Thursday, May 5, 2016

Be Anxious for Nothing!

The first verse of the fourth chapter reminds us that Paul was writing a letter and not a chapter book.  It connects not only the previous chapter but much of the letter with how Paul concludes this short epistle, and this last chapter is surely fully packed with precious counsel.

My dear friends, stand strong in the Lord!  Stand!

The original word is στήκω (stékó) and it means to stand fast, stand firm, as well as to persevere.  It’s less about staying in one place geographically as it is to staying the course, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, and being strong—in this context to be strong in the faith that you know and be strong as the people that God has already made you to be.
It doesn’t mean, stand strong until you get your way.  Paul charged two women to resolve whatever had them at odds.  Paul doesn’t go into it.  He doesn’t present the pros and cons of each side.  He just says, “Agree in the Lord.”

Think back to his letter to the Ephesianssubmit to one another out of reverence for Chirst.  We live in one accord out of reverence for Christ.

These two ladies must have stirred up something in the body.  For as much as Paul loved these people in Philippi; they needed a little admonishment here.  Paul not only charges these two women to let it go, but reminded the body of Christ that they are in this whole one accord, one Spirit, one body business as well.

Paul told his Philippian friends that this family of faith business is not a spectator sport.  Get in there and help them.  These two ladies worked with Paul previously in sharing the gospel and now they needed some godly guidance, direction, correction, encouragement, and just some good ole help from this body of believers.

They needed help in achieving reconciliation.  The peace and harmony that this body had surely known for a time needed to be restored and Paul ignored the merits of either’s case—which Epaphroditus had surely explained-and just told them to sort it out in the Lord.

“Y’all submit to one another out of reverence to Christ and get this sorted out.”  It does not help you press on towards the goal.  It does not help you take hold of what you have already attained—being made holy and blameless in the eyes of God.

Had Paul been writing to the Galatians, he would have said, “You were running a good race, who cut you off?”  Here he just says get it worked out in the Lord and get back in the race.

We could spend some days, weeks, or even months in this counsel.  How many times do the little things keep us from accomplishing the big things—the things that God has set before us.

How many times do we get wrapped up in being right instead of being on track?

How many times are we insisting on our own way instead of submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ?

But what I think or have to say is IMPORTANT!  I wouldn’t be making a big stink if it wasn’t important.

Fair enough, but submitting to Christ in all things is more important.  Regarding others more highly than our selves; that’s important as well.

Paul is not saying that we will never disagree.  He is saying that there must be unity in the body.  If my argument causes division in the body; my reconciliation with the body is more important that my idea or my way or my anything that seems to be stirring up dissension.

“I” am not first in all things.  Christ, others, and then me is the model of humility that we should take from this letter.

Next Paul speaks of joy and not just joy, but joy in the Lord.  Rejoice in the Lord all the time.  Hey guys!  This is really important, so I will say it again, rejoice!

Paul uses the word joy or rejoice sixteen times in this short letter that we break into four chapters.  Four times he mentions “rejoice” twice in the same verse.

Joy and rejoicing is not unique to this letter, but it is very important to Paul, and important that he share what he understands about joy.

Joy is part of our spiritual harvest.

In this particular pericope, Paul notes that we should rejoice always.  Joy is not contingent upon our circumstances or our emotions or the fact that the tornado siren is making a lot of noise.  Our joy is in the Lord and this special gift from God is the gift that keeps on giving.

It might seem a little ironical that Paul did a little chewing out with Euodia and Syntyche and the body of believers that should have been stepping in to resolve this matter in the Lord and then jump right into his exhortation to rejoice in the Lord all the time.

But it is neither irony, nor or Paul’s words poorly placed.  In the middle of the worst issue the church might be sorting out, they must never lose their joy that comes from the Lord.  

Remember the words of Jesus that we get from John’s gospel. 

Jesus told his followers that they would have trouble in the world, but he didn’t leave it at that.  He said, take heart, cheer up, put a smile on your face, have some joy in your lives because “I have overcome the world.”

Paul is saying that we can’t be hanging our heads while we are singing Victory in Jesus!   Rejoice!

Paul next mentions something that is often overlooked in this passage.  He says the Lord is near so let your gentleness be known to all.  Gentleness is a good translation of the Greek word ἐπιεικής (epieikés).

But we should understand that this word also includes the meanings of fairness and justice and truly speaks to living by the spirit of the law over the letter of the law.  In very dynamic translation, it means justice that goes beyond ordinary justice. 

Paul is saying start living in the fulfillment of the law—in the divine heart and grace that desires mercy over sacrifice.  Think to the prophet Micah who wrote:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Paul just rewords this a bit.  The essence of the fifth verse is that before everyone we seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly because we live in the presence of our God.

And now we come to verses that so many know so well.  If we listen to them or read them with an open mind, we will be empowered.  If we invite the Holy Spirit into our reading and listening, we can know a peace that is unobtainable by the world’s standards.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Jesus told his followers that worrying doesn’t do any good.  You can’t add a single day or even an hour to your life by worrying.  Paul said, “Let’s taken him at face value.  Do not worry about anything!”

