VII. Practical Counsel (Philippians 4:1-9)
VII. Practical Counsel (4:1-9)
4:1 After issuing a strong challenge to the Philippians in chapter 3, Paul once again expresses his great affection for them, calling them dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters. He urges them to stand firm in the Lord (4:1) and will explain how to do that. But first he addresses a division in the church that is a threat to their unity and joy.
4:2-3 Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord (4:2). And he calls the church to help these women get along; they have contended for the gospel at [his] side (4:3). These faithful women had lost sight of the big picture. Evidently, the dispute between them had spread throughout the church, so Paul tells them they need to agree in the Lord. To set aside their differences for the sake of the gospel.
4:4 The church faces opposition within and without, yet here is Paul, writing a letter about joy and telling the Philippians to rejoice. From a human perspective, it doesn’t make sense. And yet the path to joy is to actually choose to rejoice, so Paul tells them to rejoice in the Lord always. And to drive home the point, he repeats himself: I will say it again: Rejoice!
Worldly happiness is not the same as godly happiness. Godly happiness is called joy. In the Bible, the word joy is a celebration term. Thus, Paul is calling for celebration. The difference between joy and secular happiness is that the latter depends on what happens; it is circumstantially driven. So, if things are going in an upward direction in life, you feel up, but if things are going down, you feel down. This keeps you on an emotional rollercoaster. Biblical joy, by contrast, has to do with stability and celebration on the inside regardless of circumstances on the outside. We must choose to rejoice in order to experience the joy God promises us.
4:5 The path to joy includes letting your graciousness be known to everyone. It means not spreading unhappiness to others. Being gracious means we don’t use our ministries to be vindictive or hateful when things aren’t going well. Rather, we embrace a good attitude because we know the Lord is near. He’s closer to us than we think. But if we refuse to rejoice and instead complain, we can make the very near God feel very far off indeed.
4:6 At this point in the letter, we come to some of the most helpful and well-loved verses in the Bible. Paul provides the antidote to worry: Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Prayer is relational communication with God. It seeks to draw resources from the invisible spiritual realm into visible, physical reality. Every time we begin to worry, we should see that as a call from God telling us that it’s time to pray. This is an important principle: the more you worry, the less you pray. The more you pray, the less you worry.
Prayer is the umbrella word under which Paul includes “petition with thanksgiving.” Our petitions must be specific. We need to tell God what we’re worried about and ask for his help. A moment in which you are plagued by worry is not the time for one of those general prayers for God to bless the world. To deal with anxiety, make sure your petitions are precise. Get real with God.
Prayer can often feel frustrating—like when you go to a soda machine, put in your money, punch the button, and nothing comes out. But thinking of it in those terms causes us to miss how prayer works. God wants us to make requests “with thanksgiving.” Of course, when you have a problem and it isn’t going away, giving thanks is not at the top of your priorities list. But Paul’s telling us to give thanks, not for the problem itself but for the God we are inviting into our specific problem. Offering thanks is a demonstration of faith in God’s goodness and provision despite what we see.
4:7 What can you expect when you pray in this way? The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, you’ll experience calm in the midst of chaos. You will know God heard your prayer, not necessarily because the problem is solved, but because of the peace that God gives you. Paul calls it a peace that “surpasses all understanding” because even we won’t entirely understand how we are able to have peace in light of some of the troubles we experience. Nevertheless, this peace guards our “hearts and minds.” It’s as if God puts soldiers and sentries around our feelings and our thoughts.
4:8 God gives us peace, but we must hold onto it. We don’t want to lose our peace in the next hour or the next day. So to prevent that, Paul says we’re to dwell on whatever is true . . . honorable . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . commendable, and if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy, we’re to focus our attention there. One of the reasons we don’t keep our peace is because we tend to dwell on the things that are set in opposition to the peace we’re asking for. We mull over a lie or over bad things that could happen. And if we continue to entertain messages that work against our peace, anxiety will soon return. We must, therefore, ask ourselves if we are able to praise God for the things that we are dwelling on. If we can’t, then we’ll soon lose the peace God has given us.
4:9 Paul gives one more step to living in God’s peace: Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me. The Philippians, then, were to handle things the way they had seen Paul handle things. He was in prison, but he was praising God instead of worrying. One of the purposes of the church is to connect people with other kingdom-minded people. We need support, and we need good examples.
Then Paul closes with the promise that the God of peace will be with you. When we’re rejoicing and praying and dwelling on the right things and watching the right people, we don’t just have the peace of God, we have “the God of peace.” We get his peace, and we get his presence.