May 29, 2016
I know I say it from time to time, that a certain passage is “one of my favorites.” And it’s true. But I have to say today that this one from Philippians 4 is really one of my favorites – maybe my all time favorite!
What we have here in Philippians 4 is a brief list of “hints” – suggestions about how to live the life God wants us to live, a life of joy and peace and fulfillment. And before we go any further, ask yourself if that’s your life. Do you live a life of joy and peace and fulfillment? We could all stand to hear these things every once in a while. (Or perhaps every day!)
We could take each of these things separately. In fact, we could easily make a separate sermon for each one. But today I want us to see them all together. Because I want us to see how they lead us to Paul’s final “conclusion” about life, in verse 13. Because again, this isn’t just a message about how to have God’s power. It’s about living life!
So the first thing he tell us is this. “Rejoice in the Lord, always! And again I say, Rejoice!” Paul is serious about this one! He says it twice, and he says it in the imperative mood! And if you remember from your English class, the imperative mood indicates a directive or a command. “Do this!” “Rejoice!” (“Have a nice day!”) In other words “Choose to rejoice!” We have to do that, don’t we? We have to choose. If we don’t, if we wait around for circumstances to make us joyful, (in reaction to them) how much rejoicing are we actually going to do?
That’s the first suggestion. Next, he told them about the importance of regular interaction with God, and what it does for us. “In all things,” he said, “in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God…” “In all things…” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure you’re like me in that my “prayer and supplication” is not always “regular.” I don’t always pray about “all things.” I know there are times when I let things go, and forget to bring God into the picture. But Paul is telling us, the more we do that, the easier it will become. And, if we do, what will that do for us? He says it next. “…and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
As I’ve also said before, the world craves that kind of peace! And yet too many people live lives that are anything but lives of peace. So what about ours? What is your level of peace?
Then, I really like this next little “suggestion.” “Finally,” he said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable… if there is if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things!”
Too many times I’ve heard people say, “I can’t help how I feel!” “I can’t help what I’m thinking about!” Well, I say, “Yes you can!” Because Paul says, “Yes you can!!” You can choose what you think! You can choose what you concentrate on, and what you dwell on! In fact, if you don’t choose what you think, circumstances will choose it for you, too! And again, if you think about it, how often will circumstances be peaceful, and joyful, enough to make you be peaceful and joyful. Too often the circumstances in our lives are chaotic at best, and depressing and even hurtful at worse. We need to work on “stepping away” from that, and to learn to “think on” what is true, honorable, excellent, and praiseworthy!”
And if you think this is “pie in the sky” thinking, if you think this is all “blowing sunshine in your face,” take a look at this last part! Paul writes, “I don’t complain, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” That doesn’t mean he could be just as happy in Massachusetts as he is in South Dakota! (Get it? In whatever state?) No, it doesn’t mean that! It means “no matter what the circumstances…” There’s that word again!
Then look at this last part. Because this is his conclusion. This is Paul’s “secret of life.” Look what he says, “I know how to be abased…” (that means “degraded,” “demeaned,” “humiliated.”) “I know how to be abased, and I know to abound, in any and all circumstances.” “I have learned,” he said, “the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.” And what is that secret? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s what we are talking about today. That’s “The Power within.” We celebrated the Trinity last week. We talked about our “Triune” God – our “One God in Three Persons.” We said that “God above us” is the least intimate, the least personal relationship. Then there is “God with us” – Immanuel, which is a little more personal. But then there’s “God in us” – the Holy Spirit, which is the closest, perhaps the most uncomfortable relationship. And yet, in a way it’s the most comforting.
Today, I want you to think in terms of the Power of God. I want you to think about the power that is “God in us,” with the Holy Spirit of God living in our hearts. And it’s not just the power of God we can tap into so that we can have power over problems in our lives. It’s the power we have so that we can live the joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling life God intended for us!
Now, I’m not saying that’s easy. In fact, life can be pretty hard sometimes! And I’m certainly not saying I have this all figured out all of the time. But notice how Paul put this. “I have learned the secret.” Yes, sometimes learning something is quick. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of committing a certain thing to memory. “I learned that the capitol of West Virginia is Wheeling.” (It’s Charleston, really. I just wanted to see if certain people were listening!) Sometimes learning is that. But sometimes “learning” something is a matter of doing it over and over – practicing it – until it is a “learned” thing.
That’s what I commend to you today. God does want you to live peaceful, joyous, fulfilled lives. And he wants you to know that it is through his power within – the power of the Holy Spirit – that we are able to do that. No matter what the circumstances! We can learn that as we practice it. We can grow in
that peace and fulfillment the more we do it.
So once again, I commend these words to you. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!” “And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord!”
Eternal God, help us indeed to know that peace, the peace that comes from having your spirit within. Teach us to seek you each day and to know your presence. And help us to be that light shining in the darkness for others. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.