Peter would add, even if you are threatened, don’t worry.  Stand ready to make a defense for your faith.

The first part of Paul’s counsel is in the negative—don’t be anxious—don’t worry; so what are we to do?

Here we are directed to pray.  If we kept reading our Bibles and seeking the counsel of other believers, we might also be challenged to worship.  Paul’s direction is to pray, make petitions to God, and do it in thanksgiving.

In your worst predicament, be thankful.  If you have ever noticed, I have something of a sequence to my prayers.  I begin with thanksgiving and then get to everything else.


Thanksgiving is the perfect place to begin.  You might think that the prayer begins with Father, or Holy God, or Holy and Gracious God, or just Lord, and you would be right; but I am certain that God knows who we are talking to when we pray, even if we just say, “Dad.” Our Father in heaven knows that we are calling even before the words reach our lips.

But God wants to hear us acknowledge him in thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving says that we are not trying to live apart from God.  We are not trying this whole life and salvation thing on our own.  We are thankful for life, life abundant, and life eternal—all of these we know because of our Father in heaven who loves us more than we will ever comprehend.

We may not figure it all out but we know enough to be thankful.  Then we ask for what we need and we are not ashamed to ask our Father for anything.

We may not always get the items on the request list but we are promised God’s peace.  It is peace that is bigger—way bigger—than what we can comprehend.

What does this peace do for us?

It guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  It is real peace granted to us in the middle of a troubled, anxious, and chaotic world.

In the middle of this craziness that we call the world, we can have God’s peace that goes far beyond what we can comprehend.  It is a promise that goes all the way back to a very familiar proverb

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

So many people today deny themselves God’s peace that passes all human understand because they insist upon their own understanding.

Next we come to some mental gymnastics.  Elsewhere, Paul directs believers to defeat every argument against the truth that we know in Christ; and for those thoughts that just pop into our heads, capture them.  If they don’t line up with the truth, boot them out without any consideration—end of story.  Don’t give them time to take root.

Some of you may have heard the saying, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”  That’s a stretch to make any translation of the Bible include that wording; but it is not contrary to what Paul is telling us.  Proverbs 16 gets close.

Paul is saying, “Don’t leave your mind in neutral.  This thinking business is a proactive thing.”

Instead of just waiting to see what pops into that mind of yours next, give it some specific subject areas.  If God is not doing all of the talking at the moment, here are some things to meditate upon.

Whatever is:
·      True
·      Noble
·      Right
·      Pure
·      Lovely
·      Admirable
·      Excellent
·      Praiseworthy
If we are thinking on these things then we are not thinking on whatever is:
·      False and deceptive
·      Dishonorable
·      Just plain wrong
·      Dirty
·      Morally ugly
·      Disreputable
·      Shoddy
·      Shameful

We are to take charge of our thinking and think on good things.  On another occasion, Paul told believers in Rome that the sinful mind is hostile to God but the mind controlled by the Spirit leads to life and peace.

Paul wraps up in familiar style.  He talks a little about himself, a little about the church body, and a little about what they share in common.

To the final point first—Paul thanks the congregation for the gift that they sent, probably with Epaphroditus—though this may have been one of several gifts over the years.  Paul explains that he is in pretty good shape now and that the folks at Philippi didn’t have to do this.  Paul knew how to get by on his own, but as they were generous, Paul simply says thank you for the gift.

He knows that these believers will be blessed for having a giving heart and giving spirit.

In so doing, he also gives us some insight in his circumstances and surely our own as well.  Paul said, I know what it is to have next to nothing and I know what it is to have more than I need.    Been there, done that, and got the tee shirt; but it is neither the stuff nor the circumstances that govern my joy and my peace.

I have learned to be content with my circumstances.  In whatever situation I am in, my joy and my peace come from the Lord.  If I am dining with the Emperor or stuck at home eating Ramen, I am just fine.  Paul states that he can do everything that God has purposed him to do in the strength of God.

My joy and my peace come from the Lord, not whether I have a lot or a little.  The Lord meets my needs.

Paul next tells the church in Philippi that the Lord will meet and exceed their needs.  God doesn’t have to scrounge around to see what he can put together to help this church get by.  He will bless them out of his richness and his riches.

So Paul concludes this short letter to a church that he loved.  He had to be a little terse here and there but mostly he is telling these people to have joy and accept God’s peace and be confident of his provision.

He has been coaching, guiding, and mentoring these people to be the people that God had already made them to be.

Paul told the Philippians and he is telling us that we are free to be God’s people.  There are no qualifying rounds.  

Through the blood of Christ we have been made the exact people that God wants us to be.

We are now free to live up to and be the people that we really are.

I think that if I had written this letter, I would have used the word rejoice at least as many times as Paul did and surely counseled all who would hear, not to worry—to stop being anxious about anything.

Friends, Paul is indeed writing to us.  Be anxious for nothing.  Be joyful.  Know the peace of God that goes beyond our understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And think on good things.


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