Third Sunday in Advent – Epistle

by Crossings

Lost In Rejoicing In Christ
Philippians 4:4-7
Third Sunday in Advent
Analysis by James Squire

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.

DIAGNOSIS: Lost in the Reasonable Approach to Life

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Conditioned by the World
How can we rejoice “always” (4:4)? Once in a while seems more like it. No one is happy 24 hours a day. That’s downright impossