Sunday, November 29, 2015 ||
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“We just want a bit of peace… with so much violence and tragedy, we just want a bit of peace.” That’s how the French artist, Jean Jullien, responded to the journalist when he was asked about his most recent picture. You’ve probably never of Jean Jullien, but I bet you’ve seen his work. He was the guy that painted Peace for Paris on the night of the Paris attacks two weeks ago. It’s nothing more than a rough sketch of the Eifle Tower combined with the peace sign. And yet, it struck a chord with people all around the world. Jullien posted the picture on his Instagram account the night of the attacks and by the morning, it had become the unifying symbol in response to the attacks. Within 24 hours, it was on tshirts, banners and posters. The world agrees with Jullien; we just want a bit of peace.
But peace seems so elusive right now, doesn’t it? Our world is getting more and more chaotic. It seems like there is a new tragedy for us to process every day. We’re entering an election year, which will only add to the tension. All of our problems will be on full display. But even locally, peace can be hard to find. Global terrorism hasn’t touched Boone, but that doesn’t mean that our small mountain town is a sanctuary for peace. We have plenty of problems to keep us up at night, especially on the back end of a holiday weekend.
This brings up an important question – and one that many people are asking right now. Is peace possible in a broken world? What is the Christian response to the anxiety that we see around the world and feel in our own hearts? We know that Christ will return and restore peace to our broken world, but what about now? Is peace possible now or do we simply have to wade through a few more years of tension and anxiety?
If you have your Bible, turn to Philippians chapter 4. We’re going to find this morning that the Scriptures give us a stunning answer to this question. Peace is not only possible for those who are in Christ; it is promised. The Christian life is a peaceful life. Let’s read this familiar and comforting text. We’ll begin in verse 4 and go to verse 9.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious 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.
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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
In these verses, Paul will offer four disciplines of a godly person and two promises of peace. The outline may look complex when I put it on the screen, but it is surprisingly simple. Paul will offer two disciplines and a promise, followed by two more disciplines and another promise.
- Discipline 1: Be Joyful and Gentle (v. 4-5)
- Discipline 2: Pray Thankful Prayers (v. 6)
- Promise 1: The Peace of God Will Guard You (v. 7)
- Discipline 3: Think Redemptive Thoughts (v. 8)
- Discipline 4: Practice Godly Behavior (v. 9a)
- Promise 2: The God of Peace Will Be With You (v. 9b)
Perhaps I could boil the outline down to a single statement. Fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ are characterized by peace. Let me say that again: fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ are characterized by peace, not anxiety. The promises in this text are astounding, and yet they’re not automatic. Paul will unashamedly link the promises of God’s peace to several disciplines. Peace is cultivated when we learn how to walk with God. Let’s dig into the text.
- Be Joyful and Gentle
We’ll start with the first discipline in verse 4-5. You’ll notice that this first discipline actually includes two separate instructions. Let’s read it again: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
This seems like an odd way to begin a discussion on peace. This text is clearly about peace, and yet, Paul begins the discussion with two seemingly random commands. He challenges the church to rejoice in the Lord always and to be reasonable – or gentle – to everyone. What is happening here?
We need to remember where we are in the book of Philippians. We’re in the fourth and final chapter of the letter. Paul has a section like this at the end of most of his letters. He will throw together a string of seemingly random imperatives. And I suppose they are quite random if you’re not aware of his argument. The commands to be joyful and gentle in Philippians 4 are the natural conclusion to his entire argument. In chapter 1, verse 27, Paul encouraged the church to live their lives in a “manner worthy of the gospel.” In chapter 2, he explained the gospel. Though Christ was God, he humbled himself to a cross. He is now exalted at God’s right hand. In chapter 3, he encouraged the church to press on in the power of the gospel. And so, now, in chapter 4, he’s simply fleshing out what the gospel-centered life looks like. And not surprisingly, we are to embody the joyful humility of Christ. We are to rejoice in the Lord always and be gentle to everyone. This is what it looks like to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.
This was particularly relevant for the Philippian church. If you look at the first three verses in chapter 4, you’ll find that two ladies in this church were embroiled in a serious conflict. Paul had urged these ladies to agree in the Lord. We don’t know what they were fighting about, but we do know a little bit about conflict. Nothing sucks the peace out of a church or a family like unresolved conflict. Conflict breeds anxiety. Paul encouraged joyfulness and gentleness because these two virtues attack conflict at the root. Conflict cannot grow in a church or a family when the members are rejoicing in the Lord and treating each other with gentleness. The disciplines of joy and gentleness cultivate peace.
Verse 5 ends with a bold statement: the Lord is at hand. It would be tempting to buzz past this final phrase, but that would be a mistake. In fact, I believe this small phrase at the end of verse 5 fuels the gospel-centered life. Paul encourages joyfulness and gentleness because the Lord is at hand. This is a fairly broad statement, so I believe Paul had a few things in mind.
