Today, we finish our series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Over the last three weeks, we have been exploring the connection between Christian joy and suffering. Paul’s letter to the young church in Philippi is inspired teaching for us about how to go through tough times.
What have we learned so far?
In week 1 we learned about Letting God be in Control, no matter what the circumstances we need to remember and believe that he is in control of any situation we find ourselves in.
In week 2 we learned how to live a servant life, how to be faithful to God and to be a servant to others even in difficult times.
In week 3 we learned that we are all going to at one time or another struggle and face a loss, but with faith we can see that even through times of struggle and loss God has a better plan for us.
Do we have a theology for suffering? I’m not asking whether we can explain suffering philosophically. In fact, philosophy rarely helps people who are facing trials and tribulations. Instead, I am asking whether we, as followers of Jesus, can go through hard times Christianly. This is the subject of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is the Holy Spirit speaking to us about finding joy in Jesus through good times or bad.
I hope you’ve been able to take time to read and maybe even reread the letter of Philippians. It is a very short letter, just four chapters. And these are not chapters you will find in a textbook. These chapters are short and loaded with inspiration from the Holy Spirit for our daily lives. Reading and rereading the letter of Philippians will yield greater and greater revelation from God for each one of us—and our church family—as we go through life. The holy Scriptures are such a great gift to us! And what a gift Paul’s letter to the Philippians is to us, here and now during these times.
Today we will look at the fourth and final chapter of this great letter. Our topic is: learning how to deal with tough times by living a life of generous friendship. As we look at this fourth chapter, I think we can discover four points on the benefits of living in a generous relationship with one another, followed by three additional points about how to take action. We can discover the beauty of a life of generous friendship. Let’s read Chapter 4.
Chapter 4 begins
Exhortations (continuing to encourage them)
Acknowledgment of the Philippians’ Gift
Final Greetings and Benediction
May God bless the reading of our scripture.
So let’s start today’s series with a big chunk of this chapter and then break it down. Verses 1- 9 Read
There are several things in these verses that Paul is teaching and saying to us.
#1 – Agree with each other. Paul takes time in this teaching letter to urge two women in the church at Philippi to “be of the same mind.” It’s important that we agree with each other. God’s people should learn how to get along with one another! Now, this is not an agreement in doctrine. Of course, doctrine is important. Paul has already cautioned us to beware of bad theology. Here he is talking about Christian harmony. “Harmony” is a musical term; while doctrine is important, it’s possible to get the words right but to get the music wrong in our relationships with one another.
And notice, too, that Paul does not only ask these two women to get along. He asks other leaders in the church to help them agree with each other. You see, Christian unity is everyone’s business. We all have a stake in our unity. When we see brothers and sisters in our churches that cannot agree with one another, our response should not be to merely shake our heads or to judge them for their weaknesses. No. We should help them to agree with one another. We know that there are many different personalities in a church so often times there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes the disagreements can be solved easily between the two parties without anybody else’s involvement. Sometimes the disagreements can be among several people and can be about church business or church finances or church functions, these disagreements may not be resolved so easily and may need several people to intervene or even the Pastor to talk through the reasoning of the decision to help resolve it, either way it’s up to us as a congregation and Christians to listen to both sides to talk things out and to come up with an agreement. That isn’t always an easy thing to do, sometimes the agreement may still not be exactly what one or both of the parties want, but we need to do what we can to keep peace amongst the church and its members, and at the same time make the right decisions for the church to prosper and grow.
#2 – Rejoice in the Lord. Notice that Paul does not say “cheer up!” Rejoicing is something else altogether. Joy is the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in a group of people. Joy is a sign of God’s kingdom made manifest here on the earth, right now. Joy goes beyond mere happiness and imparts the substance of Heaven. Joy is serious business! And joy helps the whole community grow. When we have a happy congregation the community around us and outside of these doors, notices!
Also, Paul is urging the people of Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. The world will tell you that there are many things capable of giving us joy. But ultimately our joy must rest in the Lord, and nothing else. There is a progression here, a wisdom from the Spirit that Paul is sharing with us. Can you see it? We must live together in Christian unity. The wonder of Christian unity is that it gives us the ability to rejoice in the Lord together. Which brings us to the third point in this passage.
#3 – The peace of God is available in Christian community. Verses 6 and 7 are famous verses. It’s impossible to live in anxiety if you are surrounded in joyful agreement with your brothers and sisters. In fact, Paul says, “don’t worry about anything but in everything with prayer and thanksgiving” we should let our requests be made known to God. Now, this is useful advice for us as individuals—but it is powerful advice for a community of believers.
Have you ever noticed how anxiety and worry can take hold of an entire community of people? It’s like a social virus: consider a herd of cows grazing close to an electric fence. If just one cow brushes up against the electric fence and receives a shock, the whole herd is startled! You can watch the surprise and fear work its way through every cow. My point is simply to suggest that together we should not worry about anything, but together we can, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God, and together, we will experience peace. Now I’m sure many of you are thinking this is really a difficult thing to be doing right now, we are in the midst of a pandemic, add in racial tension and hate crimes and everything else going on around us. How is it possible for us to not have anxiety and worry, how is it possible for us to not be effected by how those around us are feeling. Of course we are all going to have those feelings, after all we are only human. What I’m saying is be sure to take that worry, that anxiety and give it to God in prayer.
The wonderful result is that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And we can do this Together! It is good news that the peace of God can guard our heart and mind individually. It is wonderful news that the peace of God can guard our hearts and our minds together, corporately, as a congregation, as a community, as a family. How powerful is the testimony of a peaceful and joyful community at rest in the goodness of God. In whatever difficulties or hardships our local community faces, a congregation can be an example of Christian joy and peace.
