June 21, 2015
In 1938 Hoagy Carmichael wrote the lovely ballad, “The Nearness of You.” “It’s not the pale moon that excites me;That thrills and delights me, oh no; It’s just the nearness of you. It isn’t your sweet conversation; That brings this sensation, oh no; It’s just the nearness of you”
Well, we like to be near the ones we love. And when someone we love is far away we call them on the phone so we can hear their voice. Or we look at their picture and read their letters so that we might somehow feel their nearness. But in fact, they are not near. They are gone. O we might skype with them and see them in real time, but they are far away.
The Christian life is a life lived in relationship with God through faith in his Son, Jesus. And the truth of the matter is that we cannot see God. In fact we cannot see Jesus. But the amazing truth is that since Jesus is fully God, he is always present.
In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul is seeking to encourage them as they experience persecution. And in Phil.4:5, Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand.” The Lord is near. Men and women this morning let us take great encouragement in these words: The Lord is near!
I. BE JOYFUL Phil.4:4
In this brief letter the noun, “joy” or the verb, “rejoice,” occurs 14 times. And here in 4:4 Paul tells the believers in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord.” But what is there to rejoice about? These believers were experiencing persecution.
Throughout the New Testament we find an emphasis on joy. If you want an interesting Bible study, look up the verses having to do with joy. For example In Luke’s gospel when Jesus was born, the angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The gospels also reveal that the miracles of Jesus brought joy. In Lk.10:20 there is joy over the fact that our names are written in heaven. In Lk.15 there is joy over one sinner who repents. In Jn.15 Jesus was teaching his disciples and he said, ‘I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus was the most joyful person to ever walk this earth. And think about it, Christians are those who have received the eternal life of Christ in them. We have been given Jesus’ joy. What is more this life is a righteous life. Paul says in Phil.3:9 that we have received a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Christ. This is a reason for joy. Our sins are forgiven. To rejoice in the Lord is to rejoice because we are in a relationship with the Lord. We know the Lord. He lives in us. Not only does he live in us, but God is transforming our lives into the image or character of Christ by using every circumstance we experience to help us know Christ better. This is why in 1:18 Paul could rejoice while in prison because his imprisonment encouraged others to proclaim the gospel. And even though some were preaching from sinful motives, Paul was rejoicing that Christ was being proclaimed. Because the Lord is near, dwelling in us and because his coming is soon, believers rejoice even in suffering.
Last Monday when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, there was much rejoicing in Chicago Land. People poured out into the streets till four in the morning. People were lighting firecrackers and honking horns. Is this what Paul is talking about when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord?” Obviously not! What is joy and how does it differ from happiness?
One of the things that Dallas Willard was very good at is writing definitions of significant words. Listen to how he defines joy. “Joy is a deep-seated sense of well-being, of safety in God’s universe. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, growing as a natural product of the transformation of one’s inner self to be like that of Christ.” Willard points out that joy is not triggered by external events or by one’s own power. He says, “Joy is the normal byproduct of a life lived in love.” And so, since the world does not give joy, the world cannot take joy away. Since outward circumstances do not produce joy, outward circumstances do not crush our joy either. When we think of joy as a deep-seated sense of well-being and safety in God’s universe, it is much different from happiness. This is why Nehemiah could write, “...the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This joy comes from God and dwells deep within.
In his book, Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, Bob Reccord writes, “As I write this book, I’m having to exercise the faith of dealing with the prison of pain. Unexpectedly, I suffered a severe cervical spinal injury. The pain was so excruciating and surgery was needed.
Because of the swelling of injured nerve bundles, the only way I could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. Sleep, what little there was, came only by sitting in a reclining chair.
Having lost about 80 percent of the strength in my left arm, as well as the feeling in three fingers on my left hand, even the slightest movements would send pain waves hurtling down my left side and shoulder. The doctors said I had to stop work, and begin to wear a neck brace...24 hours a day for five weeks.
About halfway through that experience, I found myself sitting on the screened-in porch behind our home. The day was cold and blustery, but I was committed to being outside, just for a change of scenery. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day, I couldn’t believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.
The next day found me on the porch again, but this time the atmosphere was bright, sunny, and warm. As I sat, being tempted to feel sorry for myself, suddenly the bird returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun?
Then an amazing truth hit me head on: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition. It was as though God quietly said to me, “You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances. You choose!” The joy of the Lord is an internal joy.
Now do you have the joy of the Lord? Not, do you always feel happy? But do you have joy? The underlying question is: have you turned to Christ in faith to be saved from your sins and receive his life? Are you trusting your life and eternity into the Lord’s hands? Be Joyful
II. BE GENTLE. Phil.4:5
In v.5 Paul says, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone. This word is not so easily translated. Some say, “let your forbearing spirit,” or “let your graciousness,” or “let your moderation, or “let your gentleness be known to everyone. I prefer “gentleness” because Paul is talking about more than our ability to reason. We are talking about the way we handle ourselves in all sorts of situations.
Dennis Johnson, in his commentary, writes, “The term refers to the calm and kind disposition that enables a person to offer a nonviolent, even generous, response to others’ aggression.” He goes on to write, “Aristotle explained “gentleness” as a willingness to forgo one’s own rights according to the letter of the law.”
What does this look like? Well, in 1Pt.2:22-23 Peter is urging his readers to follow in the steps of Christ and he says, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus is an example of someone who let his gentleness be known to everyone.
Now to me this sounds weak. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Just let people walk all over you and take advantage of you.” Is that what the Christian life calls us to do? I don’t think so. There are times when Jesus spoke with great strength and when he acted in a very firm way. Zeal for his Father’s house motivated Jesus to drive out the money changers and the merchants from the temple. When speaking to the Pharisees Jesus used very strong language. He didn’t fight, but nor did he let people just walk all over him. There is a time for being strong and forceful.
But when suffering for righteousness sake, it was a different story. Jesus walked right into his betrayal. He gave himself to be sacrificed on the cross. And he told his followers that they are blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Gentleness is not weakness. When we are mistreated and respond in a gentle way, we are following the words of Paul in Rm.12:21. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Gentleness is powerful in overcoming evil. In fact when we confront volatile situations with gentleness, grace, and reasonableness, we often deescalate the situation. James writes in Jms.1:19-20, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath."
Don’t misunderstand. Being gentle in the face of opposition, mistreatment, and persecution will not necessarily save your life. Paul doesn’t say, “Be gentle” so we can save our skin. He says, “Be gentle, because he Lord is near or at hand. We are trusting in the Lord to have our back and to secure our life. We are trusting that when the Lord comes he will right all of the wrongs. Vengeance belongs to him not to us. I believe it is best when our default attitude in life is one of gentleness and grace.
All of us, need to be treated with gentleness and grace because all of us have been on the receiving end of anger and criticism far too often. It is difficult to die to oneself when we have learned early in life to always be defending ourselves. Some of us have learned to be passive aggressive while others of us have learned to be just plain aggressive and cutting in our responses. All of us could benefit from thoughtful quietness in our conversations. Be gentle; the lord is near. He will help you as you look to him and trust in him.
III. BE PRAYERFUL. Phil.4:6-7
I have often thought it odd that we trust the Lord for our eternal salvation, but find it very difficult to trust the Lord for our lives on earth. Why is that? I think it is because what we can see and feel is more real to us than the presence of God whom we cannot see and do not often feel.
In v.6 Paul is quoting from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life...Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Caring about a matter is a good thing. We care about what we say and do. We care about others and their needs. And being careless is not such a good thing. When we are careless we make mistakes and even cause injury to ourselves and others. But even when we are being careful, we make mistakes because we are human and we cannot control every variable of our lives or our bodies.
Of course we want to avoid pain and heartache. Jesus told us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” But the reality is that many of us live in fear and anxiety over what might happen to us and our loved ones. We worry, turning these fears over and over in our minds. Worry and anxiety accomplishes absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change anything and it consumes and controls us. Worry and anxiety is based upon what we think about. When we worry we nourish anxiety in our minds and bodies. For many of us, worry is a habitual way of living and being-in-the-world.
So let’s look at Paul’s prescription for dealing with worry and anxiety. Because the Lord is near to us, Paul tells us to pray. Bring every matter to the Lord in prayer. God cares about you and me. God is careful and never careless. He does not worry about anything because in everything he is overseeing the lives of his children who know Christ.
In Mk.4 the disciples were in a boat with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat on a cushion. A furious squall came up to the point that the waves were breaking over the boat, and the concern was that the boat would sink. They were frightened and they woke Jesus up. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus stood up, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” What? How do you have faith in those circumstances? How do you have faith when there is a serious accident or illness or natural disaster?
Paul urges us to pray. Prayer is an act of dependence and trust. When we pray we set our minds and hearts upon God, his love, his goodness, and power. And notice that Paul teaches us to pray with thanksgiving. Praying with thanksgiving doesn’t mean that we must say, “Lord, we thank you in advance for what you are going to do.” Rather praying with thanksgiving means that we pray with thankful hearts. We come at prayer with an attitude that says, “Lord, we are so grateful for your ongoing care in our lives.” Thankful people do not take things for granted. They recognize that every good thing comes from God.
The disciples were afraid, clearly Jesus was not afraid. He was sleeping in peace. He was confident in God and because he is God he has full knowledge over things we do not have knowledge about. The storm didn’t throw him for a loop. He knew how to handle it. Men and women, God and his Son, Jesus know how to handle our problems. This is why we pray to God.
Again this is not so easy. I am reminded of Paul in 2Cor.1:8. He recounts his hardships while in Asia. He says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” Then he says, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."
We all must learn to trust in God. And we learn in the crucible of hardship as we turn to God in prayer. As we learn to trust we receive God’s peace that goes beyond what we can reason or figure out. After Jesus rebuked the storm, the sea grew calm. It says, that the disciples were terrified. Here was a peace beyond their understanding. They had never seen that before. They asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” This kind of Peace comes to us only from God. We can trust God to bring us through. Be prayerful.
In Dt.31:8 we read, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” The Lord is near. And because he is near, we can rejoice in every circumstance, we can be gentle even when mistreated, and we can be prayerful, knowing that he will deliver us. Amen.