Monday, December 01, 2014

Sermon: Philippians 4: 2-9 Praying for Peace

Have you ever had the experience of suddenly discovering you’re being talked about? You might be in a room with someone, and they’re on the phone, and out of the whispers you hear your name being mentioned. You wonder what it is they’re saying about you! Or perhaps it’s even happened at church. You’re sitting, minding your own business, when you hear your name. What’s being said? Why are they talking about you?

It’s one thing to be talked about when they think you aren’t listening. It’s even worse if they include you in the conversation and start talking about you. Particularly if it’s not something you’d want to be said about you!

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a lady called Euodia. Or, that you’re a woman named Syntyche. You’re part of the church in Philippi. You gather on that Sunday morning and discover that Epaphroditus has made it back home from visiting Paul. He had taken a gift from the church, and now he’s back. He’s even brought a letter from Paul. There’s a hush as the letter is read out. And then, out of nowhere, you hear your name. Paul has written about you. And, it’s in the Bible! How amazing, to get your name in the Bible, which the church will read for the next two thousand years.

Oscar Wilde once said that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about, but in this instance, it might have been better to not be talked about. You see, Paul mentions Euodia and Syntyche, not in order to say how great they are, but in order to ‘entreat’ them to agree in the Lord.

They weren’t getting on. We aren’t told specifics, but it’s serious enough for Paul to address them directly. They had both worked with Paul, laboured side by side with him in the gospel, but now they’ve fallen out. So Paul appeals to them to agree, to come back together.

Throughout the letter Paul shows the importance of partnership, being together in the Lord, setting each other as more important, following the example of the Lord Jesus. The theory is wonderful, but Paul won’t rest with the theory. He wants to see it bring change in the lives of the disciples. Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned by name. They need to agree. Do we have any Euodias and Syntyches in our congregation?

Could it be that this word to Euodia and Syntyche is actually a word to us as well? We can work beside them for the gospel, we get stuff done, but actually, we haven’t gotten on for years?

Even if your name isn’t Euodia or Syntyche; and even if you aren’t being addressed in those early verses, we find that each of us is being spoken to in the remainder of the passage. Paul returns to another of his themes as he commands the Philippians (and us) to ‘rejoice in the Lord always.’ And just in case you haven’t got it, he says it again: rejoice!

Perhaps as you hear his command, the barriers have already gone up. How could I possibly rejoice when I’m dealing with this? I don’t feel like rejoicing with the news I heard this week... Does Paul really know what he’s talking about? But remember, he’s sitting in prison. Is he making sense? Well, he urges us to ‘let your reasonableness be known to everyone.’ So how is this rational? How is this reasonable, to rejoice, no matter what is happening?

The answer comes at the end of verse 5. This isn’t just something to remember on the First Sunday of Advent. This is something for every day of the year. ‘The Lord is at hand.’ When troubles come, we tend to isolate ourselves. We imagine we have to work it all out ourselves. But Paul reminds us that the Lord is near, at hand, as close as our hand is. This changes everything!

Because the Lord is near, we don’t have to be anxious about anything - instead, use that emotional energy positively, by praying! The Lord is near, the Lord will hear. In prayers, supplications, requests, we come to the Lord. But we also come with thanksgiving - remembering what has already been done and given.

As we do this, as we pray, we have this promise: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ We can’t make sense of it; we can’t reason it out; but God’s peace comes in the midst of mess, in the thick of troubles and trials, to guard our hearts and minds.

Perhaps you’ve already experienced this peace. You have come through a trial. Those watching don’t know how you have coped. You can’t even explain it yourself. You just know that the Lord was near, that his peace was given to you. This is what’s on offer, more and more, as we pray rather than worry.

Alongside our praying, as we bring our concerns and worries to the Lord, Paul gives us a second strategy for rejoicing. We find it in verse 8. ‘Finally brothers, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise - think about these things.’

What is it you feed your mind on? What is it you spend your time watching or reading or listening to? When your mind is in neutral and you’re having a little day dream, what is it you find yourself focussing on? What preoccupies your thoughts?

Most of us probably enjoy a bit of gossip; some tasty morsel about the misfortune of someone else. Or plotting the downfall of an enemy. Or feeding our minds with hate and envy and wrath. But are these things healthy? Helpful?

We rejoice in what is good. We become like the person or thing we worship. To break the cycle of negativity, we are to take every thought captive. When you find yourself thinking of something, stop, ask yourself - is this true? Is it honourable? it is just and pure? Train yourself to think about the pure and honourable and true.

And above all, train yourself to think much about the Lord Jesus - the one who truly fulfils all these categories. It is as we think of him, and pray to him, and practice the things that are commanded in his word by his apostle, that we discover that God is with us.

There’s a lovely turn of phrase Paul uses here. As we pray to him, the peace of God will be with us. And as we think on him, the God of peace will be with us.

Paul sets before us the way to pray for peace - peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within. The Lord is indeed near. He hears our requests. He answers them for his glory and our good. Let’s pray to him now.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 30th November 2014.

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