First, I think it served as a warning. The Lord is returning soon, so be joyful and gentle because you don’t know when he’s coming back. The Scriptures constantly encourage us to live in light of Christ’s return. The return of Christ is supposed to shape our behavior. How do you want Jesus to find you when he returns? Let me give you a hint: You don’t want to be found harsh, indulging in the pleasures of this world. You want to be found faithful, joyful, and gentle. Listen to Christ’s teaching on this subject in Matthew 24.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Church, the Lord is at hand. When he returns – on a day that you do not expect – will he find you as a faithful servant, rejoicing in the Lord and gentle toward others? Or will he find you indulging in cheap pleasures, being harsh toward other people? Rejoice and be reasonable; the Lord is at hand. Let this serve as a warning.
But, I believe Paul also used this phrase to comfort his church. The Lord is coming soon, but he is also near to us now. We are not supposed to slave away in his absence. No, we find our strength in the presence of God. We often forget the last line of the Great Commission, but the last line makes the Great Commission possible. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Lord’s presence makes the next discipline possible.
- Pray Thankful Prayers
Because God is near, we do not need to be anxious. Listen to verse 6 again. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
You’ve probably noticed by now, but Paul was a fan of superlatives. I tend to add a bit more ambiguity to my own language. I would have probably said something like, do not be anxious about most things, but in almost everything, you should probably pray. I like a little bit of flexibility because certain things – like global terrorism or a complete financial meltdown – actually invite a little anxiety. I also feel like we shouldn’t be expected to bring everything to God. I mean, certainly we can deal with the small things, right?
The Scriptures won’t allow that kind of ambiguity. Paul says in very clear language: be anxious about nothing, but pray about everything. Prayer is abundantly important to the Christian life. But we tend to make it more complex than it really is. Maybe you don’t feel qualified to pray or you don’t know exactly how to pray. Either way, this text invites you to pray… about everything. When I was the program director at TVR, we had to receive our climbing certifications every year. We’d hire an expert to come out and go over all the safest ways to set up our gear for the climbing tower. I remember one year, the instructor was teaching us how to tie knots. He went through several of his favorite knots, but then he joked, “You know, if you can’t tie a knot, just tie a lot.” I think Paul is essentially doing the same thing here. If you don’t know how to pray, pray a lot. You’ll figure it out. It’s not about the technique anyway; its about the relationship. This is why he uses a wide variety of terms for prayer here. Let your request be made known to God through devotional prayers and prayers of supplication. Learn how to pray with thanksgiving. The point is abundantly clear: we need to pray all the time.
The reason we need to pray so much is because prayer builds trust. This is why prayer is offered as the antidote for anxiety. Anxiety is the absence of trust. Prayer is effective against anxiety because prayer, over time, builds trust. If you’re not careful, you will completely miss the point of the text. It is easy to turn this text into a rigid formula. But that only leads to frustration. “I don’t get it; I’ve been praying, but I’m still anxious…” You need to remember that your prayers cannot kill anxiety. Only God can kill anxiety. Prayer simply cultivates trust in the living God. We pray to strengthen our trust in God.
This is why Paul says to make your requests with thanksgiving. This is the key to the entire text. Pray thankful prayers to God – before he even answers them. Don’t wait until he answers to thank him. Thank him as you ask him. If you trust in God, you will come to him with gratitude before he answers your prayers. You will thank him because you are confident that he is working out everything for your good.
A. The Peace of God
This type of prayerful and thankful posture weeds out anxiety. It is the posture that leads to the first promise. Read v. 7 again. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ pray thankful prayers, the peace of God will guard their hearts and their minds. What is the peace of God like? I cannot explain it. I know that I’m supposed to break down some of these statements, but the text wont let me. The peace of God is so astounding that it passes understanding. I cannot grasp this peace and neither can you. We can’t explain it; we can only proclaim it. The peace that guards our hearts is the peace that currently exists within the Trinity. The peace that exists with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the same peace that is given to us. God is not worried or stressed or anxious right now. He is perfectly content and he always has been.
This is the peace that will guard the hearts and minds of those who pray. If you have ever struggled with anxiety, you know how powerful it is. You need a strong defense because it can slip in before you even know it.
Anxiety slipped into my life in the 7th grade. I was sitting in one of my classes when one of my classmates began to have a seizure. If that weren’t traumatic enough, I remember one of my teachers running over to him saying, “Don’t let him swallow his tongue.” That moment changed my life: you can swallow your tongue? That comment snowballed into a massive fear of swallowing that plagued me for over a year. You can ask my family. It was miserable. As I have looked back over that year, I’m realizing now that it was probably more miserable for them than it was for me. No matter what I tried – and no matter what they told me – I could not shake my fear of choking. That’s the way anxiety works. You cannot reason with irrational fears. They just come uninvited and they wont go away. What I’m trying to say is that your own mind and heart are not powerful enough to set up secure boundaries from fear and anxiety.
I realize this is a relatively small example. At the time it wasn’t small, but I know it pales in comparison to the anxiety that many of you deal with. I don’t mean to get into the complex issue of dealing with major issues of anxiety. I realize these are very real and serious. There are godly and qualified people that can help you find relief. But no matter where you are this morning, be encouraged by the Word of God. The Lord is near. He hears your prayers. He wants you to trust him. And he offers his own peace to guard your hearts and minds for you.
We could easily conclude here, but Paul is not quite done. There are two more disciplines and one more astounding promise for us to consider. We’ll go through these more quickly.
- Think Redemptive Thoughts
In verse 8, Paul instructed the church to fill their minds with redemptive thoughts. Let’s read verse 8 again. 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.
If you want peace, Paul says, you need to pack your head with the best thoughts possible. Paul instructs the Philippians to think redemptive thoughts.
We need to realize that Paul’s advice is counterintuitive. Most of us try to find peace by emptying our minds. When anxiety strikes, we need to clear our head. You watch TV because it requires absolutely nothing. You play video games so you can go on autopilot. You go for a jog or a drive to clear your head. You put on your favorite album and get lost. We tend to fight anxiety by thinking about nothing.
But the Bible asks us to do the exact opposite. It invites us to think good thoughts. If you’re anxious, you should fill your mind. You should ask the deep questions. What is truth? Sometimes we’re anxious and fearful because we forget truth. If you’re particularly anxious right now about the events in our world, it might be time for you to brush up on theology and get a biblical perspective of what’s happening. Get a thick book on systematic theology and put it by your bedside table. Learn doctrine. Think about truth. Rehearse the Apostle’s creed. Let the truth of God clean out your anxious mind. Anxiety and fear make their living on empty lies. They feed on embellishments and assumptions about God and about you. But when you think about things that are true, you will eventually starve fear.
The list goes on: we’re also told to think about things that are pure and lovely. Sometimes we’re anxious and fearful because we have detached ourselves from true beauty. We fill our minds with trash. I find myself constantly challenging our college students to check their inputs. When I was in college, I justified my music, books and movies. I didn’t think that they affected me much. But I’m beginning to realize that we are far more influenced by our headphones and Netflix queues than we realize. If you fill your head with false beauty, you will only experience a false peace. This is why it is good for us to read redemptive books and listen to redemptive music. I don’t think we have to limit ourselves to the books and albums found in the Christian section. There is a lot of lovely and beautiful art that is not explicitly marketed as Christian. The Scriptures invite us to enjoy these things. I have found that the classic novels have a way of enriching my life. They somehow bring me closer to God. Fill your mind with beauty.
Perhaps the most practical way to feed your mind with truth and beauty and justice and excellence is to fill it with Scripture. Be immersed in the Bible. Memorize it. Read it. Listen to it. Talk about it. Delight in it. The Bible is where we learn about truth, honor, justice, purity, and loveliness. You can certainly find these virtues outside of the Bible – and Paul invites you to celebrate them when you find them – but you won’t be able to locate them if you’re not grounded in the Bible.
- Practice Godly Behavior
The ultimate goal of redemptive thinking is godly behavior. This leads to Paul’s final discipline. Let’s read the first part of verse 9 again: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things.
Paul could have simply stopped with the first command. He could have commanded them to think good thoughts and left it at that. But that is not the goal of the Bible. God certainly wants to sanctify our minds, but he also wants to sanctify our behavior. Good thinking must translate into godly living. These go hand in hand.
Paul was a worthy example of the godly behavior he instructed. He could freely invite the Philippians to imitate him. “What you have seen in me, do that.” Most of us are too shy to say something like this. But Paul was not being arrogant. Just a few verses earlier, he clearly communicated that he was far from perfect. Read 3:12;17
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Paul realized his limitations. He was not perfect. But he also had a clean conscience. He had lived his life in a manner worthy of the gospel. So it was no trouble for him to ask this church to imitate him.
Can you say the same thing? Can you ask other people to imitate you? This is the joy of mentoring and discipleship. Nothing keeps you more grounded in the gospel than knowing someone else is watching. If you’ve never told someone else to watch you live out the gospel, you are missing one of the joys of discipleship.
B. The God of Peace Will Be With You
As we think good thoughts and flesh them out in our lives, we can expect another promise. You can find this at the end of verse 9: and the God of peace will be with you.
Just two verses earlier, Paul promised the peace of God. Now he promises the God of Peace. This is stunning. It is one thing for God to send his peace to defend our hearts and minds. It is quite another thing for the God of peace to come live with us. And yet, this is the promise of the gospel.
It is the promise that we get to contemplate this advent season. The advent of Christ was the advent of peace. It had been promised years before to the prophet Isaiah:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Do you remember the cry of the angels when Jesus was finally born?
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
I’m not sure if the angels knew exactly what was happening when Christ was born, but they did know that the presence of this baby meant peace. As he grew up and began his public ministry, his entire life was characterized by peace. He calmed a storm with a simple word. He sent demons away with a word. He restored the withered hand of a broken man with a touch.
And then, on the cross, God demonstrated his eternal plan to restore peace to anyone who would believe. Jesus did this by taking every bit of our sin and disorder on himself. As he hung on the cross, God experienced our fear and anxiety. He cried out, “My God, my God: why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took on our sin – he became our sin – so that we could take on God’s righteousness and peace. As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Brothers and sisters, our world just wants a bit of peace. They’re hungry for it, and they’re not even sure it exists. But it does exist. We can experience this peace and boldly proclaim this peace because the God of peace has come. He is with us now. Let us pray.