So, here we are, at the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the church, Philippians 4, a familiar chapter where I hope to challenge you a little bit.
Anybody tell you recently, “you seem so much more joyous lately, what have you been doing?”. No? Yeah, me either. Just means we have more work to do.
It’s interesting how your life can change by a phone call or a text message. The kind of call or message that helps you understand the meaning of “my blood ran cold”.
That is exactly what happened to me yesterday when I received a text from a friend telling me that she had been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. My hands were shaking and all I could type back was No. No. No. No. As if each time I typed the word it would make it less true. I am not very good at being on the other side of illness, and I was certainly speechless as I read and reread her text message. Finally my shaking hands failed to keep a grip on my phone and it literally dropped out of my hand. Even worse, in the middle of the text conversation, I had to go into an appointment–the entire 2 hours, I was still saying No. No. No. No.
I would be willing to bet that most of you can look around you somewhere, your t-shirt, a coffee mug, a magnet, or some sort of trinket displaying perhaps the most popular verse that Paul maybe ever wrote. We jump to the middle of the chapter where Paul tells them “I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength” (v 13 NIV). It is a verse used in athletics, and any other endeavor in which we know that we need to reach outside of ourselves and to God, and that verse (some may even have it as a tattoo) means that there isn’t anything we can’t do without the strength of God. True? Absolutely. But, I want to challenge you as to what the verse may mean in the context of chapter 4.
Paul begins the chapter exhorting the church “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice”. Seriously? He had to say it twice? And we are back to “be calmly happy“. Ok, at least he isn’t telling us to be “exceedingly glad” or to “leap” always, but he is exhorting the church to “be calmly happy” ALL. OF. THE. TIME.
There must be more, he must tell us how to do this, right? He follows his exhortation to us to be “calmly happy” with “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God” (v 6 NIV).
“Ok, Lord, I am calmly asking you to help me to be calmly happy and not anxious even though I am starring down at a text message that sent ripples all across the country.”
Paul follows that verse with “and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus”. (v7). As I jumped in my car after my appointment, and after literally praying that prayer, I can honestly say a peace did come, and I knew that this did not take Him by surprise, and He would do all the things He said He would do, including not leaving my friend; or those who love her. As I was driving down the road I found myself, well, calm. Happy might be a stretch.
This chapter is full of good stuff, the next verse is probably one of my favorite verses of Paul’s, “Finally, whatsoever things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise *think* on these things. (v8 NIV). This is a verse that I have committed to memory, but it did not come to me during the car ride home, but it occurs to me now that when I commit to thinking on these things, my sprit is, well, calm. And I am happy about being calm.
But now for the good stuff. This is the ending of Paul’s love letter to this church that he loved so much. He spends almost all of his time in this letter either thanking them of exhorting them, and the exhortation we see the most is JOY.
He closes the chapter “I rejoice greatly in the Lord…“ (v19), same root word “I am calmly happy in the Lord”. So, we have seen what some would call a digression of Paul’s “Joy” throughout the letter and maybe the assumption is that things got tougher for him as time went by and that is certainly true. But no “exceedingly glad” no “leaping” not even “sympathizing” with them, just calmly happy.
But then he drops the beautiful bomb on them, and us. “I am not saying this because I am in need for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (v11). This verse has always seemed impossible to me. That word “content” in the root word, means exactly what you think it means “content, ok with your situation”. I really, really wanted it to mean something else when I looked it up; but alas, Paul had learned to be content in whatever his circumstances, as he knew what it was like to suffer and to prosper; but he learned to be content.
Then, are you ready for it, verse 13.
“I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength”.
This verse, literally, like never before jumped off the page at me.
Wait, in context, Paul is telling me that I can be content, because I can do ALL things through Christ Who gives me strength. So, being content no matter what that I’d deemed impossible, IS POSSIBLE.
I can use verse 13 now. It’s not just for athletes and performers, it is for ME and it is for YOU. It means that I can learn to be content and if I can learn to be content, I can be...Joyful. It’s it there for me to take, at anytime I want it, right THERE. THAT is how I can find any form of Joy, just ask.