Last year, in the face of growing concern over the pandemic, we took some time to look at what I consider a very important spiritual and mental health passage that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. This writing occurred when Paul was imprisoned in Rome for being faithful to the gospel and while the church in Philippi was going through some conflict in their midst. I’d like to review this passage once again because it’s a message that is immensely important even as we continue to move forward in these difficult times. Paul writes – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil.4:4-9 NIV).
In verse 9 Paul is relying on his model and example that he set before the Philippian church. The words “learned or received” in verse 9 in the Greek language were used regularly for receiving truth from a teacher. The idea of putting this right thinking into practice as he mentioned means that right thinking is something that should become habitual in our daily lives. Paul also instructs us on the importance of bringing all of our anxieties and worries to the Lord Jesus Christ, for He cares for us. It is not enough to read or hear the Word of God or even to know it well, it has to be put into practice on a daily basis. It is so easy to listen to sermons and forget what the preacher said. James gives us warning in this area when he wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like,” (James 1:22 – 24 NIV). Christianity is not to be turned into a creed isolated from daily, godly living. It is not to be simple facts in our heads and then we go about living our lives independently of what the Word of God says and its application to our lives. We must practice all Paul has been sharing by both his teaching and how he lived his life.
In Paul’s ministry, he not only taught the Word of God but also lived it out so believers could see the truth in his life. Remember the church of Philippi was founded in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned and scourged. Yet in the middle of the night, they were singing praises to God, which led to an earthquake and ultimately the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his whole household. Paul’s example before them, without doubt, led these folks to become part of the founding of the church in Philippi. Today right thinking and godly living mean having a different focus or priority in our lives than our culture. Paul desires that his experience be our experience when we’re going through difficult times. Paul repeatedly in this passage reminded his readers to follow his example. This is not a matter of pride or self-centered absorption, but rather of right thinking and right living that flow together in our daily connection to the Word of God. What would be the anxiety level and fear level of Christians if we had the same thought process in place as Paul has demonstrated for us in this profound passage? Remember Paul wrote these words of inspiration from a Roman prison. Paul discovered with the peace of God to guard us and the God of peace to guide us, we should be developing these right thought processes on a spiritual basis, even in the midst of the most difficult times.
Over the last year, I’ve attended many webinars and online seminars on how to reopen the church and how we should be responding to the crisis before us. While many of these have been helpful and insightful none of us have ever experienced a pandemic like we’re currently living through. There is no manual, “How to survive a pandemic for dummies”. The greatest need of the hour continues to be grace and patience in dealing with one another with a good deal of prayer to seek God’s heart and will for our church. Every church situation is different and as church leaders, we need to act in wisdom and guidance, fully aware that Satan continues to do all he can to divide us and cause division within the body of Christ. But this Philippians passage is a pretty good place for us to be grounded in the face of the uncertainty that we continue to experience. It’s extremely important for us to be grounded in right-thinking and not to function out of all the bad news we are daily bombarded with or to proceed in a spirit of fearfulness and timidity. Paul certainly was one who could have been fearful after all the things that he had experienced and yet towards the end of his letter, he writes these words to us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice!” (Phil.4:4 NIV).
As we ground ourselves in the Word of God let us seek to experience the grace and peace of the Lord that Paul describes to us. This peace is found through the process of applying biblical truths to our current situation. God has truly set an amazing door of opportunity before us, let us not miss this opportunity by functioning out of fear or anxiety. As we continue to move through the process of revitalizing the church ministry at NDC let us make sure that we are functioning out of love for our living God and a love for one another. The basis of right living starts in the process of right-thinking and committing all of our burdens and all of our cares to the Lord Jesus Christ, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
All for God’s Glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo