Devotional # 137. 5/18/15. Philippians 4:4-6.
Intro. I have two friends that have started new jobs and both of them are dealing with stress. They are in leadership positions, expected to do more with less people. I have another friend that is finishing up school soon, will she be able to get a job in order to pay back the school loans? I know someone else who’s company just let a bunch of people go and they aren’t getting any new work so will the company go bankrupt? I have a friend who’s dad just died. Another friend has cancer in his leg and now his baby daughter has to get multiple operations.
There are different ways of “managing” stress. Maybe you work more (at your job maybe that’s overtime or at home maybe that’s every week night and weekend). Or drinking alcohol more often. Or trying to be entertained all the time. Filling up on movies and TV and music. But whether the problems are money or health, they threaten to distract you and pull you away from God. And if that’s true then the real problem is that God is allowing you to go through something to bring you closer to Him but you’re trying to do the exact opposite.
So how do you fix it? “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Does this seem trite? Have we heard this verse so much that it doesn’t resonate? Well does stress and pain resonate with you? Then lets give Paul’s words a second chance.
v. 4. What is the context of what we have been studying? In 3:18-19 Paul says that there are some people who consider themselves Christians but really they are selfish and “their mind” is “on earthly things.” In 3:20 we were told that our citizenship is in heaven, in 4:1 Paul says that his sisters and brothers in the Lord are his “joy and crown” and just prior to this (4:2-3) he settles a minor argument by asking two ladies to be of the “same mind in the Lord.” He then reminds everyone that their “names are in the Book of Life.” In 7 verses Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. So when Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always”, he is coming from a background of stress and pain but always with the mind that Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).
Paul doesn’t want us to fake our joy, but wants it to be a true fountain gushing up from our soul. In church yesterday we sang the song “We bring the sacrifice of praise” (which comes from Hebrews 13:15). When we praise God we see our joy perfected, but mind you, it’s a sacrifice. This kind of joy that comes from knowing life is hard but we have heaven to look forward to and a “peace that passes understanding” (v. 6) here on earth is exciting and worth repeating. And so Paul does. He says, “Again I will say, rejoice!”
v. 5. It is easy to not pay attention to this verse when it is book-cased by such famous verses like 4 and 6. When Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men” the word “gentleness” stands out to me. Does that mean that we’re supposed to be weak and let everyone know about it? Let’s look at the original Greek. The word “gentleness” is epieikes (G#1933) meaning “seeming, suitable” or “equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Source 1). That kind of gives us more questions than answers. Where else in the Bible is this used? It is the same word as used in Titus 3:2 which says we should “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness to all men” (KJV). With an understanding that “meekness” isn’t weakness but the opposite – strength under control – we can see that this portion from Titus is saying for Christians not to bad mouth others, not to get in fist fights, not to be rough and not to abuse their strength in a threatening way. Getting back to our verse in Philippians, one commentator translates this: “let your sweet reasonableness be known unto all men” (Source 2). So it comes down to not being offensive and harsh to others but be a person that they want to be around. Understanding the “reasonableness” of a Christian is important too. To not be a bigot who is irrational and difficult is another way to put this.
As a Christian who has many family members and friends who want nothing to do with God and have no interest in heaven or hell or salvation, I still have opportunities to talk with them. But I’ve found I don’t have to be irrational because I believe in God. Sure, there are some things that are supernatural and therefore not normal to the worldly person, but that doesn’t mean its irrational. God is a Lord of order and precision. The Bible is full of well documented, connected points. Me saying ‘I believe that purple elephants are the best musicians’ is a lot different than saying, ‘sometimes life is really hard and really bad stuff happens.’ Or ‘isn’t it cool that everything produces after its own kind?’ When you quote from the Bible in your own words there is rationality. When you start with an idea that everyone can agree with, it’s a lot easier to follow up the ‘really bad stuff happens’ statement with ‘if there is really bad stuff then there must be really good stuff too, otherwise how can you contrast something as really bad?’ And that conversation can continue with talking about good and evil, and morality and a moral law Giver (God!) . A conversation that starts off with everything producing ‘after its own kind’ naturally flows into how it makes sense that it is designed and if its designed then there must be a Designer (God!).
So is that what you are? Are you rational with your conversations? Are you willing to admit when you don’t have an answer? Are you willing to say that it does seem crazy that God would come in the form of a human (Jesus) and save us from our sins? But are you able to make the points that convinced you that Jesus is God and did save you from your sins, to them? If not I suggest you think that one through for yourself before you try and talk to someone else! If you are someone who won’t rip another person’s head off and you admit that you don’t have all the answers you will begin to have a “sweet reasonableness” that is infectious. People will want to know where your “rejoicing” (as we just read from verse 4) comes from. People will ask you why you’re not stressed in difficult situations (as we’ll see in verse 6).
Paul says “the Lord is at hand.” This wasn’t a threat but a reminder. We need to be acting with a gentleness and reasonableness when we explain our hope, because Jesus could come at any moment. We shouldn’t be worried about how we’re acting but worried about where non-Christians are at with Jesus. Have we done all we can to lovingly present Jesus as He is, to these people?
v. 6. This famous verse has been dissected many times, in many ways. For the best understanding we need to be reminded of the context: remember, in short, Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. Now in verses 4 & 5 we’ve been told to rejoice and that our “gentleness” and reasonableness should be known by everyone we come in contact with. If these things are in our mind then hearing that we shouldn’t be “anxious” about anything, isn’t just a cheap catchphrase but actually touches and impacts our lives and the lives around us. If Paul recognizes that the world is tough and bad stuff happens but that we have a tangible and real eternal hope, then we should be willing to listen to why we shouldn’t be stressed.
The reason isn’t because the longer we’re a believer the more levels of enlightenment we’ve climbed. It’s not because some fake prophet has told us to get over our stress and stop worrying because everything will be fine. It’s not because it’s irrational. It’s not because if we’re religious enough and do enough good works we won’t have anything to worry about. If anything, we’ve studied in Ephesians and Philippians, Christians will end up with more weight on their shoulders. So why shouldn’t we be “anxious about anything”? Because if we do what God asks us then we are guaranteed “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” which will “guard” our “hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”
Paul gives us three things: “prayer”, “supplication” and “thanksgiving.” But first we have to recognize that this applies to “everything.” We don’t get to give 95% over to Him but keep one or two little things to worry about. We shouldn’t feel like we’re giving up control because really…we never had control of our lives in the first place! Instead this should be a relief that we are to give everything over to Him. Let him have all the doubts and fears.
So first we are to do everything by “prayer.” Payer is one of the gifts God has given us to talk with Him. It shouldn’t be a memorized bunch of words without feeling or meaning. Prayer is the single greatest weapon we have against Satan. Prayer is just as much us listening to God as it is us talking to God.
Second, we are supposed to “supplicate” ourselves to Him. What is “supplication”? The word “supplication” is an action of asking for something humbly (as I mentioned in Ephesians 6:18-20, Devotional 120). So when we first tell God about the bad stuff in our life… the stress in our new job, the cancer in our leg, our dad dying… through “prayer” then we can humbly ask that we have peace. We can humbly ask to “rejoice” (v. 4). We can humbly ask to be more “gentle” (v. 5). You thought I was going to say, ‘we can humbly ask that God take it away’, huh? Why would I only ask for God to take it away when I’ve learned that He has me learning and growing through whatever the issue is? First, I ask that His will be done (but I have to really mean it!) and then I can ask if it’s His will to take it away. But when I “supplicate” myself I am recognizing that He is God and I am not. I am asking Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart and allowing Him to do what’s best. See I probably wouldn’t be in such a mess if I had just listened to Him in the first place! So why do I think I still know what’s best? No, I need to recognize that I am His bondservant and that I want His will over my own will.
Lastly, I pray and supplicate with “thanksgiving.” When I name off the things I have been blessed with it does something to me. I am in awe of how good God is to me. I don’t deserve anything but He always provides above and beyond what I need. When I come to Him prayerfully recognizing what I’ve already been blessed with it changes how I pray. Instead of “give me this” or “get me out of that” it becomes “God, I have seen you prove yourself over and over again, so Lord if you want me to get this thing then great, but if not, thanks for that because You know best and it probably would have caused me a lot more trouble.” The great American evangelist, pastor, educator and writer R.A. Torrey said about “thanksgiving” in prayer: “Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith grows bolder and bolder” (Source 3).
Conclusion. We must take verse 4 with verse 6. If we “rejoice in the Lord always” then we will have a much easier time of not being anxious (v. 6).
Source 1: epieikes, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1933&t=KJV
Source 2: Matthew Arnold, quoted by J. Vernon McGee, Philippians and Colossians, 1977, p. 89.
Source 3: R.A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 60.