Summary: Peace should not be a goal of life. It is a by-product of a life lived in good conscience toward God and in service to the risen King!
Sermon for CATM – November 9, 2008 – Philippians 4:10-23 – A Life for God
Today we finish up our course on Philippians. This has been a nine-week journey through a fascinating book, and we’ve had opportunity to reflect on this book and to worship, and for those who chose to take the course based on this series, I hope that you found some value in writing your observations and reflections.
We may well do more such courses…so if you did enjoy this opportunity, let us know. On December 7, as you’ve heard, the course completion certificates will be given out to those who fulfilled the requirements for the course.
The book of Philippians has an intimate tone throughout. You get the feeling that Paul is taking some real joy in sharing important truths with that church.
They had been through much together, and here, in the closing verses, near the end of his mortal life, Paul gives his final encouragement to them.
In the midst of celebrating their generosity and support of his apostolic ministry, his ministry of travelling and planting churches and encouraging those churches, Paul provides two last glimpses into his experience of the grace of God.
Let’s read our verses today [Readers: Philippians 4:10-23]
Now first, Paul paints a picture that really expands on his discussion of God’s peace that he started in the first part of chapter 4. Recapping briefly from last week, at the start of this chapter Paul talks about the peace of God that transcends human understanding. He then gives a pretty explicit prescription for those needing peace. You’ll remember he says that the peace of God will be experienced by us as we “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
The way to do that is to dwell on, to meditate on and think about “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”.
So that’s what precedes our verses today. And then Paul starts talking about his own experiences with God. The Paul at the end of his life was a different man than the young Saul (his birth-name), who zealously persecuted the church as a Pharisee or the slightly older Paul who began, after his powerful conversion, to preach the gospel and who went around establishing churches by the dozen. This was a Paul who had learned contentment, had learned to be at peace inside no matter what was going on outside.
And Paul’s contentment wasn’t connected to his abundant wealth (he had given up everything in pursuit of serving his risen King Jesus). It wasn’t connected to his social situation. He was loved by many to whom he had been sent to preach the gospel, to be sure. But he had also been rejected wholesale by the social circle he had as a youth (other Pharisees-in-training). He was in constant fear for his life, rarely knowing who to trust.
Paul’s contentment wasn’t connected to his housing (at this point he’s living pretty much exclusively in prisons). His peace wasn’t connected to his state of wealth or want. He says, in fact, that he knows what it is to be I need and he knows the opposite feeling of having more than enough.
The key to contentment, Paul tells us, is the fact that he knows that the source of his strength is Christ Jesus. Paul says “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”. Can we say that, together: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”? Now, that is a powerfully true statement.
Profoundly true. But there is perhaps a bit of a gap between proclaiming that as an objective truth or reality, and being able to say, with a similar passion to Paul, the same thing. That’s just because we’re learning.
We’re discovering how true that statement is, so whereas for Paul it was a plain statement of fact based on a long life with thousands of experiences to back it up, for some of us this may be a bit more of an aspirational statement.
So that’s perhaps the first thing to keep in mind here: Contentment is an acquired characteristic or a learned state-of-heart.
It’s possible for a young Christian or a more experienced believer to read theses verses and feel: “What’s wrong with me?!? I’m not content and rarely have been!” Now we can learn and be encouraged from Paul’s example, but we need to give our own lives time to breathe, as it were.
In the book of second Corinthians Paul gives a limited list of some of his experiences, experiences that taught him to trust profoundly in Christ.
He says: “Five times I received…forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Cor 11:24-27