Key Verse 4:7
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche were divided, conflicted, broken in fellowship with each other. So, Paul asked them to agree with each other in the Lord. He couldn’t bear to see the body of Christ suffering in this way, even though the church otherwise functioned well enough. The church cannot fulfill its purpose in the Lord if there is even one member in conflict with another. This is something we have to agree on even if outwardly everything else seems to be working out well. The Lord’s body must not be divided in any way, but must be at all times reconciled and contending as one man for the gospel. Paul even urged a third party to intervene in resolving the conflict whatever the cost, reminding the church to stand firm in the Lord.
The passage we will be looking at today is a final exhortation to the church at Philippi on how to be Christ-like and to have the mindset of Christ. In other words, here’s what your life should look like. Here’s what you should be like and do, since you belong to Christ and your name is written in the book of life. His exhortation to them isn’t extensive as he might exhort other churches. But it is beautiful in content. He basically exhorts them towards four things: First, he commands them to rejoice in the Lord. Second, he spurs them on towards gentleness. Third, he encourages them to be never anxious but ever prayerful instead. And Fourth, he instructs them to think about godly things. We want to take a very close look at each of these four exhortations because they are at the heart and core of being Christ-like.
Read verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” This is not the first time that Paul exhorts these Christians to rejoice in the Lord. Listen again to what he tells them in 3:1. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” We wonder why Paul repeatedly exhorts them towards being joyful or rejoicing. Perhaps because it is by far one of the hardest commands to obey in the Bible. At the same time, the command to “rejoice” is one of those commands that we rarely, if ever take seriously. And this is our great sin before God, that we pick and choose what commands to obey and what commands not to obey. We have a bad habit of judging what is important to obey, or what is unimportant to obey. Then we end up despising or ignoring certain commands of God, separating and differentiating one command from another. For example. we know that the commands to “love one another” and to “forgive one another” are important. It’s difficult to love one another. It’s equally difficult to forgive one another. But the average Christian will pay more attention to these commands because he or she judges that they are important. But when it comes to the command to “rejoice”, the average Christian considers it trivial. He or she judges that it’s not that important. But even if I should take it seriously: “Are you kidding? How can I rejoice when my life is in shambles, when nothing is going right in my life, when everything is falling apart, when I have nothing to rejoice over?” In that way, we sin greatly against God who commands all Christians to rejoice.
How then can we emphasize the importance of this command? To begin with, “to rejoice” has nothing to do with my human situation. God who commands us to rejoice, knows well enough that our human situation and circumstances aren’t often good but mostly bad. We are Christians, and Christians live by the cross in self denial and in self sacrifice. The Christian life is a life of human loss rather than gain. Such life by nature doesn’t promise good circumstances. Therefore, we should know that the command to rejoice and obeying this command has nothing to do with our situation or circumstances. Besides this fact, we should also know that “to rejoice” has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God and his church. We are by nature self centered and often think that God’s commands, such as “to rejoice” is for me and my own good, much like when a father cheers his son to look on the bright side of things. But not all commands are entirely for my own good. Some if not most commands are for the good of the Lord and the church. To “rejoice” here is one of them. Rejoicing or not rejoicing bears greatly on the life of the church as well as on the church environment. How often in our selfishness, and self centeredness, we have brought about a terrible environment of gloom and discouragement, when we should have rejoiced instead for the glory of God and the good of the church! No one who is Christian should despise this command or judge it as important or unimportant, and thereby ignoring it all together. We shouldn’t think that if it’s good for me or not. We shouldn’t sin against God by mocking it secretly in our hearts thinking it to be ridiculous in my situation.
Paul relays to us the command of God: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” In this he helps us understand that if the command is not related to our situation, then what is related to. He says: “In the Lord” revealing the sphere in which our joy exists. It is not a joy related to our circumstances of life, but entirely based on our relationship with the Lord Jesus himself. So, when he commands us to “rejoice in the Lord”, Paul reminds us not to be shallow or fickle in our understanding of what life is and what the joy of life is all about. Shallow people base their joy on their human circumstances. But our joy is absolutely and entirely untouched and unchanged and ever growing because it is based on our relationship with our Lord Jesus. We need to understand this deeply! We “rejoice in the Lord” in who he is and in what he has done. He is God our Savior who has redeemed our soul from death and brought us life in himself. When Mary’s human situation was at its worst, she sang a song to the Lord saying: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)
The world spends a lot of money to produce joy which they call “happiness”. The entertainment industry is a multi million dollar industry selling joy. The intoxicating agents industry is also huge. Doctors who prescribe mood altering medications to produce joy or happiness are at a rise. People will do anything these days to buy some joy and happiness because joy is really hard to come by in this world. But one thing is clear, it’s really hard to self-generate joy or happiness. Whatever is generated by outside means, usually isn’t long lasting and soon a new source of joy needs be sought. But Paul somehow gives us the only true way to be joyful. He command these Christians to rejoice in the Lord. You cannot generate it on your own. You cannot adjust your attitude to be joyful. You can only rest in the Lord himself and enjoy the fruit of your relationship with him.
