Letter to the Philippians, the Faith in Four Short Chapters

It was suggested to me recently to comment on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, vss 4-9. The pastoral love of the apostle for this particular church, which he calls his “joy” and his “crown,” is so deep and fatherly that there is hardily need of faith to believe that his words are inspired.  

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you.”

Lo and behold to second the suggestion I received a visit yesterday from a young friend whose surname is Filipi. A true Filipian! He is studying for a master’s degree in theology. His family comes to visit me now and then. (In case you did not know I am bedridden.) Well, we were talking about the Faith and I happened to mention Philippians. His eyes brightened as he actually said it was his favorite “book” of the Bible. By that he meant that he tells everyone interested in the Faith to commit to reading it even before the Gospels. They will learn much, he says, and it takes just a few minutes. There are only four chapters.

In addition to the pastoral verses quoted above there is this doctrinal gem from chapter two: “For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (6-10). He “emptied himself.” These verses affirm the whole mystery of the Incarnation: God’s kenosis. Think about it: from Mary’s Fiat to Bethlehem to Cavalry, the humility of God! 

Returning to chapter four I would like to share these footnote comments from the Douay-Rheims on just two verses, 8 & 9:

“Whatsoever things are true”: Commentary: Here the apostle enumerates general precepts of morality, which they ought to practice, in words, in promises, in lawful oaths, etc., he commands rectitude of mind, and sincerity of heart.

 “Whatsoever modest”: Commentary: He prescribes gravity in manners, modesty in dress, and decency in conversation. 

“Whatsoever just” Commentary: –That is, in dealing with others, in buying or selling, in trade or business, to be fair and honest.

“Whatsoever holy”: Commentary: By these words may be understood, that those who are in a religious state professed, or in holy orders, should lead a life of sanctity and chastity, according to the vows they make; but these words being also applied to those in the world, indicate the virtuous life they are bound by the divine commandments to follow.

“Whatsoever lovely”: Commentary: that is, to practice those good offices in society, that procure us the esteem and good will of our neighbours. 

“Whatsoever of good fame” Commentary: — That is, that by our conduct and behaviour we should edify our neighbours, and give them good example by our actions. 

“If there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline” Commentary: — that those in error, by seeing the morality and good discipline of the true religion, may be converted. 

And finally, the apostle commands, not only the Philippians, but all Christians, “to think on these things” — that is, to make it their study and concern that the peace of God might be with them.

Yes, indeed! Think of good things. In almost one hundred passages of holy writ we are called to relish the “good things” God has given us, most of all the Holy Eucharist: “For,” Our Lady sings, “He has filled the hungry with the good things” (Luke 1:53). Do not be wailers and/or gossipers. We ought rather to edify our neighbor. In so doing we make them joyful not sad. They think to themselves, “If they can do it so can I.” Joy expands the heart, sadness constricts it.

In these exhortations Saint Paul sums up the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost which he listed a few years before in his Epistle to the Galatians: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity (5: 22-23). Adding “Against these there is no law!”

The Apostle reminds the Philippians that they are being observed by unbelievers and scrutinized. They must win souls to Christ not only by word but by good example.

“So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”