Hope for a Worried Heart: Philippians 4

downloadBefore reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 4.

How do we rejoice when our hearts are full of worry? The Philippian Christians knew what it was to worry. They were believers in an increasingly hostile land. Their mentor Paul, the apostle who brought them the gospel, was in jail, and he might never get out. And yet Paul told them to rejoice always and to never worry. Seriously? Rejoice always? This from the guy who is in jail. This from the guy who is going to die very shortly. This to the church that is experiencing trials and tribulations. Rejoice always?!?

When you throw out a theological bomb like that, you better be prepared to provide a robust answer to objections, and you better be prepared to explain how asking people to rejoice when they are suffering is even a reasonable request much less a logical one. Really, it sounds almost cruel.

What is Paul’s hope for a worried heart? How can Paul ask them to rejoice always? In Philippians 4 Paul delineates three truths that are essential for the Christian life.

In verse 5 he tells us to think like Jesus is coming back, because he is. For Paul this is the hallmark of his theology of suffering. We have seen this in every chapter of Philippians. If you asked Paul when he was saved, you’d get a complicated answer. Paul was convinced that his salvation was secured at the cross, decades before, when Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Paul, however, was also convinced that he was saved on the Damascus road, where he met the real Jesus for the first time and believed in him. But Paul was sure that his salvation would not be complete, would not be fully realized or really real until Jesus accomplishes what his resurrection promised, actual eternal life for all those who are in Christ. And for Paul that will only happen when Jesus returns. That is what the coming of Jesus represents: the Lord is at hand! And when believers are certain that their rescue is at hand, it frees their hearts from worry. Christians can rejoice through anything, if they know that their rescuer is right around the corner.

Not only should we think like Jesus is coming back, because he is; Paul tells us in verses 6 and 7 that we should also pray like we have a heavenly father who cares about us, because we do. The subject of prayer and worry is tricky business. Many Christians experience what it is like to not have their prayers answered. Many Christians have wondered why God seemed so silent from heaven at seemingly the most important of times. If we read widely in Paul’s writings on prayer, we see that Paul is convinced of three things. First, he is convinced that prayer really does change the world. Paul is clear; there are things that God will not do if we do not pray and ask him to do them. There are also things that God only does because we pray, and sometimes only because we pray with regularity and fervency. That is a mind-blowing reality. Isn’t God unchanging? Doesn’t God know all things in advance? We don’t know the mind of God, so we will likely never know what God is doing in every situation, but Paul’s admonishment is clear. If you are anxious, pray!

Second, when it comes to prayer Paul is convinced that prayer changes us, and as we grow closer to God and the knowledge of him and deeper in the gospel, our prayers change to be more in line with his heart and his mission.

Third, Paul is convinced that God answers prayers like a loving heavenly father and not like a genie. Many times, instead of answering the prayers that we pray, God answers the prayers that we would have prayed if we knew what God knows and loved what God loves. This means that sometimes our prayers are not answered because we have not asked consistently enough yet. It also means that sometimes our prayers are not answered because we are asking for the wrong things, and God is working to change our wants and thus change our prayers. But finally, it means that sometimes our prayers are not answered, because even though our hearts were right and we prayed ‘enough,’ God is not granting that prayer, because he, as an all-knowing, all-powerful, heavenly father, knows better. And he isn’t giving us what we prayed for. Rather he is giving us what he wants for us. So when we feel anxious, we must pray our hearts out, but our rest and our hope are not in that we “prayed enough.” What saves us from anxiousness and worry is resting in the knowledge that we are praying to an all-powerful, all-knowing heavenly father, who has promised us a rescue in the return of his Son.

After encouraging us to pray like we have a heavenly father who loves us, Paul tells us in verses 8 and 9 to protect our minds by dwelling on godliness, because God wants you to have peace. Here, Paul is clear. There is a direct correlation between what we dwell on and our anxiety level. When we train our minds (“practice these things”) to think on the gospel and God’s mission in the world—to think about what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, then the “God of peace” is with us, and we have peace and not worry. And, of course, Christ is all of these things. He is the epitome of honor, justness, purity, loveliness, commendation, excellence, and praiseworthiness. Dwell on Jesus and have the peace of God. Jesus was God’s peace brought to earth to reconcile all men unto himself.

 

  1. How would you feel if, while you were suffering through a major life-changing crisis (cancer diagnosis, loss of a spouse, etc.), one of your Christian friends said to you, “You should rejoice and not worry”?
  2. Everything in this passage is related to the central fact that “the Lord is at hand.” Write down how the return of Jesus shapes the way we:
  • Rejoice in the Lord always.
  • Display reasonable gentleness to all people.
  • Pray about our anxieties.

Finish by meditating on Man of Sorrows

“Man Of Sorrows”

Man of sorrows Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid

Silent as He stood accused
Beaten mocked and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns

Oh that rugged cross
My salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out
Hallelujah
Praise and honor unto Thee

Sent of heaven God’s own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree

Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled

Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed

See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah God be praised
He’s risen from the grave

 

One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

Other posts in this series:

Where is Your Hope? Philippians 1

Hope for a Troubled World: Philippians 2

Hope for a Divided Christianity: Philippians 3

Hope for a Painful Past: Philippians 3:12-21

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Hope for a Painful Past: Philippians 3:12-21

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Last week’s lesson was probably some of the toughest material in all of Philippians. Paul’s harsh words for the false teachers forces us to answer some harsh questions. What are we worshiping? Where do we put our confidence? What makes us think we are better than other people? Is it our looks? Our ability to make money? Our fame? How healthy we eat? The success of our children? Is it our political views? Or maybe what we really worship about ourselves is seeing ourselves as the victim. Or the persecuted. We can find a way to worship even that.

Before reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 3:12-21.

Philippians 3:12-21, then, is Paul’s commentary on the bombs he drops in Philippians 3:1-11. Paul spends those first eleven verses rabidly calling us to something better. He calls us to worship Christ and glory in Christ and put no confidence in our flesh. Paul explains that to the Christian, salvation is in one moment, the moment of faith, trading our record for the record of Christ, trading our accomplishments for the accomplishments of Christ, the one who was perfect, always obeyed God, and never sinned. For Paul, the gospel is trading away everything that gives us confidence for the confidence that the God of the universe loved us so much that he gave his only son to die for us, to take our punishment, and to give us eternal life right now. The gospel is that Jesus’ record, his resume, his accomplishments all became ours and our punishment all became his.

What Paul does then in Philippians 3:12-21 is unpack all that for the Philippians. In verses 12-13 Paul softens the blow by confessing that he too is still a work in progress when it comes to putting no confidence in his flesh and counting everything else as “dung.” In verse 13, Paul goes on to explain what it looks like for him, a person with a horrible (painful and sinful) past to give all of that baggage up, to follow Christ, and to put no confidence in his flesh. He says, “I forget what is behind.” The question we have to answer then is this: How can we Christians forget what happened in our past? To this point Paul has been clear. We can forget out pasts because we are justified. We have complete forgiveness in Christ and complete acceptance by Christ, and we are new creatures with renewed minds.

In verse 14 and then again in verses 20-21, Paul explains moving from the past to the present. He says that despite his past, “I press on toward the goal, eternal life with Jesus.” The question we have to answer then is this: How does the knowledge that eternal life is ours change the way we relate to our past and our present? Of this Paul is clear too. The certainty of our salvation puts everything else into an eternal perspective: what we think of as “reward,” what we anticipate as “best in life,” how we think about our bodies (life, death, health, etc.), and how we think about this world.

In verses 16-18 Paul shares just exactly how we are to go about giving up all things for Christ and counting them all as loss. He says, “Join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul is clear. Living the Christian life in a real Christian community gives us hope for escaping our past and following Jesus. In other people who follow Jesus we find examples, we find accountability, and we find encouragement.

  1. Can you describe a moment when all of the values /goals in your life changed significantly?
  1. Read Philippians 3:12. What is it that Paul is trying to obtain? The answer is found in the preceding verses.
  1. Read Philippians 3:12-14. As we try to be like Paul and “press on” in following Jesus we will fail plenty of times. Can you name a specific time you have struggled and failed as a believer?
  1. As we begin to realize our own struggles and become honest about those struggles with other people, what hope does Philippians 3:12-13 offer us?
  1. Read Philippians 3:14-21. How can these verses apply to your small group, church?

One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

Other posts in this series:

Where is Your Hope? Philippians 1

Hope for a Troubled World: Philippians 2

Hope for a Divided Christianity: Philippians 3

Hope for a Divided Christianity: Philippians 3

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Paul in Philippians 2 calls the church of Jesus to unify around the message and mission of the incarnate and crucified God. But what about Christians and churches who preach a different message or who are on a different mission? How should we relate to them? Paul in Philippians 3 tells us how we are to think about those people and their message, and he is not polite.

The Apostle Paul had a nasty history with false teachers. He had been harassed, beaten, and run out of town more times than he could count by Jews who were angry at the spread of Christianity. Then, at the end of the first missionary journey, Paul began to run into something worse. A heresy developed among the early Christians. There was a strong, vocal minority of Christians who still believed that Jewish practices were necessary for people to be saved. “Yes,” they would say, “you must put your faith in Jesus to be saved, but you also must be circumcised (if you are male) and you must keep the Law of Moses in order to receive the grace of God.” Paul called that teaching a false gospel (Galatians 1) and actively opposed them to all the churches. The early Christian leaders quickly met and unanimously decided that these so called “Judaizers” really were a false gospel and sent letters to all the churches denouncing them (Acts 15).

It is in this context that Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage them to unity around the message of the incarnate and crucified Jesus, but to be on the look-out for those people who call themselves Christians, but really do preach another gospel. His opening words in Philippians 3 are as strong as they are instructive: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh (a telling reference to circumcision and the Judaizers).”

Before reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 3.

Given Paul’s history with this early Christian heresy, how are modern readers supposed to read and think about Philippians 3 in the age of mass media? Paul’s words in Philippians 3 do three things: First, they put us on our guard. We are to be on the look-out for those who would teach another gospel. Paul uses the words “those who mutilate the flesh” to describe those Christians who were preaching that circumcision was required for salvation, and he says we are to be on our guard against them.

Second, Paul’s words help us see false teaching clearly for how insidious and dangerous it is. He uses powerfully strong language in Philippians 3. He refers to these false teachers as “dogs” and “evil doers” and describes their practices as “flesh mutilation.” We know that Paul had the greatest of compassion on unbelievers. He literally gave his life so that pagans might hear the good news of Jesus, but when it came to Christians who twist the gospel for selfish and personal gain and Christians who preach a gospel that changes the true message and mission of the church, Paul’s intensity level went through the roof.

Third, Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3 helps us tell true teachers from false teachers. He tells us that true teachers worship Jesus and false teachers worship themselves. He tells us that true teachers preach loss for the sake of Christ, and false teachers preach gain. And finally he tells us that true teachers preach the sufficiency of Christ and his resurrection. False teachers preach that God is a means to some other end.

The challenge in taking Paul’s words and delivering them to a modern audience is getting your group members to see that though it is easy to spot some false teachers, they exist for a reason. False teachers exist today because our natural inclination is to love their teaching. We have to constantly preach the gospel to ourselves in order to combat our love for false teaching. Our hearts naturally long to worship ourselves. Our hearts long for rewards, accolades, and merits. Our hearts naturally hate grace. And our hearts are hard-wired to love things other than God. Christians are idolaters too, and we are especially good at taking the gifts that God has given us and falling so in love with them that we begin to see God as simply the gift giver and not the ultimate prize himself. Paul says, “I will give up everything, so that I might gain Christ.” For Paul, Christ is the end, not a means of getting a better career, a happier life, or a stronger marriage. True teaching proclaims that Christ is all sufficient for all our needs.