This is important because one person who is at peace can be dismissed as an exception. But you cannot dismiss an entire congregation peaceful and happy people who live without anxiety, without hatred, without judgement, without anger. This kind of community life is an example of the kingdom of God here, now, on earth, as it is in heaven. The Christian life is good for us as individuals. And the Christian life is good for us as a Christian community.
#4 – Think about the “Whatevers.” It’s part of our common slang these days to use the word “whatever.” It’s a way of dismissing the importance of something. We have all probably had that “whatever” thrown at us when we are discussing something with a child, friend or spouse and quite possibly you may have been the one to say “Whatever” But here the apostle Paul gives us a new way to think about “whatever.” In verses 8 and 9 Paul says:
These “whatever’s” are not like the world’s whatevers. The world’s whatevers teach us to minimize or disregard life-giving behaviors. But this list in Philippians is a life-giving list! These whatevers teach us to be like Jesus, and we should think on these things. (What’s more, we should do it together.) One person may find purity and beauty and nobility and truth during a walk in the woods. Another person might see the very same qualities in a popular movie. Still another person may learn these admirable and praiseworthy traits through prayer and fasting.
What makes these “whatevers” so powerful is that we can share them with one another when we come together. (Remember that this chapter is about living lives of generous friendship together, in Christian community.) If God speaks anything noble or right or lovely or admirable or excellent or praiseworthy to one of us, it only makes sense that, that person should share it with all of us.
Now, this list of four community traits is only the first half of the chapter. Paul’s reason for writing this letter was to acknowledge a generous gift that the church in Philippi had sent to Paul while he was in prison in Rome. It was a financial gift, delivered along with a Christian brother who had been tasked with serving Paul in whatever way Paul needed while in prison. Paul was writing to acknowledge this gift, and through his letter we learn the significance of living a life of genuine friendship. Let’s look at these closing verses: Verses 10-20
In these verses we have the opportunity to see Paul’s personal response to the gift the Philippians had given him, and we get to see some things that are eternally true for any community of faith. Here are three important takeaways for any community that wants to learn how to live a life of genuine friendship:
1: Showing Concern
The church in Philippi had plenty to worry about. The Roman Empire was engaged in the systematic persecution of Christians. But this church in Philippi did not allow outside circumstances to get in that way showing practical, loving concern for the Apostle Paul. We think we are concerned when we are worrying about certain situations. But in reality, we are truly concerned only when we are doing something about these situations. The church in Philippi was, indeed, concerned about Paul’s imprisonment. But they did not stop at worry or anxiety. They received an offering and dispatched one of their choice servants to both deliver the money to Paul and to look after Paul’s needs. This is how any church should show concern: by taking action.
2: The Secret of Contentment
Surprisingly, Paul was already at peace in Rome even though he was in prison! In verses 12 and 13, Paul says that he had learned “the secret of contentment.” This secret was not like a password or a cheat code for a video game. This was a secret that Paul had gained by practical experience, by living day to day with Jesus Christ. God’s secrets come over time, through relationship with him. And in verse 13, Paul writes famous words that are famously misquoted! “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” But look closely: the context for “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is Paul’s contentment in his circumstances. Paul can talk about doing all things precisely because he has learned the secret of contentment. Have we learned that secret, do we live that secret, are we content in our everyday experiences and relationship with God
3: The Joyful Gift
What a curious way Paul has of saying “thank you!” Paul is grateful for the generous gift from the Philippines not because of how the gift will help him but because the gift is evidence that the Philippian church is looking beyond themselves and living a life of generous friendship. The Philippians share this gift with Paul out of their own suffering. Paul sees their spiritual growth and their generosity. He is not so much happy to receive the gift as he is to see their Christian maturity.
And here we find a second verse that is so frequently used out of context: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul says that his God will supply all of their needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Paul is not claiming these riches for himself: he is letting the Philippians know that because they have shown generosity to him that his God will supply their needs. How often we quote this verse in relationship to our own needs. It’s true that God will supply our needs. But the context of this verse is Paul’s great confidence of God’s goodness toward the Philippian church. Paul, in prison, is confident of God’s goodness to his Christian brothers and sisters. Paul’s prayers are about God blessing and fulfilling the needs of the Philippians, not meeting his own personal needs.
This is a beautiful picture of Christians living together in the life of generous friendship. Paul is so happy that his students have learned the secrets of contentment and generosity not because Paul has benefited from the gift, but because these qualities will serve the Philippians for generations to come.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a church like this! Think about it, if our actions would be the fulfillment of Christ’s work in us, both individually and as a congregation! We could be the kind of church that could be a sign of the Kingdom of God both to the community around us and to our brothers and sisters all around the world! We have already started with baby steps, the drive-up ice cream is an example of this. The community was without the ice cream socials, we came up with an idea to try a drive up one and it turned into a summertime experience for us as a church and for the community. We then throw in a brightly colored picnic table with a wonderful sentiment on it and people love it and even want to do it in their own yards. At the end of the month we will be doing free hot dog meals for the community and congregation, another way of giving back some of what God has given to us. God is meeting our needs, we are still able to keep our doors open, to have services, to pay our bills, to be in the community, to show a sign of the Kingdom of God to those around us.
In these four weeks we have only begun to look at how fortunate we are to have this letter to study again and again. How fortunate we are to have this letter to guide our thoughts and prayers in the future. To help us handle the losses or situations we may find ourselves in. To have wonderful and generous friendships in the church, in the community and with each other. My hope is that through this sermon series we realize that God gives us the grace to become a living example of Paul’s letter.
‒ Pastor Pam