Philippians - Message #7
For the past several Sundays, we have been on a journey through the New Testament Book of Philippians. A letter Paul wrote to Christians in the city of Philippi. A letter that shares a number of challenges, some warnings, and encouragement for the Philippian Christians to imitate his spiritual zeal and discipline.
So you will know, the journey will be completed next Sunday. Also so you will know, today’s part of the journey covers just six verses. Verses filled with very happy thoughts. Thoughts on rejoicing and what to think about. The positive things about which we are to think.
We will start with Philippians 4:4, where Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
This is not the first time Paul challenges the Christians in Philippi to rejoice. For instance, the challenge is also given at the start of chapter 3. There it is at least suggested Paul had given the same challenge at least a few times earlier in his relationship with them.
“Rejoice” means to feel good about having a positive relationship with God. A relationship made possible by acceptance of Jesus as Savior. Hence the wording, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
The challenge to rejoice is a common theme for Paul. However, there is a word added this time. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” As in, always.
Wow. What a challenge that was and is. What an interesting challenge considering what Paul had faced, was facing, and would face.
Remember the suffering he had experienced earlier, just because he was a Christian. His suffering included being whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, attacked by robbers and religious enemies, and being under the stress of his ministry.
Remember Paul was in prison when this letter was written.
Paul at least sensed he would eventually be killed by those opposed to followers of Jesus.
Paul had suffered, he was suffering, he knew suffering would continue. He still writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I think that is amazing, and he was so intent to get that point across he repeated himself right away. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” Repetition is a way to emphasize something. That is what Paul does in verse 4.
Of course, Christians rejoicing pleases the Lord. That is reason enough to rejoice always. But Paul adds another benefit. Verse 5. It will let all men - it will let other people - know “the forbearance” of the followers of Jesus. Forbearance referring to a number of things
Patience. Giving the ability to stay strong in faith even when faced with difficulties.
Gentleness. Being able to help others through their difficult times. Helping them with the same spiritual help we have from the Lord.
Humility. Knowing there is only one way to survive all life throws at us. That way is accepting and then relying on the love and power of the Lord.
How will others know our forbearance? By us rejoicing. How is that accomplished? Verse 6, which outlines a short step-by-step approach.
First, “have no anxiety about anything.” Again wow. I mean, what about being picked on, as Paul was? What about being in prison? What about what the future might hold?
Those are questions applicable not only to Paul and to the Christians in Philippi, but to us as well as we consider attacks on our faith even in this country and as we continue to wonder what the future will hold concerning COVID-19. And what will result from the recent civil unrest?
Concerning the disease, will it come back in the fall or winter? Concerning the civil unrest, can civil peace be restored over the long term? In both cases, what will the new normal be like?
There is much about which we can have anxiety. And let me mention my opinion that is OK to ask questions about any of those things and to wonder what is happening and might happen. I think it is OK to be alert to the problems all around us.
But the call is to not be overwhelmed about anything of life. Overwhelmed to the point of obsession or dread. To the point obsession or dread begin to ruin our mental, physical, or spiritual health.
How can we rejoice always The first step is to have no anxiety about anything. The second step is to replace anxiety with prayer. Three types of prayer. Prayer, supplication, and request.s
“Prayer” in this verse represents addressing God in general. It includes praising Him, reminding Him of His greatness, expressing our need to rely on His power and our joy in His love.
We do that often in our Sunday morning prayer times when we remind ourselves it is God who helps us celebrate the good things that happen to us and it is Him who helps us through the difficult times of life. Of course God already knows He is great, powerful, and loving, but I think He likes it when we let Him know we are aware of His attributes. Reminding Him also reminds us.
“Supplication” centers on our needs. Paul using that word tells us it is OK to let God know what we need. Again, He already knows, but supplicating is important for us because it reminds us who can help us, that being God. Supplicating is also a way of letting God know it is alright with us that He help us. It is a way of giving Him permission to work in our lives.