  1. Read Philippians 3:1-3. Paul contrasts his worship of Christ with those who place their confidence (or worship) in themselves. How can you tell whether someone worships Jesus or themselves?
  2. Read Philippians 3:3-8. Paul sends a very strong message in these verses. It almost sounds like Paul hates everything he accomplished before Christ. What message do you think Paul is trying to get across in this section?
  3. What does our culture ascribe ultimate value to? Offer some suggestions and then follow up by taking a few minutes to consider what you are personally giving highest priority to in your life. Contrast this with the value that Paul ascribes to Christ.
  4. Read Philippians 3:8-11. How does Paul’s emphasis on the suffering and resurrection of Christ change the way we think about this life?

 One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

Other posts in this series:

Where is Your Hope? Philippians 1

Hope for a Troubled World: Philippians 2

Hope for a Troubled World: Philippians 2

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The people of Philippi understood strife. They knew what it meant to live in a troubled world. The city was birthed four hundred years before Paul’s letter arrived there as a military garrison of Philip II, the renown conqueror and father of Alexander the Great. Three hundred years later the city was the site of the Battle of Philippi, the military campaign that ended Rome’s bloody civil war fought over the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The strife continued when the missionaries came to Philippi. This Roman colony was already unfriendly to non-citizen Jews. Many historians believe that the reason Paul went “outside the city” looking for “the place of prayer” was because Jews weren’t even allowed to meet inside the city in synagogues (Acts 16). So when Paul, the Jewish Christian missionary, came to the city and began stirring up trouble by preaching the gospel and casting out evil spirits, the people of Philippi formed a mob, beat the missionaries badly, and threw them in jail. You can read about how God miraculously rescued Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16.

Before reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 2.

With all the strife in Philippi, what could a Roman citizen living there have as their ultimate hope? Another military conquest? They had that, and their strife continued. Financial success? Philippi was one of Europe’s richest cities in Paul’s day, and their strife continued. A strong government? They were a colony of the strongest government in the world, and their strife continued. The people of Philippi needed a more enduring hope for the troubled world in which they lived, and so do we. We live in a world that is at war. Mass murder is taking place right now all over the planet. What ultimate hope do we have to offer the people of the world? American military intervention? A strong US economy? A powerful America? Though all of those things can certainly be a blessing from God, none of them are an enduring hope. The world was filled with strife long before America came along, and if the Lord continues to delay his judgment, the world will be filled with strife long after we are gone. The message of Philippians 2 is that God’s hope for a troubled world is his church.

When the missionaries first arrived in Philippi, they offered the people of the city a completely different kind of hope in the midst of their strife. They offered the Philippians Jesus Christ. Paul tells his jailer, who is about to commit suicide, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your whole house!” And then God used Paul and Silas to plant churches all over the city to be God’s arms to serve those in need and to be God’s mouth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole city. By the time Paul writes this letter to the Philippians years later, the gospel is thriving there through the preaching and serving of the churches. When Paul takes pen in hand to write Philippians chapter 2, he is calling these churches to continue to be God’s hope for their city. In a very real sense, God’s hope for the whole world is his church!

This is why in Philippians 2 Paul calls the Christians in Philippi to continue to unify around the mission of the church of Jesus Christ which is God’s mission in the world. In doing so, Paul answers three questions for them: “What is the message of the church?”; “What is the purpose of the church?”; and “Who are the missionaries of the church?”

What is the message of the church? We preach the incarnate and crucified God, Jesus Christ. What is the purpose of the church? We are on the mission that God is on to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to the whole world. Who are the missionaries of the church? God is calling all of us to be sacrificial servants who follow Jesus. These three, Paul argues, are the source of the unity of the church. We rally, not around ourselves and our wants, rather we rally around a message, a mission, and sacrificial service.

  1. Have you ever felt hopeless? What are some situations that cause people to loose hope?
  1. How does the incarnation of Jesus give hope to a troubled world?
  1. Read Philippians 2:12-18. Why do churches struggle with division? What will keep a church unified? (Hint: It’s gospel and mission)
  1. Read Philippians 2:19-30. List out the commendable qualities of Timothy and Epaphroditus that Paul displays to the Philippian church. Contrast these qualities with those we normally associate with celebrity or fame.

One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

Other posts in this series:

Where is Your Hope? Philippians 1