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NAVIGATING LIFE'S JOURNEY
Philippians 3:10-16 Navigating Life's Journey
Philippians 3:16-4:1 Living as a Citizen of Heaven
Philippians 4 : 2-3 Church Conflict
Philippians 4 : 6-7 Stress and Anxiety
Philippians 4:8: Think on These Things
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The contents of this booklet is based and built on a series Pastor Dave Strem preached on the book of Philippians. This is booklet 3 of 4.
The goal of converting the messages into written form is to give the truths contained within a more durable form. Written form also allows the reader more time to reflect, ponder, and do personal research. This is difficult to accomplish amid a flowing sermon. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will use this medium to continue to impact hearts and lives.
Malachi teaches us what kind of attitude God is looking for in His people. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It is God's last words of special revelation until New Testament times. After all the laws, battles, and hardships are endured, listen to what he says concerning those who love and care about God.
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 'They will be my people,' says the Lord Almighty. 'On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child.' (3:16-17)
Good Christian literature helps us to think about, or contemplate, God. And that is the ultimate goal of this booklet. Trinity Evangelical Free Church wants you to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ." We hope and pray that the lessons contained within this booklet will help you in that noble endeavor.
Please receive this booklet in the humble spirit in which it is given. Read, learn, and go forth with God!
Grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory both now and forever
2 Peter 3:18
On the journey of life, knowing Jesus brings guidance and help and we need that because the journey often has many turns, many long uphill stretches, many surprises on our way. And it takes active involvement to get through that. The Christian life is not simply pressing on an accelerator and away you go. It is more like a bike trail. You have to be involved. Look at Philippians 3:10-16:
"... that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind."
It is filled with action verbs. "Pressing on," which means endurance. "Reaching forward," which means focusing on the future in the present. "Forgetting those things which are behind," which means making progress in the present and not allowing yourself to be bogged down by the past. These action verbs point to active involvement. Successful Christian living requires active participation on the part of the person who claims Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord!
If I asked a hundred people, "What is your purpose in life?" I am sure that I would get a lot of different answers. I remember one man-on-the-street interview where a guy said, "I believe I will find that out when I die." Is that not a little late? Many have themselves at the center of their lives. "Oh, I believe the purpose of life is to be happy, to enjoy life, to have fun, to have good times, to get as much fun as possible in the shortest time possible." Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying life, but if that is all you are after, it is like cotton candy--no substance, just fluff. Others you ask may have a pretty good answer even answers that you might give. Some of these are: to live a moral life, to raise a good family, to help kids have a better future than you had yourself. But those purpose statements are short-sighted. They are not big enough for the Christian.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has written eternity on our hearts. And I believe a big God has a big design for His people. That means the reason that you take care of your family is because God has put that on your heart and given you the gifts and abilities to do that. The reason you love your wife and you build a strong marriage is because God cares about your marriage and will give you the passion and the concern and the sensitivity to work at your marriage. The reason you love your children is because God says, "You are my child and I will show you what real love is like." It means that you are at your best when you focus on God satisfying your needs and empowering you to satisfy the needs of those around you.
The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren tells us about five simple purposes that should characterize the Christian life. The first purpose is to realize that you were created for a relationship with God. You are created on purpose. You are not an accident in this world. God cares about your life. God has a purpose for you and He wants to see that fulfilled. He does not leave you alone, wandering, trying to figure it out. He has outlined it carefully for you. Knowing God means knowing more than just about God, knowing God's spiritual resume, it means knowing Him personally. And we can do this as we study and contemplate His works and His word. As we come to understand what He has said and why He does the things that He does, we come to know Him.
Secondly, God designed you for partnership with other believers. We are told to spur one another on, to care for one another, to encourage one another. The church is the laboratory for Christian growth. You are to be trained to give graciousness to one another, how to be forgiving to one another, how to trust and build strong friendships.
Then thirdly, you are strengthened to grow toward maturity. Paul said in our passage, "I want to know Christ so that I may be like him." In other words, "I want to be conformed to His image. I want Him to be reflected in all I do. I want to grow towards maturity, to its fullness and fruitfulness in my life."
Fourthly, you are empowered to minister to others. You are designed to care for others. God has gifted you with spiritual gifts and abilities to invest in helping others around you. From Christ the whole body grows and is strengthened in love as each part joins and works together. Everyone is important in the body of Christ because each has special gifts and abilities that others do not have and therefore can do a job or fulfill a function that others cannot.
And finally, you are commissioned to share God's good news with others around you. Most of you can live with the first four but this last one scares the socks off a lot of you. "I just do not know enough to share about Christ, to share Christ with someone else." I want to tell you, when you hear that phrase going on in your mind, "you do not know enough," that is the lie of the enemy coming to you. I guarantee you know enough to witness to another. You knew enough to invite Christ into your own life. You knew you had a need. You knew there was a God. You knew that Christ died for your sin. You knew that you needed to accept Him personally. Did you forget these things?
An important step in navigating life's journey is to know that you have a destination, a sure future. Look at the words that are indicated there-"you are called," "you have a goal," "a prize," "the resurrection,"--all indicate that there is somewhere this road is leading and it is reserved, promised, guaranteed to you. You are not on a hamster track. You are going someplace. We have a final destination that is guaranteed even though it is somewhat mysterious. That is why Paul says, "I know that I will somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead." God has designed it. We have a sure destination and that is what we need to focus on. We cannot forget about it or get lazy and complacent but keep our focus on what really matters. Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll likely end up someplace else." And there is a lot of truth in that. We have a destination, a future, so keep your mind on it.
Now there is two dimensions to this "forgetting the past" that you need to focus on. The first is, "forget the bad." Paul had a bad history. He had persecuted, even killed Christians. He had caused untold pain to hundreds of Christians and Christian families. He could have been burned with guilt and felt useless and despised by the church family, but instead he felt forgiven by God's wonderful grace and proclaimed that. He forgot the past. Many of you have been hurt or have a past you would like to forget about. You can live in the pain and let it shape your view of the world or you can say, "Lord, use that pain to create sensitivity and growth in my life. Lord, let me grow past the pain. Let me see the purpose for it and then move on with my life."
Forgetting the bad is important but you also need to forget the good. "Forgetting that which is behind me." All that Paul had to credit to himself, all the righteous good things he had done, he rejects--"I count them as loss." Three times he says that, loss, loss, loss. Many times people focus on all the good they have done in the past and say, "I have done enough" and they quite striving in their Christian life. Some people remember the "good old days." They keep looking so far in the past, they forget that God has something for their today and their tomorrow. You cannot move ahead when you are stuck in the past. Remember the past and learn lessons from it and then move on into God's future for the good. We have a destination. Forget the past, the past bad, the past good.
I have a friend in California who lives like that. His best day was being high school football captain and he had great dreams of going on but he never went anywhere. And he is stuck living in a memory. Do not let your best days be in your past. I believe in a big God that has a limitless future for each one of us. I believe in a big God who has a limitless future for this church. You have had good days in the past; God has better days for your future. God has had good days for this church in the past; but He has better days for our future if we align our hearts with Him. If you are still breathing, He is not done with you yet.
We must stay focused. We must press on. We must face the present now. You must focus and forget the past and look ahead to what God has for you to do. Look at verse 16. It says, "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Paul wants you to know that you already have been gifted and blessed by God in so many ways. Face the present with what you already have, with the knowledge, with the understanding. You are probably not living up to the knowledge you already have. Why do you want to learn more? Live up to what you have. You learn and you understand the truth God has given you when you put it into practice. Obedience opens the door to understanding. It is an insult to God to say you "can't" when you are not doing what He has already given you the ability to do. And then if you do lack any thing, He will give you the strength available through the resurrection power He promises to all who will die to self. He clarifies it in Ephesians: "I pray that your (he is talking to each one of us here) heart will know the great power that God offers us who believe. That same power is that which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead." This is resurrection power.
God has not grown weak in His old age. God is as powerful now as He was at the beginning. He is as powerful in your life as you will let Him be. Paul is not saying that we can expect to raise people from the dead at will or leap tall building with a single bound. He is saying that as we consider and accept that our worldly desires have been crucified with Christ we can actually receive power from God to live a new, spiritual life that is both pleasing to God and powerfully impacting on the world around us.
In John chapter 11, there is a story recorded that you may have heard before--a story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus showed up and Martha came running out to greet Him and falls at His feet and says, "If only, Lord, you have been here. My brother would not have died." She was stuck in the past. She knew His resurrection power-"If you would have been here, he would not have died." Do you ever catch yourself saying, "If only that had not happened in my life, I would be so different. I would be so much better." But God can use even the tragedies in your life for great good. But you have to let Him. Do not ever say "if only." That denies the present resurrection power of Jesus.
"If only you had been here," she said to Jesus. And He replied, "Martha, he will live." And Martha said, "Well, yes Lord. I know he will live in the resurrection." Her mind goes way ahead, leaps over the present to the day of the resurrection. "Yes, he will live then. I know that." But Jesus redirects her attention to the present. "Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life?" Not that the resurrection and the life will come, but that "I am the resurrection and the life?" And she said, "Lord, I know that you are the Christ, the sent one from God." Jesus looked at her and said, "Then roll away the stone!" Not tomorrow, not next year, not in 6,000 years, roll away the stone now! "Oh, but Lord. It stinketh." "Roll away the stone and let the resurrection power be seen." Notice they had to roll away the stone. God said, "you take action." You have to roll away the stone for His resurrection power to be revealed. Are there some things that stinketh in your own life that you have sealed up, that you have never been able to get rid of, that is a deadness in your life that you wish was not there, but you just do not know what to do with it? You have to roll away the stone and expose it to Jesus so He can make it alive.
Do you realize that resurrection power is not simply a future thing when God gives us bodies that will desire to do His will and delight in His presence? It is not simply some day off in the future. Christ has given us resurrection power now. We have been resurrected to new life, it says, in Him. That is what the symbol of baptism is all about. You are now raised to new life. As you fed your new self with spiritual food, you grow to be like Christ. Spiritual growth is not attained as you would attain worldly success. That new life in us only thrives as we follow God's direction for our life. Facing the present means that you put your faith in Jesus Christ and trust Him to be involved in every part of your life. Facing the present means that we live and choose to live life as it comes day-by-day, not in the past, not waiting for the future, but right here and now. Facing the present means that we get on with life and press ahead with what God has put on our plate this week. To live life in the present with His purpose, to know that we are on a journey, to have that destination in mind and to press on as He has allotted--to have His purpose in our life.
About 27 years ago, I was given a pen. And it has been in my desks for the last 27 years. It ran out of ink the first year I had it. But it is just too good to throw away. It is a beautiful Cross pen with an emblem that means a lot to me. It reminds me of a job and people I worked with a long time ago. But it does not fulfill its purpose anymore. What is the purpose of a pen? To put ink on paper. It needs a refill and until then it is just decoration. It looks good but a 29 cent Bic is more useful. All it takes is a 99 cent refill and it can both look good and be useful. How about your life? Are you kind of stuck just sitting, stuffed in a drawer not going anywhere and you need a refill? There is no vibrancy inside of you. God has the refill. God is the one who has paid the price for you to have a refill. He wants to feel you in His fingers and write with your life. He wants to tell a story to others in your workplace, in your church, in your family. He wants to write His story with your life if you are willing to let Him refill you by simply saying, "Lord Jesus, I need what you have. There is a deadness and emptiness inside. I want more of you. I want to be able to do more and I will trust you and follow through with what you give me to do."
I close with a story about a Scotsman who came to America a century ago to teach Americans about golf. He met with President Grant. He put a golf ball on a tee and took one of his long wooden clubs and with Grant watching swung a club and missed the ball. He swung six times and missed the ball every time. Grant at witnessing this demonstration said, "Well, this game, I see, will give you a lot of exercise. But I fail to see the purpose of the ball." In your own life, are you stuck on the tee? Are you stuck in a sand trap? Are you in the rough somewhere? When God swings the club, you can go far if you are willing to be where He has put you. Is there a lasting purpose for your life? Are you sensing, are you going, are you allowing yourself to be used by Him? Are you tired of just sitting? Is it not time to get in the game?
There are only two places in the entire New Testament where the word "politia" is mentioned in the Bible. And both are in Philippians 3:16 - 4:1. We are not talking about the politics of America. We are not talking about Republican or Democratic, we are talking about our citizenship in heaven, and the importance of it, how often we take it for granted, and the difference that your service can make.
Do you realize you can make a difference in heaven? Often we think, "Well, I am just going to be there." But you get to do some things here and now, this week, next week and the days you have ahead that will affect your joy, your fellowship, your satisfaction and the satisfaction of others for all eternity.
Look at Philippians 3:16 - 4:1. "Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. (He is referring back to the righteousness that becomes ours by faith, standing righteous before God by faith, not on the basis of works.) Join with others in following my example, brothers. And take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For as I have often told you before and now say again, even with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross. Their destiny is destruction. Their God is their stomach and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enabled him to bring everything under his control, will transform even our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love, whom I long for, my joy and my crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord." This passage finishes the thought started in chapter one, verse 27: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Stand firm in one spirit." Stand firm. And then he goes on in chapter two and says how to stand firm.
The focus of this paper is our citizenship in heaven. People do not talk often about heaven and I do not say a lot about it because it can be escapist for many and impractical to others. "We cannot wait, our lives are so horrible here; we just cannot wait to get to heaven," some say. Others want practical truths, things they can see and understand, things that relate to the here and now. But heaven is true and the truth of it, the hope of heaven, is something that can change the way we look at the here-and-now. The hope of heaven gives us the strength to cope with the world we are in and there is nothing more practical than that.
Anybody, like me, remember being in 5th grade and sitting through arithmetic and thinking, "My life is never going to get out of this classroom? I am never going to get to high school." And then in high school, as a sophomore, "I am never going to be a senior, I am never going to get out." And then in college, "Will I ever be done with these classes? When will I get to be free and work for a living." And finally, "Oh, I cannot wait to get to retirement." Folks, recognize, you get out of 5th grade, you get out of high school, you get out of college, you get out of the labor force, and you get out of retirement. Guaranteed. Heaven is true. Heaven is real. Eternity is real and it is waiting for you and your life now should be lived in light of it.
In this passage we are going to see some key truths about Christians and our citizenship that stand out which can affect our lives if we allow the truth of them to seep down into our hearts. Look at verse 16. It says, "Live up to what we have already attained." It refers back to verse 9 where it says, "It is not having a righteousness of your own by the law, but righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ." A righteousness not earned but given-imputed. It is allowed to be yours by the grace of God. Our citizenship is not earned. We cannot pay nearly enough for it. Our citizenship is granted by divine decree. You are a citizen of heaven by God's grace.
The Philippians understood how important this was but we have a hard time grasping exactly what this means because in America we are all citizens. Imagine living in a two-class society. Not much unlike America in the early days with slavery where there were two classes of people-citizens and others. And imagine yourself to be one of the "others." Someone can come along at any point and throw you in jail or beat you because they make an accusation against you and you do not even get a trial. Someone can come and script you to be in the army or to work in a community labor force without pay because they want you and you have no right to say, "No, that is not fair!" You live in fear of getting on the bad side of any citizen who can do what they want to you. You have no security, no significance, no importance, little value, feeling in jeopardy all the time. Oh, how your heart longs to be a citizen. Not to be better than anybody else, but just to be secure, just to be safe, just to be able to protect your family.
The Philippians knew what that was like. They were a Roman colony with many Roman citizens, but most of the people in Philippi were Macedonians. They were aliens in their own land. And the Romans could do what they willed with them. The Romans were protected by their citizenship. If you were rich, a rich Macedonian maybe, you could sell half of everything that you had and buy your citizenship. If you were not rich, then the best chance you had was to enlist in the military. If you served in the military as a soldier for 21 years, you were given citizenship. You and your family were given citizenship. Of course, you had to live that long.
