Secrets to Worry-Free Living, part 3 (Philippians 4:6-7)

Over the last two weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s secrets to worry-free living.  First, we focus our attention back upon Jesus and rejoice in Him and all He has done, is doing and will do for us.  Then, we employ a different strategy.  Instead of allowing our minds to be filled with worries, we take each worry and turn it into a prayer.

In 480 B.C. the outmanned army of Sparta’s King Leonidas held off the Persian troops of Xerxes by fighting them one at a time as they came through a narrow mountain pass.  Commenting on this strategy, C.H. Sprugeon said, “Suppose Leonidas and his handful of men had gone out into the wide-open plain and attacked the Persians–why, they would have died at once, even though they might have fought like lions.”  Spurgeon continued by saying that Christians stand in the narrow pass of today.  If they choose to battle every difficulty at once, they’re sure to suffer defeat.  But if they trust God and take their troubles one by one, they will find that their strength is sufficient.

That’s what Jesus meant when he said:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

Worrying about tomorrow just empties today of its strength.  Turn each worry into a prayer request and lay it before Almighty God.

Here in Philippians 4 Paul says…

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.

Paul mentions three kinds of prayer in verse 6: prayers (proseuche) which is just general communication with our Father; supplication (deesis) which refers to specific requests and finally “thanksgiving.”

Paul adds “thanksgiving” which leads us to conclude that, as there are many forms of prayer, there is a need for us to pray a lot.

But it also reminds us that we need to not only ask, but when God answers we should give thanks.

Pagan prayers are destitute of thanksgiving (cf. Romans 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:2), whereas truly Christian prayer breathes thanksgiving because thankfulness is the posture of grace.  Thus, at the root of our prayers must be thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Christ through the gospel.

In fact, every activity is to be freighted with thanksgiving. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

All our requests are to be made known to God and adorned with lavish praise to God for the innumerable hues and shapes of his grace.

I think Paul is using these three terms to indicate that supplication is a specific way of making our requests known to God, but we can do it either in a selfish, demanding way, or in a humble, thankful way.

As a parent, which would you prefer?

Now, when we get to the place where are prayers are littered with thanksgivings, it is a sign that we are gaining victory over anxiety.  Why? Because it shows that we believe God is on our side doing good to us.  It shows that we trust His promises and believe He cares for us.

In his first epistle, Peter said: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  Why do we cast our anxieties on him?  Because we believe that He cares for us.  And believing that leads to giving thanks.

Pastor Steve Coles notes:

Thanksgiving in a time of trials reflects three things: (1) Remembrance of God’s supply in the past.  You think back over His faithfulness to you up to this point and realize that His mercies have sustained you.  He has been with you in every trial.  He never abandons or forsakes His children, even if we face persecution or death for His sake.

(2) Submission to God’s sovereignty in the present.  To thank God in the midst of a crisis or trial is to say, “Lord, I don’t understand, but I submit to Your sovereign purpose in this situation.  I trust that You know what You’re doing and will work it together for good.”  We are not just to thank God when we feel like it, but also when we don’t feel like it (1 Thess. 5:18).

(3) Trust in God’s sufficiency for the future.  A thankful heart rests upon the all-sufficient God, knowing that even though we don’t see how He is going to do it, He will meet our every need as we cast ourselves on Him. 

I love Jeremiah 32:17, especially when I think about its context.  Jeremiah was shut up in prison.  Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem which was about to fall (32:2).  In that situation, the Lord told Jeremiah to do something that everyone would have thought was crazy, to buy a field from his uncle.  Anybody knows you don’t sink your money into real estate when a country is about to fall to a foreign tyrant.  But God wanted to show His people that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (32:15).  Then Jeremiah prays, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17).  Jeremiah was trusting in God’s sufficiency for the future.

Now, what happens when we do this?  What happens when we turn our worries into prayer, lay them in Jesus’ hands and trust Him to accomplish good in our behalf?

We experience God’s peace.

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is the result of rejoicing in Jesus and learning the new strategy of praying instead of worrying.  We get to experience God’s peace.

Do you want peace?  I think you do.

There are four things Paul says about this peace in verse 7.  First, it is the peace “of God.”  It is the peace that He possesses and then shares with us.  Secondly, it “surpasses all understanding.”  Like other aspects of God’s nature, our understanding is finite and limited.  We can understand it to some extent, but it “surpasses ALL understanding.”  And finally, this peace “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Fourth, this peace is found and experienced only “in Christ Jesus.”

First, this is the peace “of God.”

Our God is at peace.  He is not pacing the floors of heaven, wringing his hands, biting his nails, wondering how things got so out of control or how things will turn out.

That completely calm, unflappable peace will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Spurgeon said:

“What is God’s peace?  The unruffled serenity of the infinitely-happy God, the eternal composure of the absolutely well-contented God.

Now, you understand there is “peace with God” and there is “the peace of God.”  “Peace with God” is a matter of our justification and reconciliation with Him.  Because we put our trust in Jesus and proclaimed our loyalty to Him, we are now no longer enemies but friends.

Then there is the “peace of God.”  This is the peace, the calmness and serenity of mind that God gives to us so that we can be at peace just as He is.

Jesus told his disciples just before he died…

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

They had never seen Jesus troubled and worried.  He wasn’t rattled by contests of the mind with the religious teachers.  He didn’t start to fret when he was arrested and tried.  Even on the cross, Jesus didn’t worry about His followers or His life.

He gives His peace, not the kind the world gives.

A New York Times article in 2003 claimed:

Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history. 

You see, the world’s peace doesn’t last long.  It is soon interrupted with conflict.

Also, the world’s peace isn’t very deep.

The Old Testament concept of shalom refers to a wholistic health, harmony with God, the world and others.  It is not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of deep harmony.  It restores us to the Edenic condition before the curse so that in every way we experience harmony.

The second thing we see about this peace is that it “surpasses all understanding.”

This kind of peace cannot be duplicated by man.  Until we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we won’t experience or understand this peace.  Even as believers, our understanding is limited because we are finite.

But what this is saying is that God’s peace is unlimited.  There may be a zillion things to worry about…God’s peace can cover it all…and then some.  Or a lot.

It isn’t that it is senseless and therefore impossible to understand, but that it is beyond our ability to understand and to explain, but it can be experienced.

Bob Deffinbaugh comments:

Paul is telling us something very important about the relationship between prayer, peace, and our mental and emotional energies.  Worry consumes both mental and emotional energy (our heart and mind).  Worry seeks to solve the problem we are dealing with by attempting to understand it, to figure it out.  Very often, worry is consumed with theoretical and hypothetical possibilities that will never come to pass—wasted energy.

In prayer, we turn those things over to God which are bigger than we are, which are beyond our comprehension (see Romans 8:26-27).  God, who is vastly greater than us, takes our concerns and gives us peace in return.  This peace transcends our mental powers and our emotions.  What we cannot do in and of ourselves, God does, in answer to our prayers.  I should add that God does not promise that He will give us a full understanding of those matters we bring to Him in prayer; He only promises to give us peace.

This is especially comforting in those tragic situations in which we just cannot understand “why?” it happened.  When we cannot possibly explain the “why?” we can have a peace that is also unexplainable.

Finally, that peace will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

That verb is a military term.  It was used of the protection of a garrison, or a prisoner.  In fact, at that very moment Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, guarded day and night.  Unlike military guards, who might go to sleep or be too weak to ward off an enemy, God’s peace will keep every worry, every fear, every anxiety away.

This peace guards our “hearts” (our affections) and our “minds” (our thoughts), by reminding us of the promises and power of Jesus Christ.

These are the very two areas that are most affected by worry.  It infects our thoughts and our emotions.  But if we pray, then God’s peace floods into our thoughts and emotions, giving us a sense of calmness even when everything around us is falling apart.

Gerald Hawthorne comments:

“Together these words refer to the entire inner being of the Christian, his emotions, affections, thoughts and moral choices.  This inner part of a person, then, so vulnerable to attack by the enemy, is that which God’s peace is set, like battle-ready soldiers, to protect.”

Greg Herrick notes:

Paul uses a military metaphor in describing God’s peace, which is almost personified…The Philippians living in a garrison town, would be familiar with the sight of the Roman sentry, maintaining his watch.  Likewise, comments the apostle, God’s peace will garrison and protect you hearts and your minds.

Bunyan’s use of this picture in the appointment and patrol of Mr. God’s-Peace in the town of Mansoul should be read in conjunction with this verse.’  Nothing was to be found but harmony, happiness, joy and health’ so long as Mr. God’s-Peace maintained his office.  But when Prince Emmanuel was grieved away from the town , he laid down his commission and departed also.  It is a salutary reminder that we enjoy God’s gift  in Christ Jesus, i.e., by our obedience to him and submission to his authority.

And that is our final point: as with all of God’s gifts, they come to us “in Christ Jesus.”

This is one of Paul’s favorite phrases, “in Christ” and “in him.”  The expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone, and are indispensable to an understanding of the New Testament, says John Stott.  To be “in Christ” does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree.  It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.

And this is the only way that we get to experience this peace.  It comes by being “in Christ.”  We are baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit at the moment we believe and “in Christ” we gain all things good, all spiritual blessings.

So it is only possible for believers to experience this peace.  In fact, one must experience “peace with God” before it is possible to experience “the peace of God.”

If you want victory over worry and you want to have the steady enjoyment of God’s peace, then here is Paul’s prescription: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Don’t miss the words “in everything.” In everything . . . let your requests be made known to God.”  Pray about everything.  Stay in a mindset of prayer all day.  Don’t just pray in crises.  Pray about everything.

Prayer is the choice we make instead of worrying.  Every time our minds race to worry and anxiety, we can turn those very worries into requests to God, and then thank Him for caring for us and taking care of us in the very best way possible.

Then we will experience His peace.

Don’t carry burdens you were never intended to carry.  You have an alternative.  There is a better strategy.  And that is unloading your burdens onto Jesus Christ.

We are reminded in Psalm 94:19

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

For every care there is a consolation.  For every problem there is peace.  But we cannot get there except through prayer.  Tell him what bothers you, and thank Him for His care and all His resources.

In the made for TV film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, there is a scene late in the movie when Bonhoeffer was in prison and he hears through the concrete wall the weeping of a prisoner in another cell.  Knowing that this prisoner would soon be executed, Bonhoeffer placed his hands on the wall and prayed: “Lord, it’s dark in me; in you is day.  I am alone, but you will stay.  I am afraid; you never cease.  I am at war; in you is peace.”  Slowly, we see a pair of hands reach up and touch the opposite wall.

As dawn breaks, a single rifle shot shatters the morning calm.  But the guard who had heard and watched Bonhoeffer the night before said: “I thought you might like to know.  The boy from the next cell—he was very calm.  It surprised everyone.  He was executed this morning.”

Secrets to Worry-Free Living, part 2 (Philippians 4:6)

Last week we began looking at what Paul said about dealing with worry in Philippians 4.  We went back in the context to verse 4 and said that the first step in focusing upon God, or redirecting our desires back to God.  That is what Paul meant when he said, “rejoice in the Lord always.”

Let me remind you that if anyone had cause to worry it was Paul.  He was imprisoned.  He was opposed.  He was concerned about what was going on in the churches, particularly at Philippi.  In 2 Corinthians 11, as Paul was arguing against the so-called “super apostles” who seemed to have what we today would call the “prosperity gospel,” Paul contends that all his sufferings (and the list there is long) was superseded by one thing:

28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Paul admits to being anxious about “all the churches.”  We can’t avoid becoming anxious about someone or something, but we can refocus upon God and rejoice in Him; then, as Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7

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.

So the second secret for worry-free living is to learn a new strategy.

