I finished a book recently entitled, "The last Jew of Rotterdam." It is the Story of Ernest Casuto. He was a Dutch Jew who was in Holland during the German occupation. The Nazi's invaded, and step by step they made the life for the Jews of Holland impossible. It was during this time that Ernest and his Jewish Fiancee became followers of Y'shua. The story recounts the growing pressure, the secret arrests, the beginning of having to wear Yellow stars on the arms. The Growing fear and ever growing numbers of arrests, when finally Ernest and his family had to go underground, and hide in people's homes and business, having to flee at a moments notice. Ernest and his brother had to split from the rest of his family. Then he got split up from his brother. His fiancee was arrested and never seen from again. He went from house to house, some 100 over a two year period, until he was finally arrested, and it was while he was in prison, that the Americans came and liberated Holland. But amazingly, through the whole ordeal, Ernest described an amazing peace he had and sense of God being with him. How can that be? How is that possible? Well, I believe the Bible offers us assurance that we can have the peace of God reigning in our hearts even in the most horrid of situations. This morning I want to go to a passage which describes for us what we must do to have that peace reigning in our hearts.
This morning I want to look at the first half of the 4th chapter of the letter to the Phillippians. Here he addresses them, on how to have the peace of God reigning in their hearts. Because for many of them, that peace was no longer there. Whether it was anxiety about the hard circumstances that were around them, or all the contentiousness that was happening in the midst of them, all the interpersonal problems, they had lost their peace, and their focus.
For me this is probably one of the most immediately practical and applicable
passages in all of Scripture. Rarely does a week go by, sometimes even a day, when I don't have to run and remind myself of this passage. Although this is a well-known passage, I think like communion, its truths are something we need to be reminded of again and again.
Read Philippians 4:1-9
Paul calls them my beloved brethren and the Church at Philippi was beloved to Paul. In many ways this is his most personal letter. This is actually a letter of thanks for the gift of support they sent him while he was in prison in Rome.
This was the first church Paul founded in Europe. In his 2nd missionary journey, he saw a vision that told him to go to Macedonia, which is above Greece across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. While I said there were problems in this church, overall this letter is one of thanks to them, and praise of them. Paul says he longs to see them, his joy and crown.
As much as this is a thank you letter, written very personally and lovingly, there are mentions throughout of some issues that seem to be in the church there.
One of the issues mentioned here seemed to be an internal conflict between a
couple of the women in leadership Euodia and Syntyche.
Now, I hope you will indulge me for a moment, I want to break from the main point of my sermon to run down a quick rabbit trail.
I want you to note something. These women in Philippi are in leadership. I think some congregations and churches that take a very strong stance against woman in any kind of leadership roles should consider the church at Philippi.
Look at how these women are described, contending along side Paul in the cause of the Gospel. If you remember in the founding of the church of Philippi in Chapter 16 in Acts, it began not at the synagogue like most other cities, but Paul went out of the city by the river where there was a woman's prayer group. The early leader was Lydia, with whom Paul stayed and where the early brethren seemed to meet as well.
When you come across a few verses in Timothy and 1 Corinthians that talk about a woman's role in the church; that a woman can't speak in church or can't be in any leadership role. You have to be careful to stick them in the larger context of Scripture and not just pluck them out.
Scripture also includes the testimony of the women of Philippi who founded that church and at least were a significant part of the leadership. Think also about the Book of Acts as it describes the Evangelist Philip's daughters who were prophetesses. Who do you suppose they prophesied to? And in what context? Can you really imagine they weren't speaking to men in a normal service? Also remember Jesus' elevation of woman in his ministry, not to mention the Old Testament examples like Deborah the Judge of the nation of Israel, who God raised up as a deliverer.
But let me say, I am not a Christian Feminist by any stretch of the imagination. I am a firm complementarian. Which means that I believe men and woman are equal but not identical, they are complements. Different gifts and abilities working together to form a whole. I do believe in male headship as part of this complement.
But having said that, I also believe God has gifted woman for service in more ways than serving children and coffee. God has given woman many gifts and they all should be used for the edification of the body. But as I said, this is a rabbit trail, and not the point of my sermon, but since my wife teaches here sometimes, it is worth noting that we are not being un-biblical by having her do that.
By the way, Euodia and Syntyche, what lovely names. I know many people like to have biblical names for their children, how about Euodia and Syntyche. I can just hear them being called by their parents, Euodia and Syntyche, come down here right now, and bring your brothers, Hermogenes, Aristarchus and Trophimus with you, and you Ephaphroditus, get down out of that tree. Sorry, silly thought.
Well back to our message, here our women leaders are in a bit of a conflict. In fact throughout this letter, Paul hints at various problems facing this church.
In chapter 1, he reminds them in verse 27,
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Messiah. Then, whether
I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit,
contending as one man for the faith of the gospel
28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
And then in v. 29 it adds.
29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Messiah not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,
So, it seems they were facing a lot of opposition, so much so that Paul has to encourage them by mentioning that they are also receiving the blessing of suffering on behalf of Y'shua.
He has to remind them to conduct themselves well, to be united in one spirit, not to be frightened.
Try and picture what the situation was like that called for Paul to make this exhortation in Chapter 2.
2: 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Messiah, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
It seems people were divided, being driven by selfish ambition, and vanity. It seems the selfishness had gotten pretty bad. He has to tell them to consider others ahead of yourselves, look out for other people too.
In verse 14 he also had to remind them, it says:
2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing,
They were complaining about things, arguing. He even warns them that there are many who while they claim to be believers have gone badly astray. He describes these types in Chapter 3:18-19
18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Messiah.
19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
Pretty Scary. Paul is worried about his flock here. This is a good group, they have been faithful and generous, and they are dear to Paul. But now they are letting some real dangerous things come into their lives. They are contentious, they are fearful, complaining, arguing, selfish, worldly. They have lost their focus, and the peace of God is no longer reigning in their lives.
He is worried they may end up like that last group he talked about, that he describes as believers who have actually become enemies of the cross.
Paul now goes on to give them an antidote.
He gives them three basic admonitions.
Firstly, Rejoice in the Lord
Secondly, Give your anxiousness to God
And Thirdly, Set your mind on Good things.
Here in verse 4, he says: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it rejoice. Take joy. Its not optional, it's essential, in all circumstances and all times. Rejoice. And why can we do that?
That is what he describes in chapter 3. This whole section in chapter 4 begins with the first word of verse 1, Therefore. Therefore, do all the things we are describing.
Whenever we see a therefore, you always have to ask yourself, "what is it there for?"
The last two verses of chapter 3 say:
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Y'shua HaMashiach,
21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Our citizenship is in heaven, the great hope that is before us. He is coming, we are his. Remember this, as it says in Romans, we are more than conquerors; Nothing can separate us from the love God, not life or death, persecutions, things present, things to come, nothing.
Its all a done deal, God is for us, who can be against us. Take joy in whatever circumstances, rejoice how often, always it says, and in all things.
Paul, himself, shows us an example of thinking like this. In chapter 1, he says I am in prison, but it has worked out for the better, since other brothers have been emboldened to speak.
Then, he says, sure some do it out of wrong motives and for selfish ambition and they are trying to cause me distress, as he says here in verse 18.
18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Messiah is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
I have confidence he says, that be it life or death, Messiah will be exalted in my life, God has begun a work, and he will complete it.
Having a Godly perspective and seeking his peace and rejoicing is not about forcing yourself to be happy
about a bad situation, or ignoring the pain or struggle you are having.
In chapter 2 - Paul says his and the Philippians friend, Ephroditus was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him Paul said, but upon himself as well, that he would not have sorrow upon sorrow.
Sorrow is real, and it is not ungodly. But Paul says you can still rejoice amidst it, you can still within, cast your eyes up to the hope that is before you.
Borrowing and adapting from the Expositor's commentary, it says:
Paul shows us that whether it is in attacks from heretics, personality clashes among believers, persecution from the world, or threat of imminent death-all of which Paul himself was experiencing at this very time-we can still maintain a spirit of joy in the Lord. We are not immune to sorrow nor should we be insensitive to the troubles of others; yet we should count the will of God our highest joy and so be capable of knowing inner peace and joy in every circumstance.
So firstly he tells us to Rejoice always, now, secondly he tells to us
Give our anxiousness to him.
Verse 6 and 7 reads.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There is no situation where we need to be anxious. The idea here is anxiety, or fretfulness or undue concern.
None of us ever suffer from that do we?
Paul says we don't need to, in fact he tells not to. He says no matter the circumstances, no matter what you are going through, present your needs, your worries, and your concerns to God.
Here he actually uses four different words for prayer. Prayer, petition, thanksgiving and requests
The word, Prayer, here emphasizes our approach to God
Petition - emphasizes requesting an answer to a specific need. An expression of need
Thanksgiving - talks about an attitude of heart, which should always accompany prayers.
Requests - speaks of specific things asked for
In everything, approach God in prayer, go to him, petition him, call on him to answer you, express your needs, your worries, the heaviness of your heart.
As it says in 1 Peter
5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you
- The anxiety, the sorrow, the pain, the fear you have is real, and it is okay in itself, don't feel condemned for it. But don't sit on it either, don't let it overcome you, give it to God.
And do it with thanksgiving. Somebody might say to this, "but I am not thankful, I can't see what there is to be thankful about." Moishe Rosen wrote something insightful on why being thankful is so important, he said:
Thankfulness to God is like a wide-angle lens that shows the larger dimension of our reality. It helps us appraise our situation, to see it in context. True acts of thanksgiving sharpen our discernment of God and His ways. We are to give thanks in all things (Philippians 4:6), not out of politeness to The Creator, but to celebrate who He is-and to understand who we are in relation to Him. Scripture commends, even commands, the intentional giving of thanks...This ... implies that giving thanks is a debt we owe to the One who has given us so much. But it is a debt we can pay with gladness.
Thanksgiving can even help us comprehend God's providential care amidst the hardships and tragedies of life. To be biblically thankful is to recognize God's goodness in all things-even adversity.
When distress comes, it helps if we are thankful to God, knowing that He will work in ways we have yet to see or understand.
Thanksgiving for various kinds of adversity and opposition widens our perception to help us see that even the distressing seasons of life can have meaning. Thanksgiving does not dismiss pain or wrong, but helps us zero in on what is good and right. It helps us to understand what truly has value. When we examine every situation to find something for which we can thank God, He receives glory and we find comfort and joy.*
So we are to be thankful, not to be anxious, but in prayer and petition, presenting our requests God.
Yes, requests, go ahead, ask for things. You are not being petty by being specific. God is pleased to answer, he loves to give good gifts to his children, he receives the glory, but he does want you to ask. He wants you to come to him, to acknowledge that you need him, and that he is the one who gives all things. He always answers our prayers, sometimes the answer may be a no, or a not now, but he always hears.
While he doesn't promise to do whatever we want, He does promise that when we present our needs to him in this way, the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard our heart and mind.
Wow, what a promise.
And what is this peace? Paul again and again, says
Grace and Peace to you...may the God of peace be with you.
A supreme promise of God, a gift he gives, and a blessing to have:
- He calls the Messiah, Sar Shalom, Prince of Peace
- He will guide our feet in paths of peace
- peace to men on whom his favor rests
- The Messiah will proclaim peace to the nations
- In Isaiah 53 he talks of a punishment that brings us peace - the absence of impending judgement for our actions
- The very peace with God we can have today through Y'shua who has reconciled us to the Father.
Peace is an end of all hostility and striving, an absence of fear, anxiousness, and worry.
The word Shalom in it has a sense of wholeness.
Isaiah 26 talks of a Perfect Peace, a Shalom Shalom, we can experience. I love the King James Version of this.
3 You will keep [him] in perfect peace, [Whose] mind [is] stayed [on You], Because he trusts in You.
Paul says this peace is beyond our understanding, similar to the statement he makes in Eph 3:20
Where he says God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine"
Paul says this peace beyond understanding will guard your heart and mind.
Guard is a military term, so this peace of God which is beyond understanding, will stand guard over your heart and mind,
- Your emotions, thoughts, and will.
So, Paul says to have the peace of God, firstly rejoice, secondly give your anxiousness to God but then he says thirdly,
You need fix your mind on the good.
Look at verse 8.
8 Finally, brothers, 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.
If you are like me, then you have the capacity go pretty far afield from this verse. Sometimes it is more like,
Whatever is weak, whatever is uncomfortable, whatever is inconvenient, whatever is unbecoming, whatever can be construed as an offense, whatever needs improvement or is imperfect, whatever bugs us, we let our mind dwell on these things.
If we do, how can we really expect the peace of God to reign in our hearts?
Paul stresses earlier in his letter the importance of where your mind is, what you are thinking about. In chapter 2 he says.
2:5 let this mind be in you. That was in Messiah Yeshua (NAS)
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
Let us have his mind. We need to have thought control. We need to have discipline with our minds with what we think about.
I know a person who complained to me about not having any peace. What is the point of being a believer, it doesn't feel any different, I am miserable. And she was always complaining to me about things in her life, how she felt, she was constantly rehearsing in her mind all the ways in which various people had disappointed her, or did wrong to her. Did she really expect to have peace when she was doing that?
Paul says we are to be careful and disciplined about our thoughts. He gives a good list of things on which to think about.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble or honest, whatever is right or just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable or of good report--if anything is excellent or virtuous or praiseworthy--think about such things.
This is not an ignoring of problems or pains, or troubles,
it's a putting them in perspective, it's a refocusing of our
lenses, it's a choosing to dwell on those things, which are praiseworthy.
I have a friend who every time she is down or upset, she sits down and writes a letter of encouragement to somebody else. As she encourages that person, she is thinking on these things, and it turns around and encourages her.
And then in verse 9, Paul ads,
9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put
it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Put your faith in to practice, live it out, be a disciple, then the God of peace will be with you.
Many have heard of Dietrich Bonhoffer's cost of Discipleship, well Dallas Williard wrote that there is a cost to non=discipleship as well. He writes:
"Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love,
faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good,
hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, and power
to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short it costs us
exactly the abundance of life that Jesus said he came to bring."**
While there may be a cost and a difficulty for living life like this, there is a greater cost for not doing it.
Well you may be saying to yourself, rejoice, cast your anxiety on God, be disciplined in your thoughts, that all sounds nice, but you don't understand what I am going through.
And that may be true, this may all sound too easy. But Paul who wrote this and the Philippians who received this I think may have understood what you are going through.
The people he was writing to were going through Hell. As I said, Paul told them in Chapter 1 (29) don't be alarmed by your opponents, it has been granted for Messiah's sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.
Granted to you. Wow what a blessing.
Paul himself, said he actually counts his life a loss for the surpassing
greatness of knowing his Lord, knowing the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,
Paul knew hard times, and he also knew that suffering came with the territory
and it was even ultimately good, and brought you into fellowship with Y'shua.
Look at Paul, In 2 cor as he describes what he has gone through:
11:25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked...
Paul understands whatever you are going through, that is why he can say what you see in me, do it. I have endured all of this , and the God of peace has been with me, he has guarded my heart and mind. Here is what you must do.
But maybe you are saying, well those are spiritual giants, they are strong, I am not like them, I just can't keep a good attitude like that. They are a beautiful ideal, but I just can't do it.
Well, here is a word of encouragement to you, why did Paul even feel the need to
write this to the Philippians, it was certainly not because they were doing it.
It was because they needed to hear it. They needed the exhortation to do this,
because they were not doing it naturally. They are like you and me.
These words are for us.
Know that God does not promise to take us out of every difficult situation and make it easy for us, but he does say, that whatever you are going through, he will be with us through it, and his peace can be a guard around us.
So let us remember Paul's admonition:
Firstly Rejoice in the Truth
God has done it.
He has began a good work in us and will be faithful to complete it.
Suffering is part of our fellowship with him.
The Lord is near.
Secondly, cast your anxiety on him
- don't feel condemned for it, but don't sit on it, don't let it overcome you, give it to God.
Don't be anxious about anything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present them to God.
And lastly fix your mind on the praiseworthy thing and live out that life of faith.
When you do these things, Paul says,
Then the God of peace will be with you, and his peace will guard your heart and your mind. The peace of God, a peace which transcends all understanding.
* * Moishe Rosen from the November, 2002 Newsletter
* **Dallas Williard from the Devotional classics by Richard Foster