There is much for us to rejoice over. Especially “in the Lord” there is much to rejoice over. When your heart is open for the Lord who is the Spirit to come into your heart, he shows you all that you can rejoice over in the Lord. If you really cannot think of anything to rejoice over in the Lord, then you’ve let your heart be overrun by the devil who has filled it with bitter complaints and godless ingratitude. The word of God says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) Repentance is necessary in order that you might experience joy and the fruits of joy. The fruit of joy is power— the power to live out your Christian life exactly as the Lord wills you to live it. The word of God says: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) It’s true! Those who rejoice in the Lord, whose hearts are always bright and hopeful, who remain joyful regardless of circumstances— those always always have the strength and power to serve God’s purpose without hindrance. But those who walk around with gloomy faces and hearts have no strength to even get up in the morning even if they confess Christ as Lord. Paul tells us all: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always!
Read verse 5. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” This word gentleness in the Greek has several other meanings which are quite wonderful. Gentleness or forbearance or considerateness, or reasonableness in dealing with others. But I think the Holman Bible says it best however when it reads: “Let your graciousness be known to everyone” (HCSB) Gentleness is one of the most beautiful virtues of the Christian faith and a garland on the Christian’s head. To be gentle with others is to be understanding and gracious and patient, not vindictive or retaliatory. It is one of the marks of Love. Gentleness is often mistaken for weakness. But it is one of the most powerful of Christian disposition. Gentleness yields to the mistakes and failures of others. It does not condemn them nor does it seek restitution for wrongs done to it. Gentleness is generosity towards others. Gentleness or graciousness is maturity in the Lord.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying to them: “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” (1 Thess 2:7) Paul also admonished the Galatians to: “Restore [the sinner among you] gently.” (Gal 6:1) Paul instructed Titus on overseers saying: An overseer should be “considerate, and show true humility towards all men.” (Titus 3:2) It is vital to the Christian character then to be gentle in all areas of Christian life. We can take the best example of gentleness from our Lord Jesus. Once a group of bigots brought an adulterous woman and threw her on the ground in front of a crowd gathered around Jesus. They thought they were doing the right thing to expose this woman’s sin teaching her a lesson for she had violated God’s law and betrayed her husband’s love and trust. But Jesus was gentle with her, averted all eyes away from her and extended the love of God to her. His gentleness was glorious. Jesus was gentle with an obnoxious crowd who didn’t give him time to rest. He extended to them the shepherd heart of God. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss but Jesus gently admonished him to reconsider what he was doing. He extended God’s mercy to him. Gentleness is the key to people’s hearts— both to the hearts of sinners and of saints. Gentleness denies itself in serving another. Gentleness yields itself when necessary. It rises to the occasion and glorifies God above itself.
Look at verse 5 again. Gentleness is also one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5.23). But most of all gentleness here is must be the product of our faith in the Lord’s nearness! At least Paul associates joy and gentleness with the nearness of the Lord. He tells us to be gentle because the Lord is near. The Lord is near could mean many things. It could mean the Lord is close by, always with us always watching and always caring for us. It could also mean that the Lord is near to his promised return. In either case, gentleness is necessary because the Lord commands it. But mostly, the Lord is near implies that we Christians are living in the presence of God. And when we live in the presence of God, we do everything in his sight and for his glory. This command to let our gentleness be evident to all should be burnt on our hearts. We should live in the presence of the Lord moment by moment and reveal his glorious gentleness and graciousness to all people, Christians and non Christians alike.
Read verses 6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What is anxiety? It is a sign of a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty and provision in our lives. Hard as it may be the exhortation to rejoice, followed by the exhortation to be gentle, one of the hardest things to do in life, is not to be anxious. Ever since God cursed Cain and relegated him to a life of “restless wandering”, all human kind have been infected with the anxiety bug. Even though anxiety is unreasonable because it never ever helps anyone in any situation, still all people suffer from this bug, and some even worry themselves to sickness and death over it. The problem may have its roots in Cain, but each person is anxious mostly because of their own lack of relationship with God. When your relationship with God suffers, your whole being suffers. You feel cut off from hope and joy and peace of mind because these things are found only in God. And in your severed relationship with God, you will not taste neither hope nor joy nor peace nor will you have the spark of life in you. Even though human beings are anxious about many things, they rarely seek to reconnect and reconcile with God in order to receive his joy and peace. They rather seek world-based relief for their disease of anxiety. But the truth is no peace can be found in anything worldly, and consequently no joy can be found either. So they continue to live in anxiety and justify that it’s the way of life. How many think that anxiety is as normal as breathing!
