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Philippians 4:2-9: Finding Peace In Troubled Times Print E-mail
Philippians
Sunday, 17 August 2008

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In the midst of our hectic, busy, often difficult, lives, we remain consistently in need of what Paul calls the peace of God.  I look at my own life and see all kinds of circumstances that are potential thieves of peace: difficulties at Church, trying to raise a son, my wife’s surgery this very week.  And I am sure that I am not alone.  We are all keenly aware of the situations that we face which rob us from any semblance of peace.  I mean, if we are all honest with ourselves, we may very well think of true peace as just some ‘idea’ that is out there and if we ever meet someone who seems to have it, we figure they are just denying reality and ignoring the facts.  True peace, true hope, true joy, become fictional terms.

Yet, this is not how the Bible speaks of peace and joy.  The Bible considers them realities and calls (even commands, as in our current passage) believers to embrace and exude them.  The obvious question of course is how.  How do we have peace and joy when life is so full of burdens?  Where does such peace come from?  How can we know such joy?

Paul gives us some answers to these questions in our passage this morning.  Before we consider them, let me remind us once again of the writer’s and reader’s circumstances.  Paul is in Rome in prison, awaiting a possible death sentence, being afflicted even by fellow preachers of the gospel (1:15-18).  The Philippians are facing difficulties within and without as well.  They have been persecuted for their belief in Christ and they have conflict in the Church.  In light of all of this, as Paul is bringing his letter to a close, he gives them a number of exhortations (eight imperatives in the Greek) for such troubled times.  Let’s consider these exhortations.

First, help resolve conflict among believers (v. 2-3).

We have already noted that their seemed to be some sort of conflict at the Church in Philippi.  Thus, Paul’s repeated call to unity (1:27 and 2:1-11).  In verses 2-3, he addresses two particular people and calls them to agree in the Lord.  Look at those verses with me.  I want us to notice a couple of important details here. 

First, Paul considers these ladies to be believers.  I note this because we are often tempted to think that true believers will never have conflict (although we know that not to be the case).  Paul does not begin by denying their salvation, but gives them instructions based on their profession (and practice). 

Second, Paul gives us instructions for how to deal with such conflict among believers.  What does he tell them?  Again, he calls them to agree in the Lord.  Whatever it is that they are disagreeing about, it is not as important as their relationship with the Lord.  There are times when our disagreements actually reveal such serious errors, particularly doctrinal errors, that the only option we have is to stand our ground (see Galatians).  Yet, these are not the only disagreements that believers may have.  In the present case, Paul tells them to focus on Christ and be unified around Him.  Even if they cannot agree on all of the non-essentials, they can still agree in the Lord. 

Is this how we deal with conflict with other believers?  Do we labor ourselves to agree in the Lord and do we encourage others to do the same?  Or do we figure, ‘Well, I can just avoid them and if things get too bad, I’ll just go to another Church’?  Or perhaps we are the outside party, like the unnamed (or possibly named, see ESV note) true companion in this text.  Paul instructs him/her to help these women.  His command is for us to labor in helping such conflict to be resolved.  So then, how are we to respond to adverse situations even among believers?  We are to help our fellow believers to agree in the Lord.  How much more healthy (joyful and peaceful) would our Churches be if we heeded such instructions?

Second, rejoice in the Lord always (v. 4).

As we have noted again and again, one of the recurring themes in this letter is Paul’s call to joy.  In verse 4 he once again (see 3:1) commands the Philippians to have it.  I do not want you to miss the fact that Paul commands joy in this verse.  This is not a suggestion.  This is not, ‘Hey when things are going good,’ or ‘When you get around to it.’  No, this is a command: Rejoice in the Lord.  Yet, surely Paul doesn’t mean that we are to rejoice all the time.  I mean life is tough and hard, and we just can’t be happy all the time, right?  Paul answers: Rejoice in the Lord always.  At all times, in all circumstances, Christians are to rejoice.  In other words, joy is not optional for the Christian life.  It is a command.  How do we keep such a command?

In order to rejoice always, we must always rejoice in the Lord.  Our focus in life is not our circumstances (no matter how good or how difficult they may be).  Our focus is not on how much stuff we do or do not have or what we do or do not deserve.  No, our consistent, constant focus is on the mercy we have received in Christ.  We are blood bought sons and daughters of God.  We are forgiven sinners, redeemed rebels, whose citizenship is in heaven (3:20).  We are heirs of the promised Kingdom through our adoption in Christ.  Our future is secure in Him because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). 

