“How To Handle Anything” Philippians 4:2-9 December 5, 2010
SI: Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4.
When I planned this sermon series
I decided to preach on Philippians right through December,
right through the Sundays of Advent,
rather than do Christmas sermon series like I usually do.
The reason is that Philippians works for Christmas.
It’s called the Epistle of Joy.
Once again, Paul talks about rejoicing in the Lord,
and about the presence of Jesus Christ.
Those are great themes any time of year, but especially at Christmas.
Listen to God’s Word.
INTRO: I don’t know if the name Steve Brown rings any bells with you or not.
He’s a Presbyterian minister and had a radio ministry out of Miami called Key Life.
I was listening to one of his sermons several years ago,
and after he read the Scripture passage he said:
“Reading that makes me feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony—
I can’t decide where to start!”
That’s exactly how I feel about this passage—
There are so many juicy verses, that it’s hard to decided what to focus on.
One of the problems is that when Paul gets towards the end of his letters,
he often starts throwing out lots of different instructions and thoughts and
requests. Sort of like a mother leaving her firstborn child with a babysitter.
She’s already written a long list of instructions and taped them to the refrigerator.
But then as she and her husband are heading out the door she says:
“And one more thing, there’s a little ice cream in the freezer,
you can give her some after she eats her supper, I think she’s teething . . .
And one more thing, when you put her to bed, and leave the closet light on . . .
Oh, you probably won’t need it, but just in case, let me write down her blood type.”
And by this time her husband is pulling her out the door, saying come on,
she’ll be fine, we’re going to miss the movie!
That’s kind of how it is towards the end of some of Paul’s letters.
He’s said his big doctrinal stuff, he’s dealt with the big issues,
and then there are lots of other things on his mind that he knows will help them,
and he says—Oh, yeah, and this, and this, and this.
And sometimes it’s good take each of these little comments by Paul and focus
on them separately and maybe preach a sermon on each.
I’ve been reading a book of sermons on Philippians by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,
the great Welsh preacher, and he did that very thing with this passage.
He preached six sermons on these verses.
But sometimes it’s good to look at Paul’s closing instructions in a big chunk
and see if you can find a thread or theme that ties them all together.
That’s what I want us to do. What’s linking these together in Paul’s mind?
I think Paul is giving us his own, personal way of handling things—
his way of handing tough, unpleasant, painful, complicated things.
I think he’s saying: Here’s what I do.
And this is what you need to do too.
In fact, at the end of this passage he says:
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”
He starts by mentioning an unpleasant, painful thing—
a conflict between two women in the Philippian church, Euodia and Syntyche.
These women were both faithful church members, committed to the Lord.
Paul says: They contended at my side in the cause of Gospel.
But they had gotten sideways with each other over something,
they had rubbed each other the wrong way. We don’t know what it was.
We don’t know how bad things had gotten between these two.
We do know how hard disagreements like this can be when feelings and strong
opinions and personalities are involved and when there’s been time to dig in.
We get sideways with people, or they ruffle our feathers and we don’t feel
like we’ve been respected or consulted, and by golly there’s a principle here.
And our pride gets involved and it’s quite a problem.
But Paul just cuts through all that and simply says:
I plead with you two: Agree with each other in the Lord.
And then Paul follows with this grocery list of instructions:
Rejoice, be gentle, don’t be anxious, pray, be thankful.
And as I said, I think what Paul is doing here is saying,
Here’s how I handle these things.
Here’s what enables me to handle the tough situations in life.
And when you look at the passage that way, Paul’s way of handing things,
then you start to see, Yes, there is a pattern here.
There is a way to tie these varies instructions together.
I’m going to show you that.
But first, what are the tough things you are facing?
What are the relationships where things aren’t where they should be?
Feathers have been ruffled, pride has gotten involved, or maybe worse,
maybe there’s actually been sin and some serious wrongs committed.
What are the tough things in family, or school, or work?
How do you handle those things? Paul handled by practicing three disciplines.
1. The discipline of rejoicing.
2. The discipline of thanksgiving.
3. The discipline of thinking. Let’s look at each and apply to our own lives.
MP#1 The discipline of rejoicing
Paul says, You two women, Euodia and Syntyche, please, agree with each other.
And then the very next thing he says is, verse 4
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
This word “gentleness” is a hard word to translate into English.
Almost every Bible version translates it a different way.
Gentleness, moderation, forbearance, reasonableness, good sense.
So it’s hard to nail down. But what Paul seems to be saying is that if you are
rejoicing in the Lord, you’re going to be able to handle things.
