Phil.4:5b-7 “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Marks of a Mature Christian Lifestyle
These verses that we’re taking as our text this morning contain two related instructions: don’t be anxious and pray. They form part of a short sequence of seven imperatives with which Paul effectively draws a portrait of what a Christian believer should look like. The complete list is spread over vv.4-9 and the seven imperatives are these:
3. Let you gentleness/reasonableness be known
4. Do not be anxious
5. Let your requests be made known to God
6. Think about the right things
7. Put into practise what you know
Last week we considered in some detail the repeated command to rejoice. And previously we had also briefly referred to the command to let your gentleness (or reasonableness) be known to all as the adoption of that humble “not-standing-on-your-rights” mindset that characterised the Lord Jesus himself. Now today we will be taking a look at the next two imperatives on the list but before we get to them I want to say a few words about the composite picture of the Christian life that Paul was drawing here.
Paul knew that this portrait was not yet completed in his own life though he was definitely on the way. Paul was himself a converted man – and he practised what he preached. What he told others to do he was prepared to attempt himself as we’ll see a little later on.
Paul knew too that this portrait had not yet been completed in the lives of the Philippians so he wrote to exhort them to make sure they too were heading in the right direction.
And we need to be aware that this portrait is not yet complete in the lives of any of us either. In some of us the picture has been being drawn for a long time now while for others it may only have recently begun. For some it may have been started decades ago but has stalled and nothing really has happened for a long time. It’s possible too that some of you may have settled for a below par portrait saying in effect to yourself “that’ll do” as you give up on making any determined effort to press on. And for some of you as far as living the Christian life goes your life is still a blank canvas because you have yet to become a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus.
Well the portrait that the apostle has penned for us in Philippians ch.4 is a very positive one and full of blessings for the believer. If you have not yet become a Christian you are missing out – so why don’t you resolve the matter. Believe on the Lord Jesus and start your new life in him right now!
As we look together this morning at some more of the characteristics of this Christian life that Paul has portrayed for us my prayer is that the Lord will help us to realise how appropriate this pattern of living is for the Christian and just how profitable it is. But above all my prayer is that we might all make progress in living this life.
Before we turn to the text in detail I want to make a few more preliminary remarks.
We live at a time when pressures from the society in which we live are trying to force us to limit our Christianity. If we really must be Christians then that’s OK, society will perhaps tolerate us, as long as we keep it to ourselves as a private matter. You may remember this telling incident from a few years ago. Tony Blair was PM and on one occasion he was beginning to speak about his faith. His spokesman Alastair Campbell interrupted with his “We don’t do God” interjection.
Living in a society that doesn’t want to hear about Christian truth we can easily end up compartmentalising our lives and that will mean keeping our Christianity in a restricted religious box which is effectively isolated from the rest of life. When the Christian faith is put in quarantine like this it can no longer influence others and it certainly won’t be able to function as the salt and light it is meant to be in the world.
This was not the kind of Christianity that the apostle knew, loved, served and desired to propagate. For Paul to live was Christ! And that meant that Jesus could not be limited to only a few areas of his life and only to be followed when the prevailing circumstances were favourable. Paul’s view of the Christian faith and the Christian life was an extensive and embracive one. He certainly would not have signed up to the idea that religion was a private matter: how could it be when it focused on the most important person the world has ever seen, Lord Jesus Christ! How could it be? After all:
“God (had) highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil.2:9-11
And that is hardly a private matter now is it!
And if it wasn’t a private matter nor was it something that could be fenced in and limited in effect and influence. This becomes very clear when we notice how Paul so often used words like all, always, every, everything and everyone in this short letter. Take the opening words of the letter for example, let me remind you of them:
Phil.1:3-4 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,”
And Paul continued in similar vein as he continued to write his letter!
Two Further Instructions
And so to our text with its instructions which we can summarise as:
· Do not be anxious
· Do pray
Some folk have suggested that as Paul neared the end of his letter he simply grouped together a number of random exhortations but it really doesn’t take much thinking to realise that the matters Paul addressed are interrelated and exercise a significant influence on each other.
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that Paul has already set the tone for these commands – he exhorted the Philippians to rejoice and in case they had missed it he immediately repeated himself “Rejoice”. And he gave them a reason for such rejoicing in the Lord – the Lord himself was at hand, that is, he was near and could be readily turned to for help, for strength, for comfort indeed he could be turned to for whatever the believer needed.
Why am I backing up in this way to remind you of a command we’ve already spent considerable time on? Well the reason is this: if you are full of joy it is difficult to be anxious at the same time.
But Paul also knew that stresses and strains come the Christian’s way, just as they do to other people. Concerns about health, concerns about family members, concerns about employment, concerns about the future, can all press upon us and provide us with opportunities to become anxious. So it wasn’t enough for Paul simply to encourage rejoicing he took the further step of deliberately discouraging anxiety! And in this he was following Jesus’ own example for Jesus too instructed his disciples not to be anxious. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus dealt at some length with this question of anxiety:
Mt.6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...
Mt.6:27-28 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin...”
Mt.6:31 “do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
Mt.6:34 “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Later in the gospels we find Jesus is still having to warn his followers about the dangers of anxiety. Here is just one example. On one occasion Jesus was visiting the home of some of his friends but one of them was so wound up by the hospitality details that she was in real danger of missing the important matter of benefitting from Jesus actually being there! So Jesus said to her:
Lk.10:41-42 “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
So Paul, following his Master, taught:
v.6 “do not be anxious about anything”!
Paul unpacked Jesus’ teaching and drew a stunning conclusion. There is absolutely nothing that is worth worrying about!
But Paul, you might say, do you really mean it? How on earth do you expect me to live like that? How can I? You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’m like. I’ve got so many reasons to be anxious and concerned.
And Paul’s response was: yes, it is possible! Rejoice in the Lord. Remember how your Heavenly Father loves you. Don’t you know he’s near at hand to help? And, yes, I do know how you feel – don’t you think that I understand what it’s like to be anxious myself? I just told you that I know what anxiety is like – read again what I wrote back in 2:28:
“I am the more eager to send (Epaphroditus), therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.”
Don’t you think that the weight of my ministry weighs heavily on me at times, “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”(2Cor.11:28)
No, I’m not yet perfect, I don’t pretend I’ve arrived, but don’t you realise that I make of point of doing just what I’m telling you now to do? I’ve told you to rejoice in the Lord and that’s what I keep on doing, And I’m telling you to pray and I keep on doing that too.
v.6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
You can check that not only in this letter but also in Paul’s other letters. As you look through them you’ll a man who is often at prayer, a man who is often talking about joy and rejoicing himself. He was a man confident that God would meet his needs and the needs of the Philippians. And this God, who cares for the most insignificant parts of his creation, is well able to care for you whom he has made in his very image – he thinks you’re worth far more than the sparrows and he provides for them! He even knows how many hairs there are on your head!
As the apostle Peter put it:
1Pet.5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
In other words stop proudly acting as though you can sort out your own problems – humbly put your trust in your loving God who is more than capable!
I’ve already said that it’s difficult to be anxious when you’re busy rejoicing and it is also true that it is difficult to remain anxious when you’re praying seriously in the way that both Peter and Paul encourage us to do.
Have you noticed the way in which Paul related anxiety and prayer in the instructions he gave? They are mutually exclusive:
Don’t be anxious BUT pray!
And Paul went on to explain what he had in mind when he called for prayer by using a number of different words. The use of all these words is meant to tell us that the type of prayer to be prayed is serious prayer, it is thoughtful prayer. This command to pray will not be satisfactorily fulfilled by pausing a few seconds in the midst of one’s worrying to utter a cry for help only to return immediately to our anxieties all over again. Now the Bible has nothing against short prayers but what is important is that our prayers are genuine and serious. And sometimes to ensure they are like that we need to spend just a little more time thinking about our praying and the God to whom we are speaking.
As Paul instructed the Philippians about prayer he told them that nothing was too big (or too small for that matter) to bring to God. If something is causing you anxiety, don’t give in to it but rather give it to God. Anything, everything.
We’re to do so in our general prayers and in our specific prayers. We’re to do so with supplications that is with the kind of request that can only ever be presented to God for he alone is able to meet our needs.
And all the time we are to pray with thanksgiving. Remember the context of joy and don’t try to side step it here. We begin by rejoicing in the Lord and as we focus on him and on what he has done for us we will find we have cause for giving thanks. Try it sometime – count your blessings, name them one by one and it probably will surprise you what the Lord has done!
So confronted with anxiety remember what God has done for you in the past and be thankful. There are plenty of examples in the Scriptures of memorials being erected in order to help God’s people remember how God has intervened and provided for them in times past. Augustus Montagu Toplady in his hymn A Sovereign Protector I have referred to this idea when he wrote about setting up his “glad Ebenezer” – and the reference was to a stone memorial that had been set up after a victory had been gained over the Philistine enemy. The name of the memorial, Ebenezer, signifies “Till now the LORD has helped us.”
In the midst of your trouble you can be thankful too. You’re able to go to God with your anxieties trusting that he really does care for you. Thank him for being your safe stronghold and thank him that the throne on which he sits is for you a throne of grace and not one from which he pronounces judgment. And thank him for all the promises he has given you of his plans and purposes for you. And thank him that he knows better than you do what needs to be done and don’t imagine that he is somehow waiting for you to give him advice as to what needs to be done.
And then make your requests. He already knows all about them but he likes to hear his children speaking to him! Spell them out to him – and let him reply to you in the way he thinks best.
God Promises Peace
Paul added a further encouragement to the Philippians as he directed them how they should out their Christian lives. When you conduct yourself in this way, he said, God will bless you in a surprising manner and to a surprising degree. He’ll give you peace and he’ll do so in such a way that nobody will be able to explain it! To the world looking on there is, or at least should be, something that is utterly inexplicable about the Christian. In the midst of trials and tribulations, stresses and strains, sickness and trying circumstances the Christian who follows Paul’s instructions experiences a genuine peace that is God’s gift to him. Peace for the Christian doesn’t depend upon deliverance from his problems and difficulties much as he might like them to be given to him as well. No, the prayerful, trusting Christian receives and enjoys the peace of God right in the heart of those difficulties.
And how wonderful peace is! When you enter the words “inner peace” into google you’ll find a mass of documents telling you how you can find it and how you can increase it – there are an awful lot of people who obviously don’t have this peace or not nearly enough of it. And yet the God of peace, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, promises the peace of God as a free gift to the praying Christian. What a wonderful gift!
Peace occupies such an important place in the Bible.
In the OT we come across some terrific statements such as that found in Isaiah 26:3 where we read:
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
In the NT peace lies at the very heart of the gospel. The reason for that is simple: outside of Christ none of us are not at peace with God, our sin has seen to that. And not having peace with God has important consequences for every other area of our lives.
And Jesus came to bring us the solution. He himself enjoyed peace in his life and he readily shared it with his followers as he spoke words of peace to them, promising them his own peace. To his troubled followers who hadn’t yet understood why he had had to die and certainly weren’t expecting to see him brought back to life again he uttered the immensely comforting words:
“Peace be with you” repeating them just a few moments later (Jn.20:19, 21).
There are thirteen letters from the pen of the apostle Paul and he began each of them with a blessing of peace: typically the greeting took the following form:
“Grace to you and peace...”
Peter in his two letters followed the same pattern but he preferred to write about peace being multiplied to his readers.
And down through the centuries our hymn writers have celebrated this wonderful blessing of peace in the songs they wrote. Here are just a few of one of them:
Peace, perfect peace,
in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus gives us peace within.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
And of course our carols celebrate the coming of the Saviour who brings “peace on earth and mercy mild”:
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of righteousness!
Wonderful blessings that I’m sure you want to enjoy and go on enjoying. And you can if you meet the conditions that are laid down for us here in God’s word. Of course you don’t have to take God’s word seriously, you don’t have to rejoice in the Lord always, you can go on being anxious about this and that and you can refuse to take any of it to God in prayer. But if you choose that route don’t be surprised if you forgo the blessings that are associated with such behaviour.
I can’t prove to you this peace of God because if I could it would no longer “the peace of God that passes understanding” but I can testify to you that it is real, it is genuine. It has been experienced by Christian believers down through the centuries and is being experienced by Christian believers in the 21st century and it can be yours too for God loves to bless his trusting, praying people with his own peace.
And now may God be pleased to bless his word to us today.