Began with an informal series summary//background to the letter from Saint Paul to the church he and Silas founded in Philippi. Script below is from preacher's notes therefore there may be slight difference to sermon on the day. Various personal illustrations are not included.
Series summary//A letter from Saint Paul to the church he and Silas founded in Philippi.
And as we touched on briefly: Paul and Silas got off to a good start in Philippi, meeting a number of people and quickly establishing a little house church. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan. While there, they were arrested and imprisoned by the local authorities.
However, the authorities eventually realised that Paul and Silas were in fact Roman citizens, and therefore not subject to the kind of arrest and imprisonment that they had suffered. Afraid of any repercussions they apologized, but because of the delicate situation they found themselves in, nonetheless asked Paul and Silas to leave Philippi.
And, not wanting to cause trouble, Paul and Silas complied but they maintained contact with the Philippian church by writing letters.
And while the letter we have extant inthe Bible was written to specific people, in a specific place, at a specific time, the content of what Paul touches on is as pertinent today for us as it was then for them.
In our first week we touched on Paul’s encouragement to adopt the mind-set of Christ in our everyday life, and how this manifests itself in a spirit of humility and love towards others.
Then, last week, we touched on Paul’s desire for all who follow Christ to experience the intimacy of a vibrant, real, tangible connection with the risen Jesus.
And today, we touch on two themes which are incredibly relevant for our contemporary society.
In fact, if anyone ever tries to convince you that the Bible is irrelevant to contemporary modern-day society: open up the Bible and read them today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Here’s why, verses 2-3:
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”(4:2)
Paul begins our reading by addressing a growing public feud between two women in the church. Harping back to chapter 2 of his letter, Paul pleads with them to be “of the same mind in the Lord.” In other words: stop fighting the two of you and adopt a posture of self-denial and humility.
Can you imagine being in the room when this letter was read aloud to the whole church for the first time? What would happen is that the local Christians would gather together and one of the literate leaders of the church would stand up and read the letter out to the assembly. Imagine sitting there and hearing Paul’s words which in essence were: stop fighting!
Talk about awkward! But we get a glimpse of Paul’s pastoral heart here. He doesn’t call either woman out over the other. He doesn’t take a side or get bogged down in the details. Nor does he condemn them. He simply calls on them to adopt the mind-set of Jesus, a mindset defined by humility, put aside their hurts and their legitimate assertions for justice, and simply sit down together and resolve their differences. And then Paul takes his point a step further and calls on the wider church to be involved in resolving this mysterious (but obviously dramatic) dispute when he says in verse 3:
“Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”(4:3)
We’re not sure who this ‘true companion’ is but it’s made clear to us that resolving the dispute doesn’t involve taking sides or even ignoring the issue (“I don’t want to be involved, I love both of them equally”). Instead Paul calls on others to be the peacemakers in this process. And notice what everyone involved is to focus on, not the disagreement itself. Instead Paul calls them all to focus on what unites them: their shared faith in Jesus Christ.
And the reason this is pertinent, the reason this is relevant, for us today is because the sad reality is that disagreement and disunity often raises its head amongst Christians: be it at a macro level between theological factions or within a congregation, we Christians are not immune to the temptation to argue. And so Paul’s teaching here is incredibly relevant to each one of us: Let us remember our shared identity in Jesus, adopt his mind-set when it comes to our interactions with others, and work alongside each other as peacemakers when disagreement does occur.
So that’s the first theme within our reading this morning which is incredibly relevant for our contemporary society. And the next relates to anxiety.
Now bear with me. Because (you see)anxiety is a growing phenomenon, it isn’t new (obviously, Saint Paul addressesit here) but it is growing in its prevalence. For example:
My point is: anxiety is incredibly common.
And it’s caused by all sorts of things. For some people their personality and genetic traits make them suspectable to it. For others a build up of stress factors can be the main cause: Money for example (compounded for some by the current economic climate). Fear of the world (compounded by the scary news reports we are inundated with)
My point is: anxiety is incredibly common.
And it’s into this context that we hear Paul’s (seemingly unhelpful!) words: “Do not be anxious!” (4:6). Not exactly helpful reading on the face of it! But if we consider his words in their context we can see there’s a wisdom rooted in a deep pastoral concern for those struggling under the weight of the demands of life. Rather than just say “don’t be anxious” Paul provides some really clear advice of how not to be weighed down with anxiety when he says:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4)
I’m not sure if I mentioned this in previous weeks, but when Paul wrote this letter he was imprisoned awaiting trial, unsure if he would be released or executed. And yet, despite his terrible situation, Paul commands his readers to be joyful. In fact, he says it twice! And given the situation from which he’s writing, it’s clear that Paul’s not talking here about an Oprah-esq sense of positive thinking. Nor is he saying that life should always be enjoyable at all times. Paul is calling us to focus on Jesus and the hope we have through him for our future and then to revel in the sense of joy that flows out from this.
Paul’s not saying that life will always be joy-filled. But his point is more that the joy of knowing Jesus, the joy of having encountered Jesus Christ, helps strengthen and stabilise us through life, even in the darkest of times. By focussing on what God has done for you and me through Jesus we can find a centeredness even amidst the hardships of life because we know that his love for us will never fail. Which brings us to verse 6 where Paul says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (4:6)
Paul is not saying that if you are a Christian then there’s nothing to be anxious about, simply harden up. Nor was he implying that as a Christian one will never face hardship or worries. Hardship and worries are a fact of life. Jesus himself endured them, so we shouldn’t expect it to be any different for us.
By “don’t be anxious… but in every situation” Paul is essentially telling us to not fall into the trap of wallowing in our mental distress but instead to use the following instructions as a game plan for how to defeat anxiety, regardless of its cause. And his instructions (his game plan) are pretty simple: Pray. Talk to God. Bring your needs before God and lay them out. Paul is telling us to:
Let our anxieties drive us to prayer, not to panic.
And when you pray, Paul says, pray with thanksgiving. And this is such wise counsel. Because, when you’re battling something as all consuming and intense as anxiety. When you can’t see the wood for the trees, to force yourself to pause and think of things to give thanks for helps to righten the scales.
It can help give us a sense of balance to our context. Because when things are hard, when anxiety begins to set in, it can be so easy to forget all the blessings of God that we’ve experienced prior. So, yes, bring your concerns and your needs before God. But as you do so, adopt a spirit of thanksgiving. Seek out things (no matter how seemingly minor and insignificant), seek out things to give thanks to God for.
And that in itself will help relieve your sense of disquiet. Because (and I stole this line off a pastor online who said): Prayer withthanksgiving is how we defeat worry and anxiety when they strike at our hearts. Because:
Prayer is the water that extinguishes the fire of anxiety.
And the result of this is (verse 7):
[Is that] “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:7)
Because the peace of God flows out of prayerful trust. The peace of God which exists in contrast to the anxiety and worry of the world. You and I can experience this, even in the darkest moments (says Paul), through prayerful trust in the goodness of God.
By remembering all that God has done for us in Jesus.
By adopting themind-set of Christ and seeking an intimate, tangible, real, relationship withthe risen Jesus.
By adopting a habitof prayer in which we regularly give thanks to God for all that is good.
By bringing before God those things which plague us and keep us up at night.
By doing these things that we’ve touched on over the past three weeks, you and I can experience the peace of God which transcends all understanding, even in our darkest moments.
A SumRed Church sermon series
October 29, 2023