"Praiseworthy Living" Bible Study on Philippians 4:1-9
October 8, 2020, 1:46 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Philippians 4:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version).

 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, 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. 9 Keep 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.

For several weeks now, we have been journeying with the Israelites, as they travel from slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land, spending forty years wandering in the desert.  This Sunday, we have the opportunity to reflect as well on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians.

Even though I have been preaching from Exodus for several weeks, I thought it might be a good time to "fast-forward" and concentrate on this week's text from Philippians.  There is a continuity between the Apostle Paul's writing and the things the Israelites have been learning out there in the wilderness.  The tender love and care, the deep wisdom and many gifts that guided Israel in the desert and nurtured the young church in Philippi have been passed on to us today to strengthen and guide the Church on its way, two thousand years later.

Paul's Letter to the Philippians is majestic and beautiful.  Its exhortations soar above the petty squabbles that often define our day- to-day encounters with others.  While there were many important lessons to learn out there in the desert with the Israelites, this week our spirits are also lifted by Paul's elegant love letter to a church for which he obviously cares deeply.

This Sunday's passage comes from the last chapter of the letter, but there are some other parts of Philippians that will sound familiar since we have been reading it as our New Testament lesson over the past few weeks.  There is the magnificent hymn that ends with "every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).  Leading up to this week's passage, after listing his many achievements and qualifications as a righteous man of faith, Paul declares, "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ" (Philippians 3:7).  All Paul wants now is to know Christ, to draw on the power of Christ's resurrection, to share in his sufferings and to become more like Christ.

In our overachievement-oriented society, in business, academics, and public life, there's much discussion of qualifications and experience, much evaluation, and intense and not always good-spirited conversation in our political life, for example, about the things a person brings to their job, presumably for the greater good and not just their own good.

That kind of striving fills our lives, from our first accomplishments in nursery school to the most recent achievements on our resumes.  Perhaps we feel our accomplishments prove our worth.  Perhaps we feel more secure if we can look back on what we've done to earn the rewards we enjoy, including the financial ones.  That's why we have "reward" credit cards.  Perhaps we enjoy the esteem that comes with achievements.

It would be hard to count all this as "garbage," and yet Paul does exactly that.  Even more than humility, such a movement of the heart require temendous trust in God, who, Paul says, "is at work in you" (Philippians 2:13a).

The letter is full of love, but also joy.  Paul writes, ". . . make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and mind" (Philippians 2:2).  This week's passage describes what that might look like, how to achieve such unity, beginning with encouragement to "stand firm," to be reconciled when we disagree, and always, always, to rejoice.  After all, "the Lord is near," so we don't have to worry about anything.

This powerful theme runs throughout the scriptures: don't be afraid, and don't worry, God is with us, close at hand, and "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).  Concentrate, Paul says, on the very best things: the true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things.  Keep up the good work; Paul says, "Keep the faith."

Eugene Peterson calls Philippians "Paul's happiest letter.  And the happiness is infectious."  But here's the irony underneath the claim.  Paul is writing this letter from prison, as he faces death for preaching the gospel, for disrupting the empire and its values.  He's not writing on a good day, when things are going well and he's surrounded by friends.  No, he writes from an even deeper joy, springing from his knowledge of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ.

Peterson describes the source of Paul's joy, and ours, too: "Christ is, among much else, the revelation that God cannot be contained or hoarded.  It is this 'spilling out' quality of Christ's life that accounts for the happiness of Christians, for joy is life in excess, the overflow of what cannot be contained within any one person" (The Message).

"Joy is life in excess."  What an interesting way to describe joy!  When I read Peterson's paraphrase of Paul, I thought of the 1997 movie, Titanic.  Jack Dawson is one of the main characters in this movie.  He is played by the winsome Leonardo DiCaprio.  Jack is a drifter and sketch artist who hops from ship to ship and port to port.  When he wins a card game, he buys a ticket to board Titanic.  Once aboard, he falls in love with a young woman, Rose, who is a member of high society.  He even ends up dining with Rose, her mother, and their high socieity friends.  During the dinner, Jack describes his day-by-day, drifting life to his aristocratic dinner companions.  Rose's mother asks, "Mr. Dawson to you find such a rootless existence to be appealing?" to which Jack Dawson responds:  "Well, yes, ma'am, I do . . . I mean, I got everything I need right here with me.  I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper.  I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing waht's gonna happen or, who I'm gonna meet, where I'm gonna wind up.  Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.  I figure life's a gift, and I don't intend on wasting it.. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next.  You learn to take life as it come to you . . . to make each day count."

Perhaps Jack's life philosophy is similar to the Apostle Paul's.  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  God is near.  Do not worry about anything.  Turn everything over to God in prayer.  Trust God.  Put into practice whatever is true, honorable, pleasing, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy..  Practice whatever makes life worth living.  Make each day count."  This is my paraphrase of Paul and Jack Dawson.

In the midst of this protracted pandemic and the losses and suffering it has brought and probably will continue to bring, the anguish of the long-overdue racial reckoning in our nation, the destructive horror of environmental disasters like the wildfires out west and the hurricanes slamming our Gulf states, intertwined with a most unpleasant election season, it would be understandable if the words "joy" and "praiseworthy," let alone spending time reflecting on them, sounded almost quaint.

And yet our need, our hunger, for joy and praiseworthy living (making life count) is exposed, if you will, by our reactions to experiences that touch us in ways we can't express with words, and perhaps only with tears.

Remembering that the Apostle Paul writes from a prison cell and is trying to resolve a conflict between two feuding women in the Philippian church may affect how we hear Paul's words, as he encourages the little flock there in its shared faith.  The words Paul uses apply just as well to churches today, especially if they are feeling small and overpowered by the various forms of "empire" around them, pressured by a culture that preaches a very different message from the gospel, discouraged or confused about what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.

And so, I leave you with some questions:  What are the true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things that we think about, together?  What is at the center of our lives: worry or joy, conflict or praise?

As you think about these things, may the peace of God be with you all.


Pastor Greg Rupright


10-12-2020 at 1:24 PM
Pat May
Read it after hearing your sermon yesterday. I say again, “Amen!
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