Paul’s command in verse 6 is “do not be anxious about anything…” or, because it is in the present tense, it is likely Paul is stressing, “stop being anxious about anything.”  You’ve been anxious, but learn a new strategy in dealing with your anxieties.

Kent Hughes reminds us…

Indeed, as residents of Philippi they had more things to worry about than we do — poverty, hunger, ostracism, interlopers, agents provocateurs , heretics, and a very Roman “city hall.”

We may not have as many causes to worry, but we still do.  Paul says, “If you’ve started to worry…” it is time to change your strategy.

The Greek word here is merimnao, which has the idea of something that is divided, and therefore falling apart.  It describes a mind that is distracted and divided, pulling in different directions.  Martin Lloyd-Jones called it “stewing without doing.”

The Anglo-Saxon word from which we get our word “worry” means “to choke,” to put a stranglehold on our thinking.  In other words, it consumes us.

Thoughts of worry are not the problem, because through prayer we can return to trust, but continual worry consumes us.

Some people claim that they cannot learn to meditate on Scripture.  Or that it is too much work.  But in reality, worry is just negative meditation—it is going over and over the same information (whether real or not), looking at it from every angle.

Phil Moser has a helpful diagram with three concentric circles.  The middle (and smallest) one is the circle of control and includes the elements over which you are able to exercise control and have been given responsibility.  Notice that it is the smallest circle because there is really very little in this life that you and I can actually control.

He says…

For instance, I can’t control the traffic on my way to work, but I can control my response to that traffic.  I can’t control the world’s economy, but I can control my spending and be fiscally responsible.  I can’t control the outcome of my children’s choices, but I am able to control the instruction and discipline I give to them while they are under my authority.   God has intentionally made my circle of responsibility the smallest.  His Word gives precepts and commands so that I would know what my responsibilities are and obey him accordingly.  As I walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, I am able to do everything that is within this circle (Gal. 5:16, Phil. 4:13).

The next circle is the circle of concern.

The middle circle contains the areas that touch my life, but over which I exercise limited control.  A friend or a family member who is living a dangerous life style would fall into this category.  Hopefully, through the years, my compassion and loyalty have won me the opportunity to speak to him about my concerns.  Certainly, I have influence as a friend.  Still, I have to remember, I do not ultimately control his choices or the outcome of those choices.  He alone is responsible.  He, too, has a circle of control.

Then there is the circle he labels “consumed.”

Again, Phil Moser explains…

Being concerned is only one step away from being consumed. I go to sleep thinking about the situation and wake up with it on my mind.  It distracts me from the important conversations around me. It interrupts my relationship with God, and it intrudes upon my relationships with others.  This is the circle of worry.  I can’t seem to get my mind off the matter at hand.  When I am in this circle, it feels like I should be able to come up with a solution if I only worry for a little longer.  That is anxiety’s lie.  Without realizing it, I have drifted from being concerned to being consumed.

The three circles clarify an inherent danger when we move from the inner circle to the outer.  The outer circle does not touch the inner.  Which means, when I am worrying about a matter, I cannot fulfill my God-given responsibilities.  My time and energies are wasted in the consumed circle and I have nothing left to spend on the areas that I am responsible for.  This is why unchecked anxiety often leads to other sins.  We’ve depleted the resources that God had given us to fulfill our responsibilities today because we were worrying about tomorrow.  Jesus made this case in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).

I’m glad for that teaching, because it shows that I can be concerned for someone, I just have to be careful not to manipulate, but rather to pray and trust God to work.

Jesus gave many important lessons about worry and anxiety in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34.  He caps it off with this statement in v. 34…

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Three times Jesus forbade worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious [worry] about your life” (v. 25) — “So do not be anxious [worry]” (v. 31) — “Therefore do not be anxious [worry] about tomorrow” (v. 34).  And Paul cuts to the chase, “Stop worrying about anything!”

Good concern energizes us to pray and help where we can; but bad worry empties us of the strength we need to fulfill our responsibilities today.

Paul is saying to the Philippians, “You have to learn a new strategy in dealing with your concerns and not get consumed by worries.”

Now, worry is a frame of mind and trying to control it is like trying to keep a dozen beachballs under water—they just keep popping up.  Or, it’s like saying to someone: “Don’t think about the white elephant.”

There is really only one way to defeat anxiety and worry…and that is prayer.  Since worry is negative meditation, replace worry with prayer—voicing your requests to God.

Prayer reshapes the direction of our thinking, helping us overcome our anxieties and replacing that with a belief that God is in control and working for our good.

Paul says…

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The best way to have no worries is to pray about everything.  Let God know everything.

You see, worry focuses on our problems; praying focuses our minds on God’s promises.  Praying allows us to rejoice in God and the good He has done, is doing and will do in our behalf.

Ok, so get out your to-do list and make two columns.  Now, under the “things to worry about” column, put the word “NOTHING.”  But under “things to pray about” column put “EVERYTHING.”

That’s the concept Paul is saying: “Be anxious in nothing, in everything pray.”

Someone has said, “Why worry when you can pray?”

The problem is that the attitude of many is, “Why pray when you can worry?”

Paul uses several words for prayer in this verse.  The first one he uses is proseuche, which is the most general word for prayer, a word that simply reflect the idea of asking, which is later picked up by the words “your request.”

It is the simplest word Paul could choose, but it points out that our prayers need to be real, not just pointless banterings or mindless wanderings, but coming to God just like we would any other benefactor and asking what we want as if He were right in front of us.

McGee quoted Fenelon, a mystic who lived in the Middle Ages, who encouraged praying as follows:

“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others.”

Someone has put this into a memo form:

Memo: To Do Today

From: God

To: A Christian

Today, I will be handling all your problems.  Please remember that I do not need your help.  If the devil happens to deliver a situation that you cannot handle, DO NOT attempt to resolve it.  Just kindly place it in the SFJTD (something for Jesus to do) box.  It will be addressed in my time, not yours.

Once the matter is placed into the box DO NOT hold on to it or remove it.  Holding on or removal will only delay the resolution to your problem.  If it is a situation that you think you are capable of handling, please consult me in prayer before you do anything to be sure that it is the proper way of handling it.

Because I do not sleep nor do I slumber, there is no need for you to loose any sleep.  Rest, my child.  If you need to contact me, I’m only a prayer away.

God.

That’s all we need to do.  Instead of worrying about things, even if they are crashing around us, we need to put them in God’s hands.

While the Greek word proseuche is a general word that can mean all of the ways that we communicate with God, “supplication” (deesis) directly asks God to do something.

The word supplication implies a dependent spirit.  It shows that we realize that we need God’s help.  It implies humility on our prayer, realizing that we are “poor and needy” (Psalm 86:1).

Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Belgian Congo for many years, tells this story of the amazing ability for God to hear our prayers and answer them.

One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.  We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive.  We had no incubator.  We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities.  Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. 

A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in.  Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle.  She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst.  Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed.  As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle.  They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways.  All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.” 

The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me.  I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby.  I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle.  The baby could so easily die if it got chilled.  I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.

During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children.  “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle.  It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.”  While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, ” …And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?”  As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot.  Could I honestly say, “Amen?”  I just did not believe that God could do this.  Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there?  The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland.  I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home.  Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle?  I lived on the equator! 

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door.  By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel!  I felt tears pricking my eyes.  I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children.  Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot.  We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly.  Excitement was mounting.  Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.

From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys.  Eyes sparkled as I gave them out.  Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored.  Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend.  As I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be?  I grasped it, and pulled it out.  Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried.  I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could.  

Ruth was in the front row of the children.  She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!”  Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly.  Her eyes shone: She had never doubted!  Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?” 

That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator.  One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child — five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!”  

God knows what we need.  He just wants us to ask so that we will realize what an amazing God He is!

Then Paul adds “thanksgiving” which leads us to conclude that, as there are many forms of prayer, there is a need for us to pray a lot.

Secrets to Worry-Free Living, part 1 (Philippians 4:4)

Would you say, or admit, that you are a worrier?  Do worries and anxieties creep into your mind occasionally, or regularly?  Does the song Hakuna Matata irritate you?

I think some people struggle with worry and anxiety a lot, while all of us feel it from time to time, and possibly more and more these days.

If anybody had an excuse to worry it was Paul.  He was in prison, unsure whether he would be released or executed.  He wrote letters to churches that were going through problems.  He had opponents who loved to disparage his ministry.  His beloved friends back in Philippi were fighting.

Again, Paul wasn’t lounging under a palm on the Isle of Capri sipping a cool drink, dictating, “Don’t worry, be happy!”  No detachment here.  Paul’s whole existence was on the bubble; danger was everywhere.  Few things were going right for him, humanly speaking. 

Paul had more cares and concerns than most of us and we wouldn’t blame him for worrying.  But he says this in Philippians 4:6-7

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.

There seems a lot to be anxious about these days—from politics to pandemics, our children, our checkbook and we could each name a dozen more.

The word “anxious” here means “to be pulled in different directions.”  Our faith and hope pull is in one direction and our fears pull us in the opposite direction.  No wonder we are frazzled!

The Most Reverend R.C. Trench, who was at one time the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, had a morbid fear of becoming paralyzed.  One evening at a party, the lady he sat next to at dinner heard him muttering mournfully to himself, “It’s happened at last…total insensibility of the right limb.”  “Your Grace,” said the lady, “it may comfort you to learn that it is my leg you are pinching!”

Oops!  Anxiety can cause us to do some foolish things.

Are you a worry wart?

For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars.  One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate.  When he got there, he did find a burglar.  “Good evening,” said the man of the house. “I am pleased to see you.  Come upstairs and meet my wife.  She has been waiting 10 years to meet you.”  (William Marshall, Eternity Shut in a Span).

A recent study showed that kids ages 7-12 have an average of 7.6 worries a day.

I’m sure you’re thinking:  I wish that was all I had!

An organization known as the Pennsylvania Worry Group discovered that 15% of the population spend half their waking hours worrying.

So worry is clearly a problem, and there are many problems with worry.

Over 100 diseases have been directly attributed to worry!  Not only does it affect us physically, it has emotional and behavioral effects as well.  It lends to…

  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • A lack of self-confidence
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Panic attacks

People who are persistently anxious shorten their lives by 12-23% according to one study.

That’s why Proverbs 12:25 says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down…”  Anxiety weighs us down and wears us out.

But Proverbs 14:30 encourages us, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.”  What a difference!

Ian Maclaren reminds us:

What does your anxiety do?  It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it does empty today of its strength.  It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes.  God gives us the power to bear all the sorrow of His making, but He does not guarantee to give us strength to bear the burdens of our own making such as worry induces. 

Anxiety exists in many forms, from mild anxiety to a frantic panic.  Some people express anxiety by being jumpy, like some say, “She’s as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”  Others express their anxieties by being moody and sullen.

Can you identify with those expressions?

So let’s get back to our definition:  Worry is a troubled state of mind wherein we are thinking about negative things that might happen.  Worry is primarily a function of our imagination, focusing on how things might be, or how we wish them to be.

Fear deals in actualities; worry in potentialities.

A University of Michigan study found that 50% of the things we worry about never materialize; 30% are issues of the past we cannot change; 10% are petty issues and only 10% is left for legitimate issues.

A bassoon player came up to his conductor, Arturo Toscanini, and nervously said that he could not reach the high E flat.  Toscanini just smiled and replied, “Don’t worry.  There is no E flat in the music tonight.”

You see, many of our worries are just like that—unfounded and unnecessary.

Maybe you’ve seen the cartoon where the husband says to his wife, “99% of what you worry about never happens!”  To which she responds, “See, it works!”

