JOY AND PEACE THAT ONLY COME FROM GOD Philippians 4:4-7 June 25, 2020
JOY AND PEACE THAT ONLY COME FROM GOD
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 4, specifically, Philippians 4:4- 7.
Reflection | Before the inevitable challenges that life will bring as we walk by faith and not by sight in following Jesus, Paul has just encouraged the believers in Philippi to “stand firm in the Lord” (v. 1). He then applies this word of exhortation to a real-time situation – two female leaders named Euodia and Syntyche who are at odds with each other. Paul fleshes out how standing firm in the Lord comes from being “of the same mind in the Lord” (v. 2). Our rootedness in Christ derives from being joined together in our collective dependence upon Jesus rather than choosing to separate from each other. Despite our differences, we are united in our shared reliance upon the grace of God as well as our common call to extend that grace to others.
As Paul closes this letter, he reinforces the whole of the message he has delivered thus far. First, Paul returns to one of the core themes of his letter: joy. He calls for the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. 4) – not once but twice. The exact grammatical phrasing of what Paul writes here is an admonition for believers to be constantly, habitually rejoicing. For Paul, our joy comes not from our circumstances but, at times, in spite of them.
How is this possible? Because our joy, much like our rootedness and our mindset, comes from being “in the Lord.” In other words, we find true and lasting joy as we increasingly place our confidence in the security of our relationship with Jesus. The key is where we are putting our focus. Is it on the road we are traveling or on the One whom we are following? When we fix our full attention on Christ, we can rejoice even though our circumstances may be difficult – even distressing. Because it is in the witness of Jesus that we perceive the absolute goodness of God – that the Lord is in control of everything, that the Lord is faithful in providing everything we need, and that the Lord is able to redeem all that happens in this life both for His glory and for our benefit.
Living joyfully in the Lord should change how we live with each other. Thus, Paul goes on to add, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (v. 5). The breadth of the Greek word used here, epieikes, includes reasonableness and moderation. Moderation involves the willingness to yield our perceived position and rights in consideration of others. As Paul proclaimed earlier in this letter, it is out of such a disposition that God came down to earth in Christ.
Harkening back to that observation, as Paul now echoes what he wrote next, that we follow Jesus when we treat each other like Christ served us. In a broken world marked by harshness, acrimony, and a belligerent defense of personal autonomy, our living in gentleness needs to be explicit. The clear visibility of such compassionate flexibility and purposeful accommodation toward others serves as a witness to both the character of Christ as well as the impact following Jesus has on one’s life.
And this is crucial, Paul adds, because “the Lord is near.” There are two ways to read this statement. Paul could be challenging us to mark the time – to keep in view the inevitable return of Christ as we approach how we engage our daily lives. Paul also could be reminding us of something we often overlook. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we worship and follow a God who is not distant or aloof but with and for us. Both our reason for rejoicing and our means of reflecting that joy through gentleness toward each other is our relationship with the Lord who is as close to us as our next breath.
Out of this awareness, Paul offers us a prescription for dealing with the kind of worry that can preoccupy and overtake us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6). Notice, Paul does not simply tell the Philippians to stop worrying. He tells them to redirect the worries of this life rather than allowing those worries to become anxieties.
As Christians, much of our battle with anxiety stems from our tendency to forget that the Lord is moving and working in our lives – even when we can’t see or sense His presence. Paul’s answer to stemming this tide is to commit ourselves to the practice of prayer. Specifically, he summons us to pray to the Lord in all circumstances. In our daily dialogue with the Spirit, we can include everything we are processing. There is no need to hold back anything in our relationship with God. Not our frustrations. Not our anger. Not our doubts. Our heavenly Father wants it all.
A healthy conversation is a two-way street. While we should share all that is on our mind and heart with God, it is equally important that we listen as well. Praying “with thanksgiving” comes out of letting the Lord through the Spirit both remind and reassure us of His goodness and faithfulness as manifest previously in and through our lives.
Paul continues by revealing the certain outcome of living out of prayerful disposition. “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). When, in any and every situation, we bring our concerns, our problems, and our needs and leave them, with gratitude, in the Lord’s capable hands, our worries are put in their proper perspective and our faith is strengthened. Instead of feeling exposed and unprotected, we will experience an assurance beyond mere self-confidence. The mysterious and yet ironclad peace of God will fortify both our resolve and our witness as we continue to walk the way of the Cross together, following Jesus beyond death into everlasting life.
Consider & Discuss | What sorts of things occupy your mind? How does your preoccupation with these things affect your relationships? How does it affect your joy in the Lord? What sort of things do you worry about? Is there a major concern in your life at the moment? When you feel anxious or depressed what do you do to feel better? Have you ever experienced the peace of God?
How’s your prayer life? Do you have a regular rhythm of conversation with the Lord? When you pray, do you do all the talking or do you take time to listen to what the Spirit is saying to you? What would it look like if you committed to a regular, healthy dialogue with God – if a cultivating a consistent prayer life was one of your goals? Would joy, would peace, result?
Prayer Focus | Loving Father thank You for Your gift of joy and for Your fruit of rejoicing. Because of Your nearness, we can dare being vulnerable and accommodating towards each other. Break us of our incessant need to be in control, to always be right, or to be so quick to get defensive. Free us by Your Spirit or loving well. Stir in an insatiable hunger and thirst within us for Your voice so that prayer becomes as regular for us as breathing. As we release all the people we’d love to fix, all the storylines we’d love to finish, all the heartaches we’d love to heal, and all the circumstances we’d love to alter, remind us to be grateful – thankful that You are God and therefore, we don’t have to be. Thank You for the promise of setting Your peace as a powerful guard for our hearts and minds. Knowing You’re with us and for us is enough – always enough. Amen.