As I was talking to my five-year old nephew this past week I wondered out loud how many more days it was until Christmas. Without hesitation Sheldon said: “Fourteen.” Hmm, you don’t suppose he’s excited for Christmas do you? This is the interesting thing about Christmas, as it draws closer it affects the way people act. The nephew I told you about is normally pretty laid back and doesn’t say much over the phone but when I spoke to him this week he had a lot to talk about – most of it about Christmas.
While Christmas can affect people in a positive way, its arrival can also bring on emotions that we would rather not talk about at Christmas. If this is the first Christmas without that loved one, or if your financial future doesn’t seem secure, you know what I’m talking about when I say that Christmas for many is anything but a merry event. Thankfully Christmas isn’t the only big event that’s near. The Apostle Paul assures us that the Lord himself is near. Since that is the case Paul explains why we can be joyful and peaceful no matter what we’re going through.
Paul set the tone of our text when he began, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Paul wants Christians to rejoice always in every circumstance - not just when things are going great. Paul practiced what he preached, for his letter to the Philippians is filled with words of joy and confidence. Indeed Paul wrote as if he was a man on vacation without a care in the world. The truth is he was under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial that had the potential of ending in a death sentence.
How was it that Paul could rejoice under those circumstances? Did he not really understand that he could lose his life? Of course he did. He made that possibility known to the Philippians (Philippians 1:20 ff.). Still Paul rejoiced even though his freedom had been taken away and his future was uncertain because his joy was founded “in the Lord” and not in outward circumstances.
Remembering that we are “in the Lord” will cause us to rejoice for a number of reasons. First of all the title “Lord” tells us that the God we worship is a king who is firmly in charge. That’s why Paul urged the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Our God, this ruling king, is interested in our welfare. He wants to govern in such a way that we don’t have to worry about a thing. Therefore if we have a need, God tells us not to waste time worrying about it but to ask and he’ll give it to us. If he doesn’t give us what we ask for it’s because he has something better planned for us! Can you imagine having a government like that – government that tells us if we need something, anything, we only need to ask for it? Of course governments have always promised that kind of care and attention but they never deliver do they, at least not consistently.
If we have a God that is so concerned about us, why is it that we still have so many worries? Why don’t we rejoice in every circumstance as Paul did? You know the answer to that question. We still carry worries because of our sinful nature. Some times we think that a matter is “too big” to bother God with. What we’re really saying, however, is that God is not much of a God because we don’t think he can “handle” what we’re struggling to deal with. On the other hand we some times think that our problems are too small to bother God with. The truth is if our problems are too small to take to God in prayer, then they should be too small to worry about.
Friends remember that our God is Lord. Take all your concerns to him in prayer and you’ll find that in the Lord troubles fade to trifles. In fact Paul promises that when we turn to God in prayer that he will answer by giving us his peace - a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Let’s be sure that we understand though that God did not promise to give us peace on our terms. Some times we think that we would have peace if only we had X amount of dollars in the bank, the assurance of a steady job, and good health. The truth is we can have all those things but still have no peace. God-given peace comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven and that the Lord is near to take us from this sin-filled world. Therefore it doesn’t really matter how our health is or what our job situation looks like. It doesn’t matter that we may not be the best looking, smartest, or funniest person in our class. We have something much more precious in Jesus.
Because we have real peace through forgiveness we can be peaceful to others. Paul put it this way: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). It’s a little difficult to translate the word “gentleness” that Paul used in this section. It means being willing to give up your rights and privileges so that others may enjoy theirs. In short a gentle person will look to serve, not be served. Paul adds that this gentleness should be evident to all. Would you say that this is true of you? Or do people say, “Yeah she’s really nice once you get to know her.” If that is what people say about us can we claim that our gentleness is evident to all? Obviously not. And when our gentleness is evident can we say that it’s a God-pleasing gentleness? No. For the gentleness that God wants us to show others stems from an unselfish love. If we are gentle only to those we know will return that kindness, aren’t we demonstrating a selfish love – loving only when we know that we’ll get something out of it?
Thank God that he doesn’t love us like that. For what is there that we can give to God to earn his love? Sure we can honor him with our life and offerings but it’s not like God needs those things to survive. The truth is we more often than not curse God by our attitudes and actions yet he still goes on loving us.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all” Paul says, “for the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5b). Bible students have debated whether that last statement is Law or Gospel. It could be understood as Law in the sense that God knows what we’re up to so we better shape up. But in the context it’s probably better understood as Gospel. With an eternity of joy and happiness right around the corner what’s the point of insisting on our rights regarding temporal matters? It’s not worth hassling that store clerk about not being attentive to our needs so we can get out of the mall five minutes sooner. It’s not worth venting to the gate agent who can’t do anything about the delayed flight. The Lord is near. Slow down and let the Son’s love and concern for you burn through all your worries for he will evaporate them like the morning mist. Yes, Christmas and all of its hustle and bustle is near but so is the Lord. Rejoice and be peaceful. Amen.