4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.??
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.??
At the end of chapter 3, Paul speaks of the importance of imitating his example, that they would follow in the foot steps of his close devotion to the Christian life. Verse 1 of the next chapter encourages them to 'stand firm' in their Christian walk. As we look at our text today, I want us to remember that standing firm only comes through our willingness to surround ourselves with the things of God. The things that tend to teach and inspire us are the things we most often surround ourselves with.??
There is no doubt that Paul's desire is that Christians be encouraged and understand their purpose as disciples. We experience low points in our faith-walk when we don't know what to do next or experience varying periods of discouragement.??
I had several people tell me once that they knew they needed to have faith and trust God with their trials and troubles but that they didn't know what that actually meant. This upset me as a pastor because this means that somewhere along the way, a church may never have equipped them with a spiritual LIFE. It's as if all they were given was a spiritual one-liner or a quote to base their entire faith on.??
Having faith isn't something that you buy and keep in your pocket. It's not a knick-knack that floats around your house, from one shelf to the other. Faith is a living, growing part of your life. Our faith is like farming. In season you are planting and plowing; out of season you are gathering, storing, and preparing. Faith takes cultivation and nourishment. It is a way of life, a lifestyle, not a subscription.??
But this living-faith is one that is grown in community. God has given us the body of Christ, the Church, as an incubator, a greenhouse, a classroom to learn the things of God and be equipped with the necessary gifts to accomplish the will of God in the world. The Church's mission to is raise up disciples and equip them to live.??
This cultivation comes in the Church when we heed the words of verses 8 & 9. Paul is directing the people toward a life that is fully 'Christian' rather than partially Christian. A partial Christian treats faith as if it is an accessory; something they have picked up along the way and added into their life. They have compartmentalized their religion, fashioning one cubby-hole among others to put their faith into. This creates a life of competition, where our faith is always competing for the top spot. Most of us spend a great deal of time doing many different things with our lives. But are those things stemming from our faith or are they competing with our faith???
Paul's encouragement to us about standing firm in our faith ??? in the way of Jesus ??? is to dwell on things of excellence, of honor, of justice, of purity, and so on. For us to draw from the well of virtue rather than vice is to set ourselves up for putting Godliness first. We have this higher calling, as God is making us new and bestowing upon us the image of His Son. We cannot be Christ-like if we are settling for things that will take our eyes off of God. The activities of the Christian are things that focus on God, that point toward God, lead other people to God.??
The temptation for all of us is to settle for lesser things. These things are distractions, things that do not reflect God but remove God. The trick is finding out if these things create a life of self-sufficiency or a life of God-dependency. The litmus test for such things can be seen in how they contribute to your spiritual growth. Are there activities that bring you closer to God? Are there things that you participate in that reveal the truth found in God's word? Are you living a life that places the emphasis on others rather than yourself (as Paul mentions earlier in chapter 2, verse 3 about considering others as better than yourselves).??
For our faith to be cultivated in a healthy environment, our time must be spent on things that point to God, that reflect His goodness, that show His glory. Again, the Church is a classroom where these things are tested, tried, and learned. All the many activities of the Church serve as a laboratory where discoveries are made about the spiritual life everyday.??
The reason weighing out the pros and cons of our activity is important is because it reveals to us the many ways we are persecuted as we attempt to stand firm in our faith. In Paul's time, people were crucified for having Christian faith. Paul himself was in prison when he wrote this very letter. We hear of similar persecutions in other places around the world today. But because these kinds of things are rare in our society, it doesn't mean that persecution doesn't exist. Our society breeds an almost deadlier kind of persecution; a silent killer that works its way into our lives without us evening knowing it. Many people's faith is robbed from them as the world breathes lies of false hope and misguided security into our lives. In the midst of networking around the world, our main concern still tends to be ourselves. We market ourselves, our interests, our talents and likes with people we call 'friends' when in all reality we've forgotten what friendship is all about. Social networking can be a good thing, but I ask you, is it enough???
Our mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world depends upon how we answer Paul's encouragement to us. Will we truly teach people what it means to rejoice always? Will we make our gentleness known IN-person, not just ON-line? Do we LIVE like Jesus is near, testifying to His presence and even His returning? Do we "take it to the Lord in prayer", the way the old hymn teaches us, and do we do it with thanksgiving rather than ungrateful list-making? And the biggest question of all, do we as God's people have a surpassing peace that guards our hearts?
The last one deserves a few more words. In this world, there is nothing needed more than for our hearts to be guarded by the peace of God. In order for us to put forth the gospel to the world, we must have its holy message at the center of our being, ready to be distributed at a moments notice, and guarded well by the peace of God. In the turmoil of the spiritual life, there are many who's walls crumble under stress and persecution. As the Church, we must come to their aid and give them the support that can only come from community.??
None of us can successfully live out our Christian walks alone. It takes support in order to both connect and stay connected to God. The reason this is so is because God created us for community. Stay strong, stay connected.??
May we stand firm, rejoice always, and be granted God's surpassing peace today. Amen.??
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