Christ Church Cathedral
15 October 2017
The Mind of Christ, 4: Peace and Joy
Here we are—already—at week four of our four week mini-series on Paul’s letters to the Philippians.
A lot has happened in all of our lives during those four weeks, so let’s catch our breath for a moment and think of those key moments in our own lives, those critical points where God seemed more real (or perhaps more distant) than at other times.
How has it been with you and God this past month?
In a sense, that is what Paul was asking his friends in Philippi: How has it been with you all and the Lord lately? Are you happy? Do you have a sense of peace? Are you energised for ministry, or struggling to battle through?
As you will recall (I hope), in chapter one Paul celebrates the compassion that they felt for him, and that he in turn felt for them. He described a visceral stomach-churning kind of compassion, that is deeper than a big idea and warmer than a nice feeling.
Mother love comes to mind.
Then he turned to the humility seen especially in the person of Jesus: a mindset that puts others first, and does not seek power or self-interest.
Last week we saw that Paul was also celebrating the idea that Christian life is a gift, not something we achieve by hard work or persistent belief. The person whose faithfulness counts is Jesus himself. He is not just the object of our faith, but is himself the ultimate believer. Jesus trusted God. That is enough. Because of the faithfulness Jesus demonstrated, we simply have to open our hearts—even the tiniest wee bit—to God, and all is well.
This week, in the final section of this ancient Christian letter from the first century, Paul unpacks what “all is well” might look like in everyday terms.
Overview of Philippians 4
Let’s engage in a very brief overview of this final chapter.
1: Paul begins by underlining the affection they have for each other
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2–3: He then appeals for his friends (including two named individuals in the community of faith) to get over their conflicts and to have a common mind, or a share in the mind of Jesus
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4–7: Paul affirms that being upbeat (rejoicing, in his terms) is the key to personal peace, and you may have spotted in this text the biblical basis for the traditional blessing at the end of our Eucharist
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8–9: Paul encourages them to focus on the positives, and not to dwell on the negative aspects of everyday life
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
10–14: Trouble is real and inevitable, but it will not deflect us because with the help of Christ (v 13) we can do anything
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
15–20: Paul recaps the experiences they have shared, including lots of tough times they faced together
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
21–23: Paul wraps up his letter with some personal greetings
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Glimpsing the inner experience
In this letter we have been glimpsing the inner experience of Paul and the Philippians. We do not have a detailed picture. We would like to know more. But we catch a glimpse of what faith and life was like for them in their own time and place.
As we look back, we are seeking wisdom for now and for the future.
For them, as for us, life was not all smooth sailing.
But for them as for us, compassion is at the heart of a life lived well.
Paul urged them (and us) to be upbeat. We are not selling fire insurance! We are daring to believe that we can live the blessing if we simply say YES to God’s love. How hard is it to say, Yes to the love that beats at the very heart of the universe?
As people of faith we choose to focus on what is going well.
We could dwell on the dark stuff, but what would be to give Evil a power over us that it does not deserve. Make space for the good, because God in Christ has demonstrated an investment in our well-being that Evil has never once shown.
We know in our heart of hearts with Christ on our side we can do anything.
And that is the basis of the deep peace we have as people of faith:
- The peace that comes from being who God wants us to be.
- The peace that comes from being where God has placed us for now.
- And the peace of being engaged in the work God wat s us to do.
Not for our sake, but for God’s sake—and for the sake of our city and our world.