PEACE AND JOY
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We’re almost at the end of the letter. It’s as if Paul is this point saying “In light of everything I’ve been saying, these things.” These things are unity. They are joy. They are peace. These are the visible outworkings of what it means to be “In Christ.” This is what we’ve been looking at all these weeks of summer. This was a community of faith that was loved by Paul and that loved him. He knew them so well. He knew what God had done in and through them. As we’ve been thinking about our own faith community we’ve seen the parallels. These words that were written to a specific congregation in a specific context in 1st century Philippi. These words heard by our specific congregation in our specific context in Toronto in 2017. Last week we left off with these words – “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
Stand firm. What will it look like to stand firm in the Lord? It will look like unity. There is some sort of dispute going on between two ladies in Philippi. We don’t know what it was about and it doesn’t matter. We don’t know who they were except that they were leaders in this church. Paul calls them co-workers – a term he used to connote leadership. We know that they struggled beside Paul in the work of the gospel, the work of the good news of Christ with Clement and the rest of the co-workers.
They’re having some sort of dispute and it’s bad enough that Paul feels he needs to address it. It’s important that we address such things. It’s very easy to sweep such things under the carpet, hope that they’ll go away. It can be difficult to have a hard conversation. By inference, Paul reminds us that sometimes such conversations need to be had and he reminds us of what such conversations are to be based – that we are of the same mind in the Lord. In the Lord. In Christ. When we see these words we’re brought back to the Christ Hymn of chapter 2. Christ - the one who did not regard equality with God as some time to be grasped or held onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. The one who showed that we are most fully human when we give of ourselves in self-emptying love – not vain ambition or selfish conceit. We must stand united in Christ because we face enough danger from out there. We have enough danger from the one who goes about like a roaring lion. We have enough trouble going through life without adding to it with our disputes which centre on ourselves.
He’s very open about it too. He addresses Euodia and Syntyche directly by name. “I’m talking to you,” he may as well be saying. Not in a chiding way necessarily, but in an appeal to remember Christ’s love for them. A love that they share. He’s not appealing to their better natures (and that’s good news for many of us) or the virtue that comes naturally to Christian leaders (!). He’s appealing to the fundamental thing that they share. That they are in Christ. That their names are written in the Book of Life. Stand firm in this together. Remember all this and sit down and talk about it. If that doesn’t work bring someone else in. Good advice! That was Jesus’ advice. “I ask you also, my loyal companion (we’re not sure who that was), help these women…” Paul is not addressing this issue publicly to shame these women, he’s addressing it to show that in this life together we share all things – our joys, our sorrows, our triumphs, our disputes. We share them while at the same time sharing the mind of Christ. Remember what you have gone through together in this community of faith – this outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’m not talking about forced joy. You know I would never do that. Whenever I go to a hockey game and the thing comes up on the screen “Make noise” or they do that “Everybody clap your hands” thing I never clap. You can’t force me to clap. You can’t force me to buy joyful. How can this be a command? It’s such a command that Paul repeats it twice! Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Someone has said that this rejoicing of which Paul speaks is not a mood or feeling but a choice. I will say to rejoice is a choice. Earlier this summer we heard this - “(F)or Paul, joy is more is more than a mood or an emotion. Joy is an understanding of existence that encompasses both elation and depression, that can accept with creative submission events which bring delight or dismay because joy allows one to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord, who stands above all events and ultimately has control over them.”
The ability to rejoice, to have joy in the midst of any circumstances is based in Christ. Note that Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord” and not “Rejoice in your circumstances.” We’re not called to some unnatural rictus grin or forced joy in the face of tragedy or loss. We’re called to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Our joy is found in our ability to see beyond our circumstances to the one who has been exalted, the one in whom God was and is and will reconcile the world to himself. To live in recognition of this fact is to be living in a right relationship with God and this gives us cause to rejoice - a deep-seated joy that is unwavering whatever adversity or danger or hardship or loss or grief or unknown that we may face. So rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!
This orientation toward God, this joyful mindset will work itself out in right relationships toward others as well. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Greek word that’s been translated “gentleness” in our Bibles needs more than one word to describe. Some of the Biblical translations have rendered it patience, softness, the patient mind, modesty, forbearance. Karl Barth puts it like this “It is your quite specifically grounded benevolence, gentleness, considerateness, openness, vitality, and at the same time moderation…that must become manifest to all men…Christians are men who have been made … lenient, mellow, ‘beaten to pulp’ (like a smoothie) as opposed to the non-recipients of grace, who can still be stiff and bristly.” (!) So… receive grace.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. In this way, you shine like stars in the world, no matter what your circumstance. Remember that it was through Paul that the good news of Christ was made known throughout the Praetorian Guard while Paul was in chains. What did they see in Paul I wonder? A lot of gentlenesses. Leniency. Mellowness. Considerateness. Openness. Vitality. No matter what the situation is. How can such a thing be possible?
The hinge of this middle part of the passage. The Lord is near. Sandwiched between two imperatives – “Let your gentleness be known to everyone” and “Do not worry about anything” is the indicative. The Lord is near friends. This is our foundation. This is what we’re focussing on all summer. Being found in Christ. What does this mean? It means the Lord is near. There’s a Proverb that goes “Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” One translation has it “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The Psalmist puts it like this “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Have you known this truth? This is what it means when we talk about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth living inside us, with us wherever we go and whatever is circumstance. Our dear friend Mary Cowan told a story often about having surgery done and waiting for the anesthesiologist
and being consumed by an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and peace. The spatial presence of God is what we’re talking about. God with us. There’s also a temporal sense to what Paul is writing. We’ve been talking about the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is coming. And so we wait and we let our gentleness be made known to all.
And don’t worry. Now I know for me to tell me not to worry is like telling me to applaud when the stadium sign says “Make Some Noise!” It just doesn’t work. What is going on here? Is this something you can command? I think it’s more a case of claiming a promise of God. Claiming a fruit of the Spirit – just like joy. Claim peace. What is Paul not talking about? One commentator puts it like this – “’Have no anxiety about anything’ here applies to nervous, doubt-filled concern for their own well-being and is not to be taken as a blanket endorsement of total indifference to the conditions of other. In other words, this no scriptural warrant for not caring. After all, Paul said his reason for sending Timothy to Philippi was his genuine anxiety for their welfare (2:20). And Paul himself knew ‘daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches’ (II Cor 11:28). Obviously, there is appropriate as well as inappropriate anxiety.” This is not to make those suffering from clinical anxiety to think that they are in some way lacking in faith. It is a command rather to do. It is a choice to make. It is not simply a call to “Not worry.” Paul tells the Philippians what they must do.
Together. Because this is once again being written in the second person plural. You all don’t worry but rather you all “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In the midst of the situations around us that are troubling, in circumstances that are troubling (and we all have them), by prayer and supplication (asking, seeking) let your requests be made known to God. Together. Paul is not offering a solution to a problem. He’s offering rather an action to take. Pray. Make our supplications. Seek God’s face. Praise him together. Remember what he and Silas did in that Philippian jail? They began to sing! Sing. Together. How important have songs been to the people of God through the years no matter what hardships, what injustices, what persecutions they have faced? Think on these things. Hold onto these things. Set your minds and your hearts on these things.
Think about these things. We’re finishing this off. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This list could have come from any Roman or Greek writing of the time when it came to virtue. We’ve been talking a lot about where our citizenship is as followers of Christ – where our identity is to be found, the one who is owed our ultimate allegiance. At the same time, Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God is at work in the world too. God hasn’t forgotten about the world and God reveals himself and makes his nature known in it. I often think of organizations like North York Community House which has been such a vital partner in what God has been doing in and through us in Lawrence Heights. I think of the ways in which they have made the summer camp known. I think of the settlement workers there who would fax registration forms for newly arrived immigrant families. How they are welcoming the stranger. That’s what we’re all about too!
Of course, all of this is to be viewed through the lens of the good news of Christ. Keep on doing, writes Paul. Our theology shapes our ethics. Our belief shapes our doing. Our pressing on is a lifetime of being formed into the image of Christ, knowing Christ and making Christ known. Think of the people from whom you learned and received the good news of Christ. Think of the people in whom you saw and heard the good news of Christ and grace and mercy and justice and forbearance and gentleness and compassion and kindness and the love of God. The God of peace will be with us. This is the promise. Paul starts with joy and he finishes with peace. May this be true for all of us friends.