Instructions for Earth

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Philippians 4:1-9

INTRODUCTION: We have been working our way through the book of Philippians, and today we begin the last chapter. Today’s passage contains some of the most encouraging verses in the whole Bible. If you are looking for joy and peace in your life, then you have come to the right place today. (Read Philippians 4:1-9)

Last week’s message was called “Citizens of Heaven,” and today we are looking at “Instructions for Earth.” Last week we looked at four characteristics of those who are citizens of heaven. Which is all well and good, except that even though we are citizens of heaven, we still live here on earth. Heaven is still in our future, we’re not there yet, so how do we live out our heavenly citizenship while living here on earth? Do we just go up on the top of some hill somewhere and wait it out? Most definitely not! God has work for us to do and good gifts for us to enjoy while we are here on earth. And here in verses 4:1-9 Paul gives us seven practical instructions for living on earth while we wait for our heavenly home.

1) Stand firm in the Lord (1)

The first instruction is this: Stand firm in the Lord. Look at verse 1: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 4:1) I want you to notice Paul’s language of affection for the Philippians. Earlier in this letter Paul told them that he loves them with the affection of Jesus Christ, and we have seen evidence of that throughout the letter. He often pauses to address them as brothers, sisters, and dear friends. And here in verse one he makes his love for the Philippians especially clear. He addresses them as brothers, those whom he loves and longs for, his joy and his crown.

The word translated “crown” here is the word for the victor’s wreath, the wreath that was placed on the winner’s head after the race was completed. And so Paul is saying that his reward for all his labors among the Philippians is the Philippians themselves! They are his pride and joy because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

And his instruction for them as dear friends is to stand firm in the Lord. There are many things in this life that will try and rock your relationship with Christ. There will be trials and temptations, perhaps even persecutions. And as a citizen of heaven living here on earth, you need to stand firm in Christ. You need to make Jesus the very center of your life, so that all your decisions flow through him first. This world is not friendly to those who put their faith in Christ. Read your Bible daily. Spend time with the Lord in prayer. Stand firm in the Lord.

2) Agree with each other (2-3)

The second instruction is this: Agree with each other. Look at verses 2-3: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)

Paul follows up his general instruction to all believers to stand firm with this specific instruction to two women to agree with each other. Did you notice he mentions them each by name? Can you imagine if your pastor did that in a sermon! Imagine if the pastor mentioned your name! Everyone would snap to attention, wide awake. Remember this letter was read out loud to the whole congregation. So you can just imagine the shock when Paul mentions these two women, Euodia and Syntyche, by name.

We’re not told what their disagreement was, but it was clearly having a negative impact on the church. It doesn’t take much to disrupt unity in the body. Two people face off against each other, and what does everyone else do? They start taking sides. And before you know it the whole church is facing off.

Paul knows how important unity in the church is, so he takes the unusual step of naming the offenders. Notice also how he addresses each woman in turn. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche.” In other words, Paul is careful not to take sides here. He addresses each woman individually and wisely refuses to be drawn into the argument.

Notice the Euodia and Syntyche are to agree with each other “in the Lord.” In other words, we don’t need to agree with each other on each and every particular thing. But we must agree with each other in the Lord. We must stand united in Christ and work together as partners in the gospel. There is an old saying that goes: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” It would seem that Euodia and Syntyche were disagreeing over a non-essential matter and were not doing so in a charitable manner. And so Paul intervenes.

Apparently Paul knew they were going to need some help with this. So he calls on his loyal yokefellow – some unnamed person, perhaps the pastor of the church, perhaps the one reading the letter, some people think perhaps Silas or Luke – he calls on his loyal yokefellow to come alongside these two women and help them resolve their differences. That word “help” carries the idea of taking hold of each woman’s hand and bringing them together. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) And here Paul calls on his loyal friend to take the initiative and act as a peacemaker for Euodia and Syntyche.

I want you to notice also that Euodia and Syntyche were not just a couple of troublemakers in the church. They were partners in the gospel. They had struggled and labored alongside Paul in the cause of the gospel, along with a man named Clement and fellow-workers.

Paul doesn’t name them all here in the letter, but he assures them their names are all written in the book of life. And if our names are all written together in God’s book of life in heaven, how much more should we all agree in the Lord and get along with each other here on earth. We are going to spend eternity with each other. Let’s get it right now while we are still on earth.

Euodia and Syntyche were mature believers in the faith, but even mature believers can get off track sometimes. And when we do, we need the help of others to reconcile and make things right.

If this was an important enough matter for Paul to name names in the letter, we can be assured this instruction is for us too. We need to agree with each other in the Lord!

3) Rejoice in the Lord – always! (4)

Paul’s third instruction is to rejoice. Look at verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Joy has been a major theme in this letter, and we hit it again right here.

This is one of the mot recognizable verses from Philippians, and it is really a remarkable verse. It’s easy enough to understand, drop dead simple to memorize, but we marvel at the implications. Rejoice in the Lord – always! No matter what is going on, no matter what the circumstances, rejoice! Really? And as if Paul anticipates our objection, he repeats the command: “I will say it again, rejoice!”

In order to apply this verse correctly we need to understand a couple things up front. First of all, notice the object of your rejoicing. The command is to rejoice “in the Lord.” This is central to the command, and this is what makes the command actually possible to obey. This is not simply a throw-away phrase like “Hakuna matata” or “Don’t worry, be happy,” but this command has some teeth to it. You rejoice in the Lord, not in your circumstances. Your circumstances may be terrible, or they may be great. It doesn’t matter. Your rejoicing has nothing to do with them. Circumstances change, but the Lord remains the same forever. The object of your rejoicing is your good, all-loving, all-powerful, all-wise God who never changes. Rejoice in the Lord.

Secondly, notice that rejoicing is an action not simply an emotion. That’s important, because you can’t always control your emotions, but you do get to choose your actions. And no matter what other emotions you may be feeling at the time, you can choose to rejoice in the Lord in obedience to this command.

Thirdly, understand that joy is different from happiness. Happiness comes and goes and is dependent on your circumstances. Joy is a settled confidence that God is God, that God is good, and that God is in control. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
When you trust God, you can know joy in even the most desperate of circumstances.

And fourthly, know that it’s okay to be sad. That might seem like a contradiction at first, but you can be sad and still rejoice in the Lord. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and he wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. In the book of Acts we read that “godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” (Acts 8:2) In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10) There is nothing sinful about being sad. It is right to feel sorrow over sin and death and tragedy. But you can still rejoice in the Lord through your tears and the sadness.

People ask us how we’re doing, and we often answer, “Okay under the circumstances.” But as Christians we don’t live under the circumstances. We live above the circumstances! Joy is one of the marks of a true believer in Jesus Christ. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive! Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!”

4) Let your gentleness be evident – to all (5)

Our fourth instruction for earth is found in verse 5: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5) This verse is not as well known as the verses surrounding it, but it is just as important.

This command has to do with your attitude towards others. The word “gentle” means a gracious, humble, patient spirit that puts up with other’s faults. Are you patient with others? Humble? Forgiving?
Notice your gentleness is to be evident to all. And so you should demonstrate this gentle spirit not only at home and in the church and to your family and friends, but also to your neighbors, your co-workers, your waiter or waitress, the person at the checkout counter, the telemarketer … on the phone … during dinner. Some of have some rough edges we need smoothing off. We can be pretty abrasive or pushy. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” In other words, when people see you, they should see a gentle spirit. It is part of your testimony to them.

And then Paul adds a motivation to this command. “The Lord is near.” One of the characteristics of the citizen of heaven we looked at last week was our eyes are watching for heaven’s Savior. Christ is coming. So let’s treat each other well.

5) Don’t worry – pray! (6-7)

So we’ve had four instructions so far: 1) Stand firm in the Lord. 2) Agree with each other. 3) Rejoice in the Lord always. And 4) Let your gentleness be evident to all. Now we come to our fifth instruction: Don’t worry – pray! Look at verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Once again, this is a very familiar and precious verse. Let’s take a look at it phrase by phrase.

First of all, “Do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:6a) Now I’ve prepared a special slide for you this morning where I have listed all the things that it is okay to worry about. Ready? Here it is. (Put blank slide up.) There you go! Now this is real easy. Anytime you’re worrying about something, just check and see if it’s on the list, and if it is, it’s okay to worry about it! Here, I’ll give you some time so you can write it all down! Now of course, we’re just having some fun with this, but you get the point? Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything!” Worry about nothing. This is a command without any exceptions.

Now I’ve prepared a second slide with a list of all the things it’s okay to pray about. Let’s take a look at that one. (Slide with word “Everything” written on it over and over and over). That’s right, it’s okay to pray about everything! “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6b) That means you can bring the really big things in your life to God in prayer, and you can also pray about the really small things. Nothing is too big or too small to bring to God in prayer.

There are actually four words for prayer tucked away in that one sentence: prayer, petition, thanksgiving, requests. The first word is just the general word for prayer. The words petition and request both have to do with asking for God’s help. And the fourth word tucked in the middle there brings out another aspect of prayer which is thanksgiving.

We usually think about thanking God after he has answered our request, but notice that Philippians 4:6 says we should mix our thanksgiving right in with the request. “With thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And so even as I am asking God, I am already thanking him: thanking him for being my God, thanking him for being my Savior, thanking him for hearing my prayer, and in faith thanking him for answering my prayer according to his wisdom.

“Present your requests to God” is more literally “present your requests before God, in his presence.” And so we come before God in his presence. We pray specifically, we pray in faith, and we pray with thanksgiving.