But anxiety isn’t natural for us. God did not make man to be anxious. He made us to be completely at peace with God and with all things as well. When Jesus came, he set the stage for us to become free from the burden of anxiety. He told us that we worry too much about our life, that we ought to seek God and his kingdom as a priority and that he would take care of our life and needs. He said: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about it self. each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6.33, 34) Jesus also told us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29) But even then we couldn’t be free of the burden of anxiety. But we also knew that the only way to be free from anxiety is to come to him. Finally Jesus gave his life on a cross and rose again from the dead to secure for us an anxiety-free life. His death and resurrection reconciles us to God and we no longer worry. We do not worry about his judgment nor the daily concerns of life.
Rather we trust him because he is near. And because he’s near we don’t get anxious about anything but we rather turn our worries into prayer. Prayer is another source of power for the Christian just like joy. Joy keeps us grounded in the truth that we belong to Christ and he belongs to us. It empowers us to live the way God would have us live. And prayer keeps us grounded in the truth that anxiety is obsolete as long as the Lord is risen and peace reigns in our hearts. That’s why Paul calls us to pray about everything. Don’t be anxious about anything, he says. Pray about everything, he says. Prayer is the powerhouse we have to neutralize all that potentially threatens to make us anxious. Pray about everything he says. But look again at verse 6. Pray with gratitude in your heart. Don’t forget to be thankful in your prayers to God regardless of what you are paying about, regardless of whether you will receive what you ask for or not, always give thanks to God in your prayers. There is nothing worse than a thankless ungrateful heart before God. The Bible tells us that the root of sin is pride and unthankfulness. (Romans 1:21) When Jesus had conquered sin in our lives and restored us to our original purpose in God, naturally then our greatest and foremost purpose in God is to glorify him and to give thanks to him. We were created for that purpose the Bible tells us, and no other! So God expects us to thank him for everything.
Not only Paul but Peter tells us the same thing about anxiety. Peter says: “Cast all your anxiety on him”, then he tells us why, “because he cares for you” (1 peter 5.7) We should be thankful that God invited us to cast our anxieties on him. We should be thankful that God deeply cares for us. But most people do not feel or express thankfulness to God, because they think that God does not answer their prayer. But we have to believe that when God says, pray and I will answer you, that he surely does answer. We just do not know how he will answer it. Sometimes it is in the form of “no”, other times we cannot see the answer until we have matured a little more. Every time a son asks his father for something, a good father answers his son, even though the answer might be yes, no or later. Still he answers. How much more then must we believe that God answers each and every prayer we offer him, simply because he tells us that he does!
(Even right now Bow your heads and cast all your anxiety on him and say thank you Lord. can you do that?)
Look at verse 7 again. It’s our relationship with Christ that gives us the peace in the place of anxiety. It’s Christ in us and we in him that secures the peace that we enjoy in our daily lives which overcomes all worries. But Paul here mentions the peace comes to those who pray. We cannot explain this for it is a kind of peace that surpasses all human understanding. Christians have often experienced this precious peace in moments when they cast their cares on God, and God floods their hearts with a peace that cannot be explained nor described. But it is a peace that we all need to experience. It is this peace that guards our hearts and minds from doubt, fear and mostly from the endless worries of this life.
Read verses 8-9. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” The final exhortation in this passage draws our hearts and minds to think about all that is noble, all that right, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is admirable and excellent and praiseworthy. Paul says: “Think about such things.” But how can we think on such things if we are glued to the TV or the entertainment box half the day each day! What might we contemplate when our minds see so much of the violence and immorality and godlessness that this world is saturated with? Paul exhorts Christians to think on all that is lovely, and noble and praiseworthy. When we contemplate these things he wants us to think about, we see clearly that they are all found in Jesus. We need to contemplate Jesus and his word. Spend time with the word of God. Spend time in prayer. I cannot emphasize enough to you the urgency of studying the Bible deeply, and knowing all that the Bible says. If you do not spend time in the word of God, your mind will wander to all kinds of worldly things that are not worth the time. But in the Bible we find Christ and all the virtues of Christ we are to contemplate and grow in. And here is the promise of God.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) When we contemplate the word of God, we grow in the image of our Lord to be joyful, gentle, prayerful not anxious, and our thoughts will be heavenward. Amen.
Paul’s final word in verse 9 is to put into practice what they have learned and seen in him. He was first a Bible student. And he lived by the word of God. He taught Bible and shepherded God’s flock. He went out as a missionary and raised missionaries and kingdom workers into the world. This is what we might learn to imitate from him. But most of all, Paul learned to have the joy of the Lord, his gentleness, his prayerfulness, and his heavenward thoughts.