Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
In a lot of ways I do look at theStory as my joy and crown. I believe that in this room exists a community that has the potential to really be a force for good in this city. In fact, I don’t know if there is any other hope that small communities who are dedicated to the task of the Kingdom of God for this world. It’s why I love the church, it’s why I love this community. I love all the individuals here, I love the families, I take pride when you succeed and I get excited when you thrive.
The word crown that Paul here is using is like a trophy of sorts. He’s not talking about a hat that a king would wear but that of a runner that would wear it after winning a big race that he’s been preparing for all of his life. This is where Paul finds his trophy. Nowadays you ask someone what their pride and joy are in life, the one thing that they brag about and it is usually their house, their car, their new church building, their jobs, their kids. For Paul, it is his community. It makes me wonder, who are we so deeply invested in and connected with in this community that we could call them our pride and joy? Who else in this community do we wear like a trophy and we get excited about them when they thrive and succeed in the world? Are we the kind of community that holds each other as our joy and crown? This is why we called this series “Friends to Swear By.” To Paul, the church is to create an environment of friends to swear by, the kind of friends that you wear as a crown.
Remember, Paul is trying to help shape the perspective of the Philippian church in a specific way, in a way that can we can rejoice through hardship, make sense of suffering, and love our brother. He tells us over and over again that followers of Christ look a certain way, they think a certain way and he’s been trying to help us look and think like they do. Paul uses the word mindset a number of times in Philippians because that is what he is trying to shape. If he can shape their outlook and mind about the world and Jesus then everything else will follow. This was a quote from a few weeks ago.
To perceive this, however, the Philippians and we will need to become practiced at reading the drama of salvation properly. They also need to act in specific ways, as outlined before in Philippians. Thus, a proper reading of the economy of salvation will enable them to situate themselves within that drama in the appropriate ways so that they will live, and continue to live, as “friends” of the cross…Paul’s attention and affections are redirected so that he comes to understand God and God’s ways with the world in profoundly different ways.
– Stephen Fowl
Paul is attempting to help us fit ourselves into God’s plan of salvation and the world and help us see where we fit. He hopes that his joy and crown will do the same, and that together as friends they can become friends of the cross. Philippians is a book dedicated to that task. So as we here at theStory finish unpacking Philippians and we also have just spent a considerable amount of time deciding on some of the direction of this church, may we keep what we have learned in mind. Our decisions should reflect God’s ongoing drama of salvation and not simply be symptoms of our love of self. Quarrels that are unresolved. Judgmental attitudes toward people we don’t understand. The refusal to forgive. The apathy toward change. These are all signs that we do not understand what God is doing and why we are here. But as we begin to make each other our joy and crown and start to care about each other to a point where we actually take pride in one another, then we will begin to understand what Paul is doing. Paul seemed to have run into a few people as well like this as well as we come to the end of letter Paul speaks directly to them.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
There has been falling outs in this community before. Someone hurts someone else. It happens. It can’t not happen. Nevertheless, I think Paul has set the record pretty straight that he sees the community in unity as central to our stance before God. How we stand before God is directly related to how we stand in relation to others, especially in our community. So Paul here is obviously addressing some sort of broken relationship in the community and he doesn’t want to just ignore it. He refers back to what he mentioned in chapter 2 and tells them to be like-minded. He’s not just telling them to be friends again and want to like each other, rather he’s trying to get them to listen to what he’s been saying all along and change their perspective on what is important. That is, he wants them to start acting like Christians act. He wants them to start displaying the virtues and habits that Christians should display. They should do this because they both at least agree that they have a connection in Christ. If they can’t let go of their pride long enough to fix what is broken in their relationship then it flows over into their relationship with Christ, and eventually the entire communities relationship with Christ.
Notice how Paul doesn’t take sides. This isn’t about helping someone win, this is again, about seeing the entire perspective of the gospel. For Paul, everything is connected. He’s pleading that this relationship be reconciled because everything effects everything. He says earlier, that in Christ all things hold together. There is no way that this community can keep on living, can keep on rejoicing if there is this kind of dissension in a community. Everything is connected. This means that they can’t talk behind each other’s back. This means they find pride in putting someone else down. It’s all connected. It’s not just about a disagreement, it’s about all things. So Paul pleads that it stops and is sorted out.
I like what Paul is doing here because he isn’t simply asking people to be perfect. He hasn’t said to stop sinning. This hasn’t been his aim at all in Philippians. Rather he is encouraging characteristics of what Jesus’ followers look like. The commitment to the hard work of confession, seeking and offering forgiveness and reconciliation. This is what Christians do everywhere. If we can’t do it amongst ourselves than we cannot do it with God or the world. Again, Paul isn’t reprimanding them because they didn’t get along. He doesn’t even really care about the reason as to why they have fallen apart. He doesn’t care. They must be reconciled. He must expect that these people know how to forgive and reconcile, he seems to have a ‘guy’ there that will help them sort out their differences and he is letting them know that the health of a community rests on their reconciliation.
Paul then goes from this very specific circumstance into a more broad encouragement to the entire community.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Of course Paul keeps telling us to rejoice, he hasn’t stopped telling us to rejoice, he’s a never ending broken record of repeating the same thing over and over again. But there is something more going on than simply Paul telling us how to act. He’s told us already that our wealth and joy is found by being part of a community that are ruled by a different Lord than that of Caesar. So when Paul is speaking of rejoicing he certainly isn’t talking about the kind of happiness that the world celebrates. He doesn’t mean do whatever it takes so you can be happy. He’s not talking about this random emotional response because you’ve set your life up to take care of yourself. He’s talking about joy as a
…response formed only in those who can read the economy of God’s activity in particular ways and act in conformity with that unfolding story. Joy is the appropriate response when one rightly perceives the unfolding of God’s drama of salvation even in the midst of suffering and opposition.
– Stephen Fowl
The word rejoice throughout Philippians is the Greek word that means ‘gift.’ This isn’t a forced emotion that you make yourself feel when bad things happen. To rejoice literally means to be aware of gift. The gift of breath. Gift of life. Gift of love. Gift of getting up. Life is a gift. To rejoice means to be aware of this gift. It’s about waking up to the reality around us. The reality is life is good because Jesus has reconciled us to the Father and he is making all things new. With all this rejoice talk we begin to think that Paul just wants us to fake being happy. So because some dude died on a cross a few thousand years ago I’m supposed to suck up all sorrow in my life and put a fake smile on my face. This isn’t what Paul is talking about. When Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice he is saying “WAKE UP,” look at the world around you, stop sleeping, everything is a gift, see what God has done and is up to. This type of rejoicing is a disciplined alertness not a fleeting emotion. You learn to perceive things differently that run counter to the way the world thinks. The world tells us that when things don’t go our way (and they weren’t for Paul, remember he’s an apostle, in prison, doing the opposite of what he should have been doing) that we should whine and complain until that isn’t so. Paul on the other hand has gone through a kind of formation that allows him to see the world through a different lens. This is the kind of joy that has been forged in the furnace of suffering. Wake Up and Be Aware of the Gifts All Around!
To be a Christian, you must perceive things in very specific ways. Where you don’t already look at the world this way, you must discipline yourself so you do. This is what it means to follow Christ. Paul is not talking about happiness. The things that Paul has told us to rejoice in are the sorts of things that would make most people miserable and possibly ruin relationships. This means that rejoicing isn’t just an emotional response to a situation, rather it is a disciplined formation of our ways of thinking and acting in the world. Remember when we spoke about the disciplines? We discipline ourselves to we can actually live in the freedom that Christ promises. Just like a professional musician needs to discipline themselves so they can experience the freedom of their instrument, we need to discipline ourselves to experience the freedom of our lives. Joy is a by product of us being able to recognize what God is up to around us even in the worst of circumstances. Our joy won’t be an achievement but rather re-aligning our perspective so that we can recognize God’s purposes and presence around us. Rejoicing isn’t just an emotion, rejoicing is a decision that we have made of a specific kind of attitude we have towards life by being formed in the way of Christ.
Q: What kind of things can you do to discipline yourself so that you become more capable of rejoicing?
Then Paul tells us not to be anxious, but rather, as an alternative to being anxious, be in prayer. This is an interesting contrast because prayer is an act of submission, not an act of control. Rather than telling them to get their act together and stop being anxious, he again is trying to help them realign their perspective to point their minds to someone who can give them freedom. Prayer puts us in our place. Anxiety can only be freed by giving up on yourself as a way to be able to remove anxiety. So you pray. You pray because prayer is an act of dependence on God and not yourself. You don’t pray to get rid of anxiety, but by praying and depending on God for everything, anxiety disappears. It’s the peace of God that is an alternative to anxiety. It surpasses our understanding and our control of a situation. They aren’t called simply to have peace, they are offered peace and they can accept it. Peace is not something that comes easy. We end up having a dependence on ourselves, our own successes and our own ability to give ourselves freedom, but it create anxiety. The peace of God comes to those that receive it, and that allow their dependence on God to be great than their dependence on themselves. You accept and experience this peace through prayer, an acknowledgment that you need God and you depend on him, because you can’t do it yourself.