Actually, worry doesn’t accomplish anything.  You can do a lot of work and movement in a rocking chair and never get anywhere.

So a majority of things we worry about never materialize, while another major portion of our worries we have no control over.

Why is worry such a serious issue from God’s viewpoint?

Because worry is an act of distrust in God.  Worry assumes responsibility that is His and God never intended us to take it.  Worry is the act of wresting some personal control over things we cannot control.

We worry because we don’t believe that God cares enough to pay attention to our needs or isn’t powerful enough to control our life circumstances.

As Oswald Chambers put it, “Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us.”

That’s why it’s a more serious issue than we might imagine. 

Jesus says in Matthew 6:30 that people who worry have “little faith” and in verse 32 Jesus says…

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

A little rhyme, I believe attributed to Elizabeth Cheney and goes like this:

Said the robin to the sparrow, “I’d really like to know, why these anxious human being rush about and worry so.”  Said the sparrow to the robin, “I’m sure that you’ll agree that they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”

Worry gives us the illusion, though we would never say it aloud, that we have no heavenly Father.  We are living as practical atheists.

So what are the secrets to worry-free living?

First, get your focus back upon God.

This is actually from verse 4.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

We don’t rejoice in how life is going, we rejoice in the Lord.  And that is not only part of the context, but verse 4 expresses the attitude that should predominate our hearts—one that crowds out worry.

It is difficult, really impossible, to rejoice in the Lord and worry about our circumstances at the same time.

Anxiety focuses on the events that are/can be/or should be happening.  As long as we’re focused on our circumstances—real or imagined—we will feel anxious, feeling the lack of or need for control.

Worry robs us of joy by keeping our focus on ourselves and our circumstances.  Not everything about ourselves and our circumstances is good, so it is impossible to continually rejoice in them.  But we can “rejoice in the Lord always.”

When we rejoice “in the Lord” we are focusing on Someone that never changes, is always in control, always loves us, guarantees our good.  Worry forgets this.

Remember how Paul and Silas did this?  From a dark, dank prison cell, after being severely beaten and not knowing what tomorrow held, instead of fretting and complaining, they intentionally chose to fill their thoughts and mouths with songs praising God.  “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…”

Or take Psalm 73.  Asaph was sickened by the fact that the wicked lived happy, healthy, wealthy, care-free lives while he was being beaten and battered (figuratively speaking) by life.  He said he almost gave up the faith, because it didn’t pay off.  But then he went to the sanctuary, got his focus on God and understood what a difference there would be in eternity.  Eternity would be tragic for the wicked, while he would enter into glory.

So near the end of Psalm 73 Asaph proclaims:

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

When God became Asaph’s treasure and pleasure, the strength of his heart and all he desired, it didn’t matter if “flesh and heart” may fail.  Life could fall apart, but he had God.

Psalm 37 is another passage that directly contrasts rejoicing in God with fretting over circumstances.  Listen to Psalm 37:1-7…

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

That contrast is communicated in just these two phrases: “fret not yourself because of evildoers” and “delight yourself in the LORD.”  Find your delight in God and it eliminates worries.

Habakkuk 3 reinforces this same antithesis between anxiety and joy.  In vv. 16-19 we read…

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

All his circumstances were bad.  All his prospects for the future were terrible.  But Habakkuk chooses to focus on the Lord.  Let me read verse 18 again: “yet [and that’s a big yet] I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Here’s the point: You can choose joy or anxiety.  The key is where you place your focus. If you discipline your heart to rejoice in the Lord instead of fretting about the circumstances, you will be filled with joy instead of anxiety.

By the way, it is interesting that Paul brackets these verses about anxiety with the relational conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in vv. 2-3 and Paul’s teaching about contentment with regard to finances.  Relational friction and financial downturns are probably the chief sources of anxiety in our lives.

So, as the song goes, “Don’t worry, be happy.”  But don’t be happy in your life’s circumstances, which always change; rather be happy in God, who never changes.

You see, we can (it is actually possible) to “always” rejoice in the Lord.  Marshall Segal writes:

Oh, that always — all at once so awe-inspiring, and so haunting.  Awe-inspiring because that means always must be possible.  What news!  In Christ, we never have to be without genuine happiness.  And yet also so haunting because of how often we lose our sense of joy — the joy that God, throughout the Scriptures, commands of his people.

Paul’s joy was rooted in Christ and the hope that he had in Him.

Segal goes on to say

To have more joy in suffering than in peace and comfort, we have to want Jesus more than anything else, including peace and comfort.

Paul didn’t choose joy in Christ because he couldn’t find joy anywhere else. He had tasted and enjoyed the glory of success and popularity — the Hebrew of Hebrews, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the most zealous, the most blameless, the most recognized (Philippians 3:5–6). When he chose to follow Jesus, he surrendered the kind of life others would die for — and he surrendered that life for more happiness, not less.

After listing all that he had earned and accomplished, he says,

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)

When Paul found the treasure hidden in the fields of Scripture, his pearl of great price, all the other pearls had suddenly faded in color. He quickly sold them all to have just one. His love for worldly success and attention withered and fell away to make way for a new, more vibrant love. He wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

In the end, we do not forfeit happiness to have Christ. Whatever we trade away (and we do trade away real joys to follow Christ), we receive back a hundredfold now, “and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). Joy in Christ is far better than any other pleasure, achievement, or prize. We are fools to ever prefer what we enjoyed before him.

As a Christian you can possess that joy.  You can fight against fretting by rejoicing more in Jesus Christ—all He is, all He has done and will do for you—than in the loss or gain of anything else.

John Piper says about these verses,

When we have little and have lost much, Christ comes and reveals himself as more valuable than what we have lost.  And when we have much and are overflowing in abundance, Christ comes and he shows that he is far superior to everything we have.

So rejoice in Jesus.  Rejoice in who He is, rejoice in all that you have because you are in Christ and you have every spiritual blessing in Him.  We have his great and magnificent promises which give us everything we need for life and godliness.

We have everything in Christ.  He is our righteousness, our redemption, our wisdom, our sanctification.  Everything we need we have in Him.

So rejoice in Jesus Christ.  That can never be taken away from you, those treasures that Jesus Christ has and has given you because we are in Him.  So rejoice in Jesus Christ.  He is worth more than anything that you have or could ever have.

Resolving Conflict, part 4 (Philippians 4:6-8)

Over last four weeks, as we’ve been looking at the opening section of Philippians 4, we’ve noticed that Paul is trying to help two women (and possibly others) to resolve whatever was dividing them and be reconciled.

As we looked at this passage we found seven principles so far about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Fourth, we have to seek common ground with the other person.  As Christians, we have a great advantage.  Since both of us are “in Christ” and can have “the mind of Christ” we have a great opportunity to lay aside our own ideas to entertain the ideas of the person we disagree with.  Because we are both “in Christ” as believers, it makes it possible for us to “agree in the Lord.”  Notice that Paul used the word “Lord” to re-emphasize their submission to Him even in the midst of interpersonal conflict.

Fifth, we saw the importance of recruiting outside help to guide us in negotiating conflict and pursuing reconciliation.  Paul asked others to get involved because he knew that the conflict had grown to the point that it was affecting others in the congregation and just not getting anywhere.

Sixth, and this is the goal, we have to get back to the ministry of the gospel, working side by side.  These women had done so before, but right now they were letting their personal rights and feelings get in the way of what was of utmost importance—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers.

The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude.  We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”  When you have an issue with someone, when they have hurt you, take your minds off of them and focus upon Jesus Christ.  Feast upon Him and find your joy in Him.

Spurgeon says…

People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. 

Then, eighth, practice gentleness.  This word meant to not press our rights.  Usually we get angry at someone because they are violating our rights—our right to privacy, to quiet, to punctuality, to a pay raise, to unburnt toast.

Whenever we get angry, we need to ask ourselves, “What did I expect to happen?”  Then I can query whether my expectations were selfish.

Today we’re going to look at two more principles, found in vv. 6-8.

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. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Did you see them?  The two principles in these verses are (1) refuse to worry and (2) control your thinking.

So the eighth principle for defusing conflict is “don’t worry about it.”  Don’t fret.

When you have gotten into an argument, or someone has hurt you, betrayed you, it is so easy to play that event over and over in your mind.  As you do, you might imagine how you should have responded to them (usually in aggressiveness and anger) or you might be anxious about what they might be doing or saying to further undermine you or hurt you.  You might imagine that they are infecting everyone else with “their side of the story.”

I had this happen to me.  While walking and praying, all of a sudden my mind would be bombarded by thoughts of an event which had happened months before, when I had been fired by a jealous senior pastor. 

I was tempted to replay that event and those conversations in my mind, imagining how I would come back with a choice retort, or how I should have defended myself.

But I would quickly catch myself, and remind myself that I had forgiven that person.  I had chosen to forgive this man and I would then consciously refuse to keep thinking about those things.

Conflict does cause anxieties.

That is why Paul says “do not be anxious about anything.”  Now, this command extends beyond interpersonal conflict into every area of life, but this week I want to focus on how worry and interpersonal conflict often go together.

You see, worry can be both a cause and a result of conflict.  Insecurities can cause conflict, especially among women.  It causes on to be on edge and very sensitive, thus increasing the likelihood of conflict.

But if we are rejoicing in the Lord, staying focused on Him and receiving His gifts to us, we will feel less anxious and insecure.

On the other hand, worry and anxiety are also a result of conflict.  We worry about whether we are going to be able to mend the relationship.  We worry over what they might be thinking or saying about us behind our backs.

Ray Ortlund speaks to this issue in a blog post entitled “And a Time to Turn Away.”

Where once there was trust, with joy, honesty and spontaneity, now there might be aloofness, guardedness, even resentment.  To make matters worse, attempts at reconciliation can be ignored or even refused.  That is when, it seems to me, it is time to turn away.  Turning away is not our first response, of course.  But it must be a valid, if undesirable, option.  After all, we can’t force people to be open, to talk, to reconsider.  Until the Holy Spirit changes hearts — I have reluctantly concluded that there really is a time to turn away.  Yes, it is a defeat for the gospel.  But what else can one do?  All that’s left is trusting the Lord, referring the matter to the judgment seat of Christ, who alone sees all things perfectly… Sometimes all one can do is not make a situation worse.  That’s hard.  But the Lord can do amazing things with brokenhearted people who have nothing left but a longing for His glory in this messy world.

If we’ve attempted to resolve a problem through gentleness, by being willing to yield our rights, we might be worried about being trampled over, or wondering, “Who’s going to look after me (and my rights)?”

Well again, if we are rejoicing in the Lord, then we will be receiving from Him all we need.

Paul is encouraging Euodia and Synteche to relax and give all their concerns to God.  Gaining that peace from God would help them relax, be willing to surrender their personal rights, and be reconciled.

Experiencing God’s peace will enable us then to extend peace to the person we are quarreling with.

Now, we will dive deeper into these verses about worry and peace next week.  I just wanted to connect it to the conflict between Euodia and Synteche and help us to see how it is connected to conflict resolution.

Instead of worrying, relax.  Let God’s peace guide you to make peace with one another.  As both of you “settle down,” you can resolve the issue more quickly and reconcile the relationship.

By the way, I think it is important to distinguish the issue from the relationship.  We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, that we fight because we value an issue (or a right) more than the relationship.

So when we fight, to become friends again, we must do two things: (1) resolve the issue, and (2) reconcile the relationship.

We resolve the issue by defining it, discussing our attempts at solving it, finding some common ground, and then accepting a resolution that is mutually agreeable.

But if, in the process of disagreeing, we say or do something that wounds the other person, we have to go a step beyond merely resolving the issue, we have to ask for and grant forgiveness.

