Occasionally, I hear someone say a pretty flowery thing about following Jesus. They present an almost fairy tale; candy that entices, but doesn’t sustain. It’s not that they aren’t true; they just left out the meat. They presented the fairy tale ending too soon and left out the part about life today. The full redemption and transformation comes after God makes the world new. Then He wipes away all our tears; pain and suffering and death are gone forever. But here, even with the joy of being in Christ, comes persecution and suffering and loss. We are joined, not just in Jesus’ resurrection, but also in His death.
Paul never minces words about this dual reality. This both/and narrative is his story. He’s writing this book to the Philippians from prison. He’s in prison and he doesn’t know if he will live or die. He doesn’t know if he will see these believers he loves again. And even if he lives and does see them, it’s second best. He would actually rather go be with Christ.
Despite his what-ifs, his changing circumstances, his lack of control over what happens to him, Paul is settled. He is unmovable. He does not question who he is or where his future lies. He’s not wringing his hands over what will come tomorrow; instead, he tells the Philippians how to live today.
Stand firm in the Lord
Philippians 4:1 says, “So then, my dearly loved and loved for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.” We know that chapter and verse divisions aren’t inspired. They were added later as an aid to help us all find the same material quickly. We do need to remember this so that we don’t read each verse as a stand-alone statement. Each verse builds on what came before and connects to what comes after.
We will all stand on something. We will build our lives on some type of foundation. It might be our career or our relationships. It might be our influence or fame. It might be our credentials or our pedigree. But we can’t forget that Paul had those things and he said it was nothing. He left it behind to chase Christ.
It was a good exchange. Paul had things that were temporary, things that could change. Our health changes. How people regard us changes. These are flimsy foundations to build our lives on. It’s just like finding a big sandy beach, building a house there, and finding the house broken on the beach a storm.
In contrast, Paul admonishes the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. Stand firm on the God who does not change. God is a solid foundation for a life that lasts and is worth our putting everything else aside. We are citizens of another world; we are waiting on our Savior.
Paul says things foreign to our natural mind, not because he doesn’t care about them, but because he does. His love and affection for these believers is plastered onto every chapter of this book. He told them what wouldn’t make them comfortable now but would pay off with everlasting glory. His motivation is love and we must build our work with other believers on our mutual love for one another.
Agree in the Lord
It’s not easy to be motivated by love. It’s incredibly hard to do life with other believers and create a community of love. We disagree. We aren’t the same. We have different tastes and preferences. We get on each other’s nerves. We push each other’s buttons, sometimes even on purpose.
Finding others believers difficult to get along with is not a new problem. Paul continues “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life.” These two women were in a disagreement of some kind- wouldn’t we love to know what? But we don’t know. We only know that Paul told them the solution was to agree in the Lord.
They weren’t to persuade the other person to agree with them. They weren’t to stomp off and never speak again. Instead they were to remember their common ground.
Not only are we supposed to get along with each other but we are to help each other get along. Next Paul appeals to a fellow believer to assist the women. He reminds everyone of their connection. They are in a partnership; they work side by side; they are co-workers. All of their names are in the book of life. This is their standing together. And their work is to contend for the gospel. It’s isn’t necessary that we all agree on which kind of food we like the best or what style of music is our favorite or anything else as trivial. We are united around the goal of spreading the Gospel.
When we are annoyed with our fellow believers, I think the question we must ask ourselves is, “are we contending for the gospel together?” There is enough work to be done in spreading the good news of Jesus that if we put ourselves to it together we would run out of time to fight over senseless things.
Our unity is also dependent on remembering our relationship: we are coworkers and partners. This portion makes me remember chapter 2 when Paul tells them to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. We are to prefer others over ourselves. We are to work side by side. We need to link arms and go about the work together.
Rejoice in the Lord
Philippians 4:4-7 say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
There are times when it’s easy to rejoice: you just got good news, Fridays at 5 pm, the birth of a child. But Paul doesn’t tell them to rejoice in one time events. Paul leads the believers to rejoice in the one thing that is constant in their lives. He wants them to rejoice in the Lord. The unchanging God who never leaves is the source of their rejoicing. As they rejoice in God, they can respond with graciousness to life. They have an even reaction, in spite of changing circumstances, because God is constant. God is near so they aren’t to worry. Jesus will return and He will set everything right.
Paul is a realistic man. He isn’t suggesting that the Philippians pretend they don’t have problems or ignore the realities of life; he provides an alternate way to deal with life. Instead of worrying, take everything to God. When we’re tempted to worry, we go to God with prayer and petition. This act of praying, of presenting life to God, allows God’s peace to guard us. Peace is a warrior in our lives when we know who God is. God’s peace is unexplainable, surpassing our understanding and therefore our expectations.
This is an extraordinary way of life. Already, we are constant in circumstances and now we are guarded by peace. We are hemmed in on both sides by the knowledge that God is not changing and that He is near. That is a firm foundation of our lives.
All that we do we do in the Lord. Our position is in Christ, and we are radically reorienting our lives to align with that new reality.