The Greatness of the Christian Life
Thomas B. Warren's Masterpiece Sermon on Philippians 4:1-23
Because of the debates like that which he had with the late Antony Flew, Thomas B. Warren is remembered as a great debater. However, Thomas B. Warren was also a great preacher. I recall listening to him deliver a masterpiece sermon a few years before his death in 2000. The sermon was on the Christian life, and the text was Philippians 4:1-23. In the introduction Warren observed that there are times when we need to take lengthy passages and “follow along” in the passage to see what it is telling us. In this case, he asked, “What is Philippians 4:1-23 telling us about the Christian life?” Using the phrase “The Christian life is . . . ,” Dr. Warren showed how the elements of Philippians 4 marvelously complete this phrase.
The Christian Life is a steadfast life. Paul wrote, “. . . [S]tand fast in the Lord, My beloved” (4:1). It means to maintain one’s standing and implies the possibility of falling from faithfully living the Christian life.
The Christian life is a unified life. The apostle stated, “I exhort Euodia, and Syntyche, to be of the same mind . . .” (4:2). The mind of the Christian is to be the mind of Christ (cf. Philippians 2:2, 5).
The Christian life is a helpful life. The two Christian women whose names are called in 4:2, needed help in some fashion. An unnamed disciple, identified only as “true yokefellow” was urged to be a helper of these two women (4:3). The Christian life is one of offering and giving help.
The Christian life is a happy life. “Rejoice in the Lord always . . .” (4:4) are words Paul wrote while in prison! Christians experience problems, but Christianity provides the absolute basis for rejoicing even in severe trials (cf. James 1:2).
The Christian life is a gentle life. “Let your forbearance [reasonableness, ESV] be known to all . . .” (4:5). This is graciousness and moderation in the treatment of others instead of injustice, bitterness, and vengeance. “The Lord is at hand” is the “best enforcer of clemency and forbearance” (Alford).
The Christian life is a worry free life. At this point, Paul wrote, “In nothing be anxious . . .” (4:6). Here is a universal negative described by Dr. Warren as providing “some of the most penetrating instructions God gives and some of the greatest possibilities.”
The Christian life is a prayerful life. In contrast to being anxious in nothing, Paul writes, “. . . [I]n everything by prayer and supplication . . . let your requests be made known unto God” (4:6). In his sermon Warren urged, “Talk to God about your life. Plead with God.”
The Christian life is a thankful life. Prayer is to be characterized “with thanksgiving” (4:6). Christianity consists of great thanksgiving. Are you a thankful person?
The Christian life is a peaceful life. “And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (4:7). Warren explained: “No matter how terrible the situation, you can trust in God to strengthen, guide, help, and perhaps even protect, though there will be situations which even threaten your very life.”
The Christian life is a thoughtful life. Paul wrote, “. . . [T]hink on these things” (4:8). Think is from logizomai from which the word logic derives. Warren warned: “Do not ridicule logic. Think about things that really matter. Reason about these things. Evaluate what these things mean.”
The Christian life is an active life. Paul reminded the Philippians of what they “learned . . . received . . . heard . . . saw” in him (4:9). They were to follow the pattern of doing what Paul did.
The Christian life is a blessed life. Paul exclaimed, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly” (4:10). Referencing Paul’s rejoicing, Dr. Warren recalled from his own life how he had read the Bible “for over seventy years [and] and I never pick it up but what I am amazed at some enormously wonderful truth in it.” He then asked, “Do you ever think about how great it is to be a Christian?”
The Christian life is a contented life. “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content” (4:11). Thomas B. Warren, the great preacher, scholar, philosopher, and debater, emphasizing the point of this verse said, “The greatest fortune you can have is to have your relationship with God Almighty through the blood of Christ and His sacred word—the Bible.”
The Christian life is a knowing life. Paul wrote, “I know how to be abased and I know how to abound . . .” (4:12). This is “not a guess.” What you read in the Bible and correctly interpret you know!
The Christian life is a life of power. “I can do all things in Him that strengthens me” (4:13). Warren affirmed, “We need to think about this often—every day. All the details are not given here about what this power entails, but it is wonderful!”
The Christian life is a life of fellowship. Paul wrote that the Philippians “had fellowship with my affliction” (4:14). This is partnership. No church, but the Philippians helped him during this period (cf. 4:15). They continued to send to him (4:16).
Dr. Warren asked, “Are there people we could help more in the preaching of the gospel?”
The Christian life is a life of growth. Paul did not merely seek their gift, but sought “for the fruit that increases to your account” (4:17). Paul was not wanting their money. Paul wanted them to be what God wanted them to be.
The Christian life is a full life. Nearing the conclusion of this great summation of the Christian life Paul says, “I am full, having received . . . from you, a sweet smelling aroma an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (4:18). All they had done for Paul meant wonderful things for him. However, in doing as they had done for Paul the Philippians had done more for themselves (4:19).
The Christian life is a cordial life. It will “salute every saint . . .” (4:21). How powerful is the question posed here by Dr. Warren: “Are you cordial, kind, and loving toward your brethren?”
The Christian life is a life of grace. Paul’s benediction is that the “grace of the Lord Jesus [will] be with your spirit” (4:23). However, one can “fall short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Because of what is set forth in this chapter (Philippians 4) it is as Warren concluded an “enormous mistake if you and I do not do what we must do to be Christians. Today is the day to do what you must do to live the Christian life.”
J. W. McGarvey once referred to a preacher, John T. Johnson, as one of whom it was said: “He had the art of making a man feel that he was no man at all unless he was a Christian.” Such describes Thomas B. Warren. I well remember the power with which he spoke. What an apologist he was for Jesus Christ and the Christian life!
Charles C. Pugh III