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Philippians 4:1-9 Biblical Commentary:
The first word in chapter 4—the Greek word hoste (so that, so then, wherefore, therefore)—connects chapter 4 to chapter 3. In chapter 3, Paul spoke primarily about his own situation. In chapter 4, he begins to speak to the local Philippian church situation.
In chapter 3, Paul laid the following foundation:
• He regards the things that once seemed important to him as rubbish compared with the assurance of salvation that he now feels through his faith in Christ. Now his sole focus is knowing Christ and the power of Christ’s resurrection so that he might one day experience that resurrection himself (3:8-11).
• He doesn’t consider himself to have achieved the goal of “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14), but he is pressing on toward that goal. He calls the Philippian Christians to “think this way” (3:15)—a phrase that he repeats in our Gospel lesson (4:2).
• He calls the Philippian Christians “brothers” or “brothers and sisters” (Greek: adelphoi) (3:17)—which he repeats in our Gospel lesson (4:1).
• He calls them to “be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example” (3:17) so that they might avoid emulating the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18), whose “end is destruction” and whose “god is the belly” and whose “glory is in their shame”—because they “think about earthly things” (3:19).
• Unlike the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18), “our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20).
• Paul holds to the promise that Jesus “will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself” (3:21).
Having established that foundation, Paul says “THEREFORE!” (4:1). Our Gospel lesson for this week follows.
PHILIPPIANS 4:1. STAND FIRM IN THE LORD
1 Therefore (Greek: hoste—so that, so then, wherefore, therefore), my brothers (Greek: adelphoi), beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
“Therefore (hoste), my brothers“ (adelphoi) (v. 1a). See the comments about hoste in “The Context” above.
The Greek word adelphoi appears several times in this epistle (1:14; 3:1, 17). That word is masculine, so a strict translation would be “brothers.” The NRSV, with its inclusive language agenda, translates adelphoi “brothers and sisters.” That is appropriate, given the importance of women in the Philippian church. When Paul first arrived in Philippi, his first congregation was a group of women, and his first convert was Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). In 4:2 he speaks directly to Euodia and Syntyche—two women. Women are an important part of the Philippian church, just as they are an important part of the church today.
“beloved and longed for, my joy and crown“ (v. 1b). These are tender words—beloved—longed for—joy (1b)—beloved (1c). They reflect Paul’s deep affection for the Philippian Christians, perhaps his deepest affection for any of the churches that he has founded.
“my joy and crown“ (v. 1b). Most pastors have experienced making a significant positive impact on another person’s life. It is a joy to remember like that. Allow me to give an example from my own ministry.
In the early 1970s, I was serving as a U.S. Army Chaplain with an air defense unit stationed near Miami. I learned that the unit had some money that could be used for a religious retreat, so I organized a weekend retreat at a nice motel in the Florida Keys (it was off-season, and we got a really good deal). As I visited our tactical sites, I mentioned the retreat and showed people pictures of the attractive venue. A young soldier who had only recently joined the unit asked, “Can I go?” I assured him that he could, pending his supervisor’s approval. He then asked if his wife could go. The tone of his voice told me that he believed this deal too good to be true. I assured him that his wife could come.
Pete and Carol came to the retreat. The first evening, as we sat in a circle discussing faith issues, Pete said that he had some real problems with the “God” thing. His grandmother was a devout Christian, but she had lived a hard life. How could God allow such a thing to happen?
We sat in our chairs staring at our shoes—hoping someone would come up with a good answer. Finally, a young soldier said, “Pete, what about your grandmother? Is she a happy person?” Pete said that she was very happy in spite of the many trials that she had suffered. Then the soldier said, “Maybe that’s the answer, Pete. God didn’t give her an easy life, but he did give her a happy life.”
That was the answer that Pete needed to hear. During that weekend, he and his wife became Christians. The next thing I knew, they were hosting a Bible study in their apartment. Then Pete re-enlisted so that he could become a chaplain’s assistant.
That was forty years ago, but I still feel good when I remember Pete and Carol. All I did was to organize the retreat. The Holy Spirit (and that young soldier who asked if Pete’s grandmother was happy) did the rest. But I think of Pete and Carol as my “Timothy’s”—and they are, indeed, my joy.
Paul also speaks of the Philippian Christians as his crown. In athletic contests of that day, officials would issue a laurel wreath or a crown to the victor. That crown would be a prized possession as it told the world that the person wearing it had won the prize. When Paul says that the Philippian Christians are his crown, he is saying that their faith bears witness to the efficacy of his ministry. They are the sign and symbol of his achievement at Philippi. They are his reward for a job well done.
“so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (v. 1c). Earlier, Paul appealed to the Philippian Christians to let their lives “be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News” (1:27). Now he tells them to “stand firm in the Lord.”
What does it mean to “stand firm in the Lord”? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock”(Matthew 7:24-25). In that instance, standing fast required hearing Jesus’ words and acting on them. For the Philippian Christians, listening to Paul’s words and acting on them could be expected to have much the same effect.
PHILIPPIANS 4:2-3. THEY LABORED WITH ME IN THE GOOD NEWS
2 I exhort (Greek: parakaleo) Euodia, and I exhort (Greek: parakaleo) Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord. 3 Yes, I beg you also, true yokefellow (Greek: gnesie syzyge), help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
“I exhort (parakaleo) Euodia and I exhort (parakaleo) Syntyche to think the same way in the Lord“(v. 2). The word parakaleo has a pleading quality to it. I urge Euodia. I beseech her. I exhort her. I urge Syntyche. I beseech her. I exhort her.
Paul is careful not to take sides. He pleads with these women individually to move past their conflict so that they might see things the same way—and work together in harmony.
These verses are the only place where Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in the New Testament. Verse 2 tells us that there is a problem—that Euodia and Syntyche are not “of the same mind in the Lord.” Verse three tells us that they are women—and that they have worked closely with Paul (and Clement and others) in the past. That is all we know about them.
But this verse reveals that there was conflict in the first-century church—and that Paul wanted to resolve the conflict so that the Philippian Christians could focus their full energies on promoting the gospel.
That is important for Christians today to understand. Most churches experience conflict of one sort or another. There are at least two reasons for that conflict:
• First, people tend to form different opinions—and it is easy for us to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
• Second, the church is at war with the kosmos—the secular world—the world that is opposed to God. The kosmos world is always trying to subvert the gospel by persuading Christians to adopt kosmosstandards. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), so sometimes we succumb to kosmos values.
“to think the same way in the Lord“ (v. 2b). In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul urged Corinthian Christians to avoid divisions so that “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
This is the fourth time in his letter to the Philippians that Paul has used the “same mind” or “think this way” terminology.
• He called the Philippian Christians to be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2).
• Then he called them to “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5)—who humbled himself to come down from heaven and be born in earthly form—and to die on a cross.
• He said, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way” (3:15).
This suggests that the Philippian church has a serious problem with conflict. Euodia and Syntyche are NOT of the same mind at present. They need to deal with their conflict in a positive way so that they can be single-minded in their Christian work.
But it isn’t sufficient to resolve conflict by insisting that one or the other person “give in.” Nor is it sufficient to take a vote so that one person wins and the other loses. Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche to “think the same way in the Lord.” If the Lord is at the forefront of each of their minds, they will find themselves facing in the same direction—advocating for the same thing. If the Lord rules their hearts, they will find it much easier to deal gracefully with the differing ideas that surface when they get together to conduct church business.
The fact that Paul doesn’t intervene directly suggests that the problems between Euodia and Syntyche are not doctrinal in nature. If they were, Paul would surely give them the correct doctrinal solution. His word as an apostle would carry great authority.
“Yes, I beg you also, true yokefellow” (gnesie syzyge) (v. 3a). “True yokefellow” is a good translation—except that the word yokefellow is archaic and few people understand what it means.
In Paul’s day, wooden yokes were used to bind two animals together so they could work as one team. The word “yoke” came to be used metaphorically to speak of people working in partnership. A yokefellow, then, would be a partner—a person who would share the workload. In this instance, Paul is addressing someone who has been his partner in ministry at some time in the past.
Paul doesn’t name his yokefellow. Scholars think that he was probably Luke. In Philemon 24, Paul identifies Luke as one of his coworkers (synergoi)—a word similar in meaning to yokefellow (syzyge). Also, we believe that Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. If that is the case, the “we” passages in Acts 16 (“We sailed away…. We stayed seven days….) place Luke in Philippi with Paul. Then we read “we sailed away from Philippi” in Acts 20:5—suggesting that perhaps Luke remained in Philippi when Paul and Silas were asked to leave (Acts 16:39).
“help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers“ (v. 3b). Whoever Paul’s yokefellow is, Paul asks him to help Euodia and Syntyche to resolve whatever issues exist between them. Paul show his respect for these two women by noting that they “struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.”
“with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers“ (v. 3b). We know nothing more about “Clement and the rest of (Paul’s) co-workers.” Clement was a common name, so any attempt to identify this Clement would be sheer speculation.
“whose names are in the book of life“ (v. 3c). The book of life is mentioned on several occasions in both Old and New Testaments (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 139:28; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12-15; 21:27). The book of life is where the names of the redeemed are recorded. It is these redeemed people—and only them—who will enjoy life in the world to come.
PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7. REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS!
4 Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!” 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand (Greek: eggus). 6 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer (Greek:proseuche) and petition (Greek: deesei) with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Greek: nous), will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’“ (v. 4). There are a number of references to rejoicing in this letter (1:18; 2:17-18, 28; 3:1; 4:10)—and the word “joy” also recurs frequently (1:4, 25; 2:2; 2:29; 4:1). In this verse, Paul uses the word “Rejoice” twice to emphasize its importance.
Joy is a common theme in both Old and New Testaments. God’s people give thanks because they have experienced salvation at God’s hands (Isaiah 25:9)—or rejoice in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 90:14) or God’s presence (Psalm 16:9-11). The birth of the Savior was an occasion for joy (Luke 2:10-11). Just as an ordinary person might rejoice at the recovery of a lost sheep or coin or son, so also “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). It should be obvious from these citations that joy in the scriptures is rooted in the love and faithfulness of God.
Paul models the kind of joy to which he is calling these Philippian Christians. He writes this letter from a prison cell, but he says that he rejoices—and continues to rejoice—in the proclamation of the gospel (1:18). He tells the Philippians that he rejoices with them, and he calls them to rejoice with him (2:17-18).
Paul’s call to these Philippian Christians to rejoice in the Lord always is reminiscent of his call to the Thessalonian Christians to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It is significant that Paul doesn’t say “Give thanks FOR all circumstances,” as if we should be thankful for our adversities. Instead, he says, “Give thanks IN all circumstances”—knowing that God loves us and is present with us.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’“ (v. 4). John Wesley said, “Sour godliness is the devil’s religion.” So it is!
“Let your gentleness (epieikes) be known to all men“ (v. 5a). What does it mean to be epieikes–gentle? It cannot mean being passive, because Paul includes this kind of gentleness in his list of qualifications for a bishop (1 Timothy 3:3). A bishop might be passive about defending his/her own rights, but must be assertive in defending the rights of others—and in promoting the faith.
Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. In a time and place where tempers were running hot and people on both sides of the racial issue were prone to violence, King counseled non-violent resistance. He was persistent—but not violent. He understood that he didn’t have to break heads to get results. In fact, he could not have achieved what he did had he counseled violence.
“The Lord is at hand“ (eggus) (v. 5b). The word eggus can mean close at hand (physically near) or eschatologically imminent (near in time). Both meanings are appropriate here. The Lord is present with the Philippian Christians to help them in their adversities now. It is also possible that Paul expects Jesus to come again shortly. Many in the early church expected that Jesus would come again soon, and Paul certainly considered it a possibility (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
“In nothing be anxious“ (v. 6a). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke at length about worry:
“Therefore, I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?
“Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?
“Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient”(Matthew 6:25-34).
In that passage, Jesus identifies common causes of worry—life (presumably meaning longevity), food, drink, and clothing. He doesn’t say that those things are unimportant. He says instead that “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” and can be expected to provide for our needs (Matthew 6:32-33).
Jesus also warned that “the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find counsel not to fear—not to be afraid (Numbers 14:9; Deuteronomy 1:21; Psalm 118:6; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 10:31; 14:27; 28:5, 10, etc., etc., etc.).
This counsel not to worry is not a call to idleness. When Paul heard that some Thessalonian Christians were refusing to work, he counseled the rest of the Christian community to shun them (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11). He noted that, when he was in Thessalonica, he had toiled day and night to provide his own support (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). He said, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). He told Timothy, “If anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
“but in everything, by prayer (proseuche) and petition (deesei) with thanksgiving“ (v. 6b). The alternative to worry is “prayer and petition with thanksgiving.”
The words proseuche and deesei are similar in meaning—but proseuche places more of an emphasis on prayer as an act of worship while deesei places more of an emphasis on asking or petitioning.
“with thanksgiving.” As noted above, Paul called the Thessalonian Christians
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We can include genuine thanksgiving in our prayers, regardless of circumstances, knowing that God loves us and provides for our needs—both here and throughout eternity.
“let your requests be made known to God“ (v. 6c). We need not be bashful about letting God know the desires of our hearts. God knows them anyway, but like a loving Father, covets the conversation with his children.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding“ (v. 7a). Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times.
Both eirene and shalom, as used in the Bible, mean more than the absence of violence—although they can mean that. Both words connote the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
“which surpasses (hyperecho) all understanding (nous), will guard your hearts (kardias) and your thoughts (noema) in Christ Jesus” (v. 7b). The Greek word nous can be translated “mind” or “understanding,” and is related to our capacity to think, to understand, and to make judgments. It is related to the word noema.
Our minds are wonderful things. They make it possible for us to assess and reason and solve problems. They make it possible for us to enjoy relationships and to create beauty. They make it possible for us to know God.
But our minds can become debased (Romans 1:28)—and corrupt (2 Timothy 3:8). Our minds tend to be conformed to this world and need to be transformed, “so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Paul called these Philippians to “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus”—a mindset focused on others—focused on service—focused on what it could give rather than what it could get (Philippians 2:5-8).
The Greek word hyperecho speaks of something that is higher, better, and more excellent than something else. As wonderful as our minds can be when aligned with God, Paul says that the peace of God is even more wonderful. It has the capacity to stand guard—to protect—our hearts and minds—the very core of our being.
PHILIPPIANS 4:8-9. THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS
8 Finally, brothers (Greek: adelphoi—brothers), whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. 9The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
“Finally, brothers“ (adelphoi—brothers) (v. 8a). Paul has been telling these Philippian Christians what they need to do. The “Finally” in this verse indicates that he is concluding this section of imperatives. In verses 8-9, he concludes this section with additional imperatives.
But he also addresses them as “brothers”—fully in keeping with the way that he has addressed them in the rest of this letter (1:12; 3:13; 4:1).
“whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things” (v. 8b). This is an unusual section—a list that reflects secular Greek values. Two of these virtues (prosphiles and euphemos) are not found elsewhere in the New Testament and others are infrequently used. While these values are consistent with the Christian faith, any number of Greek philosophers could have compiled such a list. Paul is asking the Philippian Christians to look at the best values of their culture—to reflect on them—to adapt them to their Christian lives—and to use them for Kingdom purposes.
“whatever things are true” (Greek: alethes). The word alethes is related to the word aletheia, which means “truth” or “reality.” A true person is sincere—people can depend on his/her word. When Paul calls these Philippian Christians to think about things that are alethes, he is telling them to focus their thinking on that which is true—that which is real—instead of that which is false. The person who guides his/her life according to that which is true will enjoy a better life than those who guide their lives by that which is false.
“whatever things are honorable” (Greek: semnos). Semnos means “august” or “venerable” or “noble” or honorable.” The image that comes to my mind is an aged person known for wisdom and integrity—the kind of person who has grown wise through native ability and experience, and who can be expected to offer faithful counsel.
“whatever things are just” (Greek: dikaios). Dikaios means “righteous” or “just.” The person who is dikaios-RIGHTEOUS will try to live his/her life in accord with God’s will. The person who is dikaios-JUST will deal with other people fairly and honestly.
“whatever things are pure” (Greek: hagnos). Hagnos means pure—guiltless, morally pure, without corruption. It is related to hagios, which means pure, sinless, or holy.
“whatever things are lovely” (Greek: prosphiles). Prosphiles is a combination of the preposition pros(to or toward) and the word phileo (friend, dear). It speaks of something that is pleasing or lovely or beloved.
“whatever things are of good report” (Greek: euphemos). Euphemos is a combination of eu (good) and pheme (report, repute, fame). It therefore speaks of something of which people think and speak well—something with a good reputation.
“if there is any virtue” (Greek: arete). Arete has to do with excellence of any sort. We can assume that Paul, in this epistle, would especially emphasize excellence of thought or moral behavior.
“and if there is any praise” (Greek: epainos). Epainos is a combination of epi (upon) and ainos (praise or praiseworthy). “Any praise” is a good translation.
“think (Greek: logizomai) about these things.” Logizomai means “think,” but in a deeper way than mere passing reflection. The person who is thinking in this sense is analyzing, reasoning, and making judgments about what is useful—and how it might be used.
Paul is telling these Philippian Christians to focus on these things—things that their non-Christian friends would consider to be virtues. He is telling them to consider how to incorporate them into their lives.
While Paul doesn’t specify his reason, we know that Christians who embody the best of the community’s values can serve as especially effective witnesses for Christ. In his book, I Was Just Wondering, Philip Yancey asks:
“What would happen in the national consensus
if these nine words came to mind when you said the word “Christian”:
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?”
(These are the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23)
The answer, of course, is that Christians, embodying the fruits of the Spirit, would have a powerful witness to those outside the faith. We can be sure that if, when Philippian citizens hear the word “Christian,” the words that come to mind are the ones that Paul has outlined in this verse, then the Philippian Christians will have a powerful witness to their neighbors.
“The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do (Greek: prassete) these things” (v. 9a). The word prassete means “do.” The present tense gives it the sense of “continue doing.” With that word, Paul acknowledges that the Philippian Christians have learned from his ministry with them—and are trying to follow his lead. He also acknowledges that there is always a danger that they might be led astray (see also 3:2, 18-19). He calls them to continue in the ways that he has taught them (see also 3:17).
Paul has already outlined the kind of humble service that Christ rendered to the world by being born in human form and submitting to death on a cross. Paul has called the Philippian Christians to emulate the mindset that made it possible for Christ to do that (2:5-8, 17). Paul has also shared his personal journey from being a Pharisee under the law (3:4-6) to being a disciple of Christ—fully reliant on his grace—sharing his sufferings so that he might also share his resurrection (3:4-11).
“and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). Paul also uses this phrase, “God of peace,” in Romans 15:33; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:33; and 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
This is the promise—the reward for faithful discipleship. The God of peace will be present with them. Implied in these words, “God of peace” is the promise that God will bring peace to them—peace in their relationships with each other, and peace within their own hearts.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World EnglishBible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica StutgartensaOld Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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