Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Rejoice Always (Philippians 4:1-23)

This was the final talk I gave on Philippians. The previous talks may have felt a little more abstract, but hopefully, this talk added a little bit of balance, for them to see how in light of the Gospel message how are we to live.

Well, we are here. We are at the end. Paul concludes with a series of things he thinks mature Christians are to do. This is the “go do something” talk, but it is important to remember what has happened before, so we know that what we are going to be looking at are not things we do to earn God’s favour, these are things that we do because of who we are and where our citizenship lies. We don’t act Australian, we are Australian. We don’t act like we are from Canberra, we are from Canberra. Likewise, we don’t act like Christians, we are Christian.

Sometimes people see lists in the Bible of things they have to do in order to please God, but that is not really how it works. I doubt you watch Peppa Pig, but on that show, they point out that there are “up balloons” and “down balloons”, and if you let going of an “up balloon” it goes all the way to the moon. My children love balloons, they especially love the “up balloons” but if they get a “down balloon” there is still lots of fun in the Vella house. The game you play with a down balloon is to keep hitting it in the air, trying to keep it off the ground. Sometimes with Christianity, people play this game too. They try to live a certain way by just trying harder. They try not to swear, remember to say their please and thankyous, don’t watch violent TV shows or listen to music with swearing. They may even come to Church to make them feel spiritual. Doing all those things to make God happy with you is kinda like keeping the balloon off the ground. You do this thing here, you put effort there but eventually, the balloon comes back down and you try again to please God. Some people even obey lists thinking that if they do, then God owes them something in return.

But with an “up balloon”, something fundamental has changed inside the balloon that means it will be kept off the ground by itself. When you become a Christian you don’t have to try and do good to please God. God comes and dwells inside you, changes your heart, desires, interests and motives. You don’t have to try harder, you just naturally want to do good for God and others[1].

Shotgun application (4:1-13)

So at the end of Philippians Paul is going to quickly fire off a series of things Christians do. These are things they are told that will help them stand firm in the Lord. These aren’t things you do in order to be a Christian, but these are what citizens of heaven do to bring Heaven down to Earth. Paul uses a shotgun approach here as he fires off a series of little things involved in the Christian life.

The main goal in this section is for Paul to maximise the Philippian's joy in all possible circumstance. This is kind of neat, because who here doesn’t want more joy? Who here struggles with worry and has a mind that leads them up a horrible garden path? Who here struggles with their own situation and gets down in the dumps? Well, Paul here wants to tell you how to have peace and joy.

Unity (4:2-3)

The first thing Paul sets his sights on is some tension going on in the Philippian church. Two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche or Odious and Stinky are smelling up the church with their division[2]. This obviously isn’t a way they can stand firm in the Lord. When Christian brothers and sisters argue on issues, their unity and community in the Lord is weakened. It means they also can’t share in each other’s joy, and Paul is all about maximising people’s joy. We aren’t told what the argument was about, and at this point, it may not have been that important, the division itself maybe more of an issue now than the original disagreement. Paul asks that they, and everyone else, are to help these ladies agree because their names are in the book of life.

Paul doesn’t want divisions among Christians and he has already hit this note already. Paul says to live a life worthy of the gospel, to live differently we are to stand firm in one Spirit being united in love (2:2). This unity shows the world that people of different ages, backgrounds and race can all live together under a new King. That with Christ as our common denominator true peace and harmony can really be achieved.

Do you know any petty divisions that are going on in this youth group? Did someone say or do the wrong thing in front of another person? Maybe you have tension between someone here or at church or with another Christian. Do you think you could agree and be united again? Maybe you could ask for forgiveness for whatever part you have played in the division. Why not be wronged[3]? Asking for forgiveness is a habit of Christians. It’s an act of humility, which is something that Jesus is kinda big on.

Joy and gentleness (4:4-5)

Where there is disunity and divisions, it is hard for everyone to rejoice, and there is much in the Christian life to rejoice about. In this joyful way, we are to live differently. We have already seen we are not to grumble and argue (2:14). Instead, in unity, we are to rejoice.