You’re going to be gentle with people, moderate in judgments,
reasonable, forbearing with people, exercising good sense.
Here’s why: Because your happiness doesn’t depend on the highs and lows of life.
If you find yourself in really tough circumstances, you will hurt,
but you won’t cast you down because your joy is in Christ.
And by the same token, if things are great, and you have great successes,
you won’t soar up into the clouds either. This is good, but my joy in Christ.
Joy in Christ gives you an evenness of life that helps you deal with things.
But the most profound thing is that Paul commands rejoicing.
Rejoice! He says. Do it. I will say it again. Rejoice.
In other words, the joy of the Lord does not come upon you as you wait for it.
It is something that you must do and as a Christian you are capable of doing it.
Rejoicing is to be a discipline of the Christian life.
You have to say to yourself: I’m going to rejoice now. And then do it.
The immediate objection to this is that my emotions of joy or sorrow are not
under my own control. I can’t help being glad or sad as circumstances dictate.
But all the commands God gives us touch on deep emotions and assume that,
as a believer, you are capable of obeying.
God never says, when you feel stirred up, obey Me. He says: Obey me.
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.”
If a husband says, “But that’s the thing, I don’t love her.
I fell out of love with her. I’m emotionally dead toward her.”
The Lord doesn’t say, “OK, You’re excused. I didn’t realize that you had fallen out
of love with her. You can disregard my command to love your wife.”
He says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.”
The key to obeying all of God’s commands, even ones that touch on inner feelings,
like “Rejoice in the Lord” is to decide if you are going to stand in the sunshine
or the shadows.
In other words, are you going to fix your attention on, meditate on the truths
that are going to make you joyful, or, are you going to fix your attention on
the things that make you worried and sorrowful and weak?
If you meditate and mull over yourself all the time,
your sad circumstances, the wrongs done to you, your failures, your faults,
even if those things are true, you are going to be weak and sorrowful.
If you meditate on Jesus Christ and His great love for you.
And how, through Him, you are fully accepted by God the Father.
Even though your sin and rebellion was so heinous, Jesus Christ had to die,
God has accepted you as righteous in His sight.
Looks at you and sees the perfection of Jesus Christ.
That He has adopted you as His son, has a place for you.
Find some verses of Scripture that encourage.
If you think on these great things. Ponder them. They will color your spiritual life.
They will even fill your emotions with the sunshine of God’s joy.
When I was a boy remember enjoyed picking some daffodils in the spring
and putting food coloring in their water.
The food coloring would be drawn into the petals. Yellow and blue, green.
Red and yellow, orange. Not right away. Next day, a little speck, then more.
Same way with you. As you rejoice in the Lord, on Christ’s love, all He has done,
you will be filled with that deep joy and lively pleasure in Him.
Remember that your temperament colors your spiritual experience.
When you become a Christian, your personality does not change.
Christians aren’t all alike—some are cheerful, some gloomy, introverts, extra
If you tend to be skeptical, melancholy, hard to stir up positive emotions,
your experience of the joy of the Lord different from Christian who
is naturally extroverted and cheerful.
But remember, Christ claims your personality and He is sanctifying it.
Gives you the power to bring even your temperament into subjection to Him.
Never an excuse to say, I’m just a gloomy person, can’t rejoice in the Lord.
Still commanded to rejoice in the Lord.
Recognize your tendencies, call all the more on the power Christ has given.
How do you handle the tough things of life? How are you handling them?
Are you practicing the discipline of rejoicing?
Are you deliberately stepping into the sunshine of Christ and all his blessings?
Are you making every effort to find your happiness in him?
Joy in the Lord gentles you, moderates you, makes you reasonable
and forbearing no matter what you are facing.
Rejoice in the Lord, I will say it again. Rejoice.
MP#2 The discipline of thanksgiving
Verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When I was writing this sermon, I first called this point the discipline of prayer.
I thought that was Paul’s point, that you have to be praying if you are going to
handle the hard things of life. And that’s certainly true, but not the heart of it.
Because you all know as well as I do that when you’re in a tough spot,
it’s easy to pray. You pray all the time. You wake up in the middle of the night
worrying about what’s going on and you pray. You pray first thing in morning
when you think about the problem. O Lord, please work this out!
But it doesn’t really make you stronger. It doesn’t make you feel better.
The key is not just praying and petitioning God—it’s praying with thanksgiving.
But how can I be thankful if I don’t know how God’s going to answer?