Supplication refers to a general expression of need. “Requests” are specific expressions of need. Naming specific people or specific problems, the result being a specific direction to our prayers.
For example, it is acceptable to pray for children in general around the world. That is part of supplicating for them. But we can also be specific as we pray for the children we support in the Children of Promise program. Specifically, Kim in the Philippines, Jirayut in Thailand, and Noelina and Manase in Tanzania.
In verse 6 there are other crucial words.
One is the word “thanksgiving.” “By prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving ,let your requests be made known to God.”
It is important to let God know your needs. It is also important to thank Him when He answers.
Even when the answers are not what we expect or want. It is then our giving of thanks displays our willingness to submit to God.
Here is an example of that from Paul himself. An example he mentions in another of his letters. He had what he called “a thorn in the flesh.”
Paul did not explain what the thorn was. Some think it was a medical condition of some sort. Others think it was a relationship problem. But Paul did not describe the thorn.
He did, however, pray to have the thorn removed. Three times he prayed to the Lord for the removal. All three times, the prayer was not answered in the way Paul hoped. Instead, the Lord’s answer was that His “grace was sufficient” for Paul. The answer was also that as long as Paul was weak, he would allow the Lord to be powerful in his life.
Paul knows what he writes about. Be thankful in all situations. We are to make thanksgiving a part of our prayers, supplications, and requests.
And guess what? When we do that, we will be rewarded with peace. “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” meaning it is not something we can produce on our own. Peace comes from God.
And look what it does. It will “keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Keep” refers to one of the duties of Roman soldiers. The duty of guarding, making sure nothing bad gets in and nothing good gets out.
What a wonderful illustration that is.
There is a lot of bad in the world that can threaten our hearts and minds, causing discouragement or fear or anger. We need to keep the bad things out. The peace of God will do that.
The hearts and minds of Christians have a lot of good in them, causing trust, faith and obedience. We need to keep all that good inside. The peace of God will do that.
Rejoice, pray, be thankful, let the peace of God fill you. That is what Paul writes to the Philippian Christians. They are challenges for Christians today as well.
He then, in verse 8, lists a number of things about which we are to think. Positive things that will help us concentrate on rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, and allowing God’s peace to fill us.
First on the list is whatever is true? “Finally, brethren, think about whatever is true.”
In writing those words, Paul acknowledges there are things in the world that promise to deliver benefits like fame, fortune, popularity, and success. Things that do not deliver what is promised. Things that instead cause hurt to self or to others.
Do not even think about such things, writes Paul. Instead, think about things that are sure to deliver blessings. Things in the Bible. Teachings about how to live in ways that are pleasing to God, to others, and to self.
Finally, brethren, think about “whatever is honorable.”
Honorable can also be translated honest, worthy, or dignified. All those words indicate someone who lives in a holy way. A different way from the rest of the world. The call is to think about how to please God, others, and self.
There are plenty of other things about which to think. Things that can move us away from being holy. But, Paul writes, think about whatever is honorable.
Think about “whatever is just.”
Being just means treating others and treating God the way they should be treated.
It is of course easier to set our minds on pleasure, comfort, and easy ways, but those of us who are Christians are instead to think about what we can do for others and for God.
“Whatever is pure.” Pure refers to what is fit for God and His cause.
Do I even need to mention there is plenty around us that is not pure? With that in mind, I remember hearing a question to ask when reading or watching or listening to something. Would you be ashamed if Jesus suddenly appeared in the room with you?
If so, stop reading or watching or listening. That is especially the case because, as we proclaim over and over again, Jesus is with us all the time and everywhere.
Let me add this. I understand pornography, which is always a big problem, is even more of a problem now because of the isolation caused by the pandemic. Some report it is also to pandemic proportions. Just in case anyone reading this message is involved with pornography, you need to stop. Not on your own, but with the help of the Lord, who can restore you to thinking about whatever is pure.
