We’re now in week eight of our nine week sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. At the beginning of this final chapter, Paul comes back to the main themes of unity, joy and of being in Christ. As he now begins to write his conclusion, there’s a sense of urgency in the series of commands he gives the Church as he deals with both personal and practical matters.
One of the commands he gives to the Philippians, and to us, is to Rejoice! Rejoice? What’s there to rejoice about in our world I wonder? In the newspapers this week we’ve been bombarded by anxiety-inducing reports – the threat of Ebola; home-grown potential terrorists being arrested and apparently, there might be a hurricane heading in our direction! Our personal trials also cause us to be anxious; when our plans crash and burn, when our bubble of good times bursts, we can be overtaken with anxiety and worry.
We know from what we’ve already learnt of Paul’s situation that he too has much cause for worry and anxiety. He’s in prison in chains for Christ in danger of losing his life (Phil 1:13). He’s also concerned for his friends in Philippi; he warns them of evil doers (Phil 3:2), of enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil 3:18) and he knows there is disunity within the community (Phil 2:3-4). Doesn’t sound like a recipe for rejoicing to me… and yet, that’s exactly what Paul does. We can hear his joyfulness throughout the letter; he uses the words joy or rejoicing fourteen times. We know his joy is unaffected by all the happenings in his life because he keeps on telling us how joyful he is!
What causes him to be joyful? For Paul, joy is not dependent on his circumstances; it’s not superficial happiness or a cheerfulness that can easily be swept away by the pain of his suffering or his concerns for his friends. It’s a confidence in what God can and will do through Jesus Christ. It’s the joy of knowing he’s forgiven. It’s a joy that acknowledges the realities of life, but looks beyond them to the joy of knowing that Christ has overcome death; death for Paul holds no fear. His joy is rooted in faith, in a deepening and trusting relationship with the Lord. Christ is the source of his joy.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that sometimes our lives are a bit like one of those panoramic photographs – you know the sort that requires a wide-angled lens and it captures the whole scene. Our ‘panoramic wide-angled’ view on life might include the global crises and the national issues I’ve already mentioned and it might include our own hopes and fears. All these take up most of the picture and at the edge, somewhere on the periphery, is our Christian lives – Christ on the edge. But Paul challenges that image. “Rejoice in the Lord always” he says “The Lord is near” (Phil 4-5) - Jesus in sharp-focus in the centre, Christ in the middle of all life’s happenings, present now and our hope for the future. That’s what ‘being in Christ’ means. Christ at the centre. That’s what gives joy, but it also comes with some other implications.
In our relationships with one another, we are to have the “same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). We know when we looked at chapter 2 that some in the community are having difficulty with putting others before themselves. More specifically now, his beloved friends Euodia and Syntyche, his co-workers in spreading the Gospel in Philippi, are in dispute with each other. By naming them it’s as if he is with them face-to-face as he pleads with them to be of the “same mind in the Lord” (4:2). Notice Paul doesn’t take sides, but asks for another member of the community, his ‘true companion’, to support them. The danger is the community will be divided if people begin to take sides, but the very act of working it through and supporting each other together, creates a unity of effort, a common purpose. Christ at the centre, in sharp-focus, means having the same mindset as him; putting others before ourselves and supporting one another to overcome our human disagreements.
But, can we manage to make space in our panoramic view of life for Jesus? For God? How do we stop the everyday issues filling up the frame? The origin of the word ‘worry’ comes from the Old English word wyrgen, which means to strangle. Quite appropriate really; worry and anxiety can choke us. It affects our thinking our feelings and robs us of joy. It crowds-out our relationship with God because we want to carry the burden of the future ourselves and exercise control over things we have absolutely no control over. Paul tells us how we can be free from anxiety. Christ at the centre, in sharp-focus, means trusting in the Father who loves us enough to give His Son.
Trust in God means we can present any request to Him. We can bring “every situation” to Him in prayer. Paul says, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. (4:6) Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Talk to him, about the little things, the big things EVERYTHING! Let God know what’s troubling you, not because he doesn’t know already, but because in a relationship, we share our thoughts, feelings joys and sadness. And he says, be thankful. Have you noticed how turning our attention to thanks lifts our mood? Instead of directing all our attention to our needs and worries, thanksgiving shifts our hearts and minds to the blessings God gives us. It puts him and not our worries to the forefront and as we pray – “the peace of God” counters any anxiety because it protects us or “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). That’s total wellbeing and inner peace from God. That’s what we can expect when we focus on Christ, when we put him at the centre. Let’s rejoice in that!
1. What makes up your ‘panoramic’ picture of life? Would you say Christ is in your peripheral field of vision or in sharp-focus?
2. Does Paul suggest any ways we can make Christ the Centre of our lives?
3 This section of Chapter 4 concludes with “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil 4:8-9) Why do you think Paul tells us to think about such things? How might the ‘panoramic view’ of our lives change as we think of such things?
4. Have you had any experience of falling out with someone in our church community that, without naming names, you could in a general way share with others? How was the issue resolved?
5. Make a list of your worries and anxieties and all the things you are thankful for. Bring them to God in prayer.