If we have hurt someone, reconciliation involves one of two actions, or both.  That is, we must confront the other person with their sin, and then grant them forgiveness.  Or, we must examine our own hearts and ask for forgiveness when we know we have hurt them.

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago how, it doesn’t really matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, BOTH sides are responsible to initiate reconciliation.  That comes from Matthew 5:21-26 and 18:15-18.

Jay Adams has said:

Jesus won’t allow the unreconciled condition to continue among believers.  In Matthew 5, if another considers you to have wronged him, Jesus says that you must go.   In Matthew 18, He says that if the other person has done something wrong to you, you must go.  There is never a time when you can sit and wait for your brother to come to you.  Jesus doesn’t allow for that.  He gives no opportunity for that.   It is always your obligation to go.

So if you are aware, if the Holy Spirit makes you aware, that you have wounded someone, or the sting of being wounded is smarting, either way you need to take the first step and go to that person to start the process of reconciliation.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas have written a book called The 5 Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships.  I think what they say is instructive.  Of course, they are saying that one or two of these is your own personal language of apology, but I think all five of them are necessary to make a whole reconciliation.

His five languages are:

  • Expressing regret.  This is expressing how sorry we are that we hurt them.  You might say something like, “I’m sorry that I forgot to call to tell you I would be late.”
  • Second is accepting responsibility.  This is where you say, “I was wrong.”  In what you said or what you did, you admit that you were at fault.
  • The third language is requesting forgiveness.  You need to ask, “Will you forgive me?”  It’s not enough just to say, “I’m sorry.”  An interpersonal transaction has to take place where the other person makes the decision to forgive.
  • Fourth is genuinely repenting.  Here you say, “I’ll try not to do that again.”  You make an about-face with regard to your behavior or your language and encourage that person that you intend to change.
  • Finally, is making restitution.  Ask, “How can I make it up to you?  What can I do to make it right?”

As you can see, these are practical ways to break down the interaction that needs to take place in order to restore the relationship.

Conversation can resolve the issue, but it takes confrontation and confession to reconcile the relationship.

Now let me also say that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.  Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, but it doesn’t guarantee it.  You see, it takes two to reconcile.  One must ask forgiveness and the other grant it.

So, if someone hurts you, forgive them, whether or not they ask for it.  You cannot cancel their sin.  Only God can do that, and He will only do that if they repent.  But what you can do is to set aside your own anger, bitterness and resentment towards them.

That is often the first step towards reconciliation, that you have already forgiven them in your heart and you are waiting for them to ask forgiveness so reconciliation can be accomplished.

The reason this distinction is important is that we can get stuck in a cycle of bitterness and resentment that is never healthy and often leaves a person in a spiritual rut.  It is important to forgive others for what they have done.

But it is also important to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation because in some cases you do need to forgive, but you should not be reconciled.  A person who is in an abusive relationship can and should forgive, but it may be unwise to be reconciled.

The ninth principle that Paul mentions in this passage is to control your thinking.

It is so important to control our thinking both in the midst of a conflict and in the aftermath of a conflict.

In the midst of a conflict we may not be thinking, just reacting, and in the aftermath of a conflict we may be thinking too much, but the wrong things.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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.

“Think about these things,” Paul says.  Concentrate on this.

More than likely, when we are fighting with someone, we are playing lightly with the truth.  We believe things about our opponent that aren’t true, sometimes fed by the gossip of others.  We also believe things about ourselves that aren’t true.

Are your thoughts about your mate honorable when you are having a conflict.  More than likely they are not if you are calling them names or making claims about their character or motives.

Alex Kendrick, producer and actor in Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous . . . and author of The Love Dare, spoke recently on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” Cruise and shared this story.

He had been feeling unloved by his wife because she hadn’t been adequately meeting his love language.  Kendrick says…

“Four months ago, I’m studying and getting ready to do our ramp up and do our next movie and stuff—as I’m with the Lord, and I remember I’m in His Word—and it was like He just kick-boxed me in the head: ‘Alex, you are running your wife down in your mind. She is not your enemy. The enemy wants to distract you, deceive you, and divide you. Your wife and you are one unit. Both of you are sinners, and both of you are in need of My grace.”

Feeling the Lord leading him to remember that his wife, Christina, is God’s gift to him and designed by God to have strengths which he lacked . . . Kendrick began to make a list of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—about Christina!

He knew that list was what he should dwell on about Christina. He said, “The list for her—the positive list—was very long. Guys—don’t run your spouse down, in your mind. . . If you are in Christ, what do you do? Follow Philippians 4:8. Your spouse is a sinner, but they are not your enemy.”

Hopefully she will be thinking the same things about you.  As both of you do, it will be a lot easier to resolve your conflicts and reconcile your relationship.

Resolving Conflict, part 3 (Revelation 4:4-5)

Over the last two weeks we have been looking at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 where he is helping two women in the church at Philippi to resolve their conflict and be reconciled.  That is found in Philippians 4:1-9…

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. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We all know that relationships can fall apart, either through neglect or through conflict.  Even in churches people can get on one another’s nerves and start bickering.

As we looked at this passage we found five principles so far about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Fourth, we have to seek common ground with the other person.  As Christians, we have a great advantage.  Since both of us are “in Christ” and can have “the mind of Christ” we have a great opportunity to lay aside our own ideas to entertain the ideas of the person we disagree with.  Because we are both “in Christ” as believers, it makes it possible for us to “agree in the Lord.”  Notice that Paul used the word “Lord” to re-emphasize their submission to Him even in the midst of interpersonal conflict.

Fifth, we saw the importance of recruiting outside help to guide us in negotiating conflict and pursuing reconciliation.  Paul asked others to get involved because he knew that the conflict had grown to the point that it was affecting others in the congregation and just not getting anywhere.

Sixth, and this is the goal, we have to get back to the ministry of the gospel, working side by side.  These women had done so before, but right now they were letting their personal rights and feelings get in the way of what was of utmost importance—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers.

Sadly, it is often conflicts in churches that drive people away from Jesus Christ.

Today we want to look at some more principles for resolving conflicts in verses 4 and 5.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand;

The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude.  We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m fighting with someone, it is hard for me to rejoice.  I naturally want to gripe and complain, or just feel grumpy.

Paul emphasizes how important this command is by repeating it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  There is possibly no other attitude that has greater capacity to alter our lives and our relationships than this one.

Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81).  He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404).

The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143).  Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5).

And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).

Rejoicing in the Lord is both curative to relationships and it maintains healthy relationships.

“Rejoicing is the Lord” is an action.  It involves our hearts and minds and voices.  It means to speak aloud our joy in the Lord, our delight in Him.

You know the difference between joy and happiness.  Happiness is dependent upon what happens, on whether circumstances turn out by my favor.  That is unlikely to happen when you are fighting.  You will naturally identify those statements and actions that are not in your favor, and complain.

Joy doesn’t depend upon changing circumstances, but upon unchanging realities—the love and grace and presence of God through Christ to us.

Joy then depends upon staying focused on Jesus Christ, not on ourselves and our situation.

The fact that Paul is commanding it shows that it is not dependent upon our circumstances.  We can rejoice always, even if we are not happy.  We keep our eyes on Christ and rejoice in Him, in all He has done and all He is.

And Paul is not innovating here. There are numerous other places in Scripture where God’s people are commanded to rejoice.

  • Psalm 33:1 – “Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones.”
  • Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD…”
  • Psalm 97:12 – “Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
  • In Matthew 5:12, the Lord Jesus Himself commands us to “Rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
  • And in a very similar fashion, the Apostle Peter commands the churches under his care, “…to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” (1 Pet 4:13).

I love the comment Spurgeon makes on this:

“Do you not think that this [repetition] was intended also to impress upon them the importance of the duty? ‘Again I say, Rejoice.’ Some of you will go and say, ‘I do not think that it matters much whether I am happy or not, I shall get to heaven, however gloomy I am, if I am sincere.’ ‘No,’ says Paul, ‘that kind of talk will not do; I cannot have you speak like that. Come, I must have you rejoice, I do really conceive it to be a Christian’s bounden duty, and so, ‘Again, I say, Rejoice!’”

I love what John MacArthur says about this. He says, “Christian joy is not an emotion on top of an emotion.  It is not a feeling on top of a feeling.  It is a feeling on top of a fact.  It is an emotional response to what I know to be true about my God.”  That’s so helpful.  Joy is not an emotion driven by a flurry of emotions.  That would be emotionalism.  But joy is indeed an emotion; it is an emotion on top of a fact—an emotion experienced in response to the truth of God beheld by the eyes of faith.

Joy is the affection that is produced in the soul when one finds delight, pleasure, or satisfaction in God Himself or the truth about Him, and then responds in gladness.

Spurgeon takes us home with these words:

“Come, brothers and sisters, I am inviting you now to no distasteful duty when, in the name of my Master, I say to you, as Paul said to the Philippians under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!’”

It is that joy which celebrates the gospel that changes our attitudes towards one another.

Karl Barth, in a brief survey of the commands to rejoice in the book of Philippians, noted that we meet the command first in 2:18 where Paul tells the Philippians that they “should be glad and rejoice” with him, and then again in 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”  And, lastly, here in 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

From the force of these three commands, Barth concludes that “‘joy’ in Philippians is a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’” — nevertheless “Rejoice.”  Paul’s unqualified “Rejoice” certainly does defy the thankless, complaining nature of humanity and human custom through all of history.

Also, remember that Paul wasn’t writing while he lounged in a Roman bath or sipped espresso in Café Roma.  We must never forget that Paul delivered his defiant command to rejoice whatever the circumstances when it was unsure whether he would live or die and while he was confined to helplessly watching his competitors and enemies make advances among the churches of Rome and Philippi.  As if to answer any question from those who might ask incredulously, “Should we really rejoice during afflictions?” he stated twice, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Get it?

Paul’s imprisonment, Ephaproditus’ illness, opposition of the “enemies of the cross” and now internal fighting, all could make this command seem absurd.

Paul was not urging us to be unrealistic.  He was not saying that we should never feel sad.  Even Jesus wept (John 11:35).  However, he was advocating focusing on the blessings we have in Christ, and being grateful for these regardless of how sad we may feel at any particular time.  He had set a good example by singing when he was in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

Note also that the apostle’s words allow for no loopholes — “always” permits no exceptions regardless of how humiliating or painful things might be. Similarly, the readers are commanded to find their joy “in the Lord” rather than in their circumstances.  As such, Christian “joy is a basic and constant orientation of the Christian life, the fruit and evidence of a relationship with the Lord” (Bockmuehl). 

It comes from what the Lord has done in the past, from what he is doing now, and from the hope of what he will do in the future.

Nehemiah tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).  Rejoicing in God gives us strength to do what we could never do in the flesh.

So, when you are fighting with someone, take your mind off of them and what they have said or done, and what they might be saying (to others) now, and focus on Jesus Christ.  Verbally thank him and bless Him for all that He has done for you.  Remind yourself of all the benefits you have in Christ.

Spurgeon says…

People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. 

Such a vital attitude.

Then, eighth, practice gentleness.

Whenever you have your next interaction with the person you are fighting with, practice gentleness in the way you deal with them.

Paul mentions that this attitude and way of behaving should be “known to everyone,” believer and unbeliever alike.

But what does Paul mean?

The ESV translates this “reasonableness.”  It is a word that means “willingness to yield.”  The forbearing person does not insist on his or her own rights or privileges.  This person not only looks for common ground, but is willing to yield to the other person.

We live in a day that emphasizes our personal rights to do or get whatever we want.  The most common reason we get angry with someone is that they violated our rights—to privacy, or quiet, or punctuality, or a tasty meal every night, or coming home on time.

