October 7, 2018
When you’re reading the Bible, words sometimes jump off of the page. I’ve always believed that’s one of the ways the Holy Spirit “speaks” to us as we read. Well, this time the Paragraph headingjumped off of the page. In my Bible, the paragraph heading is “Exhortations.” “Exhortations” is a word that means “urgings,” “encouragements,” “appeals,” or “counsels.” Things someone is strongly teaching someone to do. Paul is “exhorting” the Philippians. He is giving them these final words of appeal, urging them to do certain things.
So, what are these things? They are some very good things! They are “exhortations” we would be well to heed! The first thing he says is, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Notice, he says it twice. And notice, he doesn’t say eithertime, “Think about what the Lord has done so you can have a reasonto rejoice.” He simply says “Rejoice!” In the imperative. Start with rejoicing! And just think for a moment about what the word “rejoice” means. It means “celebrate,” “cheer,” “exult,” and “delight.” (I was having fun with my “thesaurus” key on my word processor!)
So, start with praise, he says. Start with cheering. Don’t wait for something to be “praiseworthy.” Praise first. “Yay, God!” If you can’t do that just say “Thank you, God.” Remember a couple weeks ago, I said that “thanks” is a formof “praise.” So start there. Even if you haven’t thought yet about what you’re thankful for, start by sayingthanks! Start every day that way! Make a joyful noise – if only in your heart!
So, that’s the first exhortation. Rejoice! Then he says, “Let everyone know your forbearance.” Now, “forbearance,” is a word that means “patience.” But it’s even more than that. It means “tolerance” which is a big word in our world today. It means being accepting of a person we cannot change, and loving them despite disagreeing with them. That’s more than patience, isn’t it? Forbearance also means “self-control,” It means “restraint.” We might think of our modern world – “chill!”
So Paul says, “have patience.” “Have forbearance.” In fact, I believe he would say, choose those things! Because patience and forbearance are not the first and most natural reactions to things! Is it? “Choose patience,” he would say, “forthe Lord is at hand.” And I believe that word “for” is implied here. Have patience becauseGod is near.” And I think it also works the other way around. Take time to know that God is near, and you will more easily have patience and forbearance!
Well that leads to the next exhortation. “So have no anxiety.” You’ve heard me say before that worry and stress are two of the biggest “diseases” in our world. Remember that Jesus addressed that in his “Sermon on the Mount.” “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his life? Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin, yet the heavenly father cares for them.” “Let the days worries be sufficient for the day.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”
Well this is Paul’s statement about that. And again, I wonder if he was there that day listening to Jesus. Here he tells the Philippians, “Have no anxiety about anything, but, in everything, by prayer and supplication, make your requests known to God.” “God is near,” he said before. “So don’t worry, talk to him!” Doing that, practicingthat, will go a long way toward reducing stress and worry! I believe that. I hope you do, too!
And it will lead to peace. And peace is that thing our stressful world so desperately needs, and so desperately seeks! Well, talking to God will lead to that peace. And Paul tells us there that the peace of God “is beyond all understanding!” It is peace that we can’t fully comprehend, or even imagine! But it is peace that will keep our hearts and minds. It will keep both our thoughts and our emotions in Christ Jesus.
Now, we could stop there! These are great exhortations! This is great stuff! And I “exhort” you! Be people who start with – who lead with – praise and “rejoicing!” Because you know people who lead with criticism! And thats a whole different feeling, isn’t it? Be people who start by thinking about God, rather than people who start with thinking only about themselves! Be people who lead with, patience and forbearance. Be people who choosethose things! ” And then, “Have no anxiety, but talk to God instead.” And then, “Open your hearts and minds to his peace.”
I hope you see that these “exhortations” are very good, but they are not “stand alone’s.” They follow along very logically. “Start with praising God. “Have patience because God is near.” “Don’t worry, talk to him.” “Open your hearts and minds to his peace.”
Just think how much better life would be if we could do all of those things all the time. And notice! I didn’t say how much better the circumstancesof life would be. We only have so much control over them. I said how much better life would beif we would handle life with those three things all the time! [Is that hard to remember, though? Is it hard to keep in mind when those circumstances of life are tough? Maybe this will help… copies.]
Again, we could stop right there. But I can’t! Because this last “exhortation” is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. And I want to read this again in the Bible’s words. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”
I love that last sentence. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, you do!” I can see the Philippians all wearing bracelets that said “WWPD.” “What Would Paul Do?” Well, one of the things “Paul would do,” and this is what he said in the last part of this chapter. “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” And this is how he was able to do that. “Choose to set your mind on these things!” “Choose to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious. If there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise. Choose them!”
How often do we go through the day with our minds churning about the last bad thing that happened to us? It’s easy for that to happen, isn’t it? We live in a world where people have resigned themselves to that. We live in a world where people say, “I can’t helpwhat I think!” Well, Paul would say, “Nonsense!” We canand shouldchoose what we think! In fact, Paul told the Corinthians, “I take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5)
That means we tellourselves- we talk to ourselves, if we have to! We say to ourselves, in that moment, “I’m choosing, right now, to think of something else!” I’m stopping that line of thinking. I’m “taking that thought captive.” And what should that “something else” be? Well, how about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy? Those are good things! Paul really believed that was possible, and that it was something we should do. And so do I. We canchange our thinking! But it does take practice.
When you have some time, or even if you don’t have time, read again these “exhortations” of Paul to the Philippians. They have to do with the kind of people we are. They have to do with what people will see in us. They have to do with the peace we have in this life!
Eternal God, help us indeed to remember you are near, to share our joys and our concerns with you. Help us to have your peace. Help us to show your peace to the world in the kind of people we are. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen