Summary: Peace with yourself, peace with neighbors and peace with the world is what we need to live as Christians. We fail to grow when we live our lives for others and become afraid of losing the affection and approval of those we think are important in our lives
Imagine a Church with some problems, where some people are fighting to become leaders. Yet, despite their own problems, when they heard that the individual who helped to establish the church was in need, they all come together, contributed money to send to help the individual. The leader wrote back to say thank you. This is what the book of Philippians is all about. Paul helped to establish the church but when he was in prison in Rome in those days when prisoners provided for themselves, the church in Philippi sent him some help and Paul wrote back to thank them. Today, I invite you to examine with me the nuggets of Christian wisdom contained in this letter in the fourth chapter 4 : 1 – 9 as I speak on the topic: Longing to see Growth.
St. Paul had been informed about the things in the church, though he was in prison in Rome and so he began his letter in the fourth chapter on the best way of living the Christian life in the world namely: Peace with others and peace with the self. First, living in peace with others in a world of conflict requires standing firm in the lord (v.1), living in harmony with others (V.2 – 3) and Living in spirit of happiness v. 4). But doing this can be hard if we are not at peace with ourselves and so he outlined the second process of being at peace with the self: (1. Forbearance (2) Prayer and thankfulness to God, and (3) The thought process and imagination.
Let me begin this morning with a story. A few years ago a young woman about thirty years walked into my office. It was obvious that she was deeply troubled by events in her life. She said “Pastor, it is hard for me to make ends meet and as hard as I struggle, things do not seem to go well. I have just met a nice young man and I am trying hard to make this relationship work. He is not into religion and has refused to come to church and so often I too do not come to church to keep him from breaking up the relationship. I really want to get married and this seems like my last chance, what should I do?” That woman sitting across from me that afternoon was looking for someone to provide answers for what she saw as a problem. She wanted someone to take responsibility for her actions and someone to become her parent. We all do behave like that young woman. We run away from the situations we have created and look for shelter away from the storms that we have created and so we stagnate our own growth and fail to see God’s love and God’s action. We live in an ideal world instead of the real world and pretend to be what we are not so that we can please others. Events in our lives are forced enactments to fit into the roles we have created for ourselves.
The members of the church in that port city of Phillipi were doing the same thing. Though they were members of a faith community that Paul founded, not all were standing firm in the Lord. There was conflict and selfish ambition and Paul singled out two names Euodia and Syntyche (v. 2) Because of this conflict, it was perhaps difficult to see joy, peace and happiness. Some easily gave up because of frustration and so they lacked the spirit of forbearance which is an indication of faith. Because of these, the true foundation becomes shaken and uncertainty and anxiety set in. Paul then provided a remedy by listing ways of restoring peace and harmony through right thinking. We are what we think he seems to be saying. Our world is distorted because of our thinking pattern. Rather than thinking about truth we pursue falsehood. Rather than honor we get involved with what brings dishonor. Instead of thinking about the right action we become comfortable with the wrong ones. We flee from goodness and join what is bad. Instead of excellence we tolerate mediocrity and instead of what brings praise we get involved with what brings ill repute. Pursue goodness, think right to live well and grow was Paul’s message to that church and to us in a postmodern world. He then offered as examples , concluding in this part of the letter: “Things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things”.
We live in a postmodern age where we keep busy every day. Like those in the past we have learnt that pleasure should be sought at all times and even when we ourselves are responsible for creating our own misery, we seek others to blame when the fruits of our bad thinking comes. We look for ways to run from the pain we created. It is always the fault of our parents because they were divorced. It was the fault of those we came in contact with and so some blame their addictions and attitude on others and absolved themselves of the responsibility for their bad choices and faulty thinking. People begin their addiction by first trying some substance either to fit in or as some have told me, “ to help them relax” or “deal with some issues” in their lives. Soon they find that they crave the substance and their world changes as they lose what they once held dear. Later they find out that their world, their thinking and even their minds have been taken over and controlled by this addiction. What affects us in the world are not the situations but we fail to grow as a result of our faulty thinking.