Being “gentle” means holding these rights loosely, with the willingness to keep on rejoicing in the Lord even when those rights are violated.

Having this attitude would help us in any conflict.  It reminds us of the “soft” and “pleasant” words mentioned in Proverbs.

Aristotle contrasted this word with the concept of akribodikaois, “strict justice.”  “For him it meant a generous treatment of others which, wile demanding equity, does not insist upon the letter of the law.  Willing to admit limitations, it is prepared to make allowances so that justice does not injure.  It is a quality, therefore, that keeps one from insisting on his full right…or from making a rigid and obstinate stand for what is justly due him” (Hawthorne, Philippians, p. ___).

To be gentle means to admit when you’re wrong and not to rub it in when you are right.

In fact, to be gentle means to be willing to lay down your right to be right, even when you are right.  As someone has said: “He who stays flexible won’t be bent out of shape.”

Gentleness holds these rights loosely, not because they are wrong to expect, but because we can trust God to make things right.

You see, being gentle is as strong an act of trust in God as “not being anxious about anything” in verse 6.

We can surrender our rights because “the Lord is near.”  This statement could mean “nearby” or “about to come.”  It was a reference to Paul’s expectation, as ours, that the Rapture could occur at any moment.

With that in mind, we know that He will take care of us and right every wrong.

Jesus was the extreme example of gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) and humility (Phil. 2:6-8).  He showed it to the woman caught in adultery.

He was totally righteous and didn’t deserve to be treated as He was, and who, as Lord, had every right to expect total loyalty and love from His creation, yet in 1 Peter 2 we read…

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Jesus was cruelly treated and crucified, but he did not assert His rights.  He did not call down 10,000 angels.  On the cross He asked His Father to forgive His persecutors.

And He could do this because he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

We don’t have to get what we deserve here and now.  We can lay aside our rights because we trust that eventually justice will be served.

Now, when I’ve turned over my rights to God and I stop being demanding and pushy, two temptations surface: one is the tendency to grumble (which we’ve already addressed in v. 4) and the other is to get worried.

What is the other person thinking about us?  What are they doing that might bring harm to me?  What are they telling others?  We have all these anxieties, especially when we are at war with someone.

But again, Paul encourages us to trust in God.  Rejoice in Him and trust in Him.  I guarantee you that if you do these things, you will thrive in life and you will be able to repair relationships.

Resolving Conflict, part 2 (Philippians 4:2-3)

Last week we began looking at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 where he is helping two women in the church at Philippi to resolve their conflict and be reconciled.  That is found in Philippians 4:1-9…

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. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As we looked at this passage we found three principles about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Today we will continue with the fourth step. 

Fourth, seek common ground with the other person.

Generally, when we are disagreeing about some issue, it is possible to find common ground to work from and find a mutually agreeable solution.

Paul encouraged both women to “agree in the Lord.”  He asks that they literally “think the same thing in the Lord.”

It refers to more than merely being “like minded.”  Is speaks of sharing like thoughts and feelings for each other.

The word “harmony” is a good one because it reminds us that, as in music, we don’t have to be playing the same note, just playing ones that correspond to the other, producing harmony.

Peter, in 1 Peter 3:8 puts it like this:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

And Paul had already told them back in chapter 2…

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Now, the only way we can do this is to “agree in the Lord.”  This little phrase makes all the difference.  Because we are united together into the body of Christ because we are united with Christ through the Spirit’s baptism.

This little phrase indicates that no matter what might be our circumstances in the world, being “in the Lord” gives us a strength and wisdom that are not our own.

In verse 4 Paul will command them to “rejoice in the Lord,” which can be done no matter how bad one’s struggles might be.

We “agree in the Lord” by living out of our union with Christ and submitting to Him and His will moment-by-moment.

Whatever the dispute was about, Euodia and Syntyche had forgotten that they have a greater common ground in Jesus Christ.  They forgot that everything else was less important than that common ground.

You’ve seen the illustration of the triangle before, where when people move up the sides, drawing closer to Jesus Christ at the apex of the triangle, they also grow closer to one another.

That means that generally speaking, the presence of conflict in a marriage, or a church, shows that one or both are not spending much time with God.

So, when you’re arguing over something, stop and ask, “On what can we agree?”  “How does our common relationship with Jesus give us things to agree on?”  “Where is the common ground?”

If you can’t find any, then you’re probably too attached to your own agenda and need to stop and pray and ask God to help you see and seek His will, instead of your own.

Fifth, seek outside help, or intervention.

Ideally, we should be able to resolve our own problems; realistically we need help more often than we would like to admit.

Paul, in verse 3, says…

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.

Paul calls on his “true companion” (“loyal yokefellow,” NIV) to help these women.  Again, Paul is referring to someone who has worked alongside him in the ministry. 

We don’t know who this is.  Some suggest Syzygus, which is simply a transliteration of the Greek word “companion.”  Others suggest that maybe it was Epaphroditus.  But whoever it was, we can learn that it sometimes it is necessary for an outside party to help two factions resolve a conflict.

What kind of person is needed to intervene and help others resolve conflict?

First of all, that person needs to be spiritually minded.  In Galatians 6:1 Paul identifies this quality when he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Secondly, that person must be objective.  Paul’s objectivity is hinted at in his double use of the verb, “I urge … I urge.”  He doesn’t take sides or imply that one person is right and the other is wrong.  The outside party needs to hear both sides before he makes any judgments about who is most at fault.

Proverbs 18:17 reveals this bit of wisdom: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” So, don’t jump to hasty conclusions.  Listen to both sides of the story.

Third, that person must be direct and honest.  Beating around the bush doesn’t accomplish anything.

Can you imagine how these two women felt when this letter was read in the assembly?  Here they are, known in church history for one thing, the quarrel they had!  But Paul didn’t beat around the bush.  He named names.

In several other places he corrects people by name or directly names his source of information: “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Col. 4:17).

“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). (See also 1 Tim. 1:202 Tim. 2:17; 4:10, 14).

Sometimes we are so careful to tiptoe around so as not to offend anyone that we end up being vague and confusing.  Paul didn’t drop hints.  He was direct, specific, and truthful.

By the way, the word “help” here in verse 3 is actually a more aggressive word.  I think he is urging his co-worker in Philippi to “take hold of” these women and to “put a stop” to their unfruitful bickering.  The help for which Paul is calling is aggressive, because the sin seems to be affecting the entire church (see 1 Corinthians 5:6).

Fourth, the outside party should be affirming and positive whenever possible.

Paul didn’t scold or berate these women.  He affirms them by mentioning how they had shared in his struggle in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and others not named (we know nothing more about Clement).  He acknowledges that the names of all these dear people are known to God, written in the book of life, that book in heaven that contains the names of all of God’s elect (see Exod. 32:32Ps. 69:28Dan. 12:1Luke 10:20Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).

He does this so that the person who will intervene to help carries a positive attitude towards each of the women.

Sixth, get back to the work of the gospel side by side.

When Paul says that these women have shared his struggle in the gospel, the word he uses means to be on the same team in an athletic contest.  Team members have to work together; if they start fighting each other, the other team will make easy work of them.

Lord Nelson once came on deck and found two of his officers quarreling.  He whirled them about, pointed to the enemy ships, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, there are your enemies!” 

We’ve got to remember that our struggle is “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Maybe you’ve heard this story, and it emphasizes just how tragically easy it is for us to find something to fight over.

I was walking across a bridge recently.  I spied this fellow who looked like he was ready to jump off.  So, I thought I’d try to stall him until the authorities showed up.  “Don’t jump!” I said.  “Why not?” he said.  “Nobody loves me.”

“God loves you,” I said.  “You believe in God, don’t you?”

“Yes, I believe in God,” he said.

“Good,” I said. “Are you Christian or Jewish?”

“Christian,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Protestant or Catholic?”

“Neither,” he said.

“What then?” I said.

“Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Independent Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

“Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “New Evangelical/Moderate Independent Baptist or Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Lose-Your-Salvation Armenian Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Historical Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or For Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Strict Separation of Church and State Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Anti-Disney Boycott Pro-Choice Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “KJV Only Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Modern Versions Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“MODERN VERSIONS Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist” he said.

“Auugghh!!!  You heretic!” I said.  And I pushed him over.

No doubt most of you have read or heard this story, and hopefully you laughed.  And yet as I laugh, I realize that this fictional conversation and its outcome is repeated time after time in churches across our land and around the world.  Christians seem more inclined to attack their fellow-saints than they do to evangelize the lost. 

Paul wanted these ladies to get back to the mission, to the main reason that God has left us here on earth—to evangelize and disciple our neighbors and friends and the people we do business with.

Paul had expressed this back in the theme verses in chapter 1, verse 27:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

We will get to vv. 4 and 5 next week.  Although many preachers use these verses to preach against worry (which vv. 6 and 7 definitely bring up), I think that they are still addressing the attitudes of people in conflict.

These people should stay positive and practice gentleness towards one another.

So I hope you will join me again next week.  Until then, soak yourself in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

Resolving Conflict, part 1 (Philippians 4:1-2)

We are starting the final chapter of Philippians today, Philippians 4.  Many preachers believe the focus here is on worry and how to give our worries to God.  But I believe that the first nine verses have to do with conflict, and how to resolve conflict. 

What Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9 is pretty relevant.  When we have conflict with others, our minds naturally gripe and complain and get anxious and worried.

A man had taken his secretary home early because she had a headache.  Realizing that it might not go over so well with his wife, he didn’t mention it to her.  That night, as he was taking his wife out to eat, he noticed a high-heeled shoe in the car on the floorboard.  Panicking, he got his wife to look out the window and quickly picked the shoe up and threw it out his window.  Whew!  But when they got to the restaurant and started to get out of the car, his wife asked, “Honey, where’s my shoe?”  UH OH!  TROUBLE!

Conflict happens.  It happens in families, among friends…even in churches.  It can happen in the best of families.

Perhaps trite but true,

To live above with the saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
But to live below with the saints we know,
Well, that’s another story.

William Barclay writes:

“It is significant that when there was a quarrel at Philippia, Paul mobilized the whole resources of the Church to mend it.  He thought no effort too great to maintain the peace of the church.  (Unity is a precious gift of God that we are called to “maintain” in Ephesians 4:2-3.)  A quarrelling church is no church at all, for it is one from which Christ has been shut out.  No man can be at peace with God and at variance with his fellow-men.”

Disunity “stinks.”  Sometimes we in the church can’t smell the stink, but others can.  Dee Duke, in a series of messages on prayer, illustrated this reality by recounting how a church in a dairy community would meet, everyone having taken care of milking their cows that morning and cleaning up best they could before they came to church.  They, being used to the smell, thought everything was normal, but a newcomer entering the church would still think, “What is that smell?”

And that’s the way it is with conflict.  We might think we have it under wraps, treating one another civilly, but newcomers can tell that something is wrong.

When Christians are in conflict, God’s reputation is harmed, the church’s ministries are hampered and, of course, people’s personal peace is affected.

Again, Barclay strikes this warning: “It is a grim thought that all we know about Yoda (Euodia) and Syntyche is that they were two women who had quarreled!  It makes us think: Suppose our lives were to be summed up in one sentence, what would that sentence be?  Hopefully not that we were quarrelling.

We don’t know much about these women, or even the particular issue they were fighting about.  We know their names and we know that it was a serious issue to Paul.

Gordon Fee states:

“For the Pauline letters, this is a remarkable moment indeed, since Paul does here what he seldom does elsewhere in ‘conflict’ settings—he names names!”

I’m sure that everyone was aroused from their drowsiness and sat up when they heard names.

I like to call these two women “You’re Odious” and “Soon Touchy.”

“You’re Odious” is the person who deals with anger by exploding, getting verbally aggressive and putting down the other person by calling them names or exaggerating their offense.

“Soon Touchy” is the overly sensitive, moody person.  Everything bothers them, but instead of getting mad, they just pout.  This person uses the silent treatment and just grows bitter.  They internalize their anger.

When it comes to conflict, some people are like Teflon—nothing sticks—they can easily overlook minor offenses.

And the Bible does encourage that.  For example, Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Other people are like Velcro—everything sticks.  Even little things get under their skin and bother them.

By the way, the name Euodia actually means “prosperous journey” and Syntyche means “pleasant acquaintance.”  They had great names, they just weren’t living up to them.  They should both have been a pleasure to be around, but they weren’t talking to each other…and everyone knew it!

Here is what Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9…

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. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So how does this passage help us resolve conflicts?

First, conflict must be addressed, and that is what Paul does here.

You can’t just ignore conflict and hope it goes away, although many of us try to do that.

You may have heard of the philosophy professor who, on the day of the final exam, set a chair up on his desk and said, “Using all that you’ve learned about philosophy this year, I want you to write an essay proving that this chair does not exist.”

His students went right for it, writing furiously, scratching their heads, filling page after page.

All except for one student.  He wrote one sentence down, closed his blue book and turned it in.

A week later, the grades came out and there was one “A,” given to the student with the one-line answer.  Everyone wanted to know what he had written………..do you?

His answer: “What chair?”

Unfortunately, while that might pass a philosophy exam, it doesn’t work with conflict.

What conflict?

When we ignore conflict it just goes underground and rears its ugly head again later, just adding another issue and morphing into something more complex to deal with.

It’s like the couple who went for marital counseling.  The counselor asked the husband what the problem was, and he said, “My wife gets upset with me and just gets historical.”  “You mean hysterical,” said the counselor.  “No, historical, she brings up every mistake I’ve ever made.”

One reason we need to address conflict is so that we can stay current.  Another reason is that it won’t morph into something more complex and harder to deal with.

Apparently the issue had gone on for some time at Philippi without being dealt with, so Paul takes the initiative to bring about reconciliation between these two women.

Paul’s willingness to call out two women when he knew the letter would be read to the whole congregation demonstrates the fact that he cared more about the unity of the church than about the church having a superficial, “everything is going to be alright” sentimental warmth.

Second, to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships, we must value the other person.

Notice how Paul speaks positively of everyone involved.  He calls them “beloved brothers” in verse 1, “my joy and crown.”  While he may be referring only to the men in the church, it expresses his love for them all, not just some.

He wants them to “stand firm in the Lord.”  He doesn’t want them to fall away like those he mentioned back in 3:18-19 who had become “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

As for the women, he noted that they “have labored side by side with me.”  He valued them for working alongside him in the ministry of the gospel.  And this merely shows that conflict can happen for anyone, even those who have been involved in significant ministry.

This term is a gladiatorial term, more accurately translated “fought alongside me.”  They had been in “the same conflict” as Paul (1:30) in the battle for the gospel, which placed them amidst the fellowship of the gospel (cf. 1:5) —gospel comradeship in the quest to proclaim the good news to the pagan world. 

Sometimes being involved in an important mission can keep us together, but there are always obstacles.

It’s like the story Max Lucado relates in his book In the Eye of the Storm.  He talks about a time when he and his buddies were going on a fishing trip.  However, the weather didn’t cooperate and for several days they were holed up in the cabin, playing cards and watching the weather.  They grew grumpy and started getting angry with one another.  His conclusion: “when those who are called to fish, don’t fish, they fight.”

Likewise, when we don’t involve ourselves in a mission that matters, like evangelism and discipleship, we can allow little things to make us angry with one another.

Paul doesn’t take sides in this conflict, but encourages both Euodia and Synteche to “agree in the Lord.”

He doesn’t doubt their relationship to Jesus Christ.  He acknowledges that they are both believers, submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  They are both “in the Lord” positionally, and they need to act like it.

It is important to place a high value in the other person when you are in conflict.  Generally, we start to fight when some “issue” comes up that aggravates us.  It might be small or serious, but we starting fighting because that “issue” has importance to us.

One question we must ask ourselves is: am I placing a higher value on the issue than the person?

Sometimes the issue is very important.  Jude tells us that we must “contend for the faith.”  Paul reproved Peter to his face for acting out of sync with the gospel of grace.  Like Jesus, we must balance grace and truth in our relationships.

However, even if the issue is highly important, we still should value relationships.  As believers in Christ, we are to love even our enemies.

These two women, along with a certain Clement and other fellow workers, all had their names in the “book of life” — the great book that will be opened on the Day of Judgment, when only those found in its pages will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Revelation 21:27).  Euodia and Syntyche were elect warriors. 

Thirdly, we must take personal responsibility for reconciliation.

We can’t say, “It’s his fault.  He has to come to me.”

Notice that Paul addresses and urges both women to “agree in the Lord.”  Paul addresses the principle women involved in the conflict and encourages them both to pursue reconciliation.

Although Paul is asking others to get involved, he is not encouraging “triangling.”  Triangling occurs when person A has a problem with person B but instead of going to person B and talking about the issue with them, they take it to person C (and possibly D and E).  We also call this gossip.

Basically, it is trying to relieve the stress I feel because of the conflict by talking to someone about it, but it would be harder to go to the person I am in conflict with and instead go to someone else, usually someone I know with be sympathetic to my side of the story.

Triangling is the easy thing to do, it passes some of the tension from me to you.  However, it does nothing to resolve the problem.  In fact, it merely increases and complicates the problem.  Now person C has to take sides, likely mine.

Triangling is a big problem in churches.  It is so easy to go to people I know will sympathize with me, instead of those who would challenge me to see my own faults or encourage me to go directly to the person I have conflict with.

By the way, if someone comes to you, telling you how upset they are with someone, instead of listening and automatically sympathizing, encourage them (no, plead with them, like Paul did) to meet face-to-face with the person they are upset with.

The Scriptures are clear that no matter whether you are the offender or the victim, you are responsible to take the first step towards reconciliation.

In both of these passages it is Jesus that is speaking.

In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus says…

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Notice in verse 23 that Jesus is saying that when we are worshipping and we remember that our “brother has something against” us, that is, we have done something to offend or wound him, that we are to immediately go and “be reconciled” to that brother.

We aren’t to wait until they come to us.  Hopefully our conscience and God’s Spirit will convict our hearts that we need to go and be reconciled to someone.

Then, in Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus says…

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In this case, we are not the one who committed the offense or wound, but sin has happened against us.

And what are we to do?  Again, we are to “go” with the objective of seeking reconciliation.  We do this by “telling him his fault” privately, so that possibly we might gain our brother, we might be reconciled.

It’s easy to say, “No, she started it,” Or, “she’s the one who hurt me.”  We might expect them to take the first step towards reconciliation, but as soon as God’s Spirit nudges you to take that step, whether you are the victim or the offender, you are responsible to take that first step towards reconciliation.

Taking that first step does not guarantee reconciliation, but it does make that option possible.

A Higher Calling, part 3 (Philippians 3:20-21)

In the last paragraph of Philippians 3 Paul has been encouraging the Philippian church that if they want to follow Christ they must follow him (v. 17), not the “enemies of the cross” (vv. 18-19), Finally, in vv. 20-21 Paul indicates the characteristics of Christ followers…

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Having identified the characteristics of unbelievers, who were citizens of an earthly kingdom, Rome, he now turns to talk about the dual citizenship that we Christians have.  Yes, we are citizens of an earthly country, but also citizens of heaven.

That is an important thing to remember in an election year.  We cannot and should not divorce our faith from our political positions or the candidates we vote for.  As Christians we are responsible to live out and promote the values of another kingdom, a kingdom where God and His truth rule.

That will often be out of step with our culture, which is declining into moral corruption.

This up-front declaration “But our citizenship is in heaven” references a reality already mentioned by Paul in the pivotal text of 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  “Manner of life” is more exactly “manner of life as citizens” (and thus implicitly, “of heaven”).  The same root word that is used there is used here in 3:20 for “citizenship.”

You can hear the similarity in the Greek.  In 1:27 it is the verb politeúesthe, and here in 3:20 it is the noun políteuma.  Both are built on the noun polis,which means “city.”  All kinds of English words come from this: policemetropolispolitics, politicalpolitician.

The reality behind both references is that the Philippians were citizens of the commonwealth of Heaven—they belonged to another polis, apart from PhilippiThis was particularly poignant for the Philippians because Philippi was a singularly self-conscious little Roman polis (legally Italian soil), which kept the locals at a distance while at the same time intruding into their lives.

The Roman citizenship the Philippians enjoyed meant a great deal to them (Acts 16:12, 21).  It enabled them, though living in Macedonia, to say, “My citizenship is in Rome.”

We need to appreciate all this would have meant to the Philippians, who greatly valued their Roman citizenship.  Just as the Philippians could consider themselves citizens of Rome and were under Roman laws and customs (even though they were in fact far from Rome) so Christians should consider themselves citizens of heaven and under our Lord’s laws and customs.

Thus William Barclay notes:

 “Just as the Roman colonists never forgot that they belong to Rome, you must never forget that you are citizens of heaven; and your conduct must match your citizenship.”

Our heavenly citizenship and destiny are far more important than our brief earthly sojourn (cf. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10).

Even though we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven.  We are thus foreigners and aliens, actually ambassadors representing our real country.

Because heaven is our destiny and our real home, we are to “eagerly await” a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  The Greek word apekdechometha, translated “look for,” is a strong compound.  It speaks of an intense yearning for the coming of Christ.

As Philippians would eagerly await a visit from the emperor in Rome, even more so should Christians eagerly await the coming of their King – Jesus Christ.

James Montgomery Boice mentioned how

“The expectation of the Lord’s personal and imminent return gave joy and power to the early Christians and to the Christian communities.”

It was that confident expectation that filled them with joy, with hope, with an urgency to preach the gospel and maintain holy lives.

Paul uses this same term in Romans 8:19

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Right now, we (8:23), and all of creation groan (8:22) because of the curse.  Paul presents creation eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God because when we are being revealed in glory (v. 18), creation will be freed from the curse and God will re-create heaven and earth (Rev. 21).

I picture it as like a young child, knowing his father is about to come home from work, stands at the window or the door in eager anticipation of that door opening and his father coming home.

Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:22, it is like childbirth.  The process itself is painful, but the result is full of joy.  So Paul concludes:

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here again, Paul is saying that when Christ returns (at the rapture), we will experience the fullness of our adoption as sons (receiving our inheritance) and we will have a redeemed body.  It will be changed into glory.

While the Judaizers always lived in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to the Mosaic law, true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Savior.

As citizens of heaven, we should desire and pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As Christ followers we should be committed to the rule of Jesus Christ over all our lives.

Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper proclaims:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

It is interesting how much Paul has emphasized the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We cannot separate His ability to save from his right to rule.  If He is your Savior, He is your Lord.

In Philippians 1:2 grace and peace come from “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This title is the highest of all names, the name already proclaimed in Christ’s super-exaltation in 2:9-11:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The ultimate confession of the universe will be that Jesus, Messiah, is Yahweh, the awesome God who created the heavens and the earth, the one who sets up kings and takes them down (cf. Isaiah 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 22, 23)—the Savior.

Earlier in chapter 3, verse 8, Paul had said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

What Paul means is the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.”

And here we “wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, this was a big deal for Christians in the first two centuries.  To proclaim anyone else “Lord” other than Caesar was treason against the state.  It wasn’t long after Paul wrote these words that Christians were being martyred for calling Jesus “Lord.”

