trials and afflictions which come to Christians, providing us with sufficient grace to endure what lies before us (2 Cor. 12:9). Charles Spurgeon wrote, “He does not leave praying men, and men who confess his name, to battle with the world alone, but he is ever at their side” (The Treasury of David V11:358). Paul certainly was aware of the Lord’s presence as he stood trial before Caesar, for he wrote, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me” (2 Tim. 4:16-17).
The Lord promised, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5-6).
Good spiritual health requires that I have this awareness of the Lord’s ever present help in the face of trials and tribulations.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 450, 470
August 1, 1991