Pete preaches from Philippians 4:1-7 in our latest in the series 'Letters form Lockdown'. In this passage Paul spurs on his readers by urging us to take our worries and anxieties to God. God's people are to be marked by peace and joy in him and his salvation.
Cases of anxiety have increased dramatically during the Coronavirus pandemic. And many people who had never experienced anxiety before, now find themselves worrying about many areas of life.
Last week’s sermon, in Philippians 3, looked at the topic of Lockdown Lethargy using athletic terms. We were encouraged to get off the sofa and to keep pressing on in our Christian lives, straining towards the finishing line.
Here, in Chapter 4 of Philippians, Paul changes the imagery from that of an athlete, to that of a soldier, using a number of military references.
First of all, he reminds us that we are in the Lord’s army, and we should pay attention! He is our captain and he will show us how to deal with anxiety. It is helpful to remember that Paul, himself, was experiencing physical lockdown in a Roman jail, so he was speaking with understanding and with the wisdom of experience. So, Paul’s first command to us is:
Stand Firm in the Lord
Roman soldiers wore special footwear with grips on the soles, specifically designed so that the soldiers could keep a steady footing in battle. In the same way Paul reminds us that we are engaged with a real enemy, Satan, who will do whatever he can to dislodge our footing and make us fall. In these verses it is as if Paul is with us in the battle and he is reminding us of the captain’s orders to ‘stand our ground!’
He applies this command first of all to the outward life of relationships, but also to the inner life of anxiety. The breakdown of relationships causes outward conflict and division, whereas anxiety causes turmoil and despair. The outward and inner life blend together and are impossible to separate. The examples of Euodia and Syntyche are given to demonstrate that if we are in such disagreement with another believer, both our outward and inner life are in turmoil and we are not standing firm.
Paul continues to encourage us to stand firm by declaring:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! [Vs 4]
This is a rousing cheer which demonstrates how an army would respond to the name of their King. It is not a ‘grin and bear it’ command. There is joy in the midst of it. In the Old testament, when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he said, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’ [Nehemiah 8:10]
This is the strength we need in battle.
We are to revel in the Lord.
We are to reflect on who he is, what he has done for us, and where he has brought us.
It would be helpful to write these reflections down and to consider what our lives would be like if we were facing these stressful times as unbelievers. How might things have gone badly wrong if we were not Christians?
Therefore, we should count our blessings!
We are to rejoice in the Lord always. Thinking in this way will give us strength. And help up in our battle against the dark clouds of gloom.
Paul’s next order is:
Verse 5 says: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near
Although this may seem strange in the midst of a battle, it reminds us that the real battle is against our absorption with self.
Look at how Jesus lived. His life was characterised by selflessness, and reasonableness. Such qualities are entirely opposite to the promotion of self.
If you are gentle-minded towards people, it will transform your heart and mind because it is a characteristic which does not desire self-promotion. Gentleness puts out the fires of selfish ambition. It accepts differences between people in terms of gifts and intellect and relieves us of the need for anxiety. If you want to be in control that will cause anxiety because it is a constant battle. Forgive and forget differences between you and others. The Lord is near and will help you.
Don’t be anxious!
Paul’s previous orders all lead up to this one.
6“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
This is a ‘wordy’ command, but a command even so. We are commanded not to be anxious but to bring our anxieties to the Lord.
Paul is not saying there’s nothing to worry about. But the big question is what we do with those worries!
The wrong way to deal with worry is to keep it to ourselves and spend our time turning it over in our minds.
The right way to deal with it is to pray about it.
Worry comes from the German word to strangle or to choke. Don’t allow worry to choke you. Think of the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13.
This parable describes people who hear the word, and receive it, but, when worry comes, it chokes them, and they cannot bear fruit.
Worry cuts off our spiritual motivation and lifeline to joy. It is one of the greatest joy-stealers
Anxiety is like a thief who comes into our hearts and holds us ransom.
If we want to be spiritually fruitful, whenever there is an opportunity to worry, make it an opportunity to pray.
We tend to worry, not about the essential, known things. We worry about the unknown and uncertain things that lie in store for us, so we become tormented about the future, about the ‘What if’?
Worrying in this way puts ME at the centre of my life rather than God. Joy puts GOD at the centre.
Jesus deals with this in the Sermon on the Mount, where he describes the fruits of the spirit such as gentleness, humility, meekness, and peacefulness.
Strangely, some people treat anxiety as a close friend. They feel almost proud of it. In the context of Covid19 their anxiety has become a necessary part of how they relate to the virus. Such people spend their whole life teetering on the brink of breakdown.
Paul re-centres our focus, and we must remind ourselves of these commands.
First of all:
Stand Firm in the Lord!
Bring everything to God by prayer and petition with thanksgiving.
In its simplest form Paul is saying: Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.
People can get addicted to worry.
Is that you?
Don Carson once commented 'I have yet to meet a perennial worrier who has a good prayer life.'
God’s therapy is to worry about nothing and to pray about everything. Switch your worry list to your prayer list.
God can change a worrier into someone who knows God’s peace. Share with him everything and give thanks. This releases the soul.
Then bring your requests. He wants to hear from you. He is the great counsellor of the universe. He is Our Father in Heaven.
If you commit to do this, the result you can expect is:
7. “The peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.
The result of consistent, persistent prayer is that God’s peace will guard you.
Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, is much deeper than our word peace. It combines ideas of wholeness, harmony and flourishing. One writer has described it as the dream of God for his people, that they would flourish and have harmony and delight.
It is not just an absence of anxiety it is the very presence of God
It replaces the harsh dry conditions of an anxious heart. It is the finger of the living God transforming your life.
The peace of God will change you in Lockdown anxiety.
So, repeat those 4 commands:
Rejoice, and count your blessings!
Don’t be anxious. Pray!
Maybe write down the things you can rejoice in, everyday, and wake up to read them every morning. Rehearse them. If you have any anxieties for that day, bring them to the Lord with thanksgiving, petitions and requests.
Don’t stay in lockdown anxiety.
Listen to the commands!
Philippians 4:1 - 4:7
4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.