Most of those who were Roman citizens got it by birth, born of parents who were citizens. But that was mostly in Rome, in Italy, and not in Macedonia, not in Philippi. There were a few. Everybody in town knew who they were. And if this person had an opportunity to stand before Caesar and request your citizenship you could be made a citizen. And Caesar would say, "I, Caesar Augustus, make you __________ a citizen of the Roman empire." And by Caesar's decree you had all the rights and privileges of a citizen. You are a citizen because Caesar himself spoke your name. It was not inherited, it was not purchased with a bribe, it was not earned through military service, it was given because a respected friend went to Caesar for you.
That is what Paul is describing in these verses. You have a righteousness that was not achieved by self-effort at keeping the law, not earned, but imputed unto you because you have a respected friend that went to the Father for you. "I died for him. I know him. Let him into our family, Father." That is what Paul is describing. Your citizenship is achieved by God's grace because a friend stands up for you. That should inspire humility in your heart and a heartfelt loyalty to the one who cared enough about you to gain citizenship for you so that you can be with Him in heaven. Your citizenship is divinely decreed by God Himself. That is a privilege and a blessing that should not be taken lightly.
This divine decree should inspire loyalty and dedication. It should change the way you live because suddenly it is not simply "the kingdom" or "God's kingdom," it is "your kingdom." You have a stake in it. Now it belongs to you. And as such, you reflect that homeland by the way you live. As a citizen, you reflect your homeland. People from the United States when they go on trips abroad are sometimes known as "ugly Americans."
The French are famous for their rudeness. The Japanese for their graciousness, respect, humility. What does your behavior, your behavior as a citizen of heaven, tell those around you about heaven? You reflect your homeland to those around you. That is why it says in verse 16, "live up to what has already been attained." Heaven is a humble, obedient, loving, gracious domain. James tells us, "the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all, pure, then peace-loving, considerate, and submissive. It is full of mercy and good fruit. It is impartial and sincere." That is not simply the characteristics of the citizens of heaven, but it should also be what its citizens should reflect now. Those qualities only have meaning as they are reflected in the people who live there. Based on your behavior, is there anyone who would want to go to heaven to be with others like you? To be with the Lord you represent? That is a scary thought. How are you representing your Lord and the heaven He has created?
Romans chapter 12 says, "Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." That is why Paul can say so clearly, "Follow my example," because Paul tells us all through Philippians that God has transformed his life. He no longer is walking by the old ways but God has changed his heart. God has made him different. So he can say, "Follow my life." It is not arrogant. He just told us in verse 12, "I am not yet perfect but I do this. I forget what is behind me and I press on toward the goal I have of being with Christ." Paul is essentially saying, "I am still working at it so follow my example."
The contrast of living as a faithful representative of heaven is living as a citizen of this world, an enemy of the cross. Can you imagine a more hurtful accusation to be made of you? "An enemy of the cross" means living as if the cross is meaningless. The cross carries no weight with you. The cross is considered unimportant and even despised. Sure, it was a fact in history, but it does not change your life. It does nothing for you. It was simply a wooden stick on a hill, an instrument of cruelty and pain rather an instrument of salvation and grace.
Can you see their fingerprints on our society? Those who say that sin is a religious relic, that sin is irrelevant today. Sin is considered meaningless in our scientific age. "Technology and knowledge has come so far since those dark ages that we do not need religion to make a better world," some might say. But science and technology have done absolutely nothing to change human nature or make us more morally responsible beings. Adultery, theft, perjury, murder, abuse, selfishness are as hurtful and as shameful today as they were in the dark ages. They destroy lives and break hearts in exactly the same way. That is why it describes them as, "their god is their stomach." Can you see those fingerprints on our society? Do you hear the words, "If it feels so good, how can it be so wrong?" "What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico or what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas." As long as no one knows it is acceptable. Can you see this as a great lie? What you do in Mexico comes back with you because you come back and it is part of your character. You defined it there. "Their glory is their shame." People want to parade their decadence. "We have a right to be however we want to be." And they do in our society. But there will come a day when they will have to look God in the eye and it will not be acceptable.
Their mind is on earthly things. They are constantly focusing on: "How can I get more?" " I want for me." "I want my way." The world says: "Morality is simply an opinion and your truth or your sense of morality is yours and it is relatively irrelevant to me." "Relatively irrelevant." What does that mean? It means that if it does not make a difference or happen to me then I do not care. Unless you get my daughter pregnant. Unless you want to do something to me or take something of mine. Then all of a sudden it becomes very relevant. That view is selfish, self-centered. Sin is relevant because it violates God's law and it harms our relationships and the society we live in.
The cross declares the seriousness of all sin. The cross is the symbol of Christ's humility, of His obedience, of His suffering, of His love and graciousness for us. It is a symbol of God's mercy and God's justice. It is a sign of His hatred for sin but also His great love for the sinner. God is not simply a nice guy that says, "Do your best at least most of the time and it will be 'OK'." The rebellion that under girds sin must be addressed!
Would others around you want to be in heaven if you are there? Does your life reflect the qualities, the wisdom of heaven? Be careful of your reputation, of what you do and what you say because, truly, people equate you with Christianity. Last week I handed out the Christian Coalition voter's guide because I could not find anything else that asked pertinent and moral questions and also gave relevant responses. But I have to tell you, folks, the Christian Coalition has a terrible reputation in our community. Not because of what they believe, but because of the way they have acted on their beliefs. Because they, at times, have not exhibited graciousness, kindness, compassion, humility when they are stating their beliefs. That has been true in the past but God willing it won't be that way in the future. Some of you are part of that group. Watch how you live and speak, it makes a difference. It may be your behavior as much as your beliefs that drives people away. Think about it. Someone may come to accept your beliefs because they see them lived out in life but they will not return to you because of your obnoxious behavior. It becomes you who continues to drive them away and not your teachings. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and peace-loving, considerate and submissive. It is not compromising, not wishy-washy, but gracious, full of mercy and good fruit. It is doing things that are effective for bringing goodness to our society. It is impartial and sincere. It stands on morality not simply personal preference. Be careful because what you believe and how you live represents your homeland.
Verse 20 says: "But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who by power enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform everything even our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body." Paul is talking to us about straining forward, of letting loose of the past and pressing toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenward. It is real, he is looking forward to it. A citizen looks forward to getting home. In my trips to Guatemala I always had a great time and enjoyed the company of many gracious people but I looked forward to going home. I went to Israel five years ago and had many wonderful experiences but I looked forward to going home to be with my family and friends. On my sabbatical I went to Chicago and saw some Cubs' games. I went to Los Angeles and went to Dodgers' games. I saw a lot of friends and did a lot of things, but I always looked forward to getting home. It is an old cliché, but it is true. "Home is where the heart is." It is nice to get away, but you belong where you belong and as a child of God, you belong to Him and He wants you home. He wants you to remember and think about home and not to get all worked-up over the temporary issues that ultimately do not matter.
When I was in California I rented several cars. I had some fun cars, but I did not wax them. I did not change the oil on any of them. I did not want to get invested in those things. They were not mine. I took care of them as a responsible person but I did not invest anything into them because they were not mine. Everything you have in this world is temporary. There will be no Chevys in heaven. No Fords either. But what is there is exactly what you need. A citizen looks forward to getting home. He does not get too invested where he is visiting, but he does invest in a few things he can take back with him. I brought back a few souvenirs from California, from Guatemala, from Israel. What can you take with you to heaven? What can you invest in now that you get to take with you? Those are the things that should hold the bulk of your attention. And notice that these things almost always revolve around people. It means investing your life in ways that benefit others, in ways that God deems valuable.
You can make a difference in lives that cause them to choose to be with Christ. You may not get to lead them personally to Christ, but you do get to plant some seeds or water them. You can make a difference. Now there is an ongoing dispute about election and predestination and free will. Does a person get to choose to go to heaven or has God already chosen from the foundations of the earth? The answer is, "yes." Billy Graham has said, "God has chosen who He is going to choose, but I get to usher the call." God chooses to save those who chose His Son! Ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her response to God's offer of forgiveness and fellowship but we must strive to never be a stumbling block for anyone.
