From a Place of Peace
Series Through Philippians: Where Are You From?
Sunday Morning, March 7, 2021
Text: Philippians 4:4-9
Anxiety and worry are really prevalent in our world, aren't they? It seems as if there is always something to worry about, stress over, be anxious about - however we would like to refer to it. This is not a condition that is specific to us. This has been going on for a long time - maybe since the beginning - or since the fall. Worry, stress, anxiousness seem to be common ailments to all. We heard it in our reading this morning from Psalm 62. There are many of these Psalms, by the way, that speak to us of the anxiousness, the trouble from which no escape seems possible, and the Psalmist (and later all of Israel) cries out to God for relief.
As we continue to look at the letter to the church in Philippi, Paul deals with the anxiousness, the worry, the trouble caused (I believe) by the church in conflict. The church is in conflict with the Roman culture in which she finds herself. That's not a surprise, or at least shouldn't be. But, the church seems now to be in conflict internally (see 4:2-3). Think about that anxiety: the one place where Christians should find refuge now is a place of unrest as well. Nerves are probably on edge, tensions run high. What can be done?
Now, I don't think we have this sort of tension in the church here in Bella Vista, and thank God for that! Because we have all kinds of other things about which to be anxious. Think about them with me for just a minute. We have, what we might think of as national issues. There's a lot of nervousness about the passage of The Equality Act and what that may mean for churches. There's nervousness about another economic stimulus and what effects it may have. There's anxiousness about the new administration and what President Biden may or may not do. There's worry over the Covid vaccine and who can get it, who can't get it, what will it do, what won't it do. Then there's the whole "cancel culture" thing and that worries us. We look at it and we think how silly it is or wonder how nit-picky can people be. When Dr. Seuss is on the chopping block, it seems we may have reached the pinnacle, but we know there will be more. We worry about the direction of the nation in many ways. These are what I think of as big concerns mainly because of their scope.
There are others - other worries, anxieties - that may be even more bothersome to us. They may not have national implications, but they may be even more a part of our every day existence. They may not be spoken out loud except to those closest to us, and even then may not be fully expressed because they are just too much to think about. Things that are deep inside of us that eat at us in those moments when we allow ourselves to think about them.
"Am I a good parent?" Now, that's getting close to home. I have yet to meet anyone who is thinking about being a parent in the future, currently raising children, or have raised children that does not worry about this question. Dr. Mike Ireland who preached for 50 years and taught at Harding University once told his students that if they wanted a sermon to result in people feeling guilty, then they should preach on parenting. No other subject that he ever preached produced more guilty feeling in the church than to talk about parenting because every one is concerned that they are doing a good job, and almost everyone is equally convinced that they have fallen far short. Still, it's there. Am I a good parent? Have I been a good parent? Will I be a good parent? What if my children _______________ (fill in the blank)? What if they turn out to be _________? Have I failed them?
Maybe it is the other way around. "Am I a good son or daughter?" Have I honored my father and mother? Do I measure up in their eyes? Am I treating them the way I should? Or for those who have lost mom and/or dad, I should have done more, I should have been better.
It keeps going. We can keep going. "Am I a good husband?" "Am I a good wife?" Am I being all that he or she expect of me. What if I'm not? Will they find someone else? And if they do, where will that leave me?
How about this one: "Am I a good Christian?" I want to be. I want to follow Jesus and I want to be like him, but I have so many failings. I have so many areas of my life where I fall back into old patterns or respond to the things around me almost directly opposite of how Jesus has instructed. "Am I genuine in my faith or am I a complete fraud, a hypocrite?" Which leads to even more anxiety and worry, right? I know Jesus said not to worry, and if I seek the Kingdom first, all that I need will be provided by the Father. Yet, I worry. I'm anxious. So now I'm not just anxious about the things that we've already mentioned (plus a lot that we haven't) but I'm also anxious because I'm anxious and the Bible says I shouldn't be anxious, so I'm not only disappointing my kids, or my parents, or my spouse, or my church family, I'm also disappointing God and I've read the Bible and I know it doesn't end well for those who disappoint God. And the worry and the anxiety continues and continues and we feel hopeless. But, we don't want anyone to know that we feel hopeless because, after all, we want others to think we have it all together, but we know we don't and here comes the hypocritical feelings again. And so it goes.
Frankly, it is no wonder that we have this kind of anxiety and worry. Think about all the messages we receive every day that tell us that we are not enough. We get messages from various types of media that make us think that we're not good enough. Maybe it's a social media post about a family and what they have just accomplished. We read it and we begin to think, "We should have done that. Maybe we're not doing a good enough job as parents." Which can easily lead to, "We're failures. I hope our children don't end up hating us because we aren't enough." We see advertisements created by people who's job it is to create a need for a particular product, and who by the way are excellent at their job, which leave us with the impression that what we have isn't enough. If we only had what it is that they were offering, our lives would be so much better. We might be able to catch the eye of that special girl. We might be able to be seen as someone worthy of respect. We might have that "perfect" family. But without this, we are not enough.
Ladies, I really feel sorry for you in this respect. The messages that are constantly being delivered of our culture's image of the "ideal" that is doing incredible damage both physically and psychologically, are they affecting you? I would be shocked if it's not.
How are we supposed to deal with the constant pressure? How are we going to make it when it seems that everything is stacked against us here? The pressure comes at us from all directions making us feel as if we are never going to be enough and we can't seem to escape the cycle of anxiety and worry.
Here's what Paul tells the church in Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 ESV)
The very first thing we see in this passage as Paul deals with the struggles of the Christians in Philippi is for them to rejoice in the Lord, always. This shouldn't surprise us. Paul has mentioned this over and over in this letter, starting in chapter 1, verse 18.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Then in Chapter 2:
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (2:17-18)
I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (2:28)
Chapter 3, verse 1
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. lTo write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (3:1)
And twice in our reading from chapter 4
Rejoice in the Lord. There's something about this that I have missed over the years; most of the time, rejoicing is not something that is only done individually. Often it is done in community. The prophets in the Old Testament talked about Israel rejoicing at her deliverance. This is all Israel, the community. Here in this letter Paul shares his rejoicing with the church and asks them to rejoice with one another. To a church that is struggling with opposition from the outside and disunity inside, Paul suggests they rejoice together. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in what God has done in you. Rejoice in what God is doing in you. Rejoicing calls to mind the way in which God has called them together and what he has done to make that possible.
Community is important. As we think about the anxiousness and worry that all deal with, many of those worries can be incredibly harmful as we try and wrestle with them alone. But, in community we are helped. Coming together just as we have this morning reminds us that we are not alone. God is in our midst and we have one another to help. We are encouraged to care for one another, love one another and carry one another's burdens. The world around us constantly sends the message that we are not enough, that we need more, that we can never be what we should. Coming together reminds us of the incredibly high value God has placed on us in the giving of Jesus so that we can be with him. Paul reminds the church to rejoice in what God has done.
The next thing I want us to see is that Paul says we are to be anxious for nothing. And if he left us there we would be in real trouble (remember the cycle), but he tells us how to shake that, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God. Prayer is to be the antidote to anxiety. Prayer, much like worship, brings us into the throne room of God. Prayer brings us to the place where we can see that God is still alive, still on his throne, still working, and that He has control. It is a place where we can bring our anxiousness and leave it in the hands of the One who has demonstrated that we are valuable, we are loved, and that we are his. In prayer we can leave these cares with God knowing that he wants us to be free from the anxiety that constantly attacks us. It is a place where we can ask for forgiveness and receive grace in times of trouble (Hebrews). But, we need to leave the cares there with God. Too many times in my life I have taken those cares to God, asking for his help with them, with every intention of leaving them only to pick them back up on my way out of the throne room. We need to leave them there, secure in the knowledge that the One who created the universe, the One who loves us, the One who can always be trusted to the right thing at the right time can handle it. He will handle it and will give us peace (the opposite of anxiety). God will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. There is an assurance that we have from God that we are ok. It will be ok. We are enough.
I think what we see in this section is a great example of relationship that we have with God. It is a great picture of what cooperation with God looks like. God does his part and we do ours, but it is not an even division of labor. God is doing far more than we ever can. All he asks is that we trust him and follow his lead.
But, aren't we right back to where we were? Feeling guilty because we still have this anxiety? Paul also gives some advice in how to deal with that. We need to pay attention to what we feed our minds. We need to think differently. Now, admittedly, there are things that get thrown our way about which we can do little. But there are areas where we can affect change. Paul says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Here's how this is translated in the Message:
"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies." (Phil. 4:8-9 MSG)
As we just said, there are messages that come at us from every direction that will be hard if not impossible to avoid. I don't think we can avoid all that is going on around us, and I'm also not sure we should. I think of Jesus telling his disciples to be as "wise as serpents, harmless as doves." Wise as serpents means that we are aware of what is happening. We are to be in the world, just not of the world. So while there are things that will inevitably come our way, we don't have to voluntarily subject ourselves to things that give these messages. There's a mountain bike trail that runs right behind our house that I like to walk part of the time. I'm not gonna ride it because I like having all my bones in tact, but I do like to walk it. Occasionally when I make that trip I get into some mud at it is really hard to avoid. While it may get on my because I can't avoid it, that doesn't mean that I'm gonna get down and roll around in it. There are some things we can to do limit the influence. What we choose to watch, listen to, or read can be controlled. If we find ourselves becoming anxious, we find ourselves stressing, maybe we should change what we are feeding our minds.
We need to operate from a place of peace. We are called to respond to the world around us. We are salt and light; things effective when they come in contact with others. We will not respond well if we come from a place of anxiety. I think this is why Paul says, "Let your reasonableness (gentleness) be known to everyone. What God offers humanity is peace in place of anxiousness. Operating from a place of peace will let others know that this is a genuine offer and that God can provide peace.
Paul reminds the church in Philippi and the church here in Bella Vista of the remedy for anxiousness; the Lord is near. God, the God of Peace, wants to guard us. He wants us to have peace. He has given his son so that we can have peace with him and with others. He has given us the Holy Spirit as an assurance that we belong to him and so that we can continue to have peace.