Throughout the epistle Paul’s aim has been to form the Philippians’ habits of thinking, perceiving, and acting in a particular way, a way appropriate to those who are in Christ. Having one’s thoughts and hearts in Christ will generate a pattern of thought and action that will be distinctly different from (and often opposed to) the lives, expectations, and perceptions of those whose political allegiance is not to Christ. Paul’s assertion here at the end of the epistle that the peace of God will protect their thoughts and hearts stands in sharp contrast to the coercive force which guards the citizens of Philippi in the name of the Rome. That peace can never be a true peace because it is not founded in the God of peace.
– Stephen Fowl
There is something that we need to be careful in what Paul is doing with his last line. Paul says this
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I find this problematic because Paul sounds like he is saying that the things we know and understand through the Peace of God, others will not know and understand. This peace will also guard our hearts and minds from incompatible ways of thinking. This becomes an issue because this almost seems like brainwashing to me. Think about this. If we have a peace that surpasses understanding, how will we have discussions or converse with those that don’t have this peace? When I was in Aruba, I was constantly running into these people that would consider themselves Conservative republicans. They were not the smartest people, in fact I would have called them quite ignorant. Yet everything they spoke about anything politics, they would speak about the liberal democrat world as a bunch of lunatics. Now to other Republicans these people I ran into would be perfect exemplary people in what is right and truthful. They think democrats are crazy. Then go and talk to some democrats and very quickly you will start to hear how annoyed and how much they hate conservatives. They both think each other is wrong. They both think each other is crazy. They both think the other side is stubborn or deceived or unreasonable and that the way they think and act in the world is the right way. So is Paul just saying that this reality is going to exist? That there will be people that think you are crazy but it doesn’t really matter? How are we ever to know that we are the crazy ones? Let me show you a video of someone that I think is completely crazy, ignorant and deceived. It’s also pretty hilarious.
Now I can assure you, if you sit down with Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort, they have come to some terms with some kind of peace that obviously surpasses human understanding. I have no idea how anything he is saying makes any sense. Yet they believe this whole-hearted. In fact they have dedicated their entire lives to this kind of evangelism in trying to win people over to the Christian faith through these kinds of one-off logical explanations of how God works. I think they are nuts. I also think though that they have some sort of peace in their hearts. I do not think that this is the kind of peace that Paul is talking about. The peace that Paul is talking about here is not the kind of peace that assures you that you are right and everyone else is wrong. That isn’t peace, that is arrogance and pride. Paul has been setting us up all along to understand the kind of peace that God offers. And Paul continues to explain..,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
In the video, these guys have created an entire life of trying to convince other people that they are right. Their peace is found in being right, and convincing other people that they are right. Paul uses his language carefully. He isn’t telling us what is true, and what is noble and what is right. He just says whatever these things are. He recognizes that these adjectives are very subjective. He acknowledged this before when he referred to the dissension between the two women before. He obviously thinks there is a different between truth and falsity, and right and wrong, he’s just not telling us what they are, or what he thinks they are in this case. Peace from God isn’t found in being right and everyone else being wrong. The book of Philippians, what we have spent learning and reading over the last few months, provides us with a system in which we can make these kind of discerning decisions together as a community. Paul has told us to pray, in an act of showing our dependence on God. We are to act on the things we have learned, in other words actually live what we have seen and learned. We learn to rejoice. We discipline our perspective to keep God’s entire story in reach. We learn to rejoice while suffering. When your life becomes Christ-focused unto his death and resurrection, then we begin to have a proper perspective and ability on making judgments on what these pure, truthful, noble and right things are. And which we will soon find out, these things are not the same things as the dominant culture in which we find ourselves.
Q: What does the peace of God look like for you?
Paul is also not giving us a list of things not to do. This is not an attempt to rid us all of moral corruption and all the bad behaviours that we have. Rather, he is taking a different approach. He wants us to be morally excellent. He wants us to be a community that stands as an alternative to the culture around us. Not just a community that toots the horn of whatever our culture thinks is excellent, but a community that determines what is excellent for a world that is Christs.
This implies that if Christians order their common life in a manner worthy of the gospel, if they master the convictions and practices appropriate to life in Christ, they will be able to discern what is truly excellent. Thus, it would appear that the ability to make sustained discriminations between excellence and its simulacra depends on the presence and good working of a community whose common life is appropriate to the gospel of Christ.
– Stephen Fowl
I want to be this kind of community whose common life is appropriate to the gospel of Christ. I think we here this morning are capable of this. I think that as we start to be shaped by this kind of perspective that Paul encourages us to have we can get closer to learning what it means to rejoice. We can start to better understand what it means to see each other as our joy and crown. We can start to learn to dwell on these true, good and just things. We can start to truly experience the peace of God. Let’s pray together.