Philippians 3:4-9; 4:1-9, 11b-13
Rejoicing in the Midst of Tough Times
By the Rev. Norma J. Cooper
There is an ancient Chinese proverb and curse that states,
“May you live in interesting times.”
Currently we are certainly living in “interesting times.” We may even feel cursed and in desperate need of an antidote to our “interesting times.”
Thankfully as Christians, we can find a wealth of antidotes in the Bible, because scripture is the living and powerful word of God. In our present dilemma, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is word of God for us because it points to the true source of hope in tough times. However, we may be surprised at the guidance this scripture give to us!
In Philippians4: 4, Paul writes,
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Perhaps today you think there is little reason to rejoice! Yet, when Paul penned this advice, he was in the midst of tough times. He was in prison and had every reason to be discouraged and bitter. Nevertheless, he advised,
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
In fact, in this short letter to the early church in Philippi, Paul expresses or recommends rejoicing nine different times!
What we discover in Paul’s letter is that his original reasons for rejoicing radically changed as a result of his faith in Christ. Before he knew Christ, Paul rejoiced in his own personal success. He was a Pharisee and well respected as a righteous man in the Jewish community. Yet, he came to see these signs of success as worthless and he willingly gave them up to follow Christ. Listen to his words as he rejoices over loosing his former success and gaining relationship with Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:7 – 9 (NRSV) 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
Paul’s experience proved to him that faith in Jesus Christ yields treasures that worldly success can never equal because God’s love, care and forgiveness are received through faith in Christ. In the same way, we also can find joy and comfort in the blessings we have in Christ even in the face of present loss.
In this time when we may be gripped with worries over the economy and fears about what the future might bring, Paul’s letter becomes living word of God for us as it brings sound scriptural advice and good news. Paul writes,
Philippians 4:6 – 7 (NRSV) 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.
Instead of wasting time worrying, God’s word in this scripture advises us to invest in habits of prayer and thankfulness knowing that the return on this investment will be,
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
So, instead of running on a treadmill of worry and finding your heart constricted by fear and your mind filled with anxiety, pace yourself with habits of prayer and thanksgiving, because then,
The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
When our hearts and minds are protected by peace in Christ, we find inner calm and we stop playing the useless mental game of “Ain’t It Awful!” We even stop searching for someone to blame and find freedom to reinvest our mental energy in the productive thoughts Paul emphasized when he stated,
Philippians 4:8 (NRSV) 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.
Through faith in Jesus Christ and the blessing of living as his disciples, we really can find an unlimited wealth of honor, purity, authentic pleasure, and excellence as well as a bounty of commendable and praise worthy solutions to life in tough times.
This scripture teaches us to pray and give thanks rather than to worry. It instructs us to think about the goodness and we find in Christ. As we do these things, we will become calmer. We’ll find breathing room to discover the secret of true and realistic contentment. – the kind of contentment that withstands the ups and downs of life. This kind of contentment is a vital commodity! Paul, found this to be true and it led him to the real source of strength in life. He testifies to this by writing,
Philippians 4:11b – 13 (NRSV) 11b for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Didn’t most of us know all along that neither Wall Street nor Wal-Mart could ever hold the secret to real contentment! So now it’s the perfect time to look to Jesus Christ as our source of strength and we’ll find our life secured in the blessing of peace and contentment that only Christ can bring. Now, as always, it’s time to rejoice in the Lord!
Copyright 2008 Norma J. Cooper. Used by permission.