September 3, 2017
Well, I found this week that I couldn’t leave Philippians so soon! This definitely is one of Paul’s best and most uplifting letters! And it’s also his warmest, personal letter. I love how chapter four begins. “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown…”
That’s wonderful! And then he gives them some of his most uplifting words ever! “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice!” “This is important!” “I’ve told you twice!” That’s what I want you to think about today. “Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again I say, rejoice!”
I want you to think about “True Rejoicing.” And I want you to see that “rejoicing” is not always synonymous with things in our lives being joyful! “True Rejoicing” is not a matter of some kind of “forced happiness.” It’s about a deep, inner rejoicing that comes from “rejoicing in the Lord.” Do you have that in your life?
I’m sure you remember hearing me talk before about peace. I’ve talked about it often. And when I have, you’ve heard me say that we can have peace despite the circumstances of life. We cannot have true peace if we let that peace depend on those circumstances. We cannot have true peace simply based on having the absence of conflict and stress. That won’t happen! True peace is finding peace even though those things happen!
Well, this is like that. Paul says “Rejoice.” And he is saying that in the imperative mood. He’s telling them to do something. “I want you to Rejoice!” He’s not saying “When things are good, I want you to remember how joyful life is.” No it’s make the conscious choice to rejoice! And remember, he’s writing this from prison! His life did not have joyful circumstances! Quite the contrary. But as he says later in this chapter, “I have learned the secret of dealing with all the difficulties of life. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
So these lofty, comforting, loving words are not coming at a time when things were good for him. But rather when it was the peace of God was most needed! And the great thing is, that he was saying that right after dealing with the situation in that congregation where people were apparently not getting along. That’s this business of Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know who they were, but it’s amazing that, even in his own bad situation, Paul still reached out to them in theirs!
We talked last week about the fact that people of good conscience can “differ.” That’s who we are as Presbyterians! But that doesn’t mean we ignore the differences. We sometimes need to talk them out. But! When we do, it is so important that we speak the truth in love. And we see from his words to these people that that has everything to do with his “exhortation” to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” In other words, rejoice in the lord, even when relationships are not so easy! It’s the word “always” that’s the key here! “Rejoice in the Lord always!” The “always” includes times that are not easy or joyful!
Notice that this all follows. It all flows from one thought to the next. Because the very next thing Paul says here is “Let all men know your forbearance.” What does that mean, “forbearance?” (Anybody?) It means to “Put up with.” It means standing with one another even when there are differences. It means choosing to love when you might feel otherwise! That’s what helps us to hang on to the joy, despite what difficulties we might have – like these two in question.
Now, we could stop right there, and that would be enough. “Let all men know your forbearance.” But then he adds to that. Because this is the next part of this progression. “Have no anxiety about anything!” We could add to that and say, “Have no anxiety about anything or anybody.” Again, this is not, “I hope you don’t have any anxiety.” It too is in the imperative. “Have no anxiety!” “Choose to have no anxiety!” (With each other!)
Those are great sounding words! But, do they sound realistic to you? Do they sound attainable? How can we do that. How can we have forbearance? How can we truly “have no anxiety?” How can we do that?
Well, Paul continues. He says, “The Lord is at hand.” Now, there’s a sense of that which implies that “Jesus is coming soon.” But there’s more. It also means, “God is close by.” “The Lord is at hand.” Then we could add the word “so.” “God is close by, so… talk to him!” Because his next sentence is “In everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to him.” Here’s where the strength of God himself helps us accomplish this Rejoicing and forbearance. We need to know that God is close by! We need to talk to him!
What then is the result of that? Where does Paul lead us in all this reasoning? “Rejoice.” “Let everyone know your forbearance.” “Know that God is near, so talk to him!” And what happens then? “And the peace of God which passes all human understanding will keep your hearts and minds.” Some versions say, “Will guard your hearts and minds.” I think I like that even better!
That’s what Paul wants for his beloved Philippians. That’s what God wants for us! Peace! And he wants us to be people who rejoice always. Not because circumstances are necessarily joyful, but because we can be joyful in the Lord.
Let me say one more thing about that. When we realize, when we recognize, that God is close by, when we take everything to him in prayer and supplication, we will be focusing more on him than ourselves. That’s a key to this whole thing! It is too easy to make ourselves the focus. And that’s what leads to the anxiety, that’s what leads to the differences between us, that’s what leads to our being overcome by circumstances! But when we focus more on God, that leads to the peace we so badly crave. What it comes down to is, the more we get ourselves out of the way, the more God can show us the way!
That’s what Paul wanted his beloved people in Philippi to see. He wanted them to know “True Rejoicing.” And with that in mind, I’d like to end with the words Paul ended with. “Finally, brethren,” he wrote, “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 on these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do! An the peace of God will be with you all.” Amen!
Eternal God, Help us to know that peace which passes all human understanding. Help us to learn to rejoice and to have peace, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. Help us to get ourselves out of the way so that you can show us the way! We love you. We praise you. And pray all things in Jesus’ name, Amen!