Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The final chapter of Philippians is largely personal in nature, and I like to think of it as taking place at a certain stop on a longer journey; Paul is giving some last instructions before heading off, and we are getting set to head off on a different road. In a way, that’s what was really happening at the time. Paul was going into the final stretch before heading home to glory, but the Philippians still had a long trail ahead before they would attain their reward.
These verses comprise another very memorable bit of advice from Paul, and they are as full of significance today as they were almost 2,000 years ago. As we head off in our journey, Paul reminds us to rejoice in the Lord always.
For emphasis, he repeats his admonition; I can only imagine how that struck the Philippians, aware as they were of Paul’s situation. If Paul can rejoice in his situation, how can we not rejoice in ours? Then this man who was awaiting the judgment of Caesar that would send him to the executioner’s block tells the Philippians to be sure that their gentleness is evident to all− amazing.
He reminds us that the Lord is near, so we shouldn’t be anxious about anything, and sends us right into His presence as he encourages us to be in prayer. We are to present our prayers and petitions to God with thanksgiving, and the peace of God that “transcends all understanding” will guard our hearts and minds. I just can’t help but think that this would have made a big impression to the Philippians, as it has to so many ever since.
I would like to suggest that we all spend a little time reflecting on these words while remembering the circumstances that Paul found himself in when he penned them, and to ask our Lord to show us where He wants us to go next on our journey through this life.
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
There is a principle in these two verses that I think people tend to miss, one that is critical to healthy and happy living. These two verses are quoted often, I’ve even heard them quoted to “prove” that we shouldn’t use bad language, but to me, that sort of thing really misses the point. Let’s see if we can find a little more than meets the eye here.
Notice that verse 8 begins with the word “finally.” This should clue us in to the fact that Paul is summing up everything he’s been teaching in the letter, and this should tell us there is a larger context here. Paul tells us that we should take note of whatever we find along our life’s path that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and think about them. Notice that excellent and praiseworthy are set apart so as to sum up the others. Notice also the way he says we should think about them: “Think about such things.” This tells us more that we should be focusing on these kinds of things, which rather expands the focus from the specific instance, to the category at large. To put it another way, we are to focus our minds and attention to things that are excellent and worthy of praise, rather than on things that are not.
Don’t rush through this, for it is very significant advice. Ask yourself what is not included in this, and I think you’ll end up with a list of things that we usually think about; our problems, our feelings about things, our little resentments, our little hurts and things that aren’t uplifting. Surely the kinds of things Paul wants us to be thinking about wouldn’t include our circumstances, illnesses and pains, but would instead include the kinds of things that would inspire us to greatness, and to service of humanity. Now you can see how Paul has been able to have such a positive attitude in his imprisonment.
He wraps up with this statement:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This is one of those “if – then” statements. Put into practice the things Paul has taught and God will be with you. By implication, if you don’t put them into practice, you’ll likely find yourself far from God. Now if I was to make such a remark, your eyebrows would surely rise, for who am I? But by the time he was writing this, Paul had proven himself as the Apostle of Christ, the things that he has taught the people have been from God and for the sake of His purpose; they are the things that will put each of us firmly within God’s purpose and will. Paul has taught us how to be in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we dwell in this place, His presence and peace are surely with us.
In a few days, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. What is Thanksgiving really supposed to be all about? No, I mean really all about?
First off, it really isn’t about eating a huge meal, or about learning how to cook a moist turkey… if you can find one. This may come as a shock, but Thanksgiving isn’t about watching football on TV with family and friends- Thanksgiving came about way before football and TV were invented. Thanksgiving is actually supposed to be about all of the things that Paul has been talking about in our text, about looking beyond our circumstances and seeing what God has been doing in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and being genuinely thankful. Moreover, it is all about a sort of reality check and is an opportunity for us to re-set our priorities about what is really important in our lives.
What can we do right now, today, and tomorrow and throughout the coming days, weeks and months to take Paul’s message to heart, and to put it into practice in our daily lives?