17 December 2017

The Final Stretch Philippians 4:4-23

If Philippians is one of the most precious books in the Bible, Philippians 4 must be the most precious chapter of this book. Having spoken of running the race, reaching for the prize and pressing on towards the mark, Paul now comes to the final straight of the course and gives the Philippian Christians some principles for joyful living. He exhorted them as citizens of heaven to soar higher in their knowledge of Christ, to stoop lower in serving each other and to reach farther in bringing others to the Saviour.

raIn the early days of aviation a pilot was making a flight around the world. After two hours into the flight, he heard a noise he recognised as a rat gnawing at plastic. He feared that the unwelcome rodent might be gnawing through some vital electric cables. He was in a dilemma and at first did not know what to do. He was midway into his flight with two hours back to his landing field and more than two hours to the next field. Suddenly he remembered that rodents are not accustomed to high altitudes. With that in mind the pilot began to climb higher and higher until he reached an altitude of twenty thousand feet. The gnawing ceased. He concluded that the rat must be dead. It could not survive in the rare atmosphere at those lofty heights. Two hours later he found the dead rat when he safely landed his plane at the next landing field.

Division, anxiety and worry are like rats gnawing away at the vitals of our hearts and mind. If left alone, they will destroy our lives, steal our joy and drain our spiritual energy. These subtle intruders are thieves of the Christian’s joy and peace. However, they cannot survive in the secret place of the Most High. Anxiety and strife are asphyxiated in the atmosphere that is steeped in prayer and influenced by the Word of God. As we ascend to the hill of the Lord our worries die.

1. The Principle of a Joyful Heart. – “Rejoice in the Lord always…” Phil 4: 4&5

We have already noted that joy is the chief refrain of this letter; “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The words ‘joy’ and ‘joyful’ are repeated 450 times in the Bible, 19 times in Philippians. I think it is significant that running parallel to the mention of joy in Philippians Paul alluded to the name of Jesus on twenty occasions, thus indicating that there is joy in Jesus.

This is supernatural joy, the joy of Jesus Christ in our hearts. This joy in the Christian’s heart goes far beyond and above happiness. Happiness is related to what happens. The Christian’s joy is related to who lives within and is independent of circumstances. We can be joyful without being happy.

No other New Testament book throbs with such joyfulness as does Philippians. This joy is even more significant when we consider that Paul was confined to a prison cell when he wrote this epistle. Throughout the letter Paul indicated that he had joy in his salvation, joy in his service for Christ, joy in his suffering for the Saviour, but above all else, he had joy in the person of Jesus Christ.

“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” As Paul dictated this letter he must have suddenly thought, when the friends at Philippi read this, they will say, “Surely Paul did not mean always. Perhaps he means to rejoice most of the time. We could understand rejoicing most of the time, but always?” As if Paul was anticipating their question he emphasised his exhortation by repeating – “and again I say rejoice.”

There are various reasons why Paul must have put such an emphasis on joy. Perhaps their Christian joy had been neglected because of the pressure of living in a pagan society. Disagreement between two sisters might have caused them to lose the joy of serving the Saviour. Paul wanted them to know that joy was the business of heaven: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

We cannot have true joy on earth unless we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. We were made to know Him and to love Him. To know Him is to have His everlasting joy.

2. A Prescription for a Troubled Heart. – “Be anxious for nothing…” Phil. 4:6

The Bible never downplays the existence of problems. In fact, it tells us plainly that problems will stalk us as long as we live: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1) Troubles and trials are real and we all battle them every day.

We should not confuse worry with being responsible and planning carefully. The kind of worry Jesus condemns is that which causes us to be mentally harassed and emotionally agitated, preoccupied with distressing and unnecessary fears, tormented and burdened about things that have not happened. Too often we entertain worries which make God out to be a liar and doubt His ability to sustain us.

3. The Prayers of a Trusting Heart. – “Be prayerful in everything.” Phil. 4:6

Paul speaks of “prayer…supplication and requests.” These might be thought of as follows: prayer is general praying, supplication is specific praying and requests are detailed praying. The main thrust of this verse is that instead of worrying, the believer is to demonstrate his faith in the power and will of God by seeking the Lord in prayer.

Transform your worry list into a prayer list. Commit each troublesome issue which agitates, frightens, or burdens you into God’s hands. Worry about nothing. Pray about everything. Praise God for anything. I suggest you write these words on a card and place it wherever you are bound to see it regularly. Let this maxim be a constant reminder to stop worrying about the things you cannot change or control and start praying about them instead.

4. The Praise of a Thankful Heart. – “Be thankful for anything.” Phil. 4:6

Develop a thankful heart. Regardless of the situations you might face in life, learn to praise the Lord through them all. Nothing brings the joy of the Lord nearer or drives the devil away any faster than a genuinely thankful heart.

5. God’s Peace in the Tranquil Heart. – “Be peaceful in every place.” Phil. 4:7-9

The word “keep” in 4:7 means “to garrison, or build a fort around or to post a guard.” The Lord promises to ‘post a guard’ around the heart and mind of the person who trusts Him with the needs of life. Instead of worrying yourself sick about things you cannot change, learn to build the wall of prayer around your life.

The Lord’s promise to those who learn to pray, praise and trust Him is that He will replace our worries with His peace. In 4:7 we are assured of “the peace of God” as a garrison to our hearts. In 4:9 we are assured of “the God of peace” going with us. Each is related to the other but the second part of this promise is even greater than the first.

6. The Power of a Confident Heart. – “I can do all things…” Phil. 4:13

When Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” he spoke with a sense of assurance. He had boundless confidence in the availability and adequacy of Jesus Christ as his living secret of inner strength and power. “To be ‘in Christ’,” says Professor James Stewart, “means that Christ is the redeemed man’s new environment. The human body, by the acts of eating and drinking and breathing, is continually drawing for its strength upon the resources of its physical environment. So the Christian spirit, by prayer and worship and surrender, makes contact and keeps contact with its spiritual environment, which is Christ: thus the soul draws its strength from the inexhaustible supplies of power in Christ.”

Too often we meet people who know how to say, “I cannot!” “I cannot control my temper”; “I cannot resist temptation”; “I cannot teach a Sunday School class”; “I cannot pray in public.” How bracing is Paul’s affirmation, “I can…” He was reckoning and resting on the strength of the Lord.

7. The Promise for a Contented Heart. – “I have learned… to be content.” Phil. 4:11

1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I am sure Paul would have revelled in the words of Horatio Spafford: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea-billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” Mark those words: “Whatever my lot!” This is precisely the point of Paul’s testimony: “in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.” (v. 12)

Paul was contented with the place to which God had sent him, contented because of the power of God which strengthened him, content with the people of God who supported him and content with the promises of God which sustained him.

Victor Maxwell