Monday, May 16, 2016

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

“For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.
 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” (Philippians 4:1-9)

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.
And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

  • It can have to do with church life issues that aren’t about doctrine but are just about the best way to build a healthy church.
  • It can just be personality clashes that aren’t about sin.
  • For the next 8 months, politics is going to be a hot topic that causes disagreement among Christians.
If I am reading Paul correctly here, when this kind of differences of opinion or perspective boils over – when it becomes an emotional disagreement that breaks our fellowship - it will be a sign that we lack the peace of God in our life, and it creates turmoil within us that impacts those around us. I want to back that up by looking at the next paragraph in Philippians. Paul gives three things that need to be in place for us to find and experience the peace of God both within us and around us.

Rejoice in the Lord, consistently live with a gentle (forbearing) nature, and pray so that the peace of God will stand watch over your hearts and minds.

REJOICE IN THE LORD

This isn’t just “don’t worry be happy.” This is to “consciously delight in God’s grace.”[1] In other words, this isn’t a joyfulness that comes because you have tried to have a better attitude or because the person causing you so much grief has suddenly done everything just like you want them to. This is a purposeful refocusing on the grace that Jesus Christ has offered to us by his death on the cross. If we are going to ‘consciously delight in God’s grace,’ it is vital that we have a clear and true understanding of God so that we truly understand God’s grace – which gives us reason to rejoice. So let’s go back to the two distortions of the faith Paul referenced in Philippians 3.

If we conceive of God as a God of Law, we will constantly be proud or ashamed based on our merit, so we will not have peace within because we have forgotten God’s grace. And we will be constantly be comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

If we conceive of God as a God who died to make us comfortable and give us worldly reward, we will associate earthly success with heavenly favor –and we will once again be proud or ashamed based on our merit, and will not have peace within us. And we will once again be constantly comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice once again it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

Either way, there will be discord within us and around us because our view of God and God’s grace is wrong. We will think we are walking in His footsteps when actually we are walking further away from God and from others. We must have a focused, purposeful view of God and His grace as manifested in the person and work of Christ.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, AND CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE

When Paul writes about this gentleness, he chooses a word already in common use. If you read Bible commentaries, there is a LOT of discussion about what this means.[2]
  • A person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom.
  • A spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate.
  • An ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
  • Not spineless, but selfless.
  • Mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness.
  • Not insistent on what is its due
  • Slow to take offence, and swift to forgive
  • Able to temper justice with mercy
Spurgeon once noted, “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. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”

Now, they needed a mediator to help them navigate this. I don’t want to overlook the importance of Christian community is strengthening relationships. But they could have had the best mediator in the world, and if their hearts remained untouched, they would probably just keep revisiting a pattern of conflict and resolution over and over, if not between the two of them then with someone new.

So we rejoice in the Lord, we focus on the wonder of His loving grace, and the discord within us settles. Then our contribution to the discord around us settles. And so we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by living with gentleness and patience.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY

I would think that thankfulness is an automatic response to rejoicing. If we are focused on God’s grace, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my wife has for me, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my friends have for me, gratitude follows. How much more should gratitude follow an acknowledgment of God’s grace.

And I would think that requests are an automatic response when I am trying to live with a gentle nature. I am not inclined toward that. There are things in my life that get under my skin. I don’t always bring the right attitude and presence to a situation. It's also not a trait that (for guys, at least) that we hear praised that often. “You know what I want to be when I grow up? GENTLE!” I am going to need to make my requests known to God.

If we honestly commit to rejoicing and gentleness, the prayer will follow.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY, AND THE PEACE OF GOD WILL STAND WATCH OVER YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS

Every believer has come into an eternal peace with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] However, not every believer necessarily experiences the peace of God. Peace with God is between us and God and made possible by Jesus – he does all the heavy lifting.

The peace of God what happens within us, and it is the fruit of our purposeful focus on Jesus, our commitment to walking in the footsteps of God with gentleness, and prayer that gives our anxieties over to a God even as we offer thanks for His grace. A commentator named Barnhouse has summarized this well:

Peace with God… is already the portion of all who are placed in Christ. But the peace of God comes afterwards to those who are willing to unconditionally surrender. How many unsaved people there are today who are in misery because they will not accept the peace with God that God made at the cross when He declared that the war was over and that sin was dealt with. And how many Christians are going to Heaven miserably because they are not willing to accept the riches of His grace and the wonders of His peace that He is so willing to give if we will only acknowledge Him as our Lord as well as our Savior.... Day by day, we are the objects of that love and grace, and, when we are surrendered to it, we shall be at peace.”
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[1] Look up these verses on biblehub.com and click on the ‘lexicon’ tab for a fuller explanation.
[2] I am pretty sure I got everything in this list from sources quoted at Precept Austin
[3] See Romans 5

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