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Finding Joy and Peace in the Lord

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Have you ever tried to make yourself be joyful?
“Be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.” Does that work?
Or what about peace? “Be at peace, be at peace, be at peace?” Does that work?
I think not.
We need a different strategy
Perhaps getting something to eat: Only problem is that if we make this our strategy, we start gaining pounds and that makes us depressed
Perhaps entertainment: That can work somewhat. But what about when the thrill is over?
Most of us have found that numbing ourselves with entertainment doesn’t bring deep or lasting peace.
Perhaps it’s found in marriage or children or grandchildren or in social relationships in general.
This is hitting much closer to the mark, because we are designed for relationship.
Yet if our relationships are our ultimate source of joy and peace, what happens when we are rejected or alone or isolated?

Today we are going to look at the apostle Paul’s answer to living in joy and experiencing peace—a peace that surpasses understanding.

Brothers: stand firm thus in the Lord
Stand firm means to persist, persevere, don’t give way
So, the question comes to my mind, “In what way, in what manner?”
How does a Christian keep going? So many stop running for God or seeking Him.
We lose the spark, we lose the zeal, we lose the joy
Our hearts become dull. We become disillusioned, disappointed, our spiritual life deadened.
Or, we become distracted, fall in love with other things—things in the here and now. Sports, cars, boats, houses, people, entertainment.
What is “thus”? Well, let’s look back at what he has been saying:
Philippians 3:20 Citizenship in heaven; Jesus’ coming; Resurrection bodies
Perseverance come from looking to the future
You see, the gospel is not just that Jesus came and lived and died for us and rose again from the dead
It also includes the truth that He will return, set up His kingdom, Make everything that is wrong on this earth right.
That’s how we stand firm: That’s how we choose to obey, and serve and sacrifice and take up our cross and follow Him in his death.
Jesus suffered in faith, looking to the joy set before Him and we must be motivated in the same way if we want to stand firm.
For those who follow Jesus the reward at His return will utterly overwhelm any sacrifice.

Next Paul moves on to a relational problem in their midst
Throughout the letter, he has been promoting harmony, love, and unity. But here he addresses a specific problem
Two women were not getting along: Euodia (EOda) and Syntyche (SintEhE)
Now these were not ordinary women, they were women leaders in the church
They were Paul’s fellow workers, who labored side by side with him in preaching the gospel
Perhaps they were two of the women that Paul led to Christ in the Jewish worship service that met by the river when he first came to Philippi.
It amazes me that sometimes people who have known the Lord for many years, good faithful, obedient disciples can have relational rifts that seem to be intractable.
Maybe there was a sin, an offense that one or both simply can’t get past
Perhaps there’s competition or rivalry
Perhaps they are judging each other not by the other’s strengths, but by their weaknesses. One is saying “Look at that! I can’t believe she’s like that! I’m not like that!” while, all the while the first has just as significant, but different weaknesses that the other is saying, “Look at that! I can’t believe she does that! I’m not like that!
But for whatever reason, these godly women were not getting along.
And it is evidently such a pronounced and public rift, that Paul decides to address it in a public letter to the whole church!
Perhaps it had become a significant point of disunity in the church as a whole as people took sides in the relational rift.
The first think I think we can conclude from this is that even godly Christians who have served Christ a long time can have relational conflict that is very hard to settle.
A second lesson is that Paul confronts it:
He doesn’t just let it go, thinking that eventually it will get better.
He doesn’t just give up and throw up his hands and say, “Well, I guess they just aren’t going to get along.”
He addresses the problem
And thirdly, Paul encourages his “true companion” (loyal yokefellow) or possibly a proper name Syzygus to help them in their conflict
We don’t know who this true companion was. Perhaps it was even Epaphroditus, who was carrying the letter and presenting it to them.
Sometimes relational conflict and tension needs help, mediation, wisdom from outside the persons involved. Evidently we can’t always resolve such issues on our own.
This can be true with relational problems between women, between men, and within marriages.
So, don’t be embarrassed if you need someone to help you in a conflict or in a dissatisfaction or a problem that just goes on year after year after year.
Get some help from a wise person. Let them help you mediate a solution. We all need that at various times in life.
After Easter, Brad and Matt will say more about this in a series on peacemaking and conflict resolution.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
The word “rejoice” is used 11 times in Paul’s letter. Rejoicing is a clear theme.
It is, perhaps a somewhat startling theme for a man in prison, awaiting possible conviction and execution in conditions that were undoubtedly extremely challenging, as he mentions later on in this chapter
And he says to rejoice “always.”
First I’d like to say that I don’t think this means that we should never experience sorrow or discouragement. He’s not telling us to never weep.
In this very letter, in 2:27, he talks about if Epaphroditus had died from his illness, Paul would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow.
In Romans 12:15, he says, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
If someone is weeping, don’t rejoice!
If someone has just lost a friend or a family member or for whatever reason is weeping, don’t pull out Philippians 4:4 like a club and say, “Uh, friend. I hate to tell you this, but God doesn’t want you to be weeping. You’re supposed to be rejoicing.”
No! Paul says if they are weeping, weep with them! That’s about as strong an affirmation of their sorrow and sadness as you could give.
So why does Paul say, “Always”?
I think the key is found in the phrase “in the Lord.”
It is always possible–no matter how bad the loss, no matter how deep the burden, no matter how discouraging the circumstances—there is always a reason for joy! It’s in the Lord
It is always possible to find joy in the Lord.
He isn’t saying, “Never be sad.” He’s saying “Even in the worst of times, the bleakest, saddest of times, you can return to joy if you remember the Lord and turn to Him and His consolations.
I’ve talked and prayed and wept with dozens, probably hundreds of people, helping them mourn their losses
The loss of a child, the terrible grief of having killed their own child in abortion, the grief of having been physically or sexually abused, the gut-wrenching loss of a spouse in divorce.
Mourning is a necessary part of life. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
God often does not always immediately comfort us, but it will happen for those who believe in Jesus
Now, sadness and mourning and discouragement that goes nowhere is not a blessing. It’s terribly destructive.
But there is a mourning that is going somewhere, that is moving toward comfort
I like to think of mourning as the process of counting our losses and returning to joy.
And I think that is what Paul is saying, here. Don’t stay in sadness. Look to Jesus! Remember Him! There is always a reason for joy in Jesus.
In the hope of resurrection, yes. But I think that Paul has even more in mind here.
Rejoice in the Lord Himself! Rejoice that you have Him and are with Him and will be with Him forever.
We mustn’t be like a woman who is never satisfied with what she has.
Her husband might say, “But honey, you have me!”
We delight in what Jesus has done in forgiving us and empowering us and changing our lives.
We delight that He is coming back and bringing in the kingdom, remaking the world into paradise.
We delight in coming immortality
But most of all, we delight in Him. We have Him and all of His gifts—all that he has done, is doing, and will do.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone
The word “reasonableness” is sometimes translated “graciousness,” or “considerateness.” But it is the word that most often means “gentleness” and most translations translate it that way.
Here in the summary portion of Paul’s address, this phrase is probably meant to be a summation of much of what Paul said earlier regarding putting yourself last, putting other people’s preferences and interests above your own.
Perhaps he is saying, “Be gentle! Don’t be hard on people!”
There is a part of my heart that loves perfection and strives for it, perfection in myself, perfection in others, and this part of me is upset and irritated when it isn’t there.
Perhaps Paul is saying, “Let it go.” Don’t get bent out of shape when someone shows weakness, when someone isn’t perfect.
Be gentle, be considerate. Be gracious.

The Lord is at hand
This literally says, “The Lord is near,” as the majority of translations translate this.
It’s hard to know if Paul is saying, “God is with you” as He so often said to men and women of God all throughout the scripture.
Or if he is saying, “The Lord is coming soon, as the ESV implies and as the New Living and Good News translates it.
Perhaps he means both. The Lord is with you now AND he is soon to return.
You have reason to rejoice, for He is near
You can afford to be gentle and considerate and gracious, because He is near. You have Him, now and soon for eternity.

Do not be anxious about anything,
Now again, Paul is not giving this command to be used as a club on ourselves or on others.
Many of you, as I once did, have been convicted by this verse. So we get in a cycle.
We find ourselves being anxious and think, “God says I shouldn’t be anxious. I need to repent.
And all through the day we are worrying about how anxious we are
We are anxious about being anxious.
That is not the way to use this verse.
Rather than condemning us for our anxiety, Paul is giving us a solution for it.
When you find yourself anxious (which will inevitably happen), do this!
In effect, he’s saying, “Don’t remain anxious, but do this.”
He’s giving the solution to anxiety!

But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.
First notice the “everything.” This contrasts with “anything” in the previous phrase. Don’t be anxious for anything, but in everything, pray. He’s telling us to pray for everything we are anxious about, big or little, large or small. If you are concerned about it, pray about it!
Supplication: This implies more than a casual request, but a heartfelt entreaty. Let God know you really want this.
What does prayer and supplication do?
It brings God into the picture.
We are no longer facing our problems alone
We have petitioned the Lord of heaven and earth to help us
We have asked our loving heavenly Father, who loves us so much that He sacrificed His own Son on our behalf, to move on our behalf, to protect us, to watch over us, to care for us. To remedy what we are anxious about.
Now, I’ve sometimes had people tell me, “I tried Paul’s remedy for anxiety and it didn’t really work.” I pray and entreat and do it often and honestly and I’m still anxious.
I’ve had this happen as well. And as I’ve thought about it, usually the issue is that I wasn’t truly engaging in faith-filled prayer, believing that God was hearing me
Rather I was worrying out loud as I talked to the air.
I think it helps not to forget the third little phrase in the solution
With thanksgiving!
Prayers without faith, no matter how desperate or persistent or sincere they are, won’t relieve anxiety.
Thanksgiving is also needed
For in order to be truly thankful, we must reflect on and believe something about the goodness of God.
And I think it is particularly powerful if you find a promise relating to whatever you are anxious about and give thanks God about that promise.
Why is that particularly anxiety relieving? Because that is the relevant promise, the promise needed to relieve the anxiety. Give thanks to God for the element of His character or the promise that specifically relates to your anxiety.
I’ll confess this morning, that I often struggle with anxiety.
But I so often find that when I stop and pray about what I am anxious about, and I pray sincerely and whole-heartedly and just get the anxiety out in the open—known and seen both by God and by myself. It’s like rolling a weight off of me and on to God.
And so, often, once it gets out in the open and I see what’s going on inside that is making me anxious, Most often, a truth about God or a promise from God comes to mind, particularly when I turn my heart toward thanksgiving, as Paul instructs here.
The other night I was driving home from work. And I had stayed longer than I had hoped to stay, trying to finish up somethings I was working on.
And I found myself in a hurry, rushing. And I tried to stop and look inside to find the anxiety.
And it was like a little ball in my chest. It was pushing me to get home fast.
I noticed that it was particularly anxious that Dawn would be upset because she likes me to come home earlier than I was going to make it.
It turned out that she wasn’t by the way, but this part of me was worried that she would be upset
And I noticed that this was the same feeling I often get when going to an elder’s meeting or a counseling session that might be a challenge for me.
And I wondered to myself: “What would God, the highest, most merciful God, say to this anxious part of me, this anxious place in my chest?”
Well, these words came to mind: “Immortality is coming.”
And a wave of relief swept over me. Later when I told Dawn about it, tears came as I said those words.
I’d found the relevant promise, needed for this insecure, anxious part of me that evidently is worried about surviving.
So, when you pray and commit your burdens to God, include thanksgiving. Bring in the promises of God. Pray in faith, relax in trust in the goodness and love of God.

Incomprehensible peace will guard your hearts and minds
This is an astounding statement. Can it really be true that I can always find peace through prayer and thanksgiving and trust?
Can it really be true that this peace can guard my heart and mind, like a company of soldiers guard their compound?
Do you experience this kind of incomprehensible peace? If you are like me, the answer is “sometimes.”
But why don’t we go for this all the time?
Why should we let our hearts be in turmoil when we have such an all-encompassing promise?
Why settle for a life of stress and worry and turmoil when we have this promise?
Turn to the Lord. Bring your fears and concerns to Him. Pour out your heart before Him, whether it be a fear or a complaint or a confession.
Bring your anxiety to Him, ask Him to intervene, to be with you, to help you.
Find things that you can genuinely give thanks for.
Remember the gospel, who Jesus is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.
Jesus is the good news. Meditate on Him and give thanks for Him.
So that you can experience this incomprehensible peace.

