Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1354
June 10, 2018 Philippians 4:4-9
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“The Peace of God from the God of Peace”
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” This is how our reading for today begins. Because of this and other places in the letter, some have labeled Philippians a book of joy. The word rejoice is used nine times in four chapters. The word joy is used five times. Sometimes it is about Paul’s joy and other times Paul rejoices with the Philippians. In our text today, Paul is actually commanding joy. Rejoice! He says the same thing in chapter three, “rejoice in the Lord”. But in Philippians 4:4 joy is reiterated twice, rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Really? Yes, says Paul, and he says it again. Rejoice!
Knowing all that Paul had been through in his life and all that he has written to the churches, it comes as no surprise that he would call us to rejoice. We have Jesus Christ and that alone is reason for joy. But He gives many reasons throughout the New Testament epistles as he does here with things like no need for anxiety or that we have the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds, as well as the God of peace who is with us. Those three elements alone would give us cause for joy for the rest of our lives.
In one way we might read that line and think that Paul just stuck it in at random, but that is not Paul’s style. He commands joy because of all the things God has done in our lives. Joy is one of the primary characteristics of the Christian life. It does not mean that we always must have a smiling face or a constant celebration, but it does mean that deep within we know something the world does not grasp. We know that God is Lord of all things, that God loves us deeply, that God has given us great gifts for salvation and freedom and love and mercy and grace, and in all this, even when we are saddened by tragedy or pain, there is deep within the joy of the Lord. So it is easy for Paul to command rejoicing to those who know the Lord and are known by the Lord.
Paul’s next request of believers is to let our reasonableness be know to everyone. Some translations us gentleness rather than reasonableness such as the NRSV you might be reading in the pew Bible. It can be translated either way and we might think of reasonableness as a way of getting along with others. Gentleness might be a way to treat other people. I think the word conveys a sense of both and also picks up things like humility. Micah 6:8 is a prime example, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Walking humbly with God is a way to make our approach to others both reasonable and gentle. But there is something more to this command, kind of the sharp edge and it looks something like gentle in spirit, yet not compromising the truth. It does not mean that we roll over and let people of faith or people without faith always set the agenda. Reasonableness is a two way street. We cannot always be reasonable with people who are unreasonable. But we can be gentle with them.
Here is what I think Paul is encouraging in us: peacefulness, but persistence; humble, but strong; gentle, but full of truth; reasonable, but firm. Here is one reason I think this. Remember last Sunday in our reading from Philippians 3:15, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Paul is gentle in that he is patient and concerned for those who are not thinking along the lines of his argument that we press toward knowing Jesus Christ in all things. But he is also firm in saying that God will reveal the truth to you at some point. It’s like he is saying, “You’re not there yet, but God will bring you along.” He does not rebuke but he shows reasonableness and gentleness.
Perhaps this too is a reason to rejoice, knowing that God is working through each of us in gentle and reasonable ways to help us show the gospel in our lives – lives conducted in gentle ways towards others.
Joy – gentleness, yes, these are lofty goals for our lives, but we’ve got problems in this life and in this world. We are anxious about many things. Paul says the Lord is near, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” No anxiety! But we are anxious from time to time. What helps us combat anxiety? The counter is in prayer, supplication, thanks, and making our requests known to God. Turn that anxiety into prayer. The word prayer here hints toward worship while supplication is about asking God for what we need. Giving thanks is also a part of worship and a part of our daily prayers. Let us also not be afraid to make requests of God. Turn that anxiety into prayer and worship!
Jesus says something similar in Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God add all we need will be provided. We might say, turn that anxiety into prayer, into seeking God’s kingdom, God’s way.
In both cases the Word teaches us to put our confidence in the pursuit of God, in prayer or in the kingdom. It is in the confidence that God provides, and this is true faith, true trust. Not that we will never be anxious or worry, but that it not run our lives. We can take our anxieties to God and we need not live in the constant questions of what if this or that happens? We need not live in fear or worry over every event or every circumstance of life.
Paul knows that God provides for our needs. Paul knows that the Lord is near, that is, at hand, with us. This is the God who saves and gives and loves. When we were children, we did not worry about things because our parents made sure we had what we needed. Even if the family had little , most children don’t know that until they grow older. That is because children just one that their parents have provided. God does the same (and much more) for us. So Paul can tell the Philippians and us, do not be anxious.
Rejoice in the Lord always. How can we not rejoice when we have no reasons for anxiety or worry?
The Peace of God
When we turn our anxieties over to God in prayer and worship, it is promised that God’s peace will come. Anxiety will flee when this peace comes. I think of the peace that Jesus gives us as he spoke in John 14. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27). This peace is like the joy that goes deep within. It is so powerful in our lives that it moves beyond our understanding. People say of us, “How can you be at peace with all this turmoil going on around us?” It is the gift of God’s peace, my peace I give to you, says Jesus. This has absolutely nothing to do with the world. The world knows nothing of this peace. It is not just the absence of war or conflict, but it is the fullness of contentment, the wholeness of being, the complete confidence of and in God.
Paul talked in the previous chapter about putting no confidence in the flesh but complete confidence in Christ (3.1-16). That is how we know this peace, by placing complete confidence in the Lord. We trust that there are no reasons to be anxious and plenty of reasons to rejoice. Perhaps the greatest part of this thought is that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. God’s peace will protect our devotion and our thinking. God’s peace will help us commit ourselves to God’s way and to make sound decisions in our thinking.
Rejoice in the Lord. How can we not rejoice when we have been given the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds?
Think on These Things
Paul seems to have a great concern for the Philippians thought process. More thinking! Remember Philippians 2, have the same mind, same thoughts, same attitude. Have the same minds as Christ. Be humble and obedient like Jesus. Now he gives more things to think about.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
We won’t go into each thing individually, but all of them are perhaps summed up in things excellent and worthy of praise. This is where we are to place out thoughts. Our minds are to become engaged in things that are true and honorable. We used to call this the garbage in, garbage our principle. If we fill our minds with garbage we will spew that garbage back out. What is lovely? Think on that. What is pure? Focus the mind there!
Psalm 1 has a similar thought when it speaks of not hanging out with the wrong kind of people, but focuses life in the Word of God. But I think Paul is also talking about anything that is excellent and commendable. Things that lift up the soul like good music, fine foods, great fellowship. Of course the Word of God is a constant focus, but Paul is encouraging, I believe, a thought process that honors much more, that honors honorable things of this life and world, that God has created and given for our benefit.
What we think about is stored in our hearts and minds. Perhaps Jesus says it best when he said, in what could easily be considered like a proverb, “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:35). Think on that too!
The God of Peace
The last thing I want to raise up for us is the God of peace. I love the juxtaposition of the peace of God and the God of peace in this section. The peace of God guards our hearts and minds and the God of peace is with us. He is the source of our peace, our wholeness, and rest and contentment. He is the One who guards us and gives us this peace that reaches out farther than we can comprehend.
Paul gives us a promise of presence. God will be with us, the God of peace. The presence of God further cements that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. In the same way that Paul hammers home the twice spoken command to rejoice, now he does the same with God and God’s peace. We have within us the peace of God from the God of peace. It is the peace that comes from Jesus, not like that of the world. It is the wholeness that only God can give. It binds our spirit and soul. It makes us reasonable and gentle. It drives out all anxiety. It enables us to think about good things. It is the reason we rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord. How can we not rejoice when we have the God of peace with us?