It costs us far less these days and in this country, yet we hesitate to call Him Lord because we don’t want to give up the right to control our own lives, our own bodies, our own desires.

When Christ returns for us at the Rapture, He will “transform” our present mortal bodies into immortal bodies to be like our Lord’s resurrected body.

Right now, our body is a “lowly body,” meaning that it is weak and susceptible to all kinds of infirmities both physical and spiritual.

By the way, this does not mean that we should be satisfied with a weakened, unhealthy body.  We should do all we can to maintain our health.  But regardless of what we do to strengthen or improve this body, it will grow weaker and eventually die.

But the new body we will receive at the Rapture will be “glorious,” and it will be like the body of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was not merely resuscitated from the dead in the same body.  He was resurrected in a new body, patterned after the old yet equipped and fitted for heaven.

Christ’s resurrected body is the prototype of what awaits each of us.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:49, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

Murray Harris writes in his classic study Raised Immortal:

Paul is saying, then, that in place of an earthly body that is always characterized by physical decay, indignity, and weakness, the resurrected believer will have a heavenly body that is incapable of deterioration, beautiful in form and appearance, and with limitless energy and perfect health.  Once he experiences a resurrection transformation, man will know perennial rejuvenation, since he will have a perfect vehicle for God’s deathless Spirit, a body that is invariably responsive to his transformed personality. (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 121.)

The change will be necessary because our weak, mortal bodies are in­sufficient to receive and participate in the glorious state.  Also, because Paul says in Romans 7 that a “sin principle” still exists in the “mortal body” of believers, and we need a new body in order to be rid of our inclination to sin.

Our new bodies will be glorious.  Listen to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Then, in vv. 51-57 Paul describes the timing of this change:

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We will be changed in a moment.  We will be taken to heaven and given a new body fit for heaven, full of power and glory, and will never perish.

Notice that in Philippians 3:21 It is the “Lord Jesus Christ who will transform” us and here in 1 Corinthians 15 the victory comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As Harris says, “To summarise: just as the event of spiritual resurrection is founded exclusively on the resurrection of Christ, so the ensuing state of spiritual resurrection is totally dependent on the risen life of Christ.” (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 108.)

Paul concluded his thoughts here about Christ’s power by stating explicitly that Christ does this “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself ” (v. 21).  This is an allusion to Psalm 8:6, which speaks of God’s intention to subject all creation to mankind.

In its context, Psalm 8:6 says…

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

So here Christ fulfills mankind’s destiny, and in doing so he makes the universe subject to himself.  Everything is of Christ!

The power that enables him even to subject all things to himself is the same power that transforms our lowly bodies into bodies of glory.

Again, this is described back in 2:9-11

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We get the opportunity to willingly bow our knee to Jesus now, so that He can save us from our sins and slavery to sin, death and Satan.

If you are not willingly subject to Him, you will be forced into subjection to Him. His enemies will bow before Him.  He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, do you live as if you are members of another kingdom, a heavenly kingdom?

The Christian knows that his true “home” is in heaven, and not on earth. Even the Old Testament saints knew this:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Christians look to the future, put more stock in the future and the promises God has given to us.  Living in the future tense means letting Christ arrange things in life in the proper rank now!

C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, writes this:

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise […] If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Lewis continues, “Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

– C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, pp. 135-137. Published by HarperCollins.

Do you live for the eternal realities of heaven, or the passing pleasures of this world?

Lewis also reminds us that it is precisely those who think most about heaven and about their future destiny who have made the greatest impact on this present world.  “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

A Higher Calling, part 2 (Philippians 3:18-19)

A major part of Christian discipleship is finding the right people to imitate and avoiding patterning your life after the wrong people.  Paul says in Philippians 3:17-19

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Then Paul mentions why they needed to imitate him and not others…

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

We can follow godly men like Paul, or ungodly “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Our world is all about following.  Everybody follows something.  Whether it is your favorite sports team, blog or friend; we follow things we care about and that matter to us.

In the early Church times, people wanted someone to follow.  One of the great leaders was the Apostle Paul, who experienced an amazing transformation as he went from an angry murderer to a passionate follower of Jesus.  People saw his passion and wanted what he had. They wanted someone to follow and Paul knew they would, so he said to them, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Paul wanted them to know that he was also a follower and that if they truly wanted to follow him then they would have to know that he got his strength from being a follower first.  Paul understood that Jesus was the reason for his changed life because he had tasted forgiveness, grace and a fresh start through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.

But it is dangerous to follow some people.  Paul tells the Philippian believers that some people are not worth following.  Paul was careful to remind them “often.”  Like a parent who knows that their child needs repeated instructions or warnings, Paul regularly reminded them that some religious leaders are not worth following.

But Paul also told them “even with tears.”  It certainly didn’t delight Paul to call these people “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  He wasn’t a heresy hunter.  As a spiritual parent he did stay on the alert for false doctrine, but he did not gladly call people out for their errors.

What was even more sad, is that there were “many” who were trading in the preciousness of their faith in Jesus Christ.

We don’t exactly know who these people are.  Some believe that they were Judaizers—that adding legal requirements to Christ made them “enemies of the cross” and their dependence on Old Testament dietary laws made a “god” out of their bellies and their emphasis on circumcision would be “glorying in their shame,” all of which showed that they were not spiritually minded, but earthly minded.

Others believe that they were false teachers who promoted lawlessness, particularly sensuality.  This was very common among false teachers of that age. Their lifestyles repudiated all that the cross stands for, specifically the passionate pursuit of Christ and a cross-centered life of suffering.  That pursuit was all foolishness to them.

Now, in these two verses Paul first gives a distinctive identifying title “enemies of the cross of Christ,” then gives four descriptive statements identifying the end and characteristics of these “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

So, what does it mean to be an “enemy of the cross of Christ”?  Well, if these are Judaizers that Paul is talking about, they were “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they valued their own works in procuring their salvation rather than valuing and trusting in Christ’s work for them on the cross.

You can either try to work for your own salvation, or you can wholly trust in Jesus’ work for your salvation.  His work was the work of the cross, dying in the place of sinners.

Judaizers were unbelievers not because they loved to sin, but because they depended upon their own righteousness.

Enemies of the cross diminish its value by emphasizing human worth or merit in addition to what Christ did on the cross.  They lift up fallen man and bring down the holy God, thus shortening the “mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.” 

If, on the other hand, the people Paul was talking about were libertines, then to be an “enemy of the cross” means that one values their sins more than they value what Christ did for them on the cross.  Libertines love their sin and they are unwilling to give them up, even though Christ died for their sins and is offering them forgiveness and eternal joy.

These people are unbelievers because they are unwilling to confess that they are sinners and have no desire to be saved.  They love their sins and thus despise the cross.

Warren Wiersbe writes:

“The cross of Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible, the heart of the gospel, and the chief source of praise in heaven (Rev. 5:8-10).  The cross is the proof of God’s love for sinners (Rom. 5:8) and God’s hatred for sin.  The cross condemns what the world values.  It judges mankind and pronounces the true verdict: ‘Guilty!’”

The cross humbles human pride, because it shows us that our good works are not able to make us right with a holy God.  It shows us that we cannot save ourselves from God’s righteous judgment.  It shows that we cannot even help God out, because we are not saved by our merit, but only by the worthiness of the Lord Jesus and His shed blood.  To come to the cross for salvation means that we must abandon all hope in our ability to commend ourselves to God and we must trust completely in the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A genuine Christian’s approach to the cross is expressed by Paul in these glorious words:

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Paul says that “their end is destruction.”  That word “destruction” is the Greek word apoleia.  It speaks of “ruin” and “loss.”  It presents the picture of a wasted life.

The same Greek word (apoleia) occurs in 1:28, where it probably refers to unbelievers and eternal destruction.

It is used in Matthew 7:13 where Jesus speaks of the easy way “that leads to destruction,” as opposed to the narrow way that leads to life.

Judas is called the “son of destruction” (perdition) in John 17:12, as is the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 where he is called “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”  Revelation 17:8 and 11 also speak of the destruction of the Antichrist.

Peter, speaking of the end of the world, and the creation of a new heaven and earth, says this:

7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

That clearly links this destruction to the casting of these people into the lake of fire, as presented in Revelation 20:11-15…

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Thus, what Paul is saying is that these “enemies of the cross” will be those who experience eternal destruction in the lake of fire.  According to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

If you struggle with this, I encourage you to read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:668-679), where he argues that sin against God is a violation of infinite obligations and therefore is an infinitely heinous crime, deserving of infinite punishment.

This does not mean, however, that unbelievers “go out of existence.”  Scripture is unambiguous when it describes the fate of the devil, Beast, and False Prophet in the lake of fire: “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).  So, the Beast’s “destruction” is everlasting torment in the lake of fire and it is likely that this is the same for all unbelievers in the lake of fire as well.  Matthew 25:46 says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Both destinies are everlasting; they do not cease.

Although these people had names and faces, and the believers in Philippi knew them, their destiny is eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

Gerald Hawthorne comments on apoleia saying:

…the precise meaning of apoleia is difficult to pin down. Hence, as is often the case it is best explained in terms of its opposites: soteria (“salvation,” Phil 1:28); peripoiesis psuches (“the preserving of one’s soul,” Heb 10:39); zoe aionios (“eternal life” John 3:16).

For Paul, then, to reject the crucified Christ as the sole means of salvation is in effect to reject salvation. It is to lose one’s soul and thus to forfeit life.  Elsewhere he says of such people, to telos ekeinon thanatos (“their end is death,” Rom 6:21), a condition in which the destiny of life outside of Christ is turned to its opposite, i.e., corruption (Gal 6:8) or destruction (Rom 9:22 in the active sense of the word), ‘the absolute antithesis of the life intended by God and saved by Christ.”

We will see an entirely different destiny for believers down in verse 21.

This is why I don’t believe that Paul is talking here about believers.  A Christian’s “end” is NOT destruction, but rather life.

Paul then explains that this destiny was deserved because “their god is their belly.”  In other words, they make their “belly,” these bodily desires, an idol to serve.  Instead of being in control of their passions, they willingly give themselves over to any and every bodily desire.

These people give free rein to the satisfaction of their sensual “appetite[s],” and do not restrain the flesh (cf. Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 6:13; Jude 11).  “Belly” here has a broader reference to sensual indulgence in general.  They live to serve their lusts.

Paul warned the Roman Christians about divisive people, saying “such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.”

If Judaizers, this would point to their dependence upon dietary laws to save them.  Paul reminded the Colossian Christians:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink” (Col. 2:16)

If libertines, it points to those who follow their own passions to the point of being enslaved by them.  They are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).  The priority of their lives is to serve their sensual needs.

Kent Hughes remarks:

It was not merely the pleasures of the stomach that was their god, but the bodily desires and sensual delights that displaced the divine and became their god.  The Philippian apostates were digging their graves with their own teeth as they chewed upon their earthbound impulses and the cud of personal pleasure.  The pursuit of creature comforts displaced the pursuit of Christ and the cross. 

And David Guzik notes:

Paul had to contend with people like this in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and Romans 6, who thought that salvation comes without repentance and conversion, and who thought that as long as your soul was saved, it didn’t matter what you did with your body.

The Bible does not promote asceticism, the self-imposed denial of all pleasure as a means of purifying oneself and getting right with God.  Rather, it teaches that God has richly supplied us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).  But if we remove God from the center as the chief object of our joy and replace it with some earthly pleasure, we are guilty of idolatry.

Another characteristic of these doomed people is that they “glory in their shame.”  In other words, “they find satisfaction and take pride in things that they do that should cause them “shame” (cf. Eph. 5:12).  They boasted in their supposed “freedom,” when in reality they were slaves to their lusts. 

This refers to sensual excesses, especially sexual ones, the immoral practices of pagan, pre-Christian lives. This is how many of today’s neo-pagans live and glory. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote:

Sex is the mysticism of a materialist society, with its own mysteries . . . and its own sacred texts and scripture—the erotica that fall like black atomic rain on the just and unjust alike, drenching us, blinding us, stupefying us. To be carnally minded is life!

Again, if the “enemies of the cross” were Judaizers, it likely refers to their boasting about circumcision as a means of God’s approval.  Remember that earlier in this chapter Paul had said:

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

If the enemies were the libertines then they were boasting about their abilities to indulge in any sensual behaviors without repercussion, possibility believing it was “God’s job to forgive.”  Many false prophets in that age, as today, promised their followers maximum happiness in this life, appealing to their fleshly desires.

Finally, Paul says that these people have their minds “set on earthly things.”  They give heaven little or no thought, because their focus is entirely upon the things of this life.

Instead of thinking about spiritual things, they only think of physical realities.  Instead of thinking about heaven, they focus on the earth.  Instead of exalting God, they exalt man.  They leave God out of everything.

The effect of these four terse descriptions is to show that the enemies of the cross had come full circle.  By abandoning the pursuit of Christ and the cross, their minds once again were set on pre-Christian things rather than on “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14).  “They stand diametrically opposed to those whose commonwealth is in heaven.”

If these enemies were Judaizers, this description means that they place more value on earthly rituals that God had given to Israel, than the heavenly blessings that they would have in Christ.

If libertines, this refers to the foolish characteristic of never giving a thought to eternity, of their mortality and what happens after death, or even of God himself.  They take none of that seriously.  Their attitude was the same as the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.

Now, I think it is entirely possible for believers to live this way, at least at times.  True believers, however, are not characterized by these attitudes.       Unbelievers are characterized by these attitudes.

For these people, Paul says that their “end is destruction.”  Their life is wasted both now and for eternity.  They will experience ultimate loss in eternity.  They will experience eternal punishment.

I love what Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon “The Wailing of Risca”:

Spurgeon said, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay….If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”

A Higher Calling, part 1 (Philippians 3:17)

In our discussion of Philippians 3, Paul has been speaking of his own pursuit of Christ.  Paul wanted to know Christ and to become like Him.  That should be our desire as well.

Sometimes when trying to comfort a child who is afraid, we as parents want to remind them that God is with them.  But far too often, our children want (and need) a “god with skin on.”  They want a real, flesh-and-blood person right there with them.

And that is why Jesus Christ became flesh.  He came so we could see what God was like and so imitate him.  He was Immanuel, “God with us.”  He came and dwelt among us to show us the glory of God.

The reality is, for us to grow in faith, we need other people.  We need their presence, their support, their encouragement, their prayers, and we need them to show us the way.

Unfortunately, in our digital age, we sometimes forget that the essence of discipleship goes beyond merely informing and instructing.  People need a model to imitate.  That is what made Dawson Trotman’s discipleship of men so powerful.  He invited men into his home to see how he lived, and how he and his wife Lila lived together.  He knew that discipleship is more caught than taught.

Paul says in Philippians 3:17-21

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Then Paul mentions why they needed to imitate him…

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Then he concludes by saying…

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Notice that first verse, “imitate me.”  What seems like the height of arrogance is really one of the key factors of effective discipleship.  Before we can teach someone else how to walk with Christ, we must walk with Christ.

Imitation is an important part of Paul’s ministry to others.

The Apostle Paul hit this theme a number of times in his letters. For example:

1 Cor. 4:15-17: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

Phil 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

2 Thess. 3:7-9: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

2 Tim. 3:10-11: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra. . . .”

John Piper comments on two additional verses:

1 Cor. 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Phil. 3:17: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and fix your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

Piper writes:

Notice the sequence:

  1. Jesus lives the perfect life for imitation.
  2. Paul imitates Jesus.
  3. Others “walk according to the example they have in us.”
  4. Finally, we fix our eyes on those who follow Paul’s example.

What makes this so remarkable is that Paul says it is spiritually wise to consider not just Jesus’ life, and not just the lives of those who follow him, but also the lives of those who follow those who follow him.

This seems to imply that the line of inspiration and imitation goes on and on.

Paul recognizes, first of all, that imitation is part of what it means to be human.  For our earliest years we learn by imitation.  We imitate parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, friends, and basically anyone that we spend much time around.  Paul is simply being open about a basic fact of human experience: we learn through imitation.

We all know that we learn by watching others.  Young Johann Sebastian Bach was a studied observer of the great organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude.  Bach made repeated long trips on foot to Buxtehude’s church to observe and hear the master, even copying the composer’s scores by hand—all of which had a marked effect on Bach’s style and vitality and the shaping of his brilliance.  Bach, surpassing genius that he was, rode on the lesser genius and example of his mentor.

Whether through apprenticeships in trades or through coaching in athletics, we learn by watching others.  It’s part of human nature.

That’s why, in 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul draws the explicit parallel between imitating him and imitating your parent.

In our culture which emphasizes individualism and “finding yourself,” it seems out of kilter to say that children should imitate their parents.  But it is just reflecting the reality of human nature.

You probably don’t need a fancy science experiment to see that kids imitate their parents. You probably notice it every day.

When you’re sweeping the floor, you might notice your little one pretending to sweep too. Or, you might hear your preschooler put her stuffed bear to bed the same way you tuck her in at night. Kids repeat what they hear, and they imitate what they see. For this reason, you need to be mindful of the things you’re inadvertently teaching your child.

Some of us are old enough to remember seeing Jaws when it first came out.  It was pretty scary.  But there was another scene from the movie which, for an adult, might have made a deeper impression.

There is a wonderful moment between Sheriff Brody and his son at the dinner table.

As his wife clears plates off of the table, Brody sits staring off into the distance, clearly deep in thought.  He doesn’t notice his young son watching his every move from a foot away.  When he takes a drink, his son takes a drink.  When he folds his hands, his son folds his hands.  Finally, he sees his son mirroring him.  He starts to playfully make movements and faces for his son to copy–ending with a kiss.  The most powerful role models for children sit across from them at the dinner table.  It’s you.

Recognize that and build upon it.

“Join in imitating me” is an invitation to a relationship in which through spending time together in personal relationship, in study, in ministry and in everyday life, Paul’s life and faith would be rubbing off on them.

Secondly, Paul is not calling them to focus only upon him.  Paul nowhere suggests that we should imitate him because he’s such an amazing person.  Instead, he sees himself as a signpost pointing toward a more important reality.  Thus, his appeal is not merely to “Follow my example,” but to do so because Paul also strives to “follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Even when it sounds like Paul is highlighting his own accomplishments, his greater purpose to direct our attention to what God can do in and through us.  Thus, writing to Timothy he draws attention to “my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim. 3:10).  

That sounds rather impressive.  And it could also be pretty self-centered. “Hey look at me.  Aren’t I awesome!  You should be just like me.”  But Paul quickly directs our attention away from himself, focusing instead on the Lord who rescued him from this persecution and who will similarly bless and protect all who strive to live godly lives in Christ (v. 11).

Thirdly, Paul doesn’t make imitation exclusive.  He is not encouraging them to imitate him alone, but any others who walk this same way.  In the rest of verse 17 Paul says…

and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Paul wasn’t so proud to think that he was the only one who could be such an example. 

Doubtless he had in mind Timothy and Epaphroditus, as well as any others who pursued Christ like he did.  The Philippians had “us,” not just Paul, as an example to follow.

I know that if I’m the only person discipling someone, that he is not only going to imitate my good example, but he will also imitate my flaws.  That is why discipleship is best done from within the body of Christ, which has many spiritual leaders to imitate and learn from.

And that kind of imitational diversity is wise for at least a couple of reasons.  First, it protects us again from the very real possibility that even our “best” models will eventually blow it.  It will still be devastating when a cherished leader fails, but less so when your identity isn’t built entirely around him or her.  Second, life is complex and its challenges legion.  A variety of godly models stands a better chance of giving you something to imitate across a range of difficult circumstances than any single model possibly could.

Imitating me might be good. Imitating us will always be better.

Fourth, imitation is for everyone.  Throughout our lives we will imitate others, and someone will be imitating us.  It may only be our children, our family.  But if we are intentional about it, we will find models to imitate and we will intentionally engage in discipleship relationships so that others can imitate us.

So Paul calls for us to be intentional models for imitation.  He appeals to Timothy to be an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).  Oh, is that all?

And Titus gets a similarly broad appeal to be an example in “everything” (Tit. 2:7).

Imitation isn’t a one-way street.  It’s not just that I imitate others, but they also imitate me.  Relationships work like that.  Paul’s appeal, then, is to be mindful of our own modeling so that, like Paul, we can be signposts, pointing people toward the One who is so much more.

Donald Carson writes:

You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, ‘Watch me.’

Come—I’ll show you how to have family devotions.

Come—I’ll show you how to do Bible study.

Come on—let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith.

Come—I’ll show you how to pray.

Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother.

At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me.

Fifth, we shouldn’t imitate everyone.  That is what verses 18 and 19 are about.  Not everyone is worthy of imitation.  Unfortunately, we live in an age of celebrities who are not worthy of imitating.

Life is all about finding the right models to imitate.  Children don’t automatically know how to choose good models.  They are impressionable and molded by anyone.

Hopefully you are a strong enough role model in their lives so that they want to follow your example, but you are going to have to continue to help them discern whether popular classmates, pop stars, or movie stars are worthy of emulation.

One thing you can do is to consistently expose them to good role models.  Find contemporary or historical persons and encourage them to research about them.

Another thing you can do is to continually emphasize character.  Sure, a person may have charm and charisma or immense talents, but what is most important is character.  Continue to teach them about good character qualities in their own life so that they will discern whether their models have good character and are worthy of imitating.

Keep the dialogue focused on values; ask kids which values they look for in a role model, and why.  And remind kids that it’s OK to choose more than one role model and to change role models as they grow up and expand their interests.

If you are serious about discipling others, then you need to live a life worth imitating.  Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

1. Is my life worth imitating?  Why or Why not?

2. What areas of my life do I need to repent of and grow in?

3. What are ways in my life I can be more intentional in teaching my faith to my children?

4. When I look at my life, am I the person I want my children to be?

5. What are things in my life I need to ask forgiveness for from my children?

6. Am I reflecting Jesus to my family?

What is at stake for Paul in this command is that without a role model like him, we make ourselves vulnerable to becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ.  There are many people who sadly come to Paul’s mind as those who have forsaken his example and become enemies of Jesus.  They went a different route and it ended in destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Notice that Paul uses the same verb to describe them—they walk, too.  I highlight this to say that if we’re not walking in Paul’s example, then we are surely walking in someone’s.  Maybe we’re trying to blaze our own trail after the shadow of ego, or maybe we’re lining up behind a Pauline stranger, either way we are following and if it’s not in Paul’s example then it won’t turn out well.

A role model like Paul is not an optional add-on to our Firefox browser.  Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit.  This is life or death. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus.  As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

So I want to encourage you, find someone who is a Christ-follower and ask if you can spend some time with them, asking them questions, asking them to show you how they follow Christ, and learn from them.

If you are a Christ-follower, then spend some time with younger Christians, showing them the way.

Someone has said that to successfully live the Christian life we need three relationships.  We need a Paul, to disciple us, a Timothy to disciple, and a Barnabas, to encourage us.  Go out and find your Paul, your Timothy and your Barnabas.