At the start of this letter, Paul talked how he prays with joy because of the partnership he and the Philippians have together. We also have seen how Paul rejoices despite his terrible circumstances because Christ is being talked about. Even in hard situations, Paul still finds means to make much of Jesus and to rejoice.

Paul tells the Christians to rejoice in verse 4 and in case you missed it he says it again. The object of our joy is the Lord. Do you take pleasure in the Lord, in thinking about Him and resting in his love, knowing that he sees you as pure and blameless? Surely this position before God is something that provokes joy and is worth celebrating. You were once dead in sin but now you are alive. This is something that cannot be taken away from you, unlike happiness. Happiness is based on a moment and emotion. Joy is something deeper.

When Paul says we are to rejoice in everything, it doesn’t mean when something bad, like say your baby dies, you are celebrating and throwing a party. It does mean that regardless of circumstance you still have a deep confidence and peace that Jesus is still Lord. sometimes your joy will be filled with tears, deeply rooted knowing God is good when life is awful.

Knowing that we are God’s and that Jesus is our loving King we do not have to assert ourselves over other people. We can be kind and gentle towards them. This is an act of humility. The world is telling you to look after number one, to put your own interests in front of others, that you need to form relationships with people that you can get things out of. But we are to be different. We are to have the same mindset of Jesus, who used his position to give and not for gain (2:6). We are to be humble and gentle. How are you going with this?

Prayer and peace (4:6-7)

We are also to be different when it comes to drama and stress. Because we have a God who sees us as righteous, we can pray to Him. We can tell God our situation and we can be grateful and thankful to God, for He will listen to us. Sometimes we think we shouldn’t bother God with the small stuff in our life, that we think we can do things on our own, but Paul says in verse 6 that in every situation we are to pray to God. If it matters to you, it matters to God[4].

This will lead to peace. We don’t have to worry about our situation. Take Paul, he is facing death, and yet he is not whinging about the cold, the lack of food, being chained to a smelly guard and the worry of what is going to happen to his life. Instead, he rejoices. On the surface this is ridiculous. Paul has no reason to have joy, things are almost at rock bottom. But Paul has peace. We will see later that through his experiences Paul learned how to be content in all situations because God gives him the strength to cope.

What do you worry about? Do you take your worries to God and trust him, or do you depend on yourself? How is that working out for you? Life will hit you hard, in the face, while on the ground. Things will happen that you cannot control. But there is a God out there who is all powerful and all knowing. Do you trust Him in your situation, are you at peace even when things are not going well at all because you know Jesus is still King and ruling over this world?

Wisdom and example (4:8-9)

This peace, this assurance that God is good and the true King of this world will keep us following and focusing on Jesus. Paul lists a bunch of things we are to think about. This is almost the exact opposite of what we read in the news or Facebook or watch on TV. Most of the media we consume seem to be on about everything that is untrue, unholy, unjust, impure, ugly, of ill repute, vicious and blameworthy[5].

What do you fill your mind with? Movies. Computer games. Books. Gossip. I’m not saying all movies are bad or that all computer games or books are bad, but some are. Some present a worldview in an appealing way that is wrong and untrue and to dwell on these things will lead to trouble for a follower of Christ, for those who have Christ righteousness, they are to live different under a new king.

What could you be filling your minds with? Do you know anything to be true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, excellence and worthy of praise? Some things should be avoided altogether. Others in moderation and we have been given the very words of God. If you drew a pie chart of your week, how much time would it say you spent watching TV or chatting with friends online compared to spending time with God in the Bible and in prayer? Do you have the right balance?

While on camp, surrounded by friend and after having a pretty cool week, it probably isn’t that hard to think about things like this. But when things do go wrong, when it’s all going downhill, what do you think about? If you feel like you can’t think of anything good at all, can I just whip out the trump card to beat everything? Think about Jesus. Think about who He is and what He has done for you. Maybe, next time when you are feeling stressed remember Philippians four and read this passage or even the whole letter.