And that’s Paul’s point: You make it your discipline, that as you petition God,
you thank him ahead of time for the entire range of possible answers.
You envision all the things that could happen, even the worst,
and then you thank him for them ahead of time.
Christians love Romans 8:28. “In all things God works for the good
of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We love it because that verse reminds us that even though this world is fallen,
and our lives are messed up, God has not withdrawn from the world,
he’s still sovereign over it.
And all the nasty things out there, all the things that come into our lives,
the bad things and the good things, come to us because God has a plan.
They are designed to build you up and grow you.
We usually don’t know any more than the broad outlines of God’s plan.
And that shouldn’t surprise us if we are his children.
If God is God, then we will know no more about his plan for our lives
and what’s good for us than a four-year-old would know about his life.
A little child can’t see the big picture.
He can’t understand why he can’t eat something he finds in the sandbox.
He can’t understand shots and naps and moving because dad got transferred.
But all of those decisions are being made by parents who have nothing but his
best interests in mind.
If God is God and we are his children, then there is no way
we are going to understand everything he does.
If everything in our lives made sense, that wouldn’t make sense.
But here’s what we can understand, that God is all good and all wise.
And when we grow in that, we can handle anything.
And Paul gives us a clue that his way of growing in that, his discipline,
was to pray, and lay his requests before God, and then to say:
And Lord, whatever your answer, whether I am released from prison or die here,
I give you thanks. Because all you do is good.
I’ve shared with you a couple of times the story of Thomas and Katherine Boston.
They lived in Scotland in the early 1700s. He was a well-known minister.
The Bostons lost six of their children when they were very young.
Even though they prayed their hearts out, the Lord took them anyway.
Then they had a daughter named Jane.
They loved her dearly, and they had lost so many others.
Once Thomas had to go on a trip, but he was worried about leaving home because
Jane had a bad cold. Then got word she was dangerously ill with a high fever.
So he left right away.
“At five o'clock I took my horse, and journeyed all the night. Many thoughts about her went
through my heart like a arrows; but still I held firm by this, that whatever the Lord should do in
her case, it would be well done, it would be best done, and my soul would approve it as such.
And the faith of this was my anchor.”
Listen to those words. Coming from a man who had lost six children.
“Whatever the Lord should do in her case, it would be well done . . .”
When he got to Edinburgh she was better. Then Jane got sick again with small pox.
And he prayed for her desperately but it seemed she was going to die.
As he was praying, a strong spiritual impression came over him.
“Impressions of the sovereign God sitting on his throne in the heavens, having the matter in his
hand wholly, to turn it what way he pleased, were by his grace, fixed on my spirit. And that
word, Psalm 85:12, ‘The Lord shall give that which is good’ was the word I was led to for
resting in, during the long time of her illness.”
Went on to say that this impression—that God was sovereign, and was holding Jane’s illness in his hand, and could turn it either way, to heal her or take her—
“That impression was as sweet to me as answered prayer.”
If you can pray like that, then you can handle anything.
If you can pray, “Lord, you know what I want but I thank you ahead of time
for whatever your answer because you are wise and good” nothing can rattle you.
What if you just can’t bear to pray with thanksgiving?
What if a negative answer from God seems so bad and impossible to you,
that you simply can’t reconcile that a good God would ever do such a thing?
You look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul said we find peace in Christ Jesus.
How did the disciples respond to the cross? Did they thank God for it?
No, they ran away when Jesus was nailed to the cross.
They ran away because they saw that horror and pain and said to themselves:
Nothing good can come from this—it’s all bad.
But at that moment
they were looking at the greatest act of love and wisdom in history.
That’s what you have to tell yourself.
If you can thank God for the cross, you can thank him in your prayers
for all the lesser crosses and crises of your life.
Tonight when you pray, thank God for his possible answers, good and bad,
and you’ll find a peace and you never knew.
We’ve seen the discipline of rejoicing, the discipline of thanksgiving, and last . . .
MP#3 The discipline of thinking
Paul concludes by saying—think. Think. Verse 8.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think
about such things.”
The ultimate battleground for all the issues of life is your mind.
Actually, even though Bible uses the term “mind” it more often speaks of the heart.
In the Bible’s way of talking, it is your heart that does the thinking.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” says the book of Proverbs.
“Guard your heart, for out of it flow all the issues of life.”
The heart is the emotional, volitional, and intellectual center of the person.
It’s the inner life. It’s the true you.
And Paul is saying that it is absolutely essential that you discipline your thinking.
You have to discipline what goes into your mind and heart.