Paul concludes the wrap-up to his oration with a list of virtues
It was common in Greek literature for philosophers and moral teachers to include lists of virtues, and Paul includes his own here.
To add emphasis, He lists them without any connectives: What’s true, what’s honorable, what’s just, what’s pure, what’s lovely, what’s commendable.
Then he adds two “if” clauses
If there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise.
He says, “think about these things.” Give them your attention. Notice them with admiration.
I think this is interesting
I don’t know about you, but it’s my tendency to notice the evils in the world and fixate on them.
The vast majority of the news that comes to us is about some scandal or investigation or shooting or crime or war or threat of war or potential economic disaster if we impose a tariff of steel.
Because for some reason, people like to focus on the negatives. Sometimes our culture seems addicted to bad news. People like it. It sells.
But if we focus on all that is wrong in the world, what does that do to us?
It makes us depressed and anxious—just the opposite of joy and peace, what Paul wanted the Philippians to experience.
So he says, Of all that we run into in the world, the good, the bad, and the ugly, “focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.”
And behind this focus is the understanding that God is here. He created this world, He’s working in the world, He’s bringing in His kingdom, and (no matter how dark it seems) He’s winning: He’s going to win in the end.
He’s providentially working all around us moving all things toward His ultimate purpose.
So, let’s not focus on what the devil is doing and the evil all around us and in that way miss what God is doing.
He gives an extremely important principle to finding peace in a fallen world.

What you have learned, received, heard and seen in me—practice these things
The first two words “learned,” “received,” are semitechnical words, used in Judaism and in the Greek world for the careful transmission and reception of sacred tradition.
Paul is referring to the doctrinal truths and the ethical instructions that he had passed on to them.
The second two words are less formal, including all that they had seen in the way he lived and talked and conducted himself.
You’ve heard the expression, “More is caught than taught.”
Well, here we see both. Paul believed in both—the passing on of formal instruction and the imitation of a life example.
We see here and throughout the entire letter this teacher/student; disciple/disciple dynamic going on.
Yet we also see a family paradigm. Paul was like a father in the midst of his children, teaching and urging and admonishing them to follow what he taught and to imitate his example.
For us this would mean to practice what we find in the writings of Paul and, indeed, in the whole of the New Testament scriptures.
But also, to imitate Paul’s faith and love and joy and manner of life, as well as to imitate those around us who are living the kind of life that Paul advocates here in Philippians and elsewhere.

What will the result be? The God of peace will be with you.
God will be with you and you will experience peace and joy in your life that often seems unbelievable.

Do you know what the two greatest physiological problems are today?
Depression – a lack of joy; and Anxiety – a lack of peace
We live in a fallen, broken, evil world and it is impossible for any of us to live in this world and remain unscathed.
The longer we live, the more hits we take, the more disappointments we encounter, the more evil we are confronted by.
God has given us a message of hope – Paul’s epistle to the Philippians—written to incite joy; written to lead to peace
Central to the book is the message:
“Yes, it is God’s will for us to go down, be become less, to miss out, to be mistreated and misunderstood.
His plan is that we would be like Jesus, who went down, down, down, only to be exalted way, way above all else.
This was Paul’s plan – he wanted to know Jesus, to follow in His steps, to give up his time and energy and possessions to accomplish the work that God had called him to do, to suffer and die
So that he, too, could experience the exaltation of the resurrection and an immortal body, just like Jesus’ body, and a share in the inheritance of the kingdom of God.
It’s only in these unalterable, eternal truths that joy and peace can be solidly found.
We must walk in these truths,
And we must bring the fears and disappointments of a fallen world and a broken self right out into the presence of God, casting our cares on Him, noticing the God-inspired good that is happening in the world around us, and trustfully thanking Him who is sovereignly working in it all.