In Philippians 4:8 we learned about right thinking. And it takes right thinking and right attitudes to produce right living. In verse 9, Paul challenges the members of the church in Philippi to respond to the four ways that his life has been an example for them to follow. Let’s take a look at what Paul wants them to gain from his life.
I. WHAT YOU HAVE “LEARNED”.
Paul had spent time in Philippi where he gave personal instruction and discipling to the Philippians. The Greek word, “emathete”, is related to the noun “mathetes” which means learner or disciple. A “mathetes” was one who attached himself to another person in order to gain knowledge and experience. It would be somewhat similar to an apprenticeship today. In first century Judaism the rabbis had disciples who studied under them. The disciple left his home and moved in with his teacher and served his teacher. The disciple was expected, not only to learn all that his rabbi knew, but also to become like his teacher in character and piety.
The apostle Paul had been a pharisee himself. In Acts 22:3 he tells the Jewish leaders that he had studied under the pharisee Gamaliel. In Acts 5:34 Gamaliel is described as “a pharisee . . . a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people.” In the Greek culture also, discipleship was not so much formal training as it was fellowship with the teacher. They lived with their teacher just as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him. Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many of the great teachers wrote no books.
II. WHAT YOU HAVE “RECEIVED”.
The Greek word, “paralambano”, means to “take with oneself”, “to make it one’s own”. Receiving should always accompany learning truth. The Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also gave assent to it, and by so doing, they became responsible to live it out. This receiving of the Word of God is seen in the church at Thessalonica. Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God’s message, you accepted it not only as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” It is one thing to learn a truth, but it is even better to receive that truth and make your own.
III. WHAT YOU HAVE “HEARD”.
Paul is saying “what you have heard firsthand from my preaching, teaching, and conversations with you”. He is also saying, “what you have heard from others concerning me”. Paul is speaking about his reputation. They had heard from many other sources about Paul’s imprisonment, how he got there, and the way God was using him.
IV. WHAT YOU HAVE “SEEN IN ME”.
Paul is talking about firsthand knowledge of him: their personal observations of Paul while they were with him in Philippi. Paul is saying, “do as I taught you”, and he is also saying, “do as you heard of me doing and saw me doing”.
Mahatma Ghandi was the man who led the country of India to independence in the early to mid 1900’s. He also inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom around the world. Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, were followers of his philosophy of non-violent resistance. As far as we can know, Gandhi never became a Christian. When he was asked to put his message into one simple sentence, he replied: “My life is my message”.
Personal example is an essential element of effective teaching. The teacher must demonstrate in action the faith he expresses in words. Remember that before the completion of the New Testament scriptures, the lives of the apostles furnished the main source of divine truth. As Paul told them earlier in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us”.
Paul concludes by exhorting them to “practice these things”. Make them a way of life. Dr. Dwight Pentecost summarizes the purpose of truth very clearly in these words: “Truth is communicated to a person through the channel of his mind, and truth is grasped by the mind. But unless that which is received by the mind is loved by the heart and translated into action by the will, the truth has not done its proper work. Truth is designed to possess the total person. Truth is not designed simply to teach the mind; truth is communicated so the heart might respond in obedience to the truth. Blessing comes on the believer as he translates into action the truth that his mind has received. Maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.” He concludes his explanation by saying: “Let that be indelibly impressed upon your mind.”
The apostle Paul ends this verse with a promise: “the God of peace will be with you”. This is a favorite saying of the apostle Paul. He uses it at or near the end of many of his letters, for example, Romans, II Corinthians, and I and II Thessalonians. Peace comes as a result of following the pattern of Christ: having right attitudes, right thoughts, and right actions. When we follow these instructions Paul says that “the God of peace will be with you”. And if He is with us, we have no reason for worry, and our lives can be filled with joy, right? Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary for many years, gave this exhortation: “Pray, then, that like Paul we may live out our lives before the watching world”.