October 11, 2020
This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on “Identity Markers”
We are in the middle of a worship series on “identity markers” – what makes it clear to others that we belong to Christ? Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi has helped us pinpoint the attributes of Christian life that mark us as Christ’s own beloved children.
A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at one of the earliest songs of the church, a hymn to Christ. It pointed out Christ’s humility in obedience. Last week, Paul described a life of surrender, pressing on toward the goal of being called by God in Christ Jesus.
This week, we conclude Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and then for the rest of October we will return to Matthew’s Gospel, focusing on the identity markers of belonging and love. But this week, we focus on the marker that Paul lifts up repeatedly in this letter to a church he loves. It’s the mark of joy.
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.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 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.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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. 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. (Philippians 4:1-9)
In this concluding chapter of Philippians, Paul offers final thoughts on each of the themes he has included in earlier sections of the letter. He urges the members of this church to stand firm in their faith, to be of one mind in Christ Jesus, and to continue to strive for the sake of the gospel. And all these things, Paul tells them, are to be wrapped in the identity marker of joy.
The joy Paul writes about is not dependent on an emotional state or external factors that affect how good we feel. Real joy comes from knowing Jesus. Real joy sustains us even in our sorrow, and real joy is neither an emotion nor something we can produce on our own. Real joy can only be found as we live in close relationship with Christ Jesus, surrendered to him in humble obedience.
Paul loves these people in Philippi deeply. He calls them “my joy and crown.” He is proud of the way they have worked together to develop a church, and he knows how they have suffered for the sake of the gospel, while remaining faithful to Christ. They are a team.
We do not know if there was an actual disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche, or if Paul is simply encouraging these two women to continue in unity as they have already been doing. Paul doesn’t name a particular conflict, nor does he take sides in any presumed argument.
Instead, Paul indicates how he cherishes them, and begs them to be of one mind in the Lord, because they have been faithful workers who have struggled alongside him for the sake of the gospel.
Then, he addresses a third individual directly, and asks that person to help these women. Paul writes, “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.”
Paul not only recognizes the important role Euodia and Syntyche have played in ministry, he knows they cannot be effective without some help. So he asks another dear friend to help these women. This person’s name might be Syzygus (which means ‘companion’), or it might be that Paul is simply aware of the person in Philippi most likely to be the one reading the letter to everyone else. The letter is addressed to the whole church, after all. But I am struck by that word, “you.” It is singular, not plural. It almost feels like Paul is talking directly to me, saying, “You help them. Yes, I mean you.”
Then Paul’s exuberance takes over again. “Rejoice!” he tells them. And once is not enough, either! “Again I say, ‘Rejoice!’” Rejoice in the Lord. Find your joy in Christ, who died to save you, and who rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again! Find your joy in that hope! Be joyful! Let others see your gentleness, your softened hearts, so they can find the same joy you have. And here comes the shortest sentence in this whole passage.
For Paul, it is a remarkably short sentence: The Lord is near.
Smack-dab in the middle of this passage, Paul gives us the reason for our hope, the source of our joy. The Lord is near. Not only is the day of the Lord coming soon, but the Lord is near to you right now, present with you, at your elbow, walking beside you. Your petty disagreements about the best way to live out your faith, make disciples, and even how to worship – they are “rubbish” as Paul told us last week. The Lord is NEAR. Be of one mind in the Lord. Rejoice!
Paul goes on to describe what this looks like in real life. Set aside your anxiety, he writes, but make your requests to God with thanksgiving. Replace your anxiousness with gratitude, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds. God’s peace, which we cannot possibly understand, will protect us.
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. 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. (Phil. 4:8-9)
Keep your minds busy thinking pure, pleasing, commendable thoughts. And keep doing the things you were taught to do. You are on the right track, Paul writes. Keep on thinking and doing the right things. And the God of peace, whose peace guards your minds and hearts, this God of peace is with you. The Lord is near! Rejoice!
It’s easy to get distracted by details and lose sight of the greater vision. As our church works to become more effective at making disciples of Jesus Christ, especially during this time of pandemic, it may feel like we are not making any progress at all. The endless Zoom meetings and planning sessions can turn into boring repetition of the same old tired phrases. We talk and talk, and yet we can’t seem to get any traction. We can’t imagine how to be the church when we can’t gather at the building we call ‘church.’
“Where is the joy?” we might wonder. When one person’s vision for where we should go, and what we should do next collides with another person’s equally passionate vision, it can take the wind right out of our sails. Instead of moving forward with purpose, we seem to be running in circles.
It is precisely at this point, when we are striving without success, maybe even squabbling with our brothers and sisters who serve alongside us, that Paul reminds us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say it: Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be known to all. Be of one mind in the Lord.
Being right or winning an argument doesn’t matter nearly as much as being united in Christ’s mission. That mission is spelled out for us at the end of the gospel of Matthew. “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you. And I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Our job is to make disciples of everyone who isn’t already a disciple. We do that by being witnesses of the joy and peace that can only be experienced through Jesus Christ. We do that by letting our identity markers show: our humility in obedience, our surrender to God’s will instead of asserting our own will, our determination to choose joy, even in the face of disappointment and sorrow.
So, how can you (yes, I mean you!) be part of Christ’s mission through Willmar United Methodist Church, as we turn our attention away from our own preferences and toward the spiritual need around us? We dare not attempt it without the power of the Holy Spirit moving us forward. Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
So I’m going to ask you to make a bold move today. I invite you into the first step toward revitalized ministry here at Willmar United Methodist Church. I invite you to join with me in purposeful prayer for the next six weeks, as we seek God’s will and direction for this church. In James 5:16 we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
To help you remember James 5:16, I invite you to join me in prayer every day at 5:16. If you are an early riser, pray at 5:16 in the morning. If afternoon works better for you, pray then. I have set the alarm on my phone to go off at 5:16 PM every day, and I invite you to do the same. From now until the first Sunday of Advent, let’s pray earnestly for our church. Let’s ask God to make our faith visible to the outsider, to the young person seeking answers, to the lonely, to the people in our community God wants us to reach. Let’s pray for each other, and confess our sins to one another, so that we may be healed.
Let’s set aside worry. Let’s set aside our own disappointments and frustrations. Let’s bow in humility before God, surrendering ourselves to God’s will for us, and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.” Let’s see what God has in mind for us, as we let our identity markers show.
Paul writes, “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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen.” And keep on choosing to do all this in joy. The Lord is near.