In light of such unbelievable truth, what circumstance or situation could rob us of our joy in the Lord?  I am not saying that life is not hard or that certain situations will not be terribly difficult.  No, I am simply saying that there is joy in the Lord even in the midst of the most awful of tragedies.  There is a joy that transcends emotion.  It is joy in the Lord.  And Paul gives us the glorious command of always having it.  Now that is a command that I want to obey!  When life is difficult and hard, I want to look to my Savior and rejoice in the Lord always.

Third, trust in the Lord in gentleness and in prayer (v. 5-7).

Paul gives us three more imperatives in the next few verses.  Look at 5-7 with me.  First, he tells us to let your reasonableness to be known to everyone.  The word translated ‘reasonableness’ in the ESV could be translated ‘gentleness, kindness, or mercy.’  As the Philippians were facing difficulties from within and without, Paul tells them to be known for their gentleness and kindness.  They are to have a reputation of gentleness.  Paul does not mean that they are to be weak or sissies.  No, because there focus is on the Lord and on His return, for the Lord is at hand, they can treat others with mercy and kindness.  Their trust in the Lord, their nearness to Him at all times and their hope of His return, will enable them to treat others with gentleness.

Yet, this is not all that their trust in the Lord will enable them to do.  The second imperative in these verses is do not be anxious about anything.  That’s an easy one, right?  Don’t worry about a thing.  How in the world are we supposed to do that?  Paul tells us with the third imperative: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  The key to being anxiety free is prayer.  Now many of you are already thinking to yourself: ‘Yeah right, I pray all the time, but I still worry.  I guess it’s just my personality.  I am one of those constant worriers.’  The problem with such a conclusion is that it ignores the text.  Paul commands us to stop worrying by trusting the Lord in our prayers.  There are some theological assumptions that I must mention here before we move on.  The reason we continue to worry even though we pray is because we so often forget who it is we are praying to. 

Jesus told us not to worry because our heavenly Father knows what we need (Matthew 6:25-34).  He delights in doing good to us.  He will not send us more than we can handle.  So then, the question becomes, do you really believe these truths about the God that you are praying to?  As we do, the anxieties of life will melt away under the fire of such truth.  As we are reminded of God’s sovereign goodness in prayer, Paul tells us that His peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  In troubled times, prayers offered to the Sovereign King will make war (‘guard’) on our anxieties and protect us from their crippling powers.  Therefore, we should trust the Lord in our gentleness and in our prayers.

Fourth, think on worthy things and put them into practice (v. 8-9).

When I was in High School, my computer teacher introduced me to the idea of GIGO, or ‘garbage in, garbage out.’  In other words, if you put the wrong commands or information into a computer, then you will inevitably get worthless information back.  The same is true of our minds.  If we fill them with garbage, then we should not be surprised when garbage comes out.  In order to avoid this error, we must fill our minds with the right things so that we can then put those things into practice. 

Look at verses 8-9.  It is easy to look around this world and become completely discouraged by all that we see.  We begin to wonder if there is any justice.  We begin to doubt that there is any goodness.  We get covered by a thick cloud of confusion and despair.  All the while, we neglect the apostolic example we have been given that will aid us in living in a fallen world.  We don’t read the Word.  We don’t meditate on the Word.  We don’t memorize the Word.  And we continue to wonder why things seem so dark and bleak.  Only when we return to what Paul and the other biblical writers have taught us will be able to correctly see the goodness in what God has created.  Only when we follow the example of Paul can we even discern that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable.  Yet, when we look at the world through the lens of the Bible, we can begin to focus on these worthy things.  And such thinking will strengthen us in troubled times.  So then, fill your minds with the truth of God.  See it clearly in the Word so that you can recognize it faithfully in the world.

Paul ends this section with a promise: …and the God of peace will be with you.  He has already reminded us that He is near and that his peace will guard our hearts and minds as we pray.  Thus, in troubled times, we can labor to obey these commands knowing that God’s peace and joy will be with us.  They are not figments of our imagination.  They are not fairy tale inventions.  The peace of God is real.  Joy in God is real.  How do I know for certain?  Because the body and blood of Christ are real.  Because He really came and died for our sins.  Because He really did defeat the grave three days later.  Because through our union with Him, we really are redeemed, children of God.  Brothers and sisters, the key to peace and joy, real peace and real joy, is nothing other than Jesus Christ our Lord.  To be sure, there is no peace and no real joy outside of Him.  Yet, in Him, through repentance and faith in His work at Calvary, we can have rock solid peace in even the most troubling of times.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

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