Philippians 4:1-9: Rejoice Always
I am going to be looking at our epistle reading today, from Philippians, rather than at the parable of the wedding banquet. I really like the letter to the Philippians, in that it is so personal, and Paul clearly likes the church there. When he wrote the letter, Paul was (most likely) under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28v16). There had been a Jewish plot in Jerusalem to kill him, which ended up with him being taken into custody by the Romans, and when he appeared before the Roman governor of Caesarea, he had appealed to Caesar, and been taken to Rome (Acts 23-28). The Philippian church had sent a gift to support him (4vv10-20), and this was a thank you letter, and to let them know how he was.
The letter is generally very encouraging, and does have some wonderful bits in it. In 2vv6-11 there is the marvellous Christian hymn about Jesus that starts: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… We have been working our way through Romans in the past few months, and that feels much more like a theological treatise. It is good stuff, but hard work, quite difficult to follow. Philippians is much more personal and accessible.
Our reading is the final page of the letter: parting greetings and instructions.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
This is an extraordinary statement for a Christian leader. It would, as Sir Humphrey says in Yes, Minister, be “brave”. You hear people say “Do as I say, not as I do”, but this is “Do as I do”. It is a challenge, and one that I find humbling as I deliver this sermon. But it speaks of the way faith should spread into our whole lives, changing us, making us more like the Lord. We will not always succeed in being like Jesus, be then God’s love and forgiveness is always there to come back to.
The church in Philippi was not perfect. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche are having some sort of dispute. We do not know what it was about. Interestingly, Paul does not take sides, but urges them to be of the same mind as the Lord. And he asks the others in the congregation to help them do this. Again, there is clear affection there too, as the women have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
This is another glimpse of how a love for Christ can spread into all parts of our lives. IN EVERYTHING, by prayer and supplication (and in a minute we shall look at Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS). God is always with us, and we should cultivate an awareness of God with us, and a response to it.
We had an interesting discussion with friends last weekend about church: what it should be, and where it will go post COVID. One point that came out strongly is that Christian life is most definitely not just about church. Attending church, in church or on Zoom, is one expression of faith, but should not be the only one. Church may be a starting point for faith, but not the end.
For me, there have been some positive features about the coronavirus lockdowns. I am no longer speed three nights a week in Bristol to work in the office there. But because I have no commute, either to Bristol or in Bristol, it is easier to fit in some quiet time with God in the morning, before I start work on the computer in the bedroom. Regular prayer is a good thing. We can make it into an ought, and sometimes it will feel like an ought, but it can be very precious and sustaining. It will take different forms for different people. Within the church, I know of people who take a time to read a devotional book, study the Bible, pray as a couple, spend 15 minutes just being silent, listen to the Pray As You Go podcasts, meditate on a gospel story; and there will be many others. Hard work sometimes, apparently unfruitful sometimes, but over the long term, a source of strength and a way of letting God in.
Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice.
I came across an unpublished poem by G.K. Chesterton:
You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
John Stott was an Anglican priest who was, for many years, at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, though with an international ministry. He was the Queen’s Chaplain for most of his life, and many of you will be familiar with him through his books and talks over many years. He was also a keen birdwatcher. In my quiet times this week I have been using a book written by him called, The Birds, Our Teachers. Since I am also a birdwatcher, this appealed to me on several grounds.
In the introduction he says that he considers that Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6v26, Look at the birds of the air, means that all Christians should be birdwatchers, which seems perfectly reasonable. The book talks of lessons that we can learn from birds, a study he calls ornitheology.
Stott quotes a Ghanaian proverb, Even the chicken, when it drinks, lifts its head to heaven to thank God for the water. [www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNrijjpkNAE]. This view of chickens is a good reminder of giving thanks in everything.
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Mark talked in a sermon the other week about deciding not to watch the news because it was so negative. What you concentrate on will be what your mind is full of. So consciously turning towards that which is good, which can mean doing good rather than avoid anything upsetting, is another way of turning ourselves towards God.
And the reward: And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
St. John & St. Stephen