Give Me Some of That!
Oct 11, 2020
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Philippians 4:7-14
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Rejoice in the Lord, always! Rejoice!? Here we are again focusing on the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Remember, the Philippians are a small, poor, new Christian church, the first one established on European soil. The congregation is primarily Gentiles, non-Jews, and has a reputation for being generous.
Last Sunday, we surmised that when Paul told his readers to rejoice in the Lord, always, it was the first of a four-step process for dealing with disagreement, disillusionment and difficulty. First, rejoice in the Lord, always, not in the circumstances, but in God’s goodness and unending presence. Second, live gently, that is with acceptance and tolerance, remembering that the Lord is near. Third, pray; place that which is anxiety-producing in God’s hands and be thankful for the opportunity to do so. And, fourth, find peace, the peace that guards your heart and mind from the damage that can be done by skeptics and cynics. Then, go back to step one; rejoice, rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, always.
Today’s reading picks up with what it takes to protect our hearts and minds, and to keep locating that peace. There may be no better time for these words than in the midst of a divisive election, in which respectful dialog between people with different views is in short supply. Paul writes: “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.” (Philippians 4:8)
In other words, that which we focus our thoughts on matters. Did you ever notice, especially at this time of year, that if you are changing channels on the TV and come across a horror movie, which you watch for exactly two minutes, whatever gross thing was happening during those two minutes will be stuck in your mind all day and keep you awake all night? That is exactly what Paul says to avoid!
Commentator Doug Bratt says this about Paul’s advice: “Christians are realists, not Pollyanna’s about the world’s misery. But those who only focus on that misery easily overlook the signs of God’s loving reign in the world. While our culture almost seems to revel in what’s untrue, unholy, unjust, impure, ugly and vicious, Paul invites Jesus’ followers to a different way. A way the Spirit uses to promote with us joy, gentleness and peace…. In a world that God called good, but we’ve managed to badly scar, we persistently and faithfully look for and contemplate what John Calvin spoke of as “God’s fingerprints” on creation.” (1)
But, more is being asked of us than seeing God’s fingerprints; we are to be God’s fingerprints. Paul goes on to say, do not just think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, do it! Then, God’s peace-filled presence will be more and more a reality in our lives and in the world.
Paul then switches gears in his letter to thank the Philippians for the financial support they sent him while he’s imprisoned in Rome and must depend on his supporters to feed him and meet his needs. Yet, his imprisonment and dependency are not matters of concern, he says; these are simply external conditions. They do not affect his inner life.
I want to pause and say that THIS is my faith goal, to be so focused on, so trusting in the Lord that I can react as Paul describes here, regardless of the circumstances. After all, Paul’s life as a follower of Jesus has not exactly been a picnic.
Look at 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 where he says, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”
All of that, yet he says he is content in all circumstances. Content! I would guess that like many of us, Paul preferred to be full rather than hungry, safe rather than in danger, at ease rather than uncomfortable, BUT, the text says he has “learned the secret” of contentment. Scholars think that implies that at some point, Paul came to the realization, perhaps as he was struggling with his circumstances, that Jesus is sufficient, Jesus is enough, in any situation. Therefore, he can be content, satisfied, no matter what.
Not only that, but Paul also proclaims, “I can do all things through him (Christ), who strengthens me.” Paul sees Jesus as the source of his strength; the phrase “I can do” in Greek has the sense of, “I can prevail.” And, the Greek word translated “strengthens” means to cause to be able to function. So, another way to say this is, “I can prevail because Jesus makes it possible.” Here is the vital message: Paul relies on Jesus’ strength, not his own, to face all circumstances, and the result is contentment.
WOW! Give me some of that! I have been fortunate to know people of whom it’s true that their trust in Jesus has sustained them in the midst of suffering. And, I’ve noticed that their gaining that “secret of contentment” seems to have two sources.
First, they intentionally develop their faith and their relationship with God, both of which are gifts of grace that can be strengthened and grow. That’s where stewardship comes into this; the more we make holy, positive use of the time, abilities, and resources that God has given us, the more our trust in God’s love and grace in our lives increases. So, in our quest for contentment, we nurture our relationships with God and one another by worshipping, serving, learning, and giving.
The second source of the “secret of contentment” is the Holy Spirit, who gives us the gift of faith and the ability to live out that faith. When I think about this, I like to imagine that the Holy Spirit is hanging around, waiting to be acknowledged, and the more that happens, the more the Spirit is able to empower us as God’s people, people who can find contentment in all circumstances.
Now, perhaps, we can better understand how Paul could write, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I will say, rejoice!” Contentment in all circumstances would make that happen, don’t you think? Perhaps we are not “there” yet, but we certainly can move in that direction. Commitment Sunday next week will help us do so … therefore …. REJOICE! AMEN
(1) “Philippians 4:1-9” by Doug Bratt, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu