We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
We’re nearly done! In today’s section Paul returns to one of the key themes of the epistle: joy!
Paul – I cannot tell you how often I have prayed for Euodia and Syntyche over the last six weeks since Epaphroditus set out. It is such an important issue for them to address. I am confident, however, that they will resolve their differences and that the cause of the gospel will not be hindered. In fact, I am certain that they will be mature enough in Christ to embrace humility and to set aside their grievances.
If only God’s people would do this with the same everywhere. Instead, it is so often not the case. God’s people accept the forgiveness of Jesus but do not go on to crucify their own desires and passions. The community of faith becomes all caught up in personal ambition and self-centred desires that divide the community. They are looking out for themselves not for the gospel.
It saddens me that the Philippians are more of an exception than they ought to be.
Read Philippians 4:4
Clement – When Epaphroditus read the next lines we were ready to join in! We were rejoicing in the Lord and, at that moment, if anyone had come into our gathering they would have encountered a community totally united around the good news of Jesus. We were as ready for the return of Christ as we have perhaps ever been!
And yet, there were still concerns. Each of us had to return to our normal affairs after the gathering. Some of those who were slaves would that night return to serve masters who did not fear the Lord. Others, like myself, would return to a wife who did not believe in Jesus. She was happy to remain married to me and, as Paul had advised, I had stayed married to her, but whose companionship I desired. Still others, would enter tomorrow into the service of the state; representing the concerns of Caesar. The real world would soon impinge on our sense of belonging and peace.
Paul – I knew, that regardless of how quickly the restoration was, that my friends faced ongoing difficulties from outside. I wanted to remind them that they have access to wonderful resources in Christ.
Read Philippians 4:5-7
Clement – These were words that we needed to hear. In fact, we took time, right then and there, to pray. We prayed for each other, for faithfulness, for unity, for courage to proclaim the good news, for Paul – his appeal, his safety, his boldness, for Timothy, you name it we prayed it. Casting all our cares on God! And when we had finished we had a wonderful sense of peace.
It was this peace that would, as Paul implied, guard our hearts. And what an apt metaphor! In a garrison town we were all too familiar with guards, as was Paul, chained between two of them as he’s been for so long. It wasn’t soldiers, but God’s peace that guards us, keeping us secure.
Paul – Prayer is a wonderful privilege that the people of God have always had.
Clement – A big part of our tension as believers was to negotiate the tension between the claims of Christ and those of our culture. There were some areas, such as the idol feasts, that we must flee from whatever the consequences. There are others, including how we seek to persuade others, that we can embrace. But most of the time it feels like we are trying to distance ourselves from our culture; as if our culture is entirely evil and wicked! So, Paul’ next words to us were really encouraging.
Paul – There are many things in society that are against Christ and his reign and rule. So many values that are opposed to the values of the kingdom. And yet, that doesn’t mean that culture has no benefit at all! What I want the Philippians – all Christians really – to do is to be thoughtful about their culture.
Read Philippians 4:8-9
Clement – The list of virtues that Paul listed were familiar to us. Noble things are those people or things that are dignified and honourable. People like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, but there are people who are not believers who, nonetheless, do noble things. Things that we ought to consider ourselves. It’s the reality of meeting people in our world who would make better followers of Jesus that we would!
Paul – Things that are reputable or that reflect authenticity are worth mediating upon as well. If it is the real thing, it’s a good thing.
Clement – Whatever is beautiful – and there are many beautiful things in our culture – can be appreciated and enjoyed by believers.
Paul – As long as the values of Christ are applied to these categories, they are open to my friends. To decide that you will enjoy as many beautiful things as you can for your own good and benefit is not the life of faith. But beautiful, excellent things that encourage justice and mercy and righteousness ought to be considered by followers of Jesus.
Clement – Of course, if we were in any doubt, we only needed to ask ourselves what would Paul do. Someone actually suggested we make little bracelets with those letters on them! What a ridiculous idea!
To think about
Paul’s encouragement to consider and reflect upon anything that is good certainly contains some challenges doesn’t it? We need a great deal of discernment in this, but at the same time it encourages a stance towards our world that is essentially positive. This is not to suggest that our society doesn’t need the transforming power of Jesus, only to acknowledge that we don’t necessarily have to run away from everything within it!
Paul urged his friends to not be anxious but to pray. Pray about those things that are causing you anxiety and ask for the peace of God to guard your heart.