Typical of Paul’s style, he emphasizes how important this is by just piling up
a bunch of adjectives. He doesn’t just say—think about good things.
Think about noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things.
Put good things in, and you will build up spiritual capital
that will serve you well when you have hard things to handle.
And the opposite is also true. Put trash into your heart,
Think on those things that are passing and vanity and worthless,
and you will have nothing to draw from and will be completely weak.
You must take care what you think about and what you let your mind dwell on.
You have to take your mind off certain thoughts, certain daydreams, certain
images and place it on purpose on other thoughts, other dreams, other images.
You must, on purpose, think about certain kinds of things and not other things.
Your heart is like wax. It’s susceptible to impressions.
You must take care and work hard so that it receives the right impressions.
You may have seen a news story several weeks ago about a pastor—
I think he was in an African-American church, and he said that in order to be
in any kind of leadership in his church—church officer, Sunday school teacher,
choir member, etc., you had to cancel your Facebook account.
He said that the hours spent of Facebook was the ruination of many Christians,
and he was pushing back against it. A firestorm broke out. Roundly criticized.
A few months ago I was talking to an acquaintance in Cullman and he told me
that he knew of seven marriages in his church that had ended in divorce because
one of the spouses in each marriage had found an old flame on Facebook.
Seven Christian marriages, including his own.
I ran across the phone number of an old college friend recently and called him.
He’s a professor at Latorneau University in Longview, Texas.
We chatted and then he said: Hey, are you on Facebook? I told him no.
You ought to be. You find out what’s going on with so many people.
Like what? Tell me about some people.
Do you remember Darlene?. Well, she just got divorced.
Do you remember Matt? He’s come out of the closet, is a militant homosexual.
How many hours to Christians spend reading and thinking about things like that?
I recently read that in the 1600s in England, most homes had only three books—
the Bible, Foxes Book of Martyrs, and Pilgrims Progress.
You can imagine a cold evening with no TV, no internet, no Netflix—
the family sitting around the fire and feeling a little restless, a little bored.
And the kids say: Dad, read us some stories from Dr. Foxes book.
So he reads about the early Roman Christians thrown into the arena—
and little boys and girls and old men singing and praying as lions ate them.
He reads the last words of some the great martyrs—like John Bradford.
Who said to the Christian being burned to death with him:
“Be of good comfort, brother, for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”
He reads about Christians being forced to choose between denying Christ or
watching their wives and children abused and killed before their eyes.
And then mom says: Enough of those stories, the kids will have nightmares.
Read something else. So he gets down Pilgrims Progress and reads about
the adventures of Pilgrim and Hopeful and the journey to the Celestial City.
Is it any wonder that the generations of Christians nourished on that,
who thought about that sparked the modern missionary movement,
and laid the groundwork for the Great Awakening.
Listen: I’m not saying you should cancel your Facebook account.
The problem is not Facebook, it’s our sinful nature that corrupts everything.
I’m certainly not romanticizing the past and saying we should go back to the 1600s.
Human nature does not change.
There were sins and pathologies back then,
and challenges unique to Christians in that time.
But here’s what I’m saying: You must give heed to what goes into your heart.
And to a large degree, your ability to handle the hard things of life, and
rise above them in a Christ-honoring way will depend on what you think about.
This is the hardest part of the Christian life—the discipline of your thinking.
Our thoughts can flit from one thing to another in a flash.
You can set out to pray and meditate, and in a moment, 1000 miles away.
If you facing some other crisis—whether relational, financial, or marital—
where are your thoughts? Do what Paul tells you to do here.
Take your thoughts in hand and place them where they belong.
Place them on the things that God loves.
And when your thoughts run to the foolish, the impure, the unkind—
rebuke them and lift them up, and place them back on the true, the noble,
the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, the excellent, and the praiseworthy.
Do this when you get up in the morning and do it all day till you go to bed.
Do it until it becomes a habit of your mind, to discipline your thoughts.
CONC: Here’s Paul, he’s like an overly protective mother with her first child.
The Philippians were his favorite church.
He had a soft spot in his heart for them.
And he wanted them to flourish. He wanted the best for them.
And so he pours out his instructions. This is how you handle tough things.
Watch me. I know Christ. Imitate me.
And what does Paul say will happen to the Christian
who rejoices in the Lord and gives thanks in prayer and thinks about good things?
He says: And the God of peace will be with you.
Of course he’s always with you. God is always with you.
But Paul is talking here about experience.
He’s saying that you will experience the peace of God and the God of peace.
You will face the hard things of life and you will be able to handle them.