Philippians 4:4–7 – 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
These words ring true in good times. In bad times, they take on a deeper meaning. I think about Paul sitting in prison, awaiting trial as he penned these words of comfort and instruction. Being homebound seems like a prison to most of us, but at least most of us can get up and go outside. We can go to the store or even order our favorite take-out. Paul could not, and yet he proclaims thanksgiving and rejoicing in the face of trial.
Paul was sequestered and imprisoned in order to carry the good news of Jesus Christ forward to the Roman world. The freedom he knew in Christ exceeded the momentary imprisonment by Roman authorities. Paul knew what he was getting into when he demanded to present his case before Rome as was his right as a legal citizen of Rome. Although Latin in language, habeus corpus and the right of a quick trial were not Roman inventions. These legal rights developed much later in history. Paul understood that he would most likely face years of imprisonment before he could present his case before the Emperor’s officials.
Thinking about Paul’s sacrifice makes my sacrifice in the midst of this pandemic seem small in comparison. I know that there are some of you who have suffered far greater than I have, and yet, it is to each of us, no matter how great or small our sacrifice, in which Paul encourages us to be thankful and rejoice, not just some of the time, but “always.”
In Paul’s advice, we find both sound spiritual and practical instruction. I have found that having a thankful heart helps me to bear my burdens both spiritually and practically. I am able to be uplifted in my heart and uplifted in my practices. This is why Paul ties our prayers and supplication to acts of gentleness and kindness. When we are able to proclaim words of joy and bear those out in our actions, we are given the heart and mind of Jesus. We are not only able to endure our suffering, but thrive through Christ because in our suffering we are united with Christ.
Paul encourages us not to worry. Worry is the anti-matter of thanksgiving. Worry places trust in the powers and authorities of this world, while thanksgiving trusts God. This is often easier said than done. I come from a long line of worriers. Both sets of my grandparents were farmers. There is much that a farmer has to worry about because so much is outside of a farmer’s control. This worrying trait has been passed down to me. Therefore, I need to hear these words of Paul more than most. In the end, God is in control. He continues to direct and guide our church through its faithful members. God continues to listen and answer our prayers of supplication. He continues to give us his Word to guide us and his Spirit to encourage. He continues to bind us together through the love and fellowship of Jesus to one another. These are the truths that Paul knew and understood, and they will continue to guide our pathway as Christians until Christ returns to make the world whole.
Dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, my prayer for each of us is that we can live within these words of Paul. Let them fill us with encouragement and hope as we pray for one another and our community. Let them encourage us outward to our neighbors and community just as Paul was sent outward to share the good news that Jesus is Lord! Christ has already won our victory. Now is the time to rejoice.
Sincerely in Christ,
Pastor Jon