Look at what Paul said in verse 1 of chapter 4. "You are my joy and my crown." His crown is not, "Well, talk about knowing the Bible. I wrote it. I have the crown of wisdom. I have the crown of excellence, of knowledge, of truth." His crown is the Philippian believers in which he has shared his life with, that he has sustained and supported. Their crown is him who they financially supported in his time of need, who they prayed for. Their lives intertwined and that is his joy and his crown. Paul is going to look at me and say, "Oh, yeah. You are the one who read my book and taught it to others." He and I will have a point of contact, something to share. But the Philippians are the ones he is going to have the most to share with.
Your citizenship matters. Are you focused on it? Do you see the reality that has been earned by God's grace. You possess it, now you are called to live up to it. Live in ways that bring a good reflection upon your Lord and Savior and then look forward to getting there. Realize this is just temporary. Do not get too invested here. See what you can send on ahead.
There is a church with an unusual roof. One side of the roof is red. The other side is green. How do you think that happened? The chairman of the deacon board, Big Ed, thought the roof should be green, symbolizing the new life that we have in Christ and the growth that takes place in our lives. Good theological reasons. Fred, also on the deacon board, thought it should be red, symbolizing that the church is covered by the blood of the Lamb. Also, good theological reasons. The disagreement went on with each man coming up with reasons why it should be red or green. Fred said, "Well, the trim is red and it will match better that way." Ed says, "Well, the lawn is green and so we want to make it green and we can always paint the trim." It went on like this for weeks and people chose sides according to what each thought the best color for the roof was. The church was ready for a split until someone came up with this odd solution-paint the roof two colors, half red and half green.
What happened to Fred and Ed? Fred lived on the north side of town and every Sunday he drove to that church and saw the red half of the roof and is pleased and proud as he can be. Ed lives on the south side of town. Every Sunday morning he drives to another church. Compromising did not cure the relationship problems that developed between Fred and Ed. The main problem was not the roof. The problem was their relationship. And now that other church needs a roof. I wonder if Ed learned a lesson? This paper is about the seriousness of church conflict.
Paul has just finished a three-chapter discourse on important Christian subjects: 1) what it means to stand firm in Christ, 2) how to redeem the storms that evitably occur in our lives, 3) to live like shining stars in a dark and corrupting world, 4) to trust God to take care of us and protect and establish our righteousness, 5) to stand firm on the basis of who God is, 6) to recognize that He has established us as citizens of heaven and therefore we are not to get too attached to the things down here. Then Paul begins to close in chapter 4.
The Philippian church was a wonderful church. It was a model church. It was a church that Paul loved and it had great things going on there. The church at Philippi did not have major doctoral problems like Ephesus or Corinth or Colosse. It did not have widespread moral problems like Rome. There were not any big issues with them. But they had a developing issue that could cause great trouble if it did not get resolved. Paul had seen it happen in Corinth and he did not want it to happen in Philippi.
Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 4 and we will look at verses two and three. The passage is sandwiched between verse one and verse four which talk about joy. Paul calls this church "my joy and my crown." He is happy and thrilled for what they have done and he tells them in verse four "rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice." They have great cause for celebration. But church conflict will suck the joy right out of any church. He writes in verse two, "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord."
Notice he does not take sides. He is careful not to pick favorites. He addresses them both the same way with exactly the same command. "I plead with Euodia, I plead with Syntyche." Not playing favorites. Secondly, notice the word he picks. In most translations it is "plead, implore, ask." Paul has the right to speak to them the way he does. He is friends with these ladies. He has a history with them. He says, "I plead with you." Paul recognizes you cannot command harmony. True harmony has to come out of a willingly submitted heart. You do not get it through coercion. You may get agreement for a while, but the anger and frustration will still be there. And so he pleads with them to have a willing heart so that this conflict can be resolved peacefully. Finally, notice that Paul does not even hint at what the issue is, not even a hint. It appears that the issue is not really the important consideration.
I think Paul does not tell us on purpose. If we knew the problem we could focus on the problem and say, "Ok, I do not have that so I do not have to worry about this passage." But, he does not tell us, so you do have to worry about this passage. It is not some kind of moral problem or Paul would have confronted them personally. He does that sometimes. He does not pull any punches. And that is something that should be confronted. It is not a doctrinal problem because he does not hesitate to correct wrong doctrine as we can see in most of the other epistles Paul wrote. He does not address that at all in this passage. What they had was a personal disagreement over some non-essential issue. It might be, what color the carpet is going to be. It might be, who is going to be in charge of the women's group that next year. Who is going to take care of the ladies' fellowship. Who is going to be the host for Paul when he comes next time. Who is in charge? Whatever it was, notice that it was a personal preference issue and not a matter of right and wrong. There are moral and doctrinal right and wrongs and we are to stand and fight for these issues. But here it is not a right or wrong issue. It is just a matter of personal preference. And it has threatened to destroyed them and has the potential to rob that entire church of its joy, its unity, its focus, of its very purpose, of its testimony within that community if they do not do something about it.
Paul refuses to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it. He knows these ladies well. They will carry it with them. So he does not wait for it to go away. He does not wait for one of them to leave. He tells them to work it out. "God desires for you to work this out. Ladies, you are wonderful. What you have done in the past is great. We have had wonderful times together. You have a great heritage in this church that you yourselves have started with me and now you need to go to the next level, work on some character issues." Paul did not specify what this disagreement was about but he does state that agreement is possible. "Agree in the Lord."
Look what is happening as we go through the passage. He says in verse three, "And I ask you loyal yolkfellow." Other versions say, "true companion" and it is kind of an awkward phrase because I think it is not a description of someone, which it could be, but it may actually be a proper name. If it is a proper name he is calling someone by name to help these ladies with their dispute. If he is addressing someone but does not name that person but still identifies him or her by a strong quality of his or her character he is still calling that person to help these ladies settle their dispute. Paul has identified someone to come alongside and help these two ladies. Someone who knows them. Someone that both respect and would listen to. He encourages them to get along and encourages a helper to help them. Instead of contending for the faith, they are fighting their personal battles. They need help to stop fighting.
They are contending with each other but he says, "their names are written in the book of life." A reminder to all of them that they are citizens of heaven and that they need to act like it. "You need to live like it. Live up to the name by which you are called." What does God want us to learn from this passage? Two things I believe. First, we need to recognize problems as they develop. Recognize the problem and then realize that the problem is often not the main issue. That is why it is not even named. The problem is not the main issue. Carpet color, roof color, does not matter. You know what the problem is? The people. The problem is the relationship. The problem is their willfulness, their lack of love and grace towards each other that has to be worked out.
Issues, you need to know, can develop in any church. In a church that is doing things, accomplishing things, working for the Lord, sensitive to His leading and guidance, all kinds of things happen and there are all kinds of ways to do those things. And so there is all kinds of room for disagreement . Issues do not have to lead to conflict. That is Paul's point. How you deal with issues will determine whether there is conflict or there is development and progress.
People often say, "I want to be part of a New Testament church." Ok, you are asking for a church with a lot of problems. They had them left and right, folks: Judaizers, Paul and Peter were going at it, they had problems with the widows, they did not know what to do, they were disorganized, they were growing so fast they did not know how to take care of everything. Where do you put 3,000 people in Jerusalem? Ok, let us have 19 services. Who is going to speak? Who is going to be in charge? They had a lot of problems.
When issues develop in a congregation, that church needs to face them with responsibility. It needs to focus on the issue, not the people. Do you recognize how easy it is to not do that? Listen to people's complaints about problems and often they degenerate into attacks on some other person or group of people. They always are so bull-headed. They have to have their way. The issue gets dropped almost immediately and the personality conflict starts taking over and personal attacks occur. That is what Paul addresses here. "To agree in the Lord."