Don’t worry, pray! The two commands go together. In fact it is impossible to obey the first command without first obeying the second. The only way you can worry about nothing is to pray about everything. Every time you are faced with something to worry about, turn it to prayer.

And what is the result? Look at verse 7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) God will fill you with a supernatural peace that goes beyond your ability to understand it. Notice this supernatural peace is not a result of God granting all your requests but of you making all your requests to him. Once you have prayed about it, you know that God’s will will be done, so you can leave it in his hands.

I have known this peace from the Lord so many times, and Paul is right, it is beyond our understanding. I remember watching my car go up in flames before my eyes and yet being filled with God’s peace. I remember the day our landlord called us up and told us we had one month to move, and yet I was filled with peace. It doesn’t make sense in the world’s eyes, but it makes sense when you know God and you trust his working in your life.

Paul says this supernatural peace will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That word guard is a military term. It was used of soldiers standing guard over a city to protect it from harm. God’s peace will stand guard over your heart and your mind and protect you from worry.

This is such an important instruction for earth. Don’t worry, pray. Worrying and praying are both actions. You can choose to do one or the other. If you choose to worry, then you will be filled with anxiety. But if you choose to pray, you will be filled with peace. God already knows your needs before you ask him, but the asking will help you. Prayerful people are peaceful people. Don’t worry, pray.

6) Think good thoughts (8)

Okay, we have two more instructions to go, and these two also go together. 1) Think good thoughts, and 2) put it into practice. First of all, instruction number six: think good thoughts. Look at 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.” (Philippians 4:8)

I’ve got four letters for you here: G.IG.O. Not G.I. Joe, but G.I.G.O. – “giggo!” You know what G.I.G.O. stands for, don’t you? Garbage in, garbage out. It’s a computer term that means if you put poor programming in, you will get poor results. Well, it’s true of our minds and our lives as well. If you put garbage into your mind, you will get garbage out in your life.

What you feed your mind with has such an important impact on your life. And so Philippians 4:8 encourages you to think good thoughts.

Whatever is true
Whatever is noble
Whatever is right
Whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely
Whatever is admirable
If anything is excellent
If anything is praiseworthy

Whatever is true means those things that are real, genuine, and honest. Don’t live in a fantasy world, and don’t listen to lies. Stay connected to those things that are true and honest and dependable.

Whatever is noble means those things that are honorable, dignified, solemn, majestic, worthy of respect. Don’t think unworthy thoughts. Don’t leave your mind in the gutter. Think about noble things, like sacrifice and honor. Go outside and reflect on God’s majestic creation.

Whatever is right means those things that are upright, just and proper. Here’s a hint. If you’re watching a lot of daytime television, you are probably not filling your mind with things that are right and proper.

Whatever is pure means those things that are holy, chaste, and undefiled. Whatever is lovely means those things that are pleasing, dear, agreeable, that which calls forth love. Whatever is admirable means those things that are commendable or attractive.

And then Paul sums up all six by saying if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts.” Let’s face it, we are sinful people, and the only way to get rid of the bad stuff in our minds is to replace it with the good. Romans 12:2 talks about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Memorizing Scripture is key here as we learn to think God’s thoughts after him. Spending time in God’s Word, listening to good Christian music in the home or in the car, all of these are important ways of filling your mind with good things. Filter out the bad; focus on the good; practice discernment. Think good thoughts.

7) Put it into practice (9)

And then finally, instruction number seven: put it into practice. Don’t just think, do! Look at verse 9 where Paul writes: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Paul asks the Philippians: Did you learn something from me? Did you receive instruction? Have you heard what I’ve been saying? Have you seen my example? Then do it! And the same word applies to us. We don’t just come to church to listen and leave. We come so that our lives may be changed. Take what you have learned or received or heard or seen and put it into practice.

And what will be the result? “The God of peace will be with you.” That’s it folks. Nothing beats that. Verse 8 spoke about the peace of God which was wonderful enough. But I would rather have the God of peace than the peace of God. Fortunately you don’t have to choose between the two. They are actually related, because only God’s presence brings God’s peace. Do you want to know God’s presence in your life? Then put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

CONCLUSION: So there you have it. We are citizens of heaven, but we still live here on earth. So Paul leaves us with seven vital instructions for earth:

1) Stand firm in the Lord.
2) Agree with each other.
3) Rejoice in the Lord always.
4) Let your gentleness be evident to all.
5) Don’t worry, pray!
6) Think good thoughts.
7) Put it into practice.

These are things that we cannot possibly do without Jesus Christ in our lives. If you are not a Christian, don’t try and do this list to try and gain approval with God. Rather, let this list show you your need for the Savior, and put your faith in Christ who died for you. If you are a Christian, don’t try and do this list in your own strength. Ask Jesus to help you grow in these areas and ask his forgiveness when you fail. We cannot do this list on our own, but we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength!

© Ray Fowler

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