I got started thinking about this great passage of scripture as a result of a reading from a little Power For Today devotional guide some months ago. More recently we used an idea from this passage for a devotional time at our Bible camp session. And still more recently, just in looking at my own life, I recognize in this passage one of the most challenging needs that most of us as Christians have. The point that I want to raise from Philippians 4:4-9 is that in order for our lives to have the tone of blessedness that God wants us to have, the teaching of the principles of the scripture has to be translated into personality and how we approach everyday life. The great doctrines of the New Testament have to be translated into a Christian disposition in the way we behave ourselves in our daily existence.
It seems to me that this passage lays down three great steps for us to take in the developing of a Christian disposition or a Christian mindset as we face life from day to day. It is striking, when you think about it, how tough the three things that God asks of us first in this passage really are. Three of the most difficult things that I can image, as I consider myself, are called for here. They are stated by the apostle Paul not as emotional suggestions but instead as imperatives in Christian living. All three of them are called for because of the Lord in one way or another, and these three demands take in our responsibility toward God, and toward our fellow man, and then toward ourselves.
Notice first of all that in the Lord, Paul says, we are to meet our responsibility toward him by rejoicing in the Lord always. And as if to emphasize it, he says it again. Paul is pointing out to believers here that life has a way of wearing on us. The responsibilities and demands of day to day life take their toll on us. If we are not careful, we can sort of live in a daze. We can approach life with more of a tone of dismay and despair than a tone of true faith in the Lord. The apostle Paul is saying that as a Christian, if we believe that God is our Father, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that the Holy Spirit has revealed the way for us to walk, if we believe that there is help in our present and there is hope in our future, if we are thankful for the great fellowship of God's family which surrounds us, then Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord." And even if there are circumstances like Paul was facing when he was imprisoned and writing this letter, or even if there are enemies which oppose the cause of Christ and make it difficult, even if there are situations like that, Paul still says, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Clearly he is calling for something here that is more powerful than just the fleeting feeling of "Man, things are going good for me." He is talking instead about an attitude toward life because I can recognize that no matter what, I am in the Lord and my position in the Lord is the thing that matters the very most of all in life.
Secondly, notice that Paul calls for us in our relationship with other people to do something because of the Lord. He says in verse 5, "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone, the Lord is at hand." Because the Lord is near, because we will answer to the Lord, because the Lord evaluates our attitude toward him by the way we treat other people and think of other people, he says "Let your reasonableness be made known." He is not talking about how we treat each other as Christians here. He is talking about our behavior toward the world, the community around us at large.
The word for reasonableness has proven to be a difficult one to put into English. You will notice that some versions say "Let your moderation be made known to all men." You will notice that some of them put it "Let your gentleness be made known to all men." What I have read suggests "reasonableness." The same word is translated in some cases "consideration" or "considerateness." And other efforts to try to put this term into our words have suggested "fairness" or "fair mindedness." One writer has suggested that the very closest English word would be "graciousness." What he is saying is that despite the little irritants that you will find in other people's personalities and in their conduct, in spite of the things that other people do that aggravate us and frustrate us, we are to be guided in our dealings with other people, not by our temper, but by our reasonableness, which makes us treat folks with consideration and big-mindedness, and graciousness. Because of the Lord and because we are in the Lord, our obligation is to treat people with that kind of fairness. It is fair to look at people by their best and not by their worst. It is the Christian thing to be gracious toward other people and not to be a harsh critic of other folks.
And then the third really, really difficult thing that Paul calls on believers to do in this passage is that from the Lord we are ourselves to be governed by peace and not by anxious worry. Most everybody here knows what a difficult challenge that is. It certainly is easier to talk about anxiety than it is to rise above it. We all know that because of our fears and because of our uncertainties and because of our tendency to think that we must do it all by ourselves, we can easily fall victim to anxiety. A perfectly good present, someone said, can be ruined by worry about a distant future. Paul is saying instead of being overcome by worrisome care about things or by anxiety about things, that we are to be people who let the peace of God stand guard over our hearts and our minds, verse 7 says. Philippi was a city where there was a Roman garrison. The picture Paul uses is to let the peace of God stand as the guard watching over our minds. For us to be individuals who, so to speak, have put ourselves in the protective custody of our heavenly Father. We have transferred our cares to him.
Now do you agree with me that what Paul calls for here, as far as our personal dispositions are concerned, is quite a challenge? To rejoice always in the Lord, to be gracious to people always because of the Lord, to be at peace instead of being anxious with peace from the Lord is quite a tall order. The kids at camp sing a little song called "Some Day." And one of the phrases or stanzas in "Some Day" says "peace and joy and happiness." That really is the think that Philippians 4 calls for - peace and joy and then contentment - if you read a verse or two further in this passage.
The question is "How can a fellow like me rise to that tall order?" How in the world can someone who is prone to worry and uncertainty and maybe at times a depressed mood, rejoice in the Lord, be gracious to people and be at peace in all circumstances? How in the world can a group of us with all of the problems and circumstances we face in our lives picture this kind of a disposition to the community around us this week? There are three steps that Paul instructs us in this passage to take.
Will you notice with me that the first thing that Paul says that we are to do to let this disposition take over in our lives is for us to pray. The first thing we are to do is to pray, according to verse 6. Now the difficulty to that is that sometime prayer becomes the last thing that we do. We want to pray if and when we need to pray because we have nowhere else to turn. Sometimes prayer becomes an optional matter that you do if you have time, if you are like me. And in the process we are thinking and doing things that are so important that the first step gets left out of our conduct. And we may think Christian things and do acts of service without the disposition of peace and joy and graciousness, which Paul is calling for in this passage.
Notice here that Paul uses four different terms that have a bearing on our praying. The first word, of course, is prayer. "In everything," he says "by prayer." The word he uses for prayer is a general word that just means "to ask." Jesus in Matthew 7 in verses 7-11 suggests that because of the kind of Father we have, we ought to ask and seek and knock. You take the "A-S-K (ask, seek, knock)" and you can remember what Jesus is telling us. He is telling us to ask, in everything to ask our Father.
Notice that secondly he uses the word "supplication." This term as I understand it meant to go before someone who is important, someone who is in a place of power or influence, to make entreaty, or to lay before him, the needs that you are urgently concerned about - to plead with him, to lay your plea before him.
Then third, there is the term "request." Your requests are to be made known to God. This is a term that suggests things that are specific. It keeps prayer from becoming just an exercise in vague generalities or in sentimental thoughts about God or about life. To do what Paul is saying here, we must get very specific in asking him and pleading with him about things that are our specific concerns in life.
And then the fourth term is "thanksgiving." Our asking and pleading with and specific requests are not the troubled tone of a life that is fraught with worry but instead they are expressed in a tone of thanksgiving for God has already given, for the prayers he has already heard, for the goodness he has already shown and for the things he has already done for us.
Our Lord in his public ministry, it seems to me, was as busy as anyone could ever have been. On one occasion in Mark 1, verse 35 and following, he had begun to teach and the healing that he did had brought tremendous crowds to Jesus and had brought constant demands on his personal attention and time. Verse 33 of Mark 1 says that a whole city was gathered together at his door and that people were constantly bringing their problems to him. In Mark 1, verse 35, it says "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, 'Everyone is looking for you.' And he said to them, 'Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.' And he went throughout all Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons." I am reading that to point out to us all that prayer, for Jesus, apparently is the thing which was his custom which then gave him the disposition of graciousness with people and ability to meet the demands that were brought to him. The first step toward the Christian disposition is to pray.
Secondly, Paul says we must think. Our thinking has to be in keeping with what we have prayed about. To Paul the thing that tells the story about whether our prayers have been genuine and about whether we have prayed in faith, is then whether the way we think fits with what we have been praying. To him, unless our thinking reflects what we have been praying about, then it would suggest that prayer to us was just an empty exercise that we engaged in because it was time to do so.
Notice the familiar statements in verse 8, especially, of the passage we read earlier. When Paul says "think on these things," the term he used says fix your mind on these things, concentrate on these things, let your attitude be shaped by these things. We ought to recognize a couple of things about our thinking. One is that what we think on finally takes us captive. What we allow to become the custom of our thinking becomes the rut that we cannot escape. The other is that what we think about is sooner or later bound to come out in what we say or what we do. And therefore, to the apostle Paul and to us, if we are going to present our bodies as living sacrifices, it must be by the renewing of our minds, according to Romans 12, verses 1 and 2.
Look, if you will, at the kinds of thinks that Paul is saying in verse 8 that we are to make it our habit of thinking on. I think what Paul means here is not for us just to look at word by word but for us to see the whole picture and to say, "If this is the kind of thing it is, then fix your mind on that," not on the Peterson family or the Kobe Bryant case, or by what's going on in the latest national scandal, not on the juiciest gossip that you have heard or the most current failure in somebody's life, not on your most urgent worries or fears, but instead on these kinds of things. He says, "things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise." You see how difficult that is. It is so difficult for us to fix our minds on those kind of things and so easy to think, instead, about the opposite kind of things.
Charles Bracket told of something that happened when he was twelve years old. He had an uncle who was the head chef in a large hotel in Louisville. He was visiting his uncle's kitchen at home and the uncle was chopping some vegetables into small colorful pieces that were going to be used in some dish he was making. Halfway through a celery stalk, he said his uncle stopped and took a dirty glass from the sink and after emptying that glass and cleaning it up, he filled it with sugar from a nearby canister and then he said, "tell me Charles, how many of these worthless vegetable scraps can you put into that glass full of sugar?" The answer is fairly obvious. He couldn't put any in because the glass was already full of something better. And his uncle then taught him an important lesson. Change comes by not only emptying of the bad but by replacing with something that is good. Remember the story Jesus told of the fellow who had an unclean spirit. He cast him out and he swept and got his house all set in order but he didn't put anybody else or anything else in it. Before very long, the unclean spirit came back and brought seven of his buddies. (Luke, chapter 11). It was much worse. What we think about has a big effect on our disposition and whether we are the people that the Lord wants to be so that we can bear his message effectively.
Pray, think, and then Paul says "do." In verse 9, "what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do." Practice these things. Make this your way of life or your constant behavior everyday. In Matthew 7 we read that it is not just calling him Lord, but in doing that we show what we really are. In James 1, it is not just in looking into his word, but in doing what the word says that we are blessed. In Luke 17, there are ten lepers that Jesus heals. He sends them to show themselves to the priest and verse 14 says, "As they went, they were cleansed." So much of the blessing that comes from Christian living cannot be experienced just sitting and waiting. Not merely when we have prayed or when we have thought, but then while we are doing is when the blessing and the joy of Christian living comes. "Practice these things, " Paul says, "and the God of peace will be with you."
Someone offered this psalm of single mindedness focused on what verse 9 is talking about. It says: "Lord of reality, make me real, not plastic, synthetic, pretend, phony, an actor playing out his part, hypocrite. I don't want to keep a prayer list but to pray. Nor agonize to find your will, but to obey what I already know. I don't want to argue theories of inspiration but to submit to your word. I don't want to explain the difference between eros and phileo and agape, but to love. I don't want to sing as if I mean it. I want to mean it. I don't want to tell it like it is but to be like you want it. I don't want to think another needs me, but I need him, else I am not complete. I don't want to tell others how to do it but to do it. I don't want to have to be always right but to admit when I am wrong. I don't want to be a census taker but an obstetrician. Nor an involved person, a professional, but a friend. I don't want to be insensitive but to hurt where other people hurt, nor to say 'I know how you feel' but to say God knows. And I'll try if you'll be patient with me. And meanwhile, I'll be quiet. I don't want to scorn the cliches of others but to mean everything I say."
That is the kind of thing, according to this passage, Paul is concerned about. He wants us to be people of real faith. That is why it challenges me so. Some of us are not as likely to be victims of some illegal substance or some illicit immoral behavior as we are to be victims of an un-Christian disposition. The biggest challenge we face in living for the Lord is very often the kind of thing that Paul calls for in this passage where we translate the great doctrines we believe to a disposition that would honor the Lord. May he help us today to grow in that way by praying, thinking, and doing.
If you are here this morning and you are perhaps ready to do what the Lord said to become a Christian, if you are ready to repent and to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, this would be a great day to do that. If you are someone who made that beginning and you haven't been trying to follow the Lord, you need to come home to him. This would be a great day to do that. If we can help you to do so, we would love to do it right now while we stand and sing.