Issues develop even in good churches, even with good people. These ladies are most likely experienced leaders in the Philippi church. And experienced leaders, many times, are the ones that get the most bent out of shape over a disagreement. They know how they have done things but somebody wants to do it another way. This can lead to disagreements and hard feelings.
We have a problem at Trinity because we attract a lot of wonderful leaders. One of our solutions to the problem is we find those who complain and let them hold the target. Complain about something? "Great, I am glad you are sensitive and concerned about that. What can you do about it now? You are now in charge of it. Because you are a leader, you see the problem. And if God has given you eyes for the problem, He will give you the grace to solve that problem. Congratulations and welcome aboard." That is fair. God calls us. He gives us discernment, gives us eyes to see a problem. If you see a problem that no one else sees, what do you think God wants you to do about it? But remember to be gracious and do not act like some corporate boss who pushes his subordinates around.
Issues develop but issues do not have to lead to conflict, but if they do, the conflicts will destroy the church. The conflicts destroy whatever they get involved with. They can paralyzes a church. Imagine with me. I have done a number of weddings and there will be a wedding here in a few weeks. Imagine we come walking out and here is the groom in his tux, neatly pressed, hair slicked back, shoes shined, and the groomsmen coming with him standing proud and tall and thankful, big smiles on their faces. And then, down the aisle comes the first bridesmaid and then the next and then the little flower girl. And then, da, da, da, da, and everyone stands and turns and she takes their breath away. The whole left side of her dress is spattered with mud. She has a black eye, her arm is in a cast, she is limping and her nose bleeds. Here comes the bride. Does the king not deserve a better bride than that? That is what the church is when it starts beating up on itself. It starts bruising and battering rather than caring for, loving, protecting itself. See, that bride is responsible to reserve herself, to protect herself for her husband; to be careful, to keep herself well. But she did not. She is unhealthy; she is unfit. He still loves her with all his heart but she is not what she should be for him.
Conflict in the church destroys the reputation of the church. "Yeah, I know about that church. That is the church that does 'this'. They have that problem and that problem." You talk to some Christians and they will tell you about all the churches in town. What their problems are. The world loves to hear excuses why they do not have to go to church. Do not give them one. Paul maintains that Christians should be able to resolve their differences without throwing any mud, without breaking any arms, without blackening any eyes. We can work out our differences, we can settle on the issues without attacking and without hurting each other rather but lifting and strengthening each other as we go through the issues.
This kind of fighting also destroys personal lives. If you have a conflict going in this church, you can hardly walk through those doors without your heart sinking, without there being a sour feel on the inside. Conflict over issues destroys and sucks the joy right out of you. Do not let it happen. But there is some good news. Those very issues, those very issues that are causing a storm are not the end of the storm. God allows conflict, God allows issues to come up in churches because that is the way we realize our potential. It shows us our need to grow, our need for character and development. He wants us to recognize those issues and realize the potential growth and health that those issues can bring to our personalities. God is in the personal growth business. He is not sitting in heaven watching the clock, waiting for the time to send His Son down and blow the trumpet. He is involved in growing and nurturing and strengthening our lives and relationships. That is His business and He is watching over that carefully.
There is an old story. It is about a peacemaker who hears that his friends John and Bob have a big problem. They are at each other's throat and he goes and talks to Bob about the problem and listens carefully and says, "Bob, you are absolutely right and I am going to go and talk to John." He goes over and talks to John and John tells him the truth of how the situation really is. And he says, "John, I hear you man. You are absolutely right." And then he goes home and tells his wife the whole story. She points out that both can't be right. "You are absolutely right, honey." This man did the right thing by talking to each party in the disagreement but he did not go far enough. He affirmed their feelings but did not bring clarity to the situation.
It is one thing to sympathize with another person's complaint. We do that because we want to be supportive and encouraging and kind and sensitive because they are our friend and we do not want to disagree with them because they might not like us anymore. But we are not acting like a true friend if we ignore the issue that is central to the problem. We are to affirm their feelings and then bring truth and clarity to the situation. To go back to Bob and say, "Bob, you know. I have talked to John and I can understand why he gets on your nerves and why he drives you crazy. But in my discussion with John, I know he has this church's best interest at heart. He is seeing another way to get there. Do you think there might be a way we might resolve this? You think there might be something good that you have to say that we can find the best route besides a red roof and a green roof? You think there might be something?" When you only sympathize, you do not help. When you show empathy with the feelings and then bring clarity and truth, you help the situation. You are being the helper God wants you to be.
When calamity struck Job's life, he lost all his children and everything he owned, where was God? When Joseph is thrown into a pit by his eleven jealous brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly committed to prison in Egypt, can you imagine what he was thinking? "Lord, are you there? Are you watching? Are you awake?" When Daniel was dropped twenty feet into some roaring lions for doing what was right, can you imagine what was going through his mind. "Huh? Lord, where are you?"
Look at Philippians chapter 4. In verses six and seven he addresses the issue of stress. Verse 6: "Do not be anxious for anything." Let me clarify. That word "anything" means, in the Greek, anything. There is nothing that is beyond that. Nothing is outside of that scope. It continues: "…but in everything by prayer and petition and thanksgiving, present your request to God and the God of peace which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Literally, he is telling them to relax. Whatever happens, remember, like He was for the disciples in Luke 8:22-25, Jesus is still in your boat. Storms may rage, you may feel helpless and alone. Relax. Jesus is in your boat. When you do not know what in the world you are going to do, you have run out of options, you are scared and it even makes you somewhat angry, relax, because Jesus is still in your boat.
"Anxious" is translated in the King James, "do not be careful about anything." In this verse "careful" is not the opposite of "careless." It means "do not be filled with care, do not be filled with anxiety." "Do not worry about it," as the Living Bible says. Literally, the word means "to be torn apart, to have a mind that is ripped in different directions." The mind has no place to rest. It is kind of like it does not know where to sit. You are trying to find a solution, you are trying this and trying that. You are trying to think through all these different options and you just cannot find one that is going to work.
There are two words in our daily vocabulary that express the correct meaning. The first word is "worry." And that is why it is literally translated "worry" in the Living Bible. "Do not worry about anything." Do not let your mind be so clouded with things that are going on that you forget about everything else that is important. When threats happen to your security, when the things you want to work out do not, when your happiness is threatened, you get scared, you get worried. You want a solution and you cannot find it and you are afraid that you are going to be robbed of your happiness. That is stress. It says, "do not be stressed in those situations."
The second word is "frustration." It means the same as the first word only it adds the emotion of anger. When you are worried, when you are fearful and you get angry about it, it is the word we know as "frustration." You want a change to be made and you have tried everything and you cannot seem to get anywhere. You cannot resolve the situation. When you have tried everything and it just does not work. There is frustration. In our daily world you see that every day. Paul gives a simple prescription for frustration. But not so simplistic as saying "well, just whistle. Don't worry, be happy." That is not what he says here. There is more to it. He says three things. He says, "stop, pray, and relax." You are worried, you are frustrated and he tells you to "to stop, to pray, and to relax." "Well, pastor, that sounds like "just whistle and be happy." But Paul goes beyond that. Let us look at what he says. He tells us when to stop, when to know to stop, what to pray, what our prayers should entail and how to relax. How to go about getting through the problems we are facing.
Look at verse six. It says, "Do not be anxious--do not be stressed, do not be torn apart in your mind--by anything." He does not say, "Do not think seriously about problems." He does not even hint, he does not imply that we are not to think seriously about the issues we face. We are to use every thought process we have and use good advisors. We are to work through things and solve problems. We are to face the issue, not deny the issue or the problem. We are to face it head on and try to solve it. But after going through everything in our resources and we end up saying, "I just do not know what else I can do," it is our cue to go to the next step. God wants us to use the resources we have to solve the problem, solve the issue. But then, when we have exhausted the resources, rather than continuing on in our thought process about it, He says, "Pray!" If you do not, you end up being worried and frustrated. At that point He says, "Stop and go the next step." This does not mean we are not asking for God's guidance as we use the resources we have but when we are at our end we are to rest in God and wait for His solution rather than fret about the problem.
