Paul’s final message in Philippians – part 2

An abnormal spiritual condition is reaching epidemic proportions throughout our country. Unfortunately, counselors have not been able to successfully treat this disorder. The abnormality was first diagnosed by Kent Crockett and he described it as Contentment-Deficit Disorder. He identified seven symptoms of this disorder. See if you related to any of these:

Lack of commitment to other people
Compulsion to move to another city or state
Strong desire to quit your job
Urgency to leave your spouse
Desire to drop out of school
Restlessness compelling you to run from your present circumstances
Attitude that anything is better that what you have right now.

Can you relate to any of those?

Dr. Jack Hyles told of an experience he once had on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago. He was seated in 4A and, as he usually did, spoke to the person next to him. He said, Good morning. How are you today? The man did not reply. Dr. Hyles thought the man might be hard of hearing, so he spoke louder. Good morning, how are you today?@ Once again, the man did not acknowledge him. Dr. Hyles started making hand motions like sign language, thinking the man might have been deaf. The man glanced over at him and then quickly looked away. Dr. Hyles said he knew right then he was seated next to a CRAB, that is, a very difficult person. He continued to try to strike up a conversation, It’s a nice day. Again, no response. He asked, Where are you going? He knew that was a dumb question because everyone on the plane was going to Chicago. The man still did not respond.
The flight attendant came by an took the man=s order for breakfast. The man spoke to her, but wouldn’t speak to Dr. Hyles. So, Dr. Hyles asked, Do you have some problems? The man still ignored him. Dr. Hyles thought, This old crab is ruining my trip. I have to sit beside this person for four hours. He is not going to ruin my trip.@
So he called the flight attendant and asked, Ma’am, may I change seats, please? She said, I’m sorry, the plane is full. You must stay in your assigned seat. Dr. Hyles then looked at the man and said, If you think you’re going to ruin this trip for me, you=re mistaken. The man never looked up at him.

All of us are boarded on a plane headed toward a destination. In order to enjoy the trip, you need to understand a couple of things.
FIRST, God has assigned you a seat in life.
SECOND, you are probably going to be seated next to a crab.

That crab may be a difficult person you work with. That crab may be your spouse. It may be a relative or a next door neighbor, or it may even be some difficult circumstances you are going through. And that crab is ruining your trip.

So you cry out to God for help and pray, May I change seats, please? Can I move away from this situation?@ He answers, No, this is your assigned seat in life. Buckle your seat belt and enjoy the trip! But you respond, How can I enjoy the trip when I am seated next to a crab?
Fortunately, God has a cure for Contentment-Deficit Disorder.
Let me offer some advice from God=s word on how to overcome your discontentment.

FIRST – Accept the fact that God has given you an assigned seat.

There are a lot of seats that we would never choose on our own, but God has assigned them to us. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from a Roman prison. The prisons in Biblical times were different from today=s. Paul didn’t have cable TV, nor a recreation room in which to lift weights. He didn’t have air conditioning or heating or even three balanced meals a day.
No, he was bound by chains, without the entertainment features prisoners have today.

If Paul could have had a choice, he would not have chosen to go to prison for preaching the gospel. He would have preferred to be preaching on the streets or on a missionary journey. But his assigned seat at that time was not on the streets or on a ship. It was in a Roman prison. So, what did Paul do? He LEARNED to accept his assigned seat.
He learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in.

READ Philippians 4:11-12

Have you learned to be content in your situation?
Have you accepted the seat God has assigned you at this time in your life?
Until you do, you will always be asking Him to let you change seats.

We all know of people who have moved around a lot – and are not in the military.
I even read about a family that moved forty times in ten years. That=s four times a year, once every three months. Why did they move so much? It was because the husband suffered from Contentment-Deficit Disorder. He moved from one job to another, from one state to another, always looking for that perfect place where he would be happy. But there was one place he forgot to look. He forgot to look inside his own heart. God had assigned him a seat in life, but he didn’t want to sit in it.

SECOND – Learn to coexist with the crab.

Paul said he had learned how to get along with humble means and prosperity. He had learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need..

I=m sure Paul was seated next to some crabs in prison. Thieves and murderers were there. Probably some perverts, too. No doubt, some people hated him because of his preaching to them about Jesus. Others had obnoxious personalities that rubbed him the wrong way too. They probably stunk, since they had no deodorant or fabric softener to make their clothes smell fresh. No mints for their bad breath, either. These were the crabs Paul learned to coexist with. He wasn’t going to let them ruin his trip.

The grizzly bear is the meanest animal in the forest. It can end the life of any other creature with one swipe of its= paw. But, there is one animal the grizzly bear will not attack. He has even allowed this animal to eat with him, although it is his adversary. The animal I am talking about is the skunk. The grizzly bear does not like the skunk, but he has decided it is better to coexist with him than to cause a stink. Sometimes it is better to learn how to get along with the crab in your life than fight him and make your situation worse.

If you are working with a crab or working for one, it is better to coexist with the difficult person than to quit your job. Many people become irritated by the crab they work with and, in a moment of frustration, quit their jobs. But they are hurting themselves more that they are hurting the crab. It is better to coexist than to quit.

God has a purpose for the crab in your life. That=s why He assigned you a seat next to him. He is using that crab to teach you some things. One of those things is how to love crabs! It=s easy to love the lovely, but Jesus wants us to love our enemies.

READ Luke 6:32 And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even
sinners love those who love them.

A man was working a crossword puzzle and asked, What is a four letter word for a strong emotional reaction toward a difficult person?@ Someone standing by said, The answer is hate. A lady interrupted and said, No, the answer is love!
You see, everyone is working the same crossword puzzle, but the way you answer is up to you.

THIRD – Realize that changing seats does not solve your problem.

People believe a lot of myths about seat changing. Let=s look at three of them.

Myth #1 – If I could be with someone else, then I would be happy.

Some people think if they could get away from the crab and be with someone else, then all of their problems would be over. But that=s not true, because discontentment is an internal problem, not an external one. Yet, many people have never figured this out. They are consumed with changing seats, because it is easier to change seats than deal with the crab.

Some single people want to change seats and get married, while some married people want to change seats and be single again. Like flies on a screen door, the flies on the inside are wanting to get out and the flies on the inside are wanting to get in. Erma Bombeck wrote a book entitled, The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence. The grass always looks greener on the other side because it is ARTIFICIAL TURF. It is only an illusion. People with CDD (Contentment-Deficit Disorder) spend their entire lives chasing illusions which are always just beyond their reach.

A man in the desert was craving something to drink and saw a lemonade stand on the next sand dune. He ran to it, but when he arrived, the lemonade stand disappeared and reappeared on the next sand dune. When he ran to the next one and grabbed for the lemonade, it disappeared again and reappeared on the next dune. He continued this chase from dune to dune until he died of thirst. He was chasing a mirage. It was nothing more than an illusion in his mind.

We must make a distinction between reality and illusion. Those with CDD believe that illusion is reality and will exchange whatever they have for what they perceive to be better.

A dog was crossing over a bridge with a bone in his mouth. He looked over the edge and saw his reflection in the water. Not realizing that he was looking at a mirror image, he wanted the bone in the other dog=s mouth. When he opened his mouth to grab for the other dog=s bone, he lost the bone he was carrying. He gave up the reality of what he possessed for a reflection.

Many discontented people have exchanged their spouses for what they imagined would be more exciting. Let me read you a letter written to Ann Landers:

Dear Ann,
Sometimes you feel lonely and unloved in a marriage – even after 23 years. You feel as if there=s got to be more to life, so you set out to find someone who can make you blissfully happy. You believe you have found that person and decide he is exactly what you want. So you pack up and say goodbye to your 23-year marriage and all the friends you made when you were part of the couple. You live the glorious life for a few years, and then, a light bulb goes on in your empty head. You realize that you have exactly the life you had before – the only difference is that you=ve lost your friends, your children=s respect, and the best friend you loved and shared everything with for 23 years. And you miss him. You cannot undo what has been done, so you settle for a lonely and loveless life with emptiness in your heart. Ann, please print my letter so others won=t give up something that is truly precious – and let them know that they won=t know how precious it is until they have thrown it away. Heavyhearted in Philly

Myth #2 – If I could just go somewhere else, then I would be happy.
The story is told of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to tire of it. He longed for a change for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell, and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc. Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the Realtor called the farmer and read the copy to him for his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out, “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I am not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”

Of course, that doesn=t mean that God never wants us to move. It simply means that the grass is never quite as green once we get to the other side. Problems that we can=t see from a distance are on the other side of the fence. When we change seats, we exchange one set of problems for another.

Myth #3 – If I could just get something else, then I would be happy

Contentment is not having everything we want, but wanting everything we have. Repeat

God has supplied us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17) but our hearts must be right before we can enjoy them. If we are not happy with the things we already have, we will never be happy with the new things we receive.

A little boy named Billy was spoiled by his permissive parents. Whenever he didn’t get what he wanted, he threw a temper tantrum, and his parents immediately catered to his wishes. They believed if they gave him everything he wanted, he would never be unhappy. One day Billy’s mother heard him crying in the living room. She rushed in and said, What’s the matter? What can Mommy get for you? Billy pointed to a clock hanging on the wall and screamed, AI want that clock and I want it now! His mother hesitated giving it to him because it was expensive, and she knew he would probably break it. But she had never refused him anything. Well, are you going to give it to me?@ Bill demanded. His mother went over to the wall, reluctantly took it down, and handed it to him. Then Billy started crying again. His mother asked, What=s the matter now? What do you want? Between sobs, Billy said, I want (sniff, sniff) something that I can=t have!

Because Billy wasn=t happy with what he already had, he wasn’t happy with what he received. God wants us to receive His blessings, but if our hearts are not in position to enjoy them, we will simply toss them aside and whine for something else. That=s why discontented people don=t need to change their seats; they need to change their hearts.

FOURTH – Don=t allow the crab to ruin your trip.

Too many people are so concerned about the crab in their lives, they have forgotten how to enjoy the trip. God wants us to enjoy our trip through life, but in order to do this, we cannot allow the crab to ruin it. We must make up our minds right now and say,
Crabby person, you are not going to ruin my trip!
Difficult situations, you=re not going to force me to change seats! Lord, I=m going to be content in my situation and rejoice in it, no matter how difficult the crab may be.

Don=t get the idea that contentment means God will never lead you to a new place. More than likely, He will lead you to make a number of changes during your lifetime. He just doesn’t want discontentment to drive you into a situation that is out of His will. Rather than running from your difficult situation, think about how you can change your heart.
CONTENTMENT IS A MATTER OF THE HEART.

READ AGAIN Philippians 4:11-12

If God does want you to change seats, just remember: another crab will always sit next to you. It=s part of the cure for Contentment-Deficit Disorder

2. Give what you already own (4:14–23). Once you and I are content, we can easily convert material blessings into spiritual blessings. In 4:14–16, Paul writes, “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” Paul commends the Philippians for their generosity to him. In 4:14, he says that they shared with him in his suffering through their giving. This carries the notion of partnership found back in 1:5, 7. He also states that they alone met his needs. I want you to think back to your last birthday. Who remembered your birthday with a card or gift? Who didn’t? Have you ever had a birthday where only one person bought you a gift? How did you feel about that individual? If you are a content person, your focus was not on those people who forgot or ignored your birthday; instead, you were overwhelmed with gratitude for the one person who remembered your special day. Paul is not being passive aggressive in these verses, rather he is especially grateful to the Philippians for their generous giving toward him.

In 4:17, Paul includes a tack-on phrase that is the key to this entire passage and one of the top reasons to speak on giving. Paul writes, “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit [lit. “fruit”] which increases to your account.” Twice in this short verse, Paul says, “I seek” (epizeteo). This is a very strong Greek term that means “to be seriously interested in or have a strong desire for.” Paul wants the Philippians to know once again that he’s not after their money. (And all God’s people said, “Whew.”) Instead, he is actively and intentionally seeking their eternal good. Think about it: Who benefits most from a gift to God’s work? You might say, “Well, that’s obvious. The recipient does.” Really? Here, Paul says that the primary beneficiary of your faithful giving is YOU! And I don’t just mean the warm feeling you get inside when you help someone. Paul is talking about something that goes far beyond that. Whenever you invest your time, treasures, and talents in God’s kingdom, God deposits fruit (karpos) into your ERA (Eternal Retirement Account). So God, others, and you benefit when you give. God pays in many ways, including eternal rewards that you are commanded to store up for yourself in heaven.

It is important to understand that you become a partner with whomever you support. If you support our church, anything that the Lord allows our staff and ministries to accomplish, you share in. This means that when you stand before Christ, you will be rewarded for the fruit that comes from our ministry. Even though the Philippians were 800 miles away from Paul, they supported his ministry, and through Paul’s fruit, the eternal pay off for them will be great! Perhaps you need to spend more time investing in your ERA than in your IRA. We need to ask, “Where can our money have the most eternal impact?”
In 4:18, Paul expresses once again that he isn’t after more money (whew!). Three times he states that he has been given enough: “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent” (4:18a). Paul is not after a salary increase. He isn’t striving for a promotion. He is content in Christ. The Philippians blessed Paul’s sandals off. Ironically, if any church had an excuse not to give, it was the Philippians since they were one of the most impoverished churches (2 Cor 8–9). But in spite of their circumstances, they gave, not just according to their ability, but beyond their ability. Paul now offers three expressions of gratitude for the Philippians’ generosity. He calls their gift “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (4:18b). Paul draws upon the Old Testament where they would take an offering and lay it on the altar, and they would pour it out and it would create steam that the whole community could smell.

In most churches, people look forward to the song set and the preaching. (Notice I said most churches.) Nearly everyone enjoys observing the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. Everyone enjoys a good potluck or dessert social under the guise of “fellowship.” Yet, I think for most Christians, the offering is an awkward and necessary evil.

Now we come to one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” This is not an unconditional promise, it is a conditional promise. God’s s promise to supply your needs (cf. 4:16) is embedded in the context of faithful, generous, even sacrificial giving. God meets our needs to express His approval of our giving. God does not promise to take care of the needs of believers who are stingy, lazy, or irresponsible. On the other hand, if you are giving as the Lord expects, He will meet your needs. Note carefully, he promises to meet needs, not wants.

Since the birth of our first son, Karen and I have tried to meet the needs of our three children. However, we expect them to be responsible with their money, their clothes, and their possessions. If they ruin their clothes, we don’t run out and buy them more. They have to make do with what they have. If they spend all their money on candy and frivolous toys, we don’t give them more money. This would be enabling our children to live irresponsibly. That’s not how things are run in the Jacobs family. That’s also not how things are run in God’s family. If you are a faithful giver, you can expect God to meet your financial needs. If you’re not a faithful giver, you shouldn’t expect God to meet your financial needs, because you’re not obeying His Scriptures.

Paul closes out the letter of Philippians with the following benediction: “Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” When believers invest their lives and resources in God’s kingdom, He gets the glory (4:20). The mention of saints reminds us that every believer plays a vital role in God’s work in the world (4:21). The saints in Caesar’s household refer to convert that came about because of false imprisonment. It is fitting that Paul concludes with: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Paul was focused on Christ and the eternal return on the Philippians’ financial investment.

Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxis were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, “What an interesting place to hear a cricket.” His friend said, “You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!” “No, I’m sure of it,” his friend said, “I hear a cricket.” That’s crazy,” said his friend. The man, who had heard the cricket, listened carefully for a moment and then walked across the street to a big, cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have superhuman ears!” “No,” said the man who heard the cricket. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.” “But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.” “Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs. “See what I mean?” asked the man who had heard the cricket. “It all depends on what’s important to you.” What is important to you?

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Paul’s final message in Philippians – part 1

(this is the first of two parts on Philippians 4:9-23)

A postal worker was sorting through the regular mail when she discovered a letter addressed as follows: GOD, c/o Heaven. The enclosed letter told about a little old lady who had never asked for anything in her life. She was desperately in need of $100 and was wondering if God could send her the money. The young lady was deeply touched and passed the hat among her fellow postal workers. She managed to collect $75, and she sent it off to the elderly lady. A few weeks later another letter arrived addressed in the same way to God, so the young lady opened it. The letter read, “Thank you for the money, God I deeply appreciate it. However, I received only $75. One of those jerks at the post office must have stolen the rest!”

This humorous story is a convicting example of how discontent and selfish most of us are. No matter how much we receive, it seems we are rarely satisfied. When asked, “How much money is enough?” the late John D. Rockefeller reportedly answered, “Just a little bit more.” Sadly, that response has been echoed by many Christians. We struggle to be satisfied with what God has entrusted to us. The irony is: We are some of the wealthiest people in the world. What? You don’t believe me? Do you have sufficient food, decent clothes, a home that shields you from the weather, and some kind of reliable transportation? If so, you’re in the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you have some savings, two cars (in any condition), a variety of clothes, and your own house, you have reached the top 5 percent! Today, you may not feel wealthy, but that’s only because you’re comparing yourself to the mega-wealthy. Consider someone who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes only $25,000 a year. Forget the huge value of benefits, interest pay raises, and other income sources, including inheritance or Social Security. Even without these extras, in his lifetime this person of modest income will be paid $1 million. He will manage a fortune. Stop right now and reflect on the money that has come in and out of your home. You and I have been given so much.

Now, what’s sobering about our wealth is the fact that we will all eventually give an account of our lives to God. One day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What, if anything, did I support with it? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth? Make no mistake, we will be held accountable for what we do in this life with our money. If we are generous with our possessions, God will reward us beyond our imagination. If we live only for ourselves, hoarding our money, and focusing on our earthly comfort, we will lose the eternal rewards God has planned for us. As Christians, we are saved by God’s grace—but what we do in this life will matter for eternity. In Philippians 4:10–23, Paul assures us that God pays in many ways. In this final installment, Paul provides two insider trading tips on how to build our eternal portfolio.

1. Want what you already have (4:10–13). It’s been rightly said that contentment is “the hidden jewel of Christianity.” In this section, Paul explains how you and I can be content in Christ. In 4:10 he writes, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Paul sounds like Aunt Mabel who chides you for not writing her a thank you note for last year’s Christmas gift. But that is not his intent. Instead, he indicates that he rejoiced in the Lord greatly because the church at Philippi has been able to resume their financial support. This is the only appearance in the New Testament of the verb translated “revived” (anathallo), and it is a horticultural image of a plant that blooms again after a period of dormancy. It was not the Philippians’ concern that was dormant, but their opportunity to express it. It is important to recognize that the Philippians’ support of Paul is in addition to their regular giving to their local church. Here, Paul acknowledges the principle that there are times when generous Christians aren’t able to provide the “above and beyond” support that they might like. All God’s people go through challenging financial seasons. Yet, God knows our hearts; and He merely asks us to give in proportion to our income. Yet, if you have a burden to give more, ask God for the opportunity to do so. He may just provide.

Paul now assures the church that he is not after their money. (And all God’s people said, “Whew!”) Rather, he is content in Christ. In 4:11–12 he shares his experience: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” These verses make it clear that Paul wasn’t born content, nor did contentment happen easily or naturally. The apostle emphasizes two words in these verses: “learned” and “know.” He repeats both of these terms twice in these two verses. His point is that through his personal experience he has cultivated contentment. In 4:12, Paul gives three pairs of circumstances, each pair presenting the opposite extremes of a spectrum. The suggestion is that Paul has learned to be content at the extremes and everywhere in between. He knows how it feels not to be able to pay the bills, and also to have money left at the end of the month. He can sympathize with the worker who is greeted one morning with a layoff notice and identify with the one who gets a promotion. He knows how to live in feast or famine. What about you? When the Lord gives, it’s easy to be content, but what if He takes away? Do you still trust Him and consider Him sovereign? Are you presently satisfied with the amount of money God has given you? Are you satisfied with your job? Are you satisfied with the amount of house God has given you?

The story is told of a king who was sick with unhappiness and was looking for contentment. One of his astrologers told him that if his assistants could find a contented man, they should bring the man’s shirt back to the king and he would be cured of his sickness. So the king sent his men out, and they searched the kingdom for a contented man whose shirt they could bring back to the king. They searched far and wide, only to discover that the only contented man in the kingdom didn’t own a shirt.

We now come to one of the most well-known, yet misquoted verses in the entire Bible—Phil 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This verse is embossed on boxing trunks, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) warm-up robes, and athletic jerseys. It is cited for any and every purpose by self-help gurus. Yet, Phil 4:13 doesn’t mean that a particular fighter will knock out or submit his opponent. It doesn’t mean that an athlete or team can and will win the game. It doesn’t mean that you can achieve everything you desire in your hobby or career. In most cases, this verse is used illegitimately. The phrase “all things” limits the meaning of this verse and establishes its boundaries. “All things” can be defined by the previous two verses (4:11–12). Paul has learned to be content in every economic setting in which he finds himself. What he is saying is simply this: “I have the power through Christ to enjoy life no matter what comes my way.”
SO HOW CAN WE CULTIVATE CONTENTMENT IN CHRIST?
How can you “want what you already have?” The following principles are suggestions on how to cultivate contentment in Christ.
o Beware of the effect of greed. TV commercials are the capstone of greed. But of course commercials do not cause discontentment; they merely capitalize on what is inherent in each of us. Commercial are designed to create a need that you are lacking unless you purchase the product. Perhaps you need to watch TV online with no commercials, or radically limit your viewing.
o Give away your possessions. It is better to give than to receive. Instead of that next garage sale, how about giving your things to Hope’s Closet, Goodwill or Salvation Army? Go through your stuff and see what you don’t need. What is God calling you to give away today? Start here first – then look at the world with the mindset of “what does my neighbor need?”
o Simplify your lifestyle. I read about a successful Southern California businessman who swapped his luxury car for a clunker in order to help spread the gospel. This man now saves $600 a month on his car payment and puts this money toward missions and sponsoring four kids through Compassion International. When people tell him that they’d like to give more to charity or the Lord’s work, he asks, “How much are you spending on car payments?” What can you give up in order to help the cause of Christ? Do you really need that brand new car? How many CD’s, DVD’s and video games do you really need? How many sets of clothing are essential? How many times do you need to go golfing or out to coffee?
o Appreciate growing old. Instead of fighting age, welcome the approaching golden years. Recent research suggests that the happiest Americans are the oldest. Although many of them face health problems, they are generally more content with what they have than younger Americans. The research found that the odds of being happy increased by five percent for every ten years of age. Although aging is often looked at negatively in our society, age brings many benefits, including a greater likelihood of contentment. Christians should also look at aging as being one step closer to heaven and an eternity with Christ. Rather than worrying about aging, we should be celebrating each day that brings us closer to our treasures in heaven. God pays in many ways.

Pursuing Peace – Philippians 4:1-9

Police first contacted the man at the Lamplighter Motel in Longmont, CO after a guest in the next room called police because the man was ranting for more than an hour about killings, graveyards, and people getting “what’s coming to them.” Officers spoke to the man, who said he would be quiet. Police then waited for a few minutes, and then they heard more ranting about killings and graveyards, complete with incessant expletives. When police spoke to the man again, he threatened his own life. He wouldn’t answer the door or several phone calls to his room. That’s when officers decided to call in SWAT teams. Police evacuated about a dozen guests from the motel. When all the guests were out of the motel, police fired a 12-gauge beanbag round to smash the window. SWAT teams then maneuvered a remote-controlled robot to break out the rest of the window and pull down the drape. SWAT officers broke down the door and arrested the man for failing to leave when ordered. He was then taken to Longmont United Hospital before being transported to Boulder County Jail. The great irony in this account is that the man’s name is Lovall Peacen Bliss—when put together is “Love all, peace, and bliss.”

Tragically, as Christians, we often don’t live up to our name either. We often lack love, peace, and bliss. Peace is particularly elusive. Today your life may be anything but peaceful. You may have interpersonal conflict in your marriage, family, workplace, and church, yet there is hope for you. PEACE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF CONFLICT; IT IS THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. In fact, “peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.” In Philippians 4:1–9 Paul provides two challenges to deal with conflict and experience Christ’s peace.

1. Turn your conflict into compassion (4:1–3). In this first section Paul discusses the glory of the church and then quickly transitions into its gore. He begins with some of the most passionate and intimate words in the New Testament: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” The conjunction “therefore” (hoste) is not the typical word translated “therefore” (oun). In this context, this word may be better rendered “so then” (NET, HCSB) because it both draws on previous material and expresses a logical conclusion from it. Verse one serves as a “hinge” verse that swings back and forth between the preceding and following contexts. Paul reminds his readers that they are citizens of heaven who are just passing through this life (3:20–21). The phrase “in this way” confirms this link back to 3:20–21. Yet 4:1 also looks ahead to 4:2–9 and encourages believers to maintain unity and treat Christians with love and respect.
Paul definitively expresses his love for the church in 4:1. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Paul sure is sappy!” Indeed, he loves the body of Christ. Twice in this verse Paul uses the description “beloved” (agapetoi). He loves these believers with all his heart. He also addresses the Philippians as “brothers and sisters.” They are members of the family of God. Finally, he tacks on that he longs to see these brothers and sisters (cf. 1:8; 2:26). Paul is not afraid to verbalize his affection for these believers. Can you honestly say that you love your church? If so, how do you communicate this to them? There should be some verbal expression of your love for other believers. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not an encouraging person.” Well, then, become such a person! You don’t have to say, “I love you” or “I am longing for you” like Paul did. However, you do need to verbally stretch yourself so that the body is aware of your love.

Paul also calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” (4:1). These believers are his present source of joy in life. Moreover, they are his future crown when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Thess 2:19). Paul receives significance in this life and in the life to come for establishing the Philippians in the faith. Many American Christians pursue pleasure, position, power, prestige, popularity, possessions, and performance; however, Paul pursues people. He recognizes that only people and God’s Word are eternal. Everything else will fade away like a mist in the night. Are you spending your time or are you investing your time? How would you answer if Jesus returned today and asked, “Who is your joy and your crown?” Who have you personally mentored and discipled? Who have you invested in?

Paul closes out 4:1 with a call for the church to “stand firm” (stekete). This refers to a soldier remaining at his post no matter what happens around him. Let the enemy attack as it will, the soldier’s orders are clear: Stand firm! This command is necessary because we struggle standing firm. Left to our own devices we will retreat or surrender. As we age, our physical bodies begin to sag and droop. That’s bad, but it is somewhat expected. Do you know what’s far worse? When we age and begin to sag and droop spiritually. Sometimes it has nothing to do with age; we just let ourselves go spiritually. This is a grave danger because in our conflict with Satan and others, we will be sitting spiritual ducks—weak, anemic, and lethargic. We must always remember: Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.”

In 4:2–3, Paul transitions from the glory to the gore. The church is a family and Paul confronts his family members directly. He writes, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul calls two ladies out by name! These ladies’ names have been in Scripture for a long time, and they are going to remain for an even longer time. So why did Paul do this? Apparently, he is lovingly sending a message. These ladies are not mere pew potatoes; instead, they are influential ladies who likely played a prominent role in the church. At the very least, they were coworkers with Paul in the advancement of the gospel. Thus, Paul knows that this conflict needs to be dealt with quickly. So he confronts tenderly, but directly by first urging both ladies to “live in harmony in the Lord” (lit. “to think the same thing”). He is saying, “You’re both at fault. You need to be of the same mind. You may have all kinds of differences. Live in harmony with the Lord. Disagree agreeably. You don’t need to have uniformity, but you do need to have unity.” He then calls in reinforcements: a “true companion,” most likely an elder. He asks this leader to “help these women” settle their problems. To use modern slang, Paul says, “Help a sister out!” This is imperative because a little schism can bring down the whole church. Better to nip these fights in the bud.

The grizzly bear is the meanest animal in the forest. It can terminate the life of any other creature with one swipe of its paw. There is one animal that the grizzly bear will not attack, however. He has even allowed this animal to share a meal with him, even though it is his adversary. The animal I am talking about is the skunk. The grizzly bear does not like the skunk, but he has decided it is better to coexist with him than to create a stink! Sometimes it is better to learn how to get along with the skunk in your life than fight him and make your situation even worse. If the truth be known, there are skunks in every church, and you are one of them (and so am I). Since we are all skunks at one time or another, it makes sense for us to grant one another grace and strive to be at peace, so far as it depends upon us (Rom 12:18).

Please seek to avoid the temptation to run away from your conflicts. When things are tough, it is easy to assume that you would have it so much better somewhere else. We all feel this way from time to time. It’s a miracle we are still here. However, at the next church you’re going to have more problems. There is so escape from problem people. At least here you know who the problem people are. Why start over?

The key to this section is found in the phrase the “book of life.” This phrase refers to a book in heaven where the names of believers are recorded (Rev 21:27). Before humankind was created, God wrote the names of His children in this book. I should add that there is no eraser on His cosmic pen. The “book of life” is like a family photo album that contains the names of all those who are heaven bound because they have believed in Christ. Paul’s idea is that we believers ought to do everything we can to get on the same page, because we’re in the same book. You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family. And healthy families aren’t defined by the absence of conflict, but by the way they work through it. Since you and I are going to spend eternity with brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to ensure that we are in harmony down on earth. We must maintain the unity of the church. We must seek peace. The reason is simple: Your name is written in the book of life. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
[As individuals and as a church, we must turn our conflict into compassion so that we maintain Christian unity and glorify God. In 4:4–9, Paul imparts another challenge.]
2. Turn your conflict into action (4:4–9). This is a great section for you doers. In these six verses, there are seven commands. It’s not enough to have compassion; action is also essential. In 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul begins with two commands to “rejoice.” The object of our rejoicing must be “in the Lord” (cf. 3:1). If we would concentrate on rejoicing in the Lord so much of life would fall into place. This command to rejoice is to be fulfilled “always.” This means in every circumstance, particularly those that are adverse. The fact that the verb “rejoice” is an imperative shows that rejoicing in the Lord is not a natural thing to do. Perhaps you have seen the cartoon that pictures a middle-aged man, pot-bellied, with a frown on his face, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Please don’t ask me to have a nice day.” Or you may identify with W.C. Fields who said, “I start off each day with a smile, and get it over with.” Joy is tough! Even Christians struggle exuding joy, especially in the midst of conflict. Paul, however, is challenging you and me to rejoice even in the midst of a good church fight. When conflict comes, rejoice that there is at least one other person in the church to fight with. Rejoice that the person feels strongly enough to fight. He or she could have left the church and not cared enough about you to fight with you. So rejoice over the conflict God has given you.
Paul continues his action items to deal with conflict in a godly fashion. In 4:5a he writes, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” In the midst of conflict, be gentle. Win your enemies over with gentleness. A gentle answer turns away wrath. If someone doesn’t like you; if someone is out to get you, show them gentleness. The word translated “gentleness” (epiekes) is probably best understood as “yielded rights.” We are to be gentle or yielded people. The use of “be known” seems significant here. People are to realize our yieldedness experientially. They should realize that we are a people who do not cling to our rights by seeing us in action.

Moreover, it is likely that Paul’s use of the word “gentleness” echoes Psalm 86:5 in the Greek Old TestamentPs 85:5. The English translation, “ready to forgive,” likely reflects Paul’s meaning. “Ready to forgive” conveys the desire and predisposition to forgive, which the word conveys, and which I believe Paul has in mind when he uses it in Philippians 4.

Paul wants you to be ready to forgive when someone hurts you and your family with slander and gossip. He doesn’t want you to have a critical or cynical attitude; he wants you to do so with grace and love. Yahweh is the model. No matter how many times I sin against Him, He is always ready to forgive. He lavishes unconditional love upon me. He zealously yearns to forgive me no matter what I have done. Since God has this kind of love for me, why would I struggle forgiving anyone in our church family? Here’s a simple question: Would the people who know you best consider you a gentle person? Would that word even pop into their minds when they think about you? Or to make the question harder: Would the people you like least consider you a gentle person? That’s the real test. Anyone can be gentle around nice people, but only the spirit of Jesus can enable you to respond gently to people who mistreat you. My hope is that even those who dislike me would say, “While I don’t appreciate Wayne’s personality, his gifts, his philosophy of ministry, or his preferences, he is at least gentle and respectful.”

Paul concludes 4:5 with a fascinating phrase: “The Lord is near.” This word “near” (eggus) seems to refer to both location and time. In the midst of church conflict, the Lord is near in proximity. He hears the words you speak. He knows your thoughts and motives. He’s in your midst. He wants you to interact with other believers in a gentle manner, knowing that He is part of every conversation and response. Hence, He doesn’t want you to exclaim, “He’ll never change!” or, “She’s sinned against me.” Additionally, the Lord may return at any time. He is at hand. He is at the door. Knowing this, we can give up our rights since Jesus will soon take care of them. In both cases, we can give up our rights on Christ’s behalf. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go into glory with a whole lot of gore. I want to ensure that I have pursued peace with my fellow believers. I don’t want the Lord Jesus to have to clean up my mess and settle my interpersonal conflicts in glory. Remember, peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.

Phil 4:6 is the verse that you want me to skip. Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The first word in the Greek text is “nothing” (meden). Paul’s emphatic point is there is nothing you can worry about—absolutely nothing! The implication is that anxiety or worry is a sin. Unfortunately, most believers prefer to coddle worry and not call it “sin.” It’s difficult for many of us to call a behavior that we commit on a daily basis sin. We would much rather label adultery, homosexuality, or pornography “sin” because we may not be guilty of such behavior. Yet, it is obvious that there are more Christians addicted to anxiety than to all the other addictions combined. The word translated “anxious” (merimnao) describes being divided and pulled in different directions. I would guess that this describes you just like it describes me at times. Worry is a sin all of us grapple with on a daily basis.

Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research discovered that: 40% never happens; 30% concerns the past; 12% are needless worries about health; 10% are about petty issues; and 8% are legitimate concerns. That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy. But Paul is saying that we are not to worry even about the 8%. Why is that? Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us, that our problems are bigger than His promises. What did you worry about this week? How much time did you spend worrying? What did your worrying accomplish? Absolutely nothing, right? You may now have an ulcer, though. Seriously, I heard recently that over 100 diseases can be directly attributed to worry!

Worry is a burden God never intended you to bear, but if you choose to bear it He will allow you to suffer the consequences. Will you confess your worry to the Lord? Unless you call worry sin, there’s no need for the Prince of Peace to come and deliver you from your sin. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
Paul indicates that the cure to anxiety is “worry about nothing, pray about everything.” Verse 6 uses no less than four different terms for prayer:
(1) “Prayer” (proseuche): This is the broadest word for communication with God.
(2) “Supplication” (deesis): The word used here conveys the sincere sharing of personal needs and problems.
(3) “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia): Our prayers should be accompanied by a heart of gratitude for all that God has done for us in the past.
(4) “Requests” (aitema): This word speaks of specific petitions rather than vague and hazy generalities. Paul makes it clear that worry and prayer cannot coexist at the same time. You can either pray or worry, but you can’t pray and worry. What God wants is for you to counter worry with prayer. Therefore, when you are tempted to worry, why not attempt to pray? It may be just a five second “arrow prayer” shot up to heaven. Prayer is critical as we seek to break this cherished evangelical sin.
In 4:7, Paul promises, “If you choose to pray instead of worry, God will cover you.” He writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “the peace of God” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. When you pray instead of worry, God’s experiential peace will flood your being. The verb “guard” (phroureo) is a military term which refers to a sentry’s responsibility to protect a camp or castle as he marches around securing that which is valuable and strategic. The peace of God will watch over and warn us against any intruders. If the peace of God is not ruling or standing sentry over our inner man, then an unwanted intruder has already entered. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our valuable hearts from wrong feelings and our strategic minds from wrong thoughts. The enemy is unable to get in when God’s peace protects us. As we rest our case and transfer our troubles to God, “Corporal Peace” is appointed the duty of marching as a silent sentry around our minds and emotions, calming us within.
Paul not only discusses how we should pray (4:6–7), he also reminds us how we should think and what we should do in the midst of conflict and church strife (4:8–9). Paul gives six characteristics, followed up with a summary and comprehensive command: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (4:8).

These six character qualities do not need to be further studied because Paul tacks on “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise.” Paul is writing in broad, sweeping terms of any behavior that is godly. The interesting twist in 4:8 is that Paul is still speaking of conflict in the local church. Yet, we typically apply these character qualities to specific areas of our lives that are unrelated (e.g., “whatever is true” = integrity at work; “whatever is pure” = purity on my computer). While these applications are beneficial, it is better to apply these qualities directly to conflict (e.g., “whatever is true” = I need to find truth in my conflict; “whatever is lovely” = I need to believe the best about my adversary).
Paul urges you to “dwell” or “think” on godly characteristics that will help you in the midst of conflict. The word here is the verb logizomai, a term from which we get the mathematical term logarithm. In this context, logizomai means to carefully and calculatingly contemplate these virtues the same way that you would work out a mathematical problem. Similarly, church conflict is like a complex math problem that you must carefully and strategically think through until you solve the problem.

We have seen that when we pray, we experience the peace of God (4:6–7). Now we will see in 4:8-9 that when we “practice” we experience the God of peace. Paul transitions from attitude to action and lays down his final command: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Paul is no “ivory tower teacher;” he is a man who lives “in the trenches” with those he seeks to teach and to lead.
As far as we can know, Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but he made a statement that we who follow Jesus would do well to ponder. When asked to put his message into one short sentence, he replied, “My life is my message.” This could be the title of Paul’s biography. Likewise, Paul wants and expects his readers to follow in his footsteps. Thus, he says, “Keep on practicing these things” (present active imperative). Do not be just hearers, but doers (cf. Luke 11:28; Jas 1:22). When hearing is followed up with doing “the peace of God will be with you.” As you practice God’s Word in conflict in sour relationships, God will be present in a powerful way.
Please slip a rubber band on one of your wrists. Now whenever you recognize you’re not rejoicing, flick yourself. When you sense a lack of gentleness, hurt yourself. Five minutes from now when you find yourself filled with worry, nail yourself. When you begin thinking about ungodly characteristics, snap yourself silly. When you are convicted over your lack of living like a doer of the Word, draw that rubber band back and prepare to say “ouch!” If you’re really audacious, take off your rubber band and use it on someone else! God wants to change you and those around you. But sometimes there needs to be negative reinforcement. This is how things work in almost every family. Yet, God’s heart is that you would recognize you are His child. He loves you. He wants you to have peace of mind, but it can only occur by having the mind of Christ.