I used to catch up with a mate, and we asked each other where do you go to in the Bible when you have doubts. It was interesting. He went to the cross in one of the Gospels. He said on the cross he saw how much Jesus loved him to endure the cross for him. I go to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Here we see the historical truth of Jesus and the resurrection. Maybe you should think up a go-to passage in the Bible to go over and over again when you have struggles and doubts.

If you are struggling, talk to a friend, find an example to help you. Throughout this letter, Paul has used many real-life examples. We have seen Jesus, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Paul used as examples. Who do you know that is a living example you can imitate? Who can you follow as a buddy or role model in your Christian life? You might not agree with them on everything, and they aren’t going to be perfect in all areas of their lives, but there are some people that you can see how they do things and imitate them. We are to not just think about things, we are also to put them into practice.

Contentment (4:10-13)

Paul then starts to round off the letter. He repeats his joy that he has in his friendship with the Philippians and for the gift that they sent him. Paul is quick to point out that he wasn’t asking for help because Paul didn’t want the Philippians to be worried about him. This is one of the main reason Paul wrote this letter, he wanted to assure the Philippians that he was doing ok, even though he was in prison.

Paul says he was fine because he has learned how to be content in all things. Paul’s contentment comes from some real-life experience where he has learned it and also from God who gives him strength. Paul didn’t have the easiest life once he became a Christian, and yet in the face of physical attacks and shipwrecks and general danger, Paul was content. His contentment comes from a history of knowing that God is using him, that Jesus is the true King and there is nothing they can do about it. That his standing before God is based on Jesus, which is rock solid and not based on anything he can do. Paul’s identity and whole being is wrapped up with Jesus, causing him to live entirely for Him.

What is your life wrapped up in? How do you primarily identify yourself? When life takes a turn for the worst, will you still have peace, contentment and joy in the Lord? Do you have something that can not be taken away from you, regardless of circumstances? If you are a Christian you can say “absolutely”. Regardless of your feelings, or situation, if you are a Christian, you are adopted into God’s family and that cannot be taken away from you by anyone. So rejoice! I’ll say it again rejoice. Your standing before God is perfect, not because you are, but because Jesus was in your place. Hopefully, this Christ centred mindset will encourage you to go deeper with the Father who loves you, to focus on the Son who saved you and trust in the Spirit who guides you and gives you new desires and motivations to put your faith into practice.

Close and Conclusion (4:14-23)

Paul then ends the letter with some personal notes thanking the Philippians for sticking with him all this time and ends with some greetings, grace and glory[6].

So there you have it. The letter to the Philippians. It is a joyful letter, it is a personal letter, it is a letter about Jesus and how Christians are to live. It is a letter about imitating Jesus and finding examples to copy. It is a letter about community and standing firm for Christ. It is about forgetting your past achievements and resting in God who has given us Jesus’ righteousness and will resurrect us again for the new earth.

This letter makes us assess our lives in light of Jesus and how we represent Him in our actions. We are challenged to pray affectionally for each other’s faith, to be content in all circumstances and to promote the Gospel. We are to live as one people, like a little heavenly colony on earth, focusing on Jesus and using Him as the ultimate example of humility. We are to put Christ first and others second, and we can do this because we don’t need to impress anyone, or boast about ourselves because we have a new King. Under this new King, we are to live different.

So thank you for having me and my family this week. Thank you for a great fun camp. I really do pray that this letter to the Philippians will encourage you to live differently, to live for Christ. That your faith will be increased. That you will see Jesus is the true King of this world and the true King of you, and that your joy will be maximised because you have peace with God, because of what Jesus gave up for you so that you can be saved. Let me end how Paul ends this letter: may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit. Amen.

[1] This analogy comes from J. D. Greear in one of his sermons on Philippians

[2] I took this joke from J. D. Greear from one of his sermons on Philippians

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:7

[4] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid


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