Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advent Attitude: Peace

Advent Attitude: Peace
Philippians 4: 4 – 7.

I like to think of myself as a young person.  Most of the time I still think of myself as 25 years old.  But, I am going to show my age a little bit by reminiscing about the Sears Christmas Wish Book.[1]  Do you remember getting that in the mail?
When I was a kid, the Sears Christmas Catalogue was something I always looked forward to.  It was a 300 page catalogue with everything a child could imagine.  The clothes and boring stuff were pictured in the front of the catalogue.  The toys and games were in the back of the catalogue.  When my brother and I could get our hands on the catalogue, we flipped it over and started looking at it from the back.
We would use a pen or pencil to circle the things we wanted to get from Santa Claus.  And I think we would write our names on the items we selected so that Santa would not get confused and bring the wrong gift to the wrong boy.
Occasionally, we get catalogues in the mail today.  But, these catalogues are nothing compared to the 300 page Sears Christmas Wish Book—not to mention the regular 600 page Sears Catalogue.
When we do get catalogues in the mail, I tell our children to circle the things they don’t want.  Otherwise, every item on every page is circled.
I have fond memories of circling toys and games in the Sears Catalogue.  It was always fun to dream about having new toys and getting exactly what I wanted for Christmas.  However, that is really not an innocent pastime.  It is a symptom of a materialistic worldview.
For some reason, we all believe that stuff can make us happy.  If I can just get more stuff, then I will be happy. 
We live in a culture which believes people can find satisfaction in material things—money, property, possessions, relationships, popularity…the stuff of this world.  We think stuff can satisfy us even though we have been disappointed over and over.  There is a restlessness and dissatisfaction that is a part of human nature. 
Universal human experience and the themes of classical literature suggest that happiness cannot be found in material wealth.  Human beings experience restlessness and dissatisfaction with material things.  Our personal experience and thousands of years of literature (and movies) tell us that we are still searching for meaning and satisfaction in life. 
This search for meaning and satisfaction in life is uniquely human.  Plants do not search for meaning in life.  Dogs, horses and emus do not search for satisfaction.  To be human is to be unsatisfied with the material universe.
If material things could satisfy, then the wealthiest people in the world would also be the happiest (and most satisfied) people in the world.  The opposite of that would also be true…the poorest people in the world would be the least satisfied people.  But, neither of these are true statements.  We all know someone who is wealthy and not satisfied.  We all know someone who is satisfied but not wealthy.
Material stuff cannot satisfy, because we have been created with a desire for more than just material things.  We have homing instinct for God.  This is a clue which points us toward our true nature and destiny.  We have this homing instinct, because there is a home for us.  This material world does not satisfy, because this world is not our home.
We were created for spiritual relationship with God…and nothing can satisfy that longing for God.  Nothing, except for God himself.
We were created for eternity…and nothing temporary can satisfy our longing for eternity.  Nothing, except for God himself.
This is what Christmas is all about.  God broke into our material world and provided the only way for us to find true satisfaction.  It does not have anything to do with material stuff.  Instead, God provided a way for us to have an eternal relationship with God.  That relationship brings us true satisfaction, because relationship with God is the source of all Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
In the Season of Advent, we will look at each of these themes.  Last week we talked about Hope.  Today, we will talk about Peace.  In the next two weeks we will talk about Joy and Love.

Philippians 4: 4 – 7.

The simplest way to interpret this passage is to notice that Paul gives three imperatives (or commands) and one indicative (a statement of fact).  This leads me to believe Paul is saying something like this…If you will do these three things, then you will experience a Peace beyond understanding.

Philippians 4: 4…  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 

Paul’s first instruction to the churches of Philippi is to “Rejoice in the Lord.” 
Paul was a lot like you and me.  There were times when his life was really good.  Then, there were times when he experienced struggles and difficulties.  Surely, if Paul is telling the Philippians to rejoice, then he must have written this at a very good time in his life.  Surprisingly, that is not the case.  Paul tells us in Philippians 1 that he is writing to them from prison.  He is in jail for preaching the Gospel and does not know if he will get out alive.  He writes encouraging letters to his churches, because he thinks this might be the only ministry he has left.  He may never get to preach the Gospel again or plant another church.
The Philippians were also a lot like you and me.  They had their ups and downs.  Sometimes their church was growing.  Sometimes their church experienced conflict.  Surely, Paul is telling them to rejoice because everything is going so well in their church at this particular moment.  Surprisingly, that is not the case either.  The Book of Philippians gives them instructions about standing firm in the face of Roman persecution.  AND, in the verses immediately preceding the command to rejoice, Paul has tried to mediate a church conflict between two women church leaders—Euodia and Syntyche.  The Philippians were experiencing conflict inside the church and outside the church.
I think it is important to note that Paul does NOT say, “Rejoice in your circumstances.”  If joy depends on the circumstances of life, then there will be times when we will naturally express our joy and times when we simply have no reason to rejoice.
Instead, Paul tells the church to “Rejoice in the Lord.”  In other words, regardless of the circumstances, there is still a reason for Christian men and women to rejoice.  Even if we find ourselves in a Roman prison…Even if we experience conflict between two church leaders…Even if we are being persecuted by the government for our faith in Jesus…we can still find a reason to rejoice.  Our reason is the Lord.
When we read the Bible, we discover some very important things about God.  I can think of at least two things the Bible tells us about God which give us reason to rejoice.  First, God makes promises to his people.  Second, God keeps his promises.  I said it last week when I was preaching about Hope, and it is worth repeating today.  A promise is only as dependable as the one who makes the promise.  God made the promise to forgive our sins and give us eternal life with him.  God’s promises do not depend on the circumstances around us.  God’s promises depend on God’s dependability to keep his own promises.  Therefore, we have a reason to rejoice…even when the world seems to be falling apart around us.  Rejoice in the Lord and not in your circumstances.

Philippians 4: 5…  5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 

Paul’s second instruction is for Christians to be gentle.  But, notice that he tells us that our gentleness is to be evident to all.  All what?  More than likely, he is telling us to demonstrate gentleness to all people…in every relationship—both inside the church and outside the church.  Christians are to be known for our gentleness toward other Christians and toward non-Christians.
We can define gentleness in a negative way by saying gentle people are people who are not harsh or abrasive in relationships with others.  Or, we can define it positively by saying gentle people are people who put the needs of others first.
Basically, Paul is encouraging us to be like Jesus.  Christians are not to be harsh, abrasive or judgmental toward sinners.  Christians are to look out for the needs of others.  Sometimes, we have to make a choice between our needs and the needs of choose others over ourselves.
Then, Paul adds an interesting reminder that “The Lord is near.”
We could take this in one of two different ways.  Either, Paul is saying the Lord is close by our side…Or, he is saying that the Lord’s return is drawing closer in time.  If Paul means that the Lord is close by our side, then he is probably reminding us that God is watching…So, be careful how you treat other people.  If Paul means that the Lord’s return is drawing closer in time, then he is probably telling us to live with the future in mind…if we have to sacrifice our own needs on behalf of others, that sacrifice pales in comparison to all the blessings and comfort we will receive in Heaven…  Be gentle, because the Lord is near.

Philippians 4: 6…  6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Paul’s final instruction actually contains two or more commands.  The first command is a negative command—“Do not be anxious.”  The second command is a positive command—“Present your prayers, petitions and requests to God.”
It is interesting that Paul makes such a close association between anxiety and prayer.  Perhaps he is setting them up as opposites, as if to say people who worry don’t pray and people who pray don’t worry. 
I suppose the difference between being anxious and being prayerful comes down to who you believe is in control.  If I believe I am in control, then I will feel the weight of the future on my shoulders.  If I believe God is in control, then I can place the future in God’s hands and trust God for the outcome. 
Or, perhaps Paul is telling us that prayer is the remedy for worry…  In this case, Paul is telling us to stop thinking the future depends on us.  Do everything you can do to take care of your needs and the needs of others around you.  Then, trust God with what you cannot control.  As we mature as Christians, we will begin to discover that God is ultimately in control of all our circumstances.  God can handle the future and will always do a better job with the future than we can do on our own.

Philippians 4: 7…  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The last thing Paul tells us in this Scripture is the one thing which materialism cannot provide—Peace.  When we go chasing after money, property, possessions, relationships, popularity…the stuff of this world, we will find ourselves wholly unsatisfied.  The things of this world are not fulfilling…they cannot satisfy.
However, when we rejoice in the Lord, demonstrate a life of gentleness, and trust God with the future, we find what is truly fulfilling.  We discover the Peace of God, which transcends all understanding.
Technically, Paul called this Peace a Peace that “rises above knowledge.”  Again, there is some ambiguity in Paul’s choice of words (just like when he said “the Lord is near”).  It might mean that the Peace of God is better than knowledge (or understanding).  Or, it might mean that the Peace of God cannot be fully understood by our human minds.  Then again, Paul might want us to interpret this in both ways.

The person who learns how to trust God with the future will demonstrate that trust by rejoicing in the Lord (not in circumstances); by demonstrating a gentle lifestyle (knowing that God’s future is far better than what we might forfeit on earth); by praying about everything (because ultimately the future is in God’s hands and not mine).  The result will be a life of Peace that is better than knowledge (even better than knowing what the future holds) and Peace which cannot be fully understood.
It is important to note what Paul did NOT say.  Paul did not say that if you will trust God with the future, God will take away all your problems and your trials.  No. 
Paul wrote these words from prison.  Paul didn’t think he would get out alive.  God had not taken away Paul’s difficult circumstances.  Instead, God gave Paul a Peace that transcends understanding to cope with his trials. 
Paul wrote these words to a church experiencing internal conflict and external persecutions.  God did not take away their difficult circumstances.  Instead, God promised them a Peace that transcends understanding to cope with their trials.
This is the true meaning of Peace.  Peace is not the absence of conflict or an easy life.  Peace is the strength to face all the difficulties of life.  This strength can only come from the Presence of God in your life…by trusting God with the future.
Peace is not something we can obtain by our own ability.  Peace is a gift of God…A gift that God gave us on the first Christmas.  God sent his Only Son, Jesus.  And the Gospel of Matthew reminds us of the words spoken by the Prophet Isaiah…

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1: 22 – 23, cf. Isaiah 7: 14)

This is the only way to find Peace.  It is God with us.

1 comment:

tyrrel said...

Seeking PEACE brother