Do I need to go through the whole list of all the damage and pain that happens when we start worrying? The ulcers, the heart attacks that are a direct result of unnecessary worry? Do I need to remind you that most of the things that you stress about are totally incidental to the important things in life? They make no real difference in your life. Most of what we worry about will not happen if we take just minor, simple precautions. You know how your mind goes and you start to worry about something? "Well, that happens and then that will happen and if that happens too" and you paint a whole scenario of how bad things can end up. With some minor precautions, most of it will never happen. Perhaps you are more in the line of being frustrated than being worried. Most of our frustrations are beyond our control. You may be frustrated because someone's behavior is not meeting your expectations. You cannot change their behavior. You can hope. You can pray. You can influence. But true change must come from the person. Your only option is to change your behavior and/or your expectations. When you hold your head and say, "I do not know what to do. I have tried everything already." That is the clue. Pray!
Someone once said, "Why pray, when you can worry? I mean, after all, if most of the stuff you worry about does not happen, doesn't that mean that worry works?" No, not at all! When you hold your head and say, "I do not know what I can do," relax and know that Jesus is in your boat. Go to the next step and pray. Paul says, "Pray about everything. By prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God." There he tells you what to pray. He says, "with prayer, with petition, with thanksgiving." When you think of prayer I want you to think of, "Father." When Jesus taught us to pray, He said, "Our Father." He wants us to have a relationship with the living God of the universe. He cares about our problems. He is interested in your life. He is interested in your child's life. He is interested in your financial situation. He is invested in you and He wants you to call Him "Father." He wants a heart connection with you. It is not an issue of "O Great and Almighty God, I am just a mere worm of a man." That is not the kind of prayer He wants. He says, "Call me Abba." "Call me Daddy."
Another key word is tied to the word "petition" or as it is in the King James version, "supplication." That is kind of a long, fancy religious word. Break it apart and the first part is "supply" and that is all it really means. That He will supply your needs. "Father, I need and want your involvement in my life. He wants you to ask. He wants to be connected with you so you see His supply. Note, the things I am telling you to ask for are things that are mostly inside you where God focuses His work. We pray, "O God, help me win the lottery." "O God, change my wife." "O God, fix my kids." "Change my boss." "Do not let the hurricane come my way." God's business is in growing you. It is not in giving you a downhill roll to heaven. Sometimes we think that God's purpose, God's design for this world is to make our lives easy and simple. It is not! Remember what Jesus said? "Trouble? Trouble? You will always have trouble when you are in the world." That is bad news, is it not? But He goes on and says, "But I have conquered the world. I have overcome the world. I bring you peace. Not as the world gives. I give unto you a peace that comes from God Himself." He has not promised us that we would escape all trouble-think prosperity gospel-but that He would give us peace and strength in the midst of the hardships and trials. He may resolve a situation. He may give you an opportunity to take some kind of action. Or, He may give you the strength to live through the situation without getting bitter and enraged. Wait and watch.
Down on the river walk in Orlando there is a jewelry store that has a couple Buckingham Palace-style guards. You know, with the bright red uniforms and the big black fuzzy hats and they stand there with rifles as stiff as stone. The kids just harass them all the time trying to get them to do something so they finally moved the guards inside the store. The strange thing, though, those guards, if there is a robbery in that store would not do a thing. Those guns are plastic, there are no bullets and those guards are just high school actors. They have no real power. But here it says, "The God of the universe will guard your heart and your minds." He sees into your heart right now and knows what you are thinking about, knows what you are concerned about, knows your fears, the God who can look into your heart and see your anger and frustration. He sees it all and He is able to guard your heart and mind. He is the one that is in the boat with you.
Let me give you a couple of examples to show you how all this works because even though it is simple-stop, pray, and relax, it does not work out that simple in real life. That is because we have to develop new though patterns, to make new circuits in our brains, get re-wired a little bit and let one step take us to the next step in the process. What are some things that you are frustrated or worried about? How about work? If you are retired, how about church? You have someone at work or someone at church that frustrates you. She seems to always be taking advantage of you and you end up having to pick up her slack or bite your tongue. She often shows up late for work and you have to get things started for her when it is her job. And then when it is time to leave, she is already out of there before the store is closed. And she knows and you know and you have told her, "this is not fair. I am doing your work." And you complain to your supervisor and she seems to have sympathy with the other person rather than with you. And you have tried everything you can think of to get it worked out. "I cannot think of anything else to do." Pray! That is the next step.
When you cannot think of anything else, stop thinking about it and start talking to the Guy in the boat. And so you start praying, "Lord, I do not know what to do about this. First of all, Lord, please just make it simple and change them. But if you cannot, Lord, work in me because this is tearing me up inside. I am going home everyday angry and frustrated. I do not want to show up to work on time myself because then I know I will have to do her work and my work. Lord, I do not know what you are going to do and what needs to be done, but Lord, I want you to do something because I am just plain miserable now." That is not a surprise to God. But by you inviting God's participation, He gets the chance to work. Because as much as God loves you, He does not barge into your life and manipulate you.
When you pray that prayer with sincerity your attitude toward the situation and the people involved can change. The next day you come in and she is late again. And you hear her muttering, "Yeah, my daughter has the flu and I had to take her to grandma's and then grandma had to adjust her schedule to watch her." And you start seeing her plight, her frustration. And suddenly you start realizing why she has to leave early to pick up that sick child because you have to take the child to the doctor because grandma does not drive and cannot do it. You start realizing her priorities are nowhere close to where yours are. Yours is to get to work on time, have an easy day and go home. But she is dealing with a different set of problems. Sick kids, a husband that is three months behind in alimony, about to get evicted, trying to figure out how she can give her daughter a decent Christmas. Getting to work early and helping you with the opening up and closing down is somewhere down on her priority list. As you start to realize that, your heart starts to soften and suddenly, because you have a spouse that supports you at home, you are a little bit more thankful. Because your kids are healthy this week, you are thankful. It changes your perspective and suddenly without realizing it you are not quite so mad and you find yourself actually kind of thankful that you can help out and be kind, compassionate even though the other person may not even appreciate it. God has worked in you and changed your perspective.
How about kids? Let us go on the other side with worry. Anybody worry about your kids. Having just gone through the teenage years with my children, I know. Parents, we worry about our kids. Sometimes we are frustrated, but most of the time we just worry because it is out of our control. Oh, we have done all the right things. We have taught the rights things; we have set up all the controls; we have done the restrictions, we set down all the rules; we have engrained them. But we also know how smart they are and how they can get around every rule, every restriction, every control we try to set up and we realize, "I am out of control. I have lost control of my kids." Not that they are doing anything bad, but they are out there, it is Friday night, and I have no idea where they are really going to be. I do not have control. "Lord, help because I see what can happen. I know what can happen and it scares me."
So, what do you do? You have tried everything. I cannot think of anything else to do. I need to pray. "Open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart." I need to see them. Let me share my heart with them. Help me to build a relationship with them because now it is not built on controls, it is going to be built on a friendship, on respect, on the common set of values. And suddenly, you find that your heart is changing because you are getting a little bit more trust because you remember, "O yeah, Lord, you are in their boat too. Lord, you are in their boat. Lord, do not let them go down. Lord, protect them. Lord, strengthen them. Lord, give them wisdom. Lord, help them to learn to call on you. Lord, help me to model calling on you in front of them so they know what it is to call upon the God for wisdom." Suddenly, you start being a bit more peaceful about it. You start building a relationship instead of just hammering controls down on your kids. You start raising adults. Worry seems to start falling away a little bit. Oh, you still have problems, there are still disappointments, but the God of peace starts to guard your heart.
How about money? Money is a big issue, a big cause for worry for many people. The kid's college bills, the cars, all the things, you just do not know what you are going to do. Cannot think of anything else. What do you do? Pray! I am not saying this is a last resort, I am saying God wants you to think through your resources, get your advice, and then when you run out of answers, pray. "Help me to understand what you want me to do and how to deal with this." And somehow, day after day, things keep working out. And you get enough for what you need. God starts building, growing the fruit of self-discipline in your life so you start finding ways not to spend what you do not have. To not use that little plastic card that makes things way too easy. You start growing discipline in your life. It is one of the fruits that God wants every Christian to have. And step-by-step you start finding that God guards your heart.
I have seen it right here in my own life. Five years ago Katie and I tried to sell our house because we wanted to cash out and get money for our children's college expenses all the other things that were going on at the time. We had bought more house than we really wanted but we had to reinvest money from the move from California, so we put it in the house and figured we could sell it in the future. So, we put the house on the market and you know what? We prayed about it and it did not sell. "Lord, what do you want us to do?" And somehow, looking back on it now, we have made every mortgage payment. The kids are all through college. Kara has a couple years left. And we have been able to faithfully give our tithe to this church. We have been able to invest in Operation Good News. We have been able to do so much because God has supplied. Where He has led, He has provided. He has given us the resources. He has expected us to use them wisely and step-by-step each day He has provided. And He does the same for so many of you.
Once we have stopped and then prayed we need to relax and let God be God. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5). We must learn to rely upon His guidance and involvement in the situations that are causing us worry and stress. "Look at the birds. Are you not much more valuable that they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life" (Matthew 6:26-27). God is interested in the problems of His people. He gives us wisdom and strength to meet the challenges of life but sometimes He calls us to wait and rest in His provision. If something is beyond your control, what good does it do to worry and fret? Give it to God and relax and with patience wait for His leading and provision. It is often in these type of situations where God does His greatest works, where He shows Himself to be real to us. But in order to see Him work we need to be patient and faithful in our daily walk with Him.
I have been unfaithful. I have been unworthy. I have been unrighteous. And I have been unmerciful. I have been unreachable. I have been unteachable. I have been unwilling. And I have been undesirable.
Sometimes I have been unwise. I've been undone by what I'm unsure of. But because of You and all that You will do, I know that I have never been unloved.
I've been unemotional. I've been unexceptional. I've been undecided. I have been unqualified. Unaware, I have been unfair. I've been unfit for blessing from above. But even I can see the sacrifice you made for me, I'm sure that I have never been unloved."
Unaware, I have been unfair. I've been unfit for blessings from above. Even I can see the sacrifice you made for me to show that I have never been unloved. It's because of You and all that You've been through, I know that I have never been unloved.-(song by Michael W. Smith)
How have you been? I want to focus on the difference between how you are doing and how you have been. Paul wrote to the Philippians and told them all the things he had done in his life that he now considers of no value compared to what he has gained in his relationship with Christ. As I reflected on Philippians 4:1, I noticed that it focuses on what we think, of who we are not simply what we do. The Pharisees were doing all the right things, but they were miserable men. They had lousy relationships. Their hearts were like stone, Jesus said. "Though you worship me with your mouth," God told them, "your hearts are far from me." And the good news I want to bring you is that God is with you to work on your heart and to work on your mind.
If you are married, you know your wife by what she does but you also know more about her, do you not? You know how she feels, how she thinks, or how you think she thinks. That which is on the inside of us is what is essential to who we really are--our wants, our feelings, our thoughts. What we do to express that inner reality is important, but for there to be a genuine understanding of who we are as individuals, the 'whys' of our outward behavior matter most. That is who we are--our thoughts, our fears, our concerns, our loves, our passions. What you think and rest your thoughts on will either make you or it will break you.
"No longer be conformed to this world but be transformed…" (Romans 12:2a). God calls us, as Christians, to be different. But how? How do we transform our lives? Paul gives the answer by finishing Romans 12:2a: "…by the renewing of your mind." Has that verse ever frustrated you? "Ok, I need to have a new mind. Where do I get it? What is it like? What does it look like? How does it act?" Romans 12:3 does describe a general trait of a renewed mind, humility, and verses 9-21 describe in more detail the kind of attitudes and behaviors God wants His people to have but our passage in Philippians helps us even more to get a handle on what a "renewed mind" looks like.
Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right. Whatever is pure and whatever is lovely. Whatever is admirable. If anything excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things." One way to look at this verse is that we are to be optimistic. Look on the positive side of life; think positive things, not the negative things. And it is important to do that. To dwell on the negative things can kill your life, kill your spirit, kill this church, kill your relationships, kill your marriage. And so, thinking positive things is essential to living a good life. But it is much more than that. The things in Philippians 4:8 is not just a list of thoughts to think!
When you are thinking something wrong and you catch yourself you might say to yourself, "I need to think of something true. What is true? Ah, gravity. I will think about gravity for a while." What is right? "I need to be a faithful husband. That is right, so I will think about that for a while." That is not what it means at all. Philippians 4:8 is not just a list of thoughts to think but is how we are to measure the thoughts that we do have. These adjectives are the test, the gauge by which we are to judge our thoughts. "Should I keep thinking this? Or do I need to go someplace else?"
The first adjective Paul gives is "whatever is true." Now this is not true as in true and false, it is true in terms of, "Is it real?" Is this reality? Whatever is reality, he wants you to think about. Is what I am thinking about, is it real or is it imagined? Is it a suspicion? For instance, thinking that your boss hates you. "Ok, you have not seen my boss. The way he treats me, the way he acts around people. He just hates me." Does he really hate you or is he just unkind, uncaring, and self-absorbed? In reality, his actions have absolutely nothing to do with you but more to do with what kind of person he is. In this situation that is where "Is it real?" comes in.
Now, if he says, "Hey Dave. I hate you." Then you have a clue that that is real. But most of the time our suspicions, our imaginations become real to us and we think along those lines, we act along those lines as if that is reality, but they are not. So God says, "Stop thinking that way. Test it out." As we go through the rest of this list we must remember that from the beginning Paul instructs us to think on real things, not imaginary or personally contrived out of suspicion and distrust.
Secondly, "whatever is noble." That means literally "uplifting." Taking you to a higher level. Looking at others with higher eyes. Raising your attitude and your opinion of others. You can say, "You know my boss deals with a whole lot of stress. I mean, look at him. He is just a tyrant." Now, how can you think about your boss with a noble mind? With noble thinking? Taking something to a higher level. Think about his stress. Think about his need and think, "How can I help to alleviate or divert a little bit of his stress or how can I express appreciation and care and admiration for the way he handles so many difficult issues?" Rather than looking at him and saying, "Man, he is just a stressful jerk." Look at him as a man or woman under pressure that can be raised up with a little bit of encouragement, a little bit of care from someone in his workplace.
"Whatever is right." In this verse it does not mean right or wrong, but right in terms of fair and responsible. Is it your job, a job that you should be doing? Is this something that God has put on you to take care of? Or are you worrying about what somebody else is doing? Are you minding their business? Is it right? Is it your job? Is it your concern? "Whatever is right" means whatever is the fair and responsible thing to do. Living up to your word when you give it to someone, following through on it. Remember the old phrase, "Your word is your bond?" That is still true even though it does not seem to be practiced much these days.
"Whatever is pure" means "untainted." Think about a chocolate chip cookie. Mmmm. I found a chocolate chip cookie. Would you like this chocolate chip cookie? And just before you take a bit I tell you, "I found that. It was sitting in the boy's bathroom on the urinal. Well, it was on top, not inside." Would you want it? Just the thought of what germs that cookie could contain makes most of us cringe. That is "impure." A tainting of an otherwise good thing! Ladies, in your choice of apparel, is there a touch of the impure, a tainting of how you should represent yourself? Guys, do you choose the restaurant you are going to eat at for lunch with the guys based upon how the waitresses are dressed? Nothing wrong with food of that restaurant, but your motive is tainted.
