Oct. 11 Stay Focused Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
We are concluding our study of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians today. We have seen how even though Paul is in prison, he remains hopeful and joyfully points us to our salvation in Christ. Jesus is our guide, teaching us to be humble, put others first, and keep our eyes on the upward call of faith. We are to live lives worthy of the Gospel we have been called to proclaim, staying focused on Christ to the end of this life and into the next. In Chapter 2, we were told to be unified and to focus on our shared mission. In Chapter 3, we were encouraged to stay focused on serving Jesus and God’s people, having the resiliency to endure persecution and suffering. In all things, we seek to remain humble and stay focused on what is best for our church and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. As Paul says in verse 1 of Chapter 4:
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
We tend to think of ourselves as doing what we want to do, but how does it feel to think that we belong to someone else, and what we do reflects on them, for good or ill? Paul looked on his churches as a loving father looks on his children. How they behaved reflected on him and his eternal reward. We can never forget that we are here to serve God, and what we do can make Him look bad to our neighbors if we don’t live in a manner that glorifies Him. In most of his letters, Paul exhorts the leaders of his churches to not do anything that will bring disrepute to their church, which in turn puts God in a poor light to our neighbors. Paul writes:
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (vv. 2-3)
Unfortunately, we are not given any details here, but we should note that Paul calls on the church to help these women find harmony. It is generally assumed that these two women, a remarkable fact in itself, are leaders within the church of Philippi, perhaps hosts of house churches within the larger church community there. Both have Greek names, which unlike today, have meanings that would have been recognizable at the time. “Euodia” means “good travels” or maybe “smooth sailing”. “Eu” means good, and is common in words we use today, such as “eulogy” (or “good word”) and “eucharist” which literally means “good grace or thanks,” or “thanksgiving.” “Syntche” however is not such a pleasant name. “Syn” isn’t so bad, it means “with”, as in “symphony” and “sympathy”. “Tunkano”, however, generally means “to hit” something. Together, “syntyche” means “hit with” or as a noun, “accident.” How often does that tragically happen, we are heading down a good road and we have an accident! And you think studying dead languages is boring! But even after an accident, we get back up and continue travelling down the road, hopefully wiser and able to make amends.
We are all leaders in the church, even those who don’t have an official title or perform a unique task this morning. Your opinions and presence help to determine the road ahead for our church. We will disagree on some things but need to have the humility and wisdom to keep moving ahead in a way that benefits the church and brings glory to God. Paul continues:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (“eucharistia”) let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (vv. 4-8)
An amazing passage, all the more so when we remember that Paul is in prison and his churches were facing persecution from numerous directions. Any comments? Again, we are to be patient, humble, content, and always in prayer. No matter what life brings, God will see us through it. God’s peace will guard and protect us. What I would like to ask Paul is what he meant when he said that “The Lord is near.” Does he mean that Jesus is about to return soon, or is always near spiritually? Both? Paul continues:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you. (vv. 8-9)
What do you think of that? Any comments? In a confusing and troubled time, we will have God’s peace if we stay focused on godly things. So, don’t be overcome by all that is going on, turn off the news and pick up your Bible! Pray and sing spiritual songs! Our struggles and the conflicts of this world are only temporary, God’s glory shines forever. Paul continues:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (vv. 10-13)
There are so many great lines in this chapter, it is hard to focus on any one thing. Our faith will get us through the good and the bad, abundance and need. We rejoice that we have each other and rejoice that God will get us through all the struggles of life. Our earthly circumstances are not as important as our relationship with God. We always draw near to Him, and He will draw near to us, giving us hope. Not just as individuals, but through faith we support and encourage each other. As Paul writes:
Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. (vv. 14-18)
We don’t really have a Paul to join together in ministry with, rather we join together to support the ministry of our denomination and the other ministries we support. We also join together here to support the ministries of this church. Perhaps the lesson here is to seek to support ministry outside of our church, supporting ministries and individuals going out in Christ’s name to places we are not able to go, whether here in the US or around the world. We may be very different from other branches of the global Church, but we all have a shared mission to reach every corner of our world with the Good News of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eternal reign in glory. We now join with churches everywhere to prepare the way for Him to return. We may feel like we can’t do much as one small church, but when we join together with other churches and ministries, we can do mighty things that will bear fruit now and into eternity. The needs of our world may seem far beyond anything we can do to help, but we continue to do what we can. Paul concludes this Letter:
And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (vv. 19-23 NAS)
The word “saint” means “holy one”, and so we join together with the “saints” Paul mentions here and all of the “saints” of the Church, past, present, and future. We are God’s holy ones, His saints, so let us focus on living lives worthy of the Gospel we have been called to follow, living as today’s saints, Gods’ holy ones sent into an unholy world that needs Jesus and the new life and grace that He provides. The path ahead, as individuals, as a church, as a nation and as a world, is uncertain and probably perilous. May we stay focused on God and persevere to the end. His grace abides in us and all followers of Christ; may it guide us along this path and get us where God wants us to go. Amen.