There seems to be a shift of focus as Paul closes his letter to the Philippians. It feels as if Paul has pushed his readers to the top of a hill so they can coast down the other side. It doesn’t mean the ride is over, in a way it’s just begun. The long walk of stepping through unity and humility is complete. The summit has been joyfully reached, and a completely different vista is now in view as they race down the other side. As we consider Paul’s closing words in Philippians 4:5-23 a new thought takes the forefront. There seems to be five topics, gentleness, peace in our hearts, peace in our minds, contentment, and fellowship. Because of the breadth of Paul’s closing topics, we’re going to divide them into two lessons. This article will cover Philippians 4:5-9 while next week will close the series with a look at 4:10-23.
As I consider these five topics there is one thought that stands out; peace. Paul explicitly mentions peace in two of the topics. Yet gentleness, contentment, and fellowship also contain a large dose of God’s peace as well. For that reason we’re going to look at each one through the lens of peace and what that means as we fly down the hill and put these things into practice.
Peace in Our Interactions
Paul wrote, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” This combination seems a bit awkward to our modern ears. There is no explanation of how Jesus’ soon return has anything to do with being gentle. Yet we also read in James, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8, NASB95) Anxiety seems to be our natural reaction when we know something is around the corner. Storytellers often use the “ticking clock” to create tension and a sense of drama. Will the hero be able to solve the puzzle before time runs out? But Paul and James connect the expectation of Christ’s return with gentleness and patience. I think the key to this mystery is found in Matthew 24:42-51. Jesus, talking about his return, gives us a dual metaphor of a good servant and an evil servant. The implication is that the good servant serves well even while the master is away. And the evil slave is anything but gentle and patient to their fellow slaves because they assume that the master’s return is far off.
Gentleness requires peace. I remember as a child making the springtime trip into town to pick up a few boxes of newly hatched baby chickens. Soft yellow chirping fuzzballs that needed to be handled with care. That’s how I picture gentleness. Even as a youngster I had the strength to easily wound or kill one of those chicks if I held too tightly. Gentleness is not weakness but strength under control. We recognize the weakness in someone else and meet them with grace and tenderness so they can grow in Jesus. Can you see how peace plays a role in gentleness? Now extend that out. Paul doesn’t limit gentleness to just our brothers and sisters in the church but to all men and women. Yes, we are going to see their sin, their folly, their brokenness, their woundedness, and their anger. We will experience their weaknesses which we must, in Jesus name, approach with gentleness strengthened by love and grace.
Peace in Our Hearts
Paul next writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Praying with thanksgiving brings peace to our hearts. Each day has plenty of anxious moments. Circumstances and situations that cause fear and doubt. Problems that we can’t seem to handle, shake, or put aside. We aren’t strong enough to handle it or smart enough to figure it all out. Our sea is tossed, and the waves are threatening to swamp our boat. Peace comes when we turn to God, He’s strong enough, smart enough, and assuredly more powerful than any wave that may come our way.
It seems too easy and yet at the same time hard to do. Say a prayer, turn things over to Jesus, and everything will be ok? Saying a prayer is the easy part, leaving it in Jesus’ hands is the hard part. You see when we turn things over to Jesus the source of our peace changes. Before, peace could only come if the situation was fixed, if the storm blew over and the waves became calm. Prayer may or may not change the situation. But prayer does change our source of peace. Instead of looking at the situation we are looking to Jesus. He is our peace no matter what happens. Knowing that Jesus will guard our hearts and our minds with His peace.
Peace in Our Minds
Paul next writes, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Let’s connect these verses with what we just considered about prayer. Like I said, it’s easy to pray about our problems but at the same time hard to keep our minds off of them. I think Paul understood that as well. We’ve seen throughout his letter to the Philippians that his trial and possible execution was on his mind. But we’ve also seen how Paul steered those thoughts towards rejoicing. While Paul felt the uncertainty of the moment, it didn’t steal his peace or his joy.
We all struggle at times with thoughts and worries that we can’t get rid of. They rudely invade our thoughts and our dreams. They steal our joy and our peace. I think that Paul is sharing with us his own habit to combat those joy stealing thoughts. Instead of dwelling on the problem dwell on, consider, think about, dream about, and look intently at those things which are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent, and/or worthy of praise. It’s often far easier to see and dwell on what is wrong, dishonorable, sinful, dirty, ugly, rotten, poor, and/or worthy of condemnation. I want to be careful here. Some have taken these verses and created a kind of positive thinking theology. Paul is not saying that we spin reality or only spout positive confessions. Paul did not ignore the wrong or pretend that it wasn’t there. We always must start with truth – whatsoever things are true. Then we either look upwards towards God and find the honorable, right, pure… or we start at the truth (or what we think is true) as look downwards on the ugliness. I think you can see how one is the road to peace, and the other is the road to debilitating worry and anxiety.
The possibility for peace is always there. We are over and over again promised peace in the words of the Bible. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. We can have peace with God, be reconciled to Him through the blood of Christ. We can approach and interact with others with a gentleness which provides a bridge for peace. The world may see this is weak, but it is actually stronger than you can imagine. We can have peace of heart as we turn from looking for peace in the situation and turn to Jesus for our peace in prayer and thanksgiving. We can have peace of mind as we choose to consider those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent, and worthy of praise. The Bible never invites us to wear a façade of peace but to discover and hold tightly to the real thing in Jesus.