Philippians 4 v 4 – 9
I’ve spoken to you often as your pastor from this passage. There’s a very good reason for that – I cannot let these words go and it’s not only because it’s next in the sequence of our series through the book of Philippians that I’m speaking on it. Read with me from verse 4:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (ESV)
We live in a world that seems peaceful. We have the traffic going about that doesn’t often seem peaceful, does it? We see quite a bit of what we call road rage. We go about our work every day. Those of us who have lost our work, we go about the pining about that and what we are supposed to do next and what it does, it takes two things away from us – it takes peace and joy away from us. It replaces it with unrest and in the place of joy various things sadness and even rage and anger and despair. It’s a sad thing because when we look at humanity we hear what they say, we see what they do. We see that they have within themselves this utter quest for joy and peace – an atmosphere in which they can dwell where nothing disturbs them. And they have smiles on their faces and they have this thing called joy. And yet we see such a great lack of it all around about us
I want to start out this evening by giving you the two – it’s actually one cause with two aspects of why we lack peace and why we lack joy. I want to tell you why we lack peace and joy. It’s one reason with two aspects. The lack of joy and peace comes from an unguarded heart and mind and is what destroys our peace and what destroys our joy! When our minds are unguarded they are invaded by all kinds of things. Both the heart and the mind, both of them and consequently our behaviour and the way in which we relate – all of those things are invaded by things that ought not to be there. They’re invited by those things that are nothing like that Dawn we will see when we stand in His presence. It’s the yearning of the human heart – peace and joy. If you’ve ever wondered what it is that you want, you need to know that even if you don’t know it, what you are searching for is peace and joy. These are the things that we lack in this world, and the reason for that is that our hearts and our minds are unguarded. It’s not what is around about us, not what’s in the world, not Covid-19, not the wavering economy, not the broken relationships, not the unrest in the wars and talk of wars and not the clash of ideologies. These things are but symptoms of a greater ill, and the greater ill is the lack of joy and peace. Peace is the atmosphere in which joy flourishes. We lose the peace, we lose the joy, and to understand why it is that’s why we need to understand who and what we are as human beings. And in order to understand who and what we are as human beings, we need to understand the ways in which we are fallen. We are fallen in the way we think, in the way we feel and receive and in the way we behave. We are fallen in those three ways. We are fallen in our heads. In what goes on in our heads and our minds in our thoughts we are fallen in that. We cannot trust that. But we’re not only fallen in our minds and the way that we think – we’re fallen in our hearts. We’re fallen not only in our affirmations in what goes on inside of our heads. We are fallen in our affections. We are fallen in what goes on inside of our hearts and why those things go on inside of our hearts! But it gets even worse – we are fallen in our actions, because what we do is a consequence of how we think and what we receive and let into our hearts. Those two things control how we act – what we do and fail to do. Those are symptoms of a greater ill. Our horrible actions, our failings are not the disease – they are the symptoms of the disease. The real disease is what’s going on inside of our minds and what’s going on inside of our hearts. What goes on in our heads and in our hearts is what is affecting what is going on in our hands and in our humanity. We need to understand that. When the Apostle Paul wrote this passage, he understood it so well. In fact he understood it so well that we have to know that no man could have conjured this up in his own imagination and his philosophy. It had to have been God who showed him. It had to have been God who showed him why we cannot rejoice always and why we don’t have the peace of God that transcends all understanding. He tells us in the positive first of all rejoice in the Lord. What are we supposed to do? Rejoice! When are we supposed to do that? Always! And then he tells us how important it is. He says: “Again I will say rejoice!” And as always the Apostle is saying this, because he knows there’s somebody who does not want to hear this. They don’t want to rejoice. And so he says again I WILL say REJOICE!
I don’t want to sound base, but it’s almost as though he’s saying: “I told you to rejoice. I know you don’t want to. Stop your nonsense! Rejoice! I will say it again. I know you don’t like it. I know it’s not what you want to hear. I know you’d like to roll around in your misery and your sadness.”
Because that’s part of the problem – it’s part of what we are and it’s so bad that we don’t want to do it. Did you know that that’s a problem with humanity? It’s not only that they cannot rejoice, but they don’t want to! I’ll tell you why they don’t want to – because sadness and madness are means of manipulation. They’re ways that we use to manipulate other people to say do and give things that will make us – what’s the word we use – happy. Happy! I would droop the corners of my mouth, I will darken the tone of my voice. I won’t rejoice so that people can say and do and give me things. That’ll make me happy – means of manipulation.
- In the Positive (what to do)
But Paul, in this passage raises us above what other people can do for us. He’s not saying rejoice in what people are saying to you, doing for you and giving to you. That’s to love the world and the things thereof, and the people who hang about it. He’s not telling us to rejoice in that. Let me tell you if that’s where you looking for it, you’re looking in the wrong place. People are a disappointment not only to others, but also to themselves. They can’t even make themselves happy – how do you expect them to make you happy? I can’t make myself happy – filled with joy. It’s a terrible thing to live with me. I disappoint myself every day. How can other people expect me to make them rejoice – and the same with you! You can’t make other people rejoice. You can make them smile awhile and dance about a little bit but they can’t do anything for you. They’re sons of Adam. They can’t find reasons for themselves to rejoice. And so the Apostle says rejoice in the Lord – in the Lord! Not in how well things are going for you on this planet – how well people are doing for you – what kind of a raise or job you got – what kind of a new car do you have – how your home renovations have going. If you’re looking for joy in those things, you will not find joy. And here’s what’s going to happen eventually – someone else will enjoy it. Someone else will have it. You can’t rejoice in those things. You need to rejoice in the Lord. And he says again I say rejoice!
Anything else is unreasonable. It means that the mind is messed up. That’s what unreasonable means. It means that you’re thinking a wrong. It’s unreasonable to look for joy in the things of this world, that’s why he says let your reasonableness be known to everyone. When you are looking for your joy in the Lord you’re being reasonable. You’ve actually regained your mind. One of my friends one day said to me “you’ve actually stopped being nuts and you’ve become reasonable.” Because you no longer look for your joy in the things of this world – in its systems – in its plans – in its projects. You look for your joy in the Lord. You don’t have to look very far, because notice what he’s saying, you don’t have to look very far – you don’t have to go read volumes of philosophy. I have 30 centuries of Western wisdom in my [living room] – I’m looking at them as I speak to you. It’s called the Britannica Great Books of the Western World. It has two synopticons that go with it. Every single human idea that you can think about you can find in those two synopticons, and it will take you to what everybody through the centuries has said about that particular topic. But that takes a lot of reading – a lot of studying – a lot of disagreement – a lot of debate and it seems so far away, so you won’t find your joy in that either. Because in order to find your joy in the Lord, you don’t have to look very far because Paul says next in verse 5: “The Lord is at hand” – He’s not a faraway God – He is at hand. Even to someone like me who fell off a ladder yesterday, trying to take a little park bench off the attic in my garage. And you know what makes me feel stupid? It’s happened to me before and I didn’t learn, so it happened again. I pray that God will help me not to learn the same lesson a third time. He’s at hand – even I with my painful shoulder can just lift a hand, and He’s there to take it!
He’s at hand – He’s near your hand! You can’t reach very far. You can’t do much. But the Lord in whom you are to rejoice is at hand. You don’t have to go buy a plane ticket while we’re not allowed to fly. He’s at hand – He’s close by – He’s never far off – He will never leave you – He will never forsake you – He’s at hand. He’s the ‘at hand’ God! So that’s what he’s told us to do in the positive – he tells us to rejoice in the Lord – in the Lord – to do it always. And he repeats it “again I say rejoice!” He tells us “that’s when you get your mind back” and everybody will see it because your reasonableness will be known to everyone – anything else is unreasonable, far away an unattainable. It’s only attainable in the Lord who is at hand. He tells us that in the positive and then he tells us something in the negative and I have preached this to you as your pastor before and I’m going to do it again.
- In the Negative (what not to do)
After he told us what to do to rejoice in the lord, always he tells us what not to do. Do not be anxious. I love what the King James says. It says do not be careful about anything. Now we live in a world where people tell us to be careful all the time. But for this world careful means something different – It means to be full of cares. He tells us to not be full of cares. That’s unreasonable to be full of cares. As though you can fix it – as though other people can fix it – as though some political system or some ideology, or some form of entertainment or some possession can change that – that’s unreasonable. And when you look there you become anxious. You want to know the cause of your anxiety? There it is, right there! You’re looking in the wrong place! You think you can do this? You’re looking in the wrong place and you’ll become careful. You’ll start thinking you need to fix everything – you need to heal. You need to change stuff for people – circumstances! You can’t even do it for yourself – all it’ll do to you, is it will make you anxious. Anxiety – that’s what it will stir in you. And you know what this anxiety means? Paul uses a very specific word to describe it. He tells us that it’s – and I’m not going to even tell you the Greek word because it will mean nothing to most of us – it meant very little to some of my students in my class at Baptist College when you started quoting the Greek terms to them. But what it means is that you’ll fill yourself with a desperation to fix things that no human being can fix – you can’t!
But you’ll be filled with this obsession to do it all the time. Paul tells us in the negative to not be like that. Don’t be like that. Don’t be anxious about anything – not anything emotional, physical, material or aesthetic. Don’t be anxious about it. Rejoice in the Lord – He is fixing things, doing His work that He started on Calvary. You don’t need to do it. You can just rest in Him. And He tells us three things to do instead of being anxious, which makes me think Paul was a Baptist (they have to nail everything down in three points don’t they! I love that because God is a trinity.) Now I’ve told you before that the reason for anxiety is an unguarded mind and heart. When the mind and the heart are unguarded the life is chaos. And that’s why Paul tells us to do three things instead of being anxious. He says don’t be anxious about anything but in everything that’s or the anything that you’re not to be anxious about that’s everything and the first thing it tells us by prayer and supplication. That means talking to God bowing down to Him and doing it in a certain frame of mind and attitude – with Thanksgiving. Some gratitude right there. Let your requests be made known to God. He tells you to pray – pray right! It will have a consequence He says. If you do that – if you’re not anxious about anything, but instead of being anxious about anything in everything you by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving make your requests known to God – and might I add after having checked them whether they are sanctified desires / needs. It will have a consequence if you do make them known to God – he says the peace of God – something will happen to you if you do that – the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will fix the cause of anxiety, which is an unguarded heart and mind. He says it will guard your hearts and your minds and again, in Christ Jesus – in a person – not in a position, plan or project – it will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
a. Pray right
When you pray right it fixes your heart. It guards your heart. He goes further than and the second thing that you need to do. Your head needs to get fixed too. He says “finally brothers – and that’s you sisters too, because you’re heirs just like the men – whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things”. That’s your thought life.
b. Ponder right things
It’s not only an unguarded heart that deprives you of peace and joy, it’s also an unguarded head. When you think about the wrong things – you see we think about whatever is unfair how everyone else is unfair and unjust to us. We think filthy things instead of pure things. We think ugly things instead of lovely things. We think of things that are deplorable instead of things that are commendable, you know that –the Holy Spirit is convicting you right now you do that – I do that! If there is any excellence. Not anything depraved and broken, but excellence. If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Fix your mind – fix the way you think! And then finally he speaks about something else that needs to get fixed. It’s not just the heart and the head but also the hands.
c. Practice right things
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things” and now something wonderful happens. It’s not just the peace of God that transcends all understanding, but it’s the presence of the God of peace himself – up close and personal – “the God of peace will be with you.” That’s a promise from the Holy Spirit to you. He’ll be with you – at hand!
So what have we learned? We need to pray right, ponder the right things practice the right things. The prayer, the pondering, the practice – the heart, the head and the hands, as it all begins with the heart. The heart of man is desperately wicked. It’s when the heart goes wrong first that the head goes wrong and the hands go wrong. Now notice with me who he is speaking about – he is speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us three ways in which he’s taught us. We received certain things from him. What did we receive? The ordinances: The Lord on the night He was betrayed, took bread and He broke it then He gave thanks. He gave it to us saying “this is My body broken for you. This is My blood of the New Covenant”. Paul said I have given to you what I have received from the Lord. These ordinances are ordinances that point to His Priestly office as our High Priest – the Lamb without blemish slain before the foundation of the world, and the great Priest after the order of Melchizedek. It’s what He gives – Paul taught us by what Christ gave. And then he says “What you’ve heard” – Those are the Oracles of God – it’s the Word that emanates fourth from Christ the great promised Prophet like Moses. We listen to Him. We don’t listen to ourselves and to the world and to circumstances – we listen to Him.
And last – practice these things – “What you’ve seen in me” – He set the example. He didn’t just preach and give. He emulated the Lord Jesus – the great King on David’s throne – he sought to live like Him. Practice these things, and when we do that the God of peace will be with you. So the reason why we don’t have peace and can’t rejoice is because of an unguarded heart and mind, which messes up our lives. The way to set that guard in place to guard our hearts and our minds and govern our Lives is to pray right, to ponder the right things and practice the right things in Jesus Christ our Priest and sacrifice, our Prophet and our King. If you do that, it doesn’t matter what goes on around about you or inside of you – everything will change. The peace of God that transcends all understanding will be with you, but even better as the text ends – the God of peace will be with you! He’s a God at hand – reach out to Him in how you pray, think and live.