"Whatever is lovely." The word "lovely" does not fit the meaning of the word. The word means "loveable." It is attractive. It is something that you want to take a closer look at. "I want to see that." I was in Orlando yesterday at an auction and when the auctioneer was guiding a bid on something, suddenly, I hear a roar of an engine and the screeching of tires. And this was not like screeching brakes. This thing is taking off, fast. And you should have seen the guys. Many headed for the garage door. They did not care what they were bidding on. They wanted to see this 427 Cobra laying down strips of rubber in the parking lot. That was attractive to them. They wanted to see it. If others knew what you were thinking, would they want to come see you? Would they want to come running? "I want to know how he thinks those things." Or is it the opposite? "Man, the things I am thinking nobody wants to know about." Are your thoughts loveable? If not, then think about something else!
"Whatever is admirable." Admirable means "inspiring." Does it bring respect or elicit admiration? Would others look at you and say, "I want to think just like he thinks." Dads, moms, do you want your sons or daughters thinking like you think? They will pick it up. I know that the world offers them much that you do not want them to hear or be exposed to but what are you offering them? Are you offering them an attractive, admirable alternative? Kids have a way of picking things up from us. Of watching our eyes and catching our attitudes about the way we think, about the way we look at things, about the comments we make about other people. "Whatever is admirable." Is it inspiring? Do you want others, especially your kids, to pick those things up?
"Whatever is excellent." Excellent means "excelling." Excellent has become a gray word to us. But it means it is above average. It gets beyond the normal of life. In the world around us, normalcy is not good, folks. You do not have to watch TV for very long or listen to music or go to the movies to see that normalcy hurts. Normalcy is compromise with moral issues. Normalcy is impurity in what we hear and look at. It is not unusual in movies to see two people meet each other and have sex the same day. Unfortunately, in some circles that is normalcy. Paul says, what excels, what rises above the level of mediocrity in the world around you. "Well, everybody at work kind of takes a few things once in a while." "Everybody at school cheats a little bit." "Everybody looks at other women." Rise above the level of mediocrity. Excelling means pursuing the best in a way that is balanced and pleasing to God.
And then "whatever is praiseworthy." You are a model for others around you. "Praiseworthy" means they want to see it. If others knew what you were thinking, would you be praised for it? "You know, your attitude just inspires me." Anybody utter those words to you? "I love the way that you look and think about life and about people."
Do you see how Philippians 4:8 is a grid, a test, a measure of our thought life? We have all kinds of thoughts flash through our minds. Some are placed there by what we see or hear and some just seem to pop into our thoughts from nowhere. Some thoughts are part of the creative process that stirs in our mind when we are mulling over a problem. Regardless of where they come from, Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 that we are to judge them by the standards of reality, nobility, justness, lovability, admirableness, excellency, and praiseworthiness. And I need to add one more thing. These estimations are from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ not some person or some group that does not value the things of God. It is important to realize that what Jesus finds praiseworthy is not the same as what some drug selling gang member, pornographer, humanist, atheist, or Satanist finds praiseworthy. Jesus is the one we look to, not them, or those like them. Second Corinthians 10:4-5 speak to this truth. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. . . ."
Using these qualities to judge your thoughts will guard your life. Paul puts it like this: "And the peace of God will guard your heart and mind." Not simply from frustration and worry but all the other kinds of negative thoughts that can ruin your life if they are given supremacy. We must be on guard against that which will break our hearts, our spirits, or our relationships.
We are to guard against many things but a chief threat to our moral and spiritual health is negativity. Negativity is far more than simple pessimism. Negativity is slander, gossip, passing on secrets, sarcasm, criticism, cynicism. Negativity will ruin your home. It will ruin a church. It will ruin your life. Negativity is what Paul is fighting against all through Philippians. Unfortunately, negativity comes all too easily to us, all too naturally. Negativity includes criticism and dissension. But at the beginning of Philippians Paul says, "may the grace and peace of God be with you." The opposite of criticism is grace. The opposite of dissension is peace. Then in 1:6 he fights against the discouragement that negativity brings. He says, "I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion."
In 1:17-18, he focuses on how negativity fixates on problems, on pain, on desperate situations, and Paul uses himself as an example says, "…though some stir up trouble for me while I am in chains, but Christ is being preached, so I am going to rejoice." He does not let negativity crowd out the good that God is doing in spite of the ill will some have toward him.
Negativity also paralyzes. But Paul calls them to stand firm in one spirit and contend as one man for the gospel. Negativity belittles others. But he writes to the Philippians and tells them to "humbly, consider others better than yourselves." Treat them with respect. Negativity also shifts the focus on the problems of others. It is so much easier to look at the problems of others and ignore your own. You look at the speck in someone else's eye and forget the log in your own, as Jesus said. But Paul says, "humbly, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you." Stop worrying about him or her and what is wrong with them. God has a work to do in your life, concentrate on that.
Negativity broods in darkness, but Paul tells us to shine like stars in the night. Negativity expects legalistic perfection. It finds everything that is wrong. Every single, solitary thing that is wrong in somebody else's life. But Paul says, "I had legalistic perfection and it was nothing but rubbish." That is not what is important. Negativity breeds or brews in the past but Paul says, "I do this one thing especially. I forget those things which are behind and press on to the mark of the high calling of Christ." Negativity dwells on the past good, the good-old days but he says instead, "I press on toward the goal that is before me."
Negativity brews conflict. You think Euodia and Syntyche were getting along? This is addressed to them to use as a test for their thought life. Negativity begs to be shared. Do you think the church at Philippi was talking about Euodia and Syntyche? "Did you hear what she said?" "Did you see what she did?" The gossip that was going on could have destroyed that church.
Negativity looks for opportunity to strike. "Oh, I am just waiting. They are going to get what is coming to them. I am going to get even." That is why in 4:5 he says, "Let your gentleness be known to all."
Now some of you may be objecting, "I am not negative. I am saying how I feel." Change how you feel! Change what you are thinking about. Change what you are looking at so that your feelings will change. Do not let your feelings control your behavior and your thought life, but let your thoughts guide and control your feelings.
Asking yourself three questions can help in self-examination. First question, "Where is this thinking going to get me?" Where is it going to take me? Where will this trail end? If I am feeling angry and having resentful thoughts, I will become a resentful, angry person. Is that who I want to be? Where is this going to take me? If I sit here and dwell on this for 15 minutes, what is going to be the product? What is going to come out of it?
Secondly, I want you to really ask the question, "Who is this really hurting?" The negative things we think about often end hurting us. We become less than what God wants us to be. The negative things we think about also hurt others. It can hurt our spouse. If you are constantly thinking and wishing you had more, wishing you had better, why can you not have what someone else has, you are basically discontented, that discontent is going to come out in your conversation with your wife or with your husband. Is your thinking going to hurt your kids? Your kids know how you think and they will feel your anger or resentment. Who is this really hurting? It hurts you and everyone close to you.
Mundanely, we are to reject negative thoughts because it wastes our time. When you could be building up your life, you are doing something to tear it down. Who is it really hurting? Thinking about that other woman hurts your relationship with your wife. Thinking about all the stuff you do not have destroys any contentment you could have if you were thankful for what you do have.
Parents, do you say negative, mean things to your children? When you hear how some parents talk to their children, doesn't the hair stand up on the back of your neck? We recognize the destructfulness of this kind of speech. But do you recognize that you say some of the same things to yourself? If you recognize the badness of criticism and unforgiving blame when it comes from the lips of another, why can't you recognize it when it fills your own mind?
Thirdly--What is this making me into? You are what you have been thinking. Have you been a dirty old man-on the inside? Have you been a contentious woman-on the inside? Because if so, it will not be long before you become a dirty old man or contentious woman. Do you live your life, make your decisions as a practical atheist? "I believe in God, I believe He is there, but I do not believe He can do anything in my life." Be careful, living as a practical atheist can lead to full blown atheism. If you live like there is no God, how much farther is it to believe there is no God? The grandness of this world might hold you back from believing that it all happened by chance, but if you live like there is no God, it will be just a matter of time before you convince yourself there is no God.
Paul admonishes us to guard our hearts and minds with the peace of God. Peace comes from God. That is His part. Our part is bringing all things to the obedience of Christ and judging them by the qualities listed in Philippians 4:8. My prayer for you is the same one Paul had for the Philippians, "Grace and peace [to you] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
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