Reading: Philippians 4

We were living in Childers when Gough Whitlam and his team won the election. The next day I had a 9am service at Howard, a small coal-mining town and strongly Labor. I came back for an 11am service at Childers - sugar country and strongly National. It was one of those situations where one had to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep"!

I always feel for the two leading contenders in an election. The other night the interviewer was asking Paul Keating whether his party would obstruct the Coalition's programme after Saturday. "But we are going to win on Saturday!" "Mr Keating, I give you a zero to two chance of winning on Saturday!" "Look, I tell you we are going to win!" John Hewson was expressing the same confidence!

For a successful campaign, each has to be totally convinced of victory - but one will lose! And for the winning party, there are jubilant celebrations!

We enjoy success. It is great to be a winner. The euphoria can be quite heady stuff! But what if you are in prison, as Paul was when he wrote to the Philippians?

Of course, he set his own precedent on his first visit to Philippi with Silas. Remember? Beaten, imprisoned for healing a slave girl - "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake..." (Acts 16.25-26). Now Paul is in prison again and writing to the Philippian Christians. And what two words is he using again and again? "Joy" and "rejoicing"! Three times in chapter 1, four times in chapter 2, once in chapter 3 and three times in chapter 4.


In Chapter 3, Paul has been telling them "All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life" (vv.10-11) and "the one thing I do is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead... I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above" (vv.13-14).

In Chapter 4, Paul goes on to express how dear you are to me and how I miss you! How happy you make me, and how proud I am of you!

But Paul makes a special plea to Euodia and Syntyche, two women who had worked hard with Paul to spread the gospel. He begs them to try to agree as sisters in the Lord. In chapter 2, we noticed that Paul urged his readers to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. It does nothing to promote the spread of the gospel when Christians fail to agree with one another in the Lord. I am not saying that there are no sincerely held differences of opinion, no points at which the Scriptures might be understood in different ways. However, we need to beware - it is so easy for fellowship to be broken and the community about us to be prevented from grasping the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! Joy ought to be a major characteristic of the Christian. We are not speaking here about a sense of humour or our ability to laugh. Joy has to do with our awareness of the love and mercy and grace of God in our life - no matter what. It wells up within us because of our union with the Lord. Unlike happiness, joy does not depend on our current set of circumstances.

Show a gentle attitude towards everyone. The Lord is coming soon. The imminent return of the Lord was their watchword, but it was to lead, not to harshness or brashness, but to gentleness and caring.

Are you a worrier? Listen to what Paul says, Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God what you need, always asking with a thankful heart. Sometimes we find it hard to pray instead of worrying about our needs, let alone rejoice in the Lord, no matter what our circumstances. The secret? Always asking with a thankful heart. Remember what God has done for you in the coming of Jesus and in other details of your life. As you bring your requests to God, give thanks!

When we do this, God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Our idea of peace is so circumstance-dependent. There are those who seek peace by entering trance-like states which deny reality. God's peace is different. It is far beyong human understanding, but not irrational. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, God was acknowledging all the reality, awfulness and consequences of our situation. There was no pretence, no evasion. The price was paid in full. That is the secret to God's peace which is able to protect us in both our thinking and our feeling.

Does that mean that all of us, because we believe in Jesus Christ, never have a care in the world? Hardly - or Paul wouldn't have written these things! Like everyone else, we have to face traumas, disappointments and uncertainties. But we do have some conscious choices to make. In conclusion, my brothers, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable. Sometimes we believe we don't have a great deal of control over our thoughts - worries and other negative thoughts just pop into our mind. Persist with making conscious positive choices. Giving thanks is one of these. Another is to be careful of the things that fill your mind.

I recall a couple in Toowoomba who put this verse as a sign over their television set - a reminder to turn it off!

Persist in making those positive choices.

Put into practice what you learnt and received from me, both from my words and actions. So it is not just what fills your thinking that matters, but what fills your doing. Choose to be kind to another - to do a kindness, take a cake, make a phone call, write a letter of encouragement, cultivate a friendship...

Then you will experience it - the God who gives peace will be with you.


The Philippians have given Paul the opportunity to do exactly what he has been telling them to do - they have sent gifts to him in the hands of Epaphroditus. This is one of a long line of acts of practical care that they have given him. So Paul is expressing his thanks to them for what they have done.

But he also shares with them an important secret - I have learnt to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learnt this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. Thankfulness and contentedness are important twin qualities.

But Paul can have these qualities because I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. His attitude towards life is positive. He is not acquiescent but positive in the face of his circumstances. He knows that Jesus Christ is Lord (2.11). He has shared in the benefits of Christ's sufferings and wants to experience the power of his resurrection (3.10). He has confidence in the power that comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ (1.19). Sometimes we look at the Christian life as if Jesus is up there in glory, while we are struggling along down here to be his loyal and faithful followers. But it's not like that at all. The Christian life is based on who Christ is, on what he has done for us in history, and on his work within us by the Spirit. Like Paul, it is possible to have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives us. And in that anticipation, how we should continually give thanks and rejoice!

But it was very good of you to help me in my troubles. The all-sufficiency of Christ's provision doesn't diminish Paul's very deep appreciation of their kindness to him. We are not a collection of isolated individuals. Fellowship leads us to practical caring - strongly practised in the early church (Acts 4.32-35).

Their gifts to him are like a sweet-smelling offering to God, a sacrifice which is acceptable and pleasing to him. Our relationship with God cannot be separated from our relationship to one another. Just as Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God... Love your neighbour...", so the sacrifice acceptable to God is seen in our caring and kind acts towards one another.

And with his abundant wealth through Christ Jesus, my God will supply all your needs.Because of our bountiful God, we can give and give and give again. We have received from him richly through all the benefits of salvation in Christ Jesus. We can trust him with all our needs. Remember the words of Jesus, "Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things" (Mt.6.33).

And so to Live...

Jesus Christ the Son of God humbled himself to the point of death on the cross for our sake.

The one strong desire of our life needs to be to know him and the power of his resurrection. The one compelling direction of our life must be to reach ahead to all that God has for us to become and to do. The one overwhelming attitude of our life will then be thanks and joy - no matter what the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 14 March 1993
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.

Back to Sermons