Think about “whatever is lovely.”
That refers to what is attractive. In this context, so attractive spiritually that others will be drawn to join us in faith in Jesus.
To fully understand lovely, consider the opposite. Vengeance. Bitterness. Criticism. Any of those opposites can drive people away from us, which we are not to want spiritually. So avoid the opposites. Instead, let’s be lovely.
That word means to be fair-speaking. Earlier it was mentioned that what we read, watch, and listen to must be pure. Here the challenge is to think about fair things to say.
Have you ever been so angry that less-than-gracious words came to your mind? Ugly words. False words. Impure words. Harmful words. I am guessing I am not the only one who can admit to that. But may those times be fewer and farther between as we continue our Christian walk. That will be accomplished as we concentrate on thinking about whatever is gracious.
It strikes me that keeping our thoughts on this list is not an easy thing to do. in fact, I dare say it cannot be achieved on our own. We need the Lord’s help, which we need to pray for, supplicate about, and request, thanking God when He answers our prayers for help.
Going on. “If there is any excellence.”
The word translated “excellence” applies in other scenarios. It refers to good quality ground in a field, to a perfect tool for its purpose, to the physical strength of an animal, to the steadfast courage of a soldier.
In all those uses, excellence means being perfect for the task at hand. For Christians, it means perfectly fitting into God’s way and will .
We are to think about what we can do, say, think, and pray that will help God’s cause. That is what Paul writes Christians are to think about.
“If there is anything worthy of praise.”
That refers to praising God. We are to praise Him for all He has done, is doing, and will do.
It also refers to recognizing the service given by others for the cause of Christ, which we try to do.
For instance, tithes and offerings have continued to be given in very generous fashion throughout the shut down the past many weeks. That is worthy of praise and has been praised in Newsletter.
Many times after a funeral here at Fellowship Church, appreciation is expressed for all the help with ushering and audiovisual and meal prep and serving and clean up. The expressions have been examples of thinking about what is worthy of praise.
Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise, think about these things.
Verse 9. Paul again gives the invitation to imitate him. He did that toward the end of chapter 3. He does so again in verse 9 of chapter 4.
As before, he is not arrogantly claiming to be perfect. He is instead inviting fellow Christians to match his zeal and his discipline, now seen in his proper thinking. Paul writes, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me [as I have, for instance, trained my thoughts], do.”
And again the reward of “peace.”
* * * * *
Once again the question, “So what?” As in how can the things we have considered today be applied in how we live as Christians? Two things for this message.
Concerning the call to rejoice, will we do that? No matter what?
Yes, there are problems all around us. Maybe no more than any other time, but we know about them more easily now. There is the civil situation and the pandemic situation. Along with that, who knows what the new normal will be like?
And it is not just problems that affect us. So do good things. For instance, it is not long before there will be a change in pastoral leadership of our congregation. Though things will be different, will we still rejoice? It is and will be important to do so. So important, Paul repeats himself in verse 4. Rejoice. In who? The Lord. When? Always. “Again I will say, rejoice.”
Let’s rejoice. Let’s pray for the discipline to do that. Let’s also pray for the strength we need from the Lord to keep our thoughts pleasing to Him. As mentioned, there are so many other things about which we can think. Let’s avoid bad thoughts, instead determining to think about - to practice the thinking about - only what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise.
Today’s closing song has to do with rejoicing. It is the chorus Rejoice in the Lord Always.
Rejoice in the Lord always
And again I say rejoice!
Rejoice in the Lord always
And again I say rejoice!
And again I say rejoice!
And again I say rejoice!
Lord, help us to rejoice, now and always. We can accomplish that together with You as we remember You hear our praises, our needs, our specific requests.
Thank You for the challenge to always be thankful, including for Your help to think only about things that are good. Our rewards are pleasing You and having Your peace in our lives.
Thank You. Amen.