Holidays are challenging times for many reasons: routines are off, people in our houses, being in other peoples’ houses, challenging people, missing loved ones, or the things that aren’t right or good, and simmering beneath it all, you’re a corrupt sinner. Sometimes another contributing factor is the contrast of really good things and really hard things at the same time in different ways that tempts us to discontent, anxiety, frustrations, bitterness, or despair. But Christ gives the strong gifts of contentment, peace, and joy as He teaches you to rest in Your Father.
The Text: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you…” (Phil. 4:9-13).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The overarching exhortation is to stand fast in the Lord and to have peace both in our hearts and minds and as well as with one another (Phil. 4:1-2, 7), and this continues with the exhortation to follow Paul’s apostolic example, with the promise that God’s peace will accompany that imitation (Phil. 4:9). Paul follows his own counsel to rejoice in the Lord, specifically for the recent gift he has received from the Philippians, knowing that it was something they were eager to do but hadn’t had the opportunity until then (Phil. 4:10). Paul clarifies that he wasn’t in a bad way without their gift since he had learned to be content in every circumstance (Phil. 4:11). He had learned to be poor and rich, full and hungry, abound and suffer need because He had the power to fulfill all of his duty through the strength of Christ (Phil. 4:12-13).
We noted last week that prayer with thanksgiving is a crucial part of dealing with anxiety (Phil. 4:6), as well as making lists of all the true, just, pure, and lovely things (Phil. 4:8). But you should add to this arsenal following the examples of other faithful Christians, beginning with Christ Himself: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21, Mt. 16:24). But one of the ways we do that is by following those who are following Him well: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1Cor. 11:1). We follow Paul and all of the apostle well as we study the New Testament in particular. But the New Testament also points us to the example of the Old Testament: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11, Heb. 11). We are also instructed to imitate faithful pastors and elders (Heb. 13:7). We do not trust in men, but if we trust in God, we can see His Spirit at work in His people, and there is great encouragement as we all pull in the same direction toward Christ (like in athletics).
Part of the example we need to follow is Paul’s contentment. Notice that he is extremely grateful for the gift he’s received from the Philippians, but he hastens to add that he wasn’t desperate for it. This is a hard line to walk: presenting requests and rejoicing greatly in their fulfillment but also complete surrender to the will of God because He knows best – rejoicing in the Lord always, even when He says no or not yet. This is only possible through deep faith in the goodness of God our Father. Jesus reveals this to us most clearly: Our heavenly Father feeds the birds, and we are more important than birds (Mt. 6:26). Our heavenly Father clothes the grass, and we are more valuable than grass (Mt. 6:30). Our Father knows all of our needs (Mt. 6:32), He is a more faithful Father than any earthly father (Mt. 7:11), and no good thing does He withhold from His people (Ps. 84:11). He who gave His own Son, will give us everything we need (Rom. 8:32). This means that when God says “no” or “not yet” it is better for us and better for the Kingdom (cf. Mt. 6:33). This is why Jesus prayed in His greatest agony, “not my will, by Thy will be done” (Mt. 26:39). And by submitting to the Father, Jesus crushed sin, death, and the devil and saved the world (1 Pet. 2:23-25). This is not apathy; this is militant contentment. Contentment makes us faithful servants and grants us maximum mobility for our King.
THE STRENGTH OF CHRIST
While this Christian calendar verse about “doing all things through Christ” is often misquoted and misapplied (as though it applies to absolutely anything you want to do), it is a gloriously comforting verse. It means that Christ gives the strength we need to do whatever He requires. He gives us the strength to resist temptation, and He always makes a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). He gives us the strength to obey: God works in us both the will and the power to please Him (Phil. 2:13). Christ Himself is our mighty armor in enduring suffering (1 Pet. 4:1). And what is it exactly that we arm ourselves with? The justice of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:19-20, cf. 1 Pet. 2:23).
Wise imitation vs. slavish imitation: We are seeking to cultivate a community of “like-mindedness” that isn’t woodenly rigid, inflexible, or disproportionate. We want to major on the majors and minor on the minors, extending true liberty without being naïve (Rom. 14, Gal. 2). Christian like-mindedness is truly a gift from the God of patience and consolation (Rom. 15:5). It comes from the consolations of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit (Phil. 2:1), and it consists of having the same love, one soul/spirit, and one mind (Phil. 2:2). How can we tell the difference? “The fear of man is a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Prov. 29:25). Surround yourself with faithful witnesses, but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).
Meditate on Heaven: You know the old saying about the fellow who was so heavenly minded, he was no earthly good, but I think that cautionary tale is almost entirely misguided and false. To be truly heavenly minded is to maximize your earthly good. The problem isn’t with people thinking about Heaven, the problem is with people mistaking their idols and idolatrous delusions for Heaven. But the true Heaven, where Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand is what arms us for faithfulness here. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God… Mortify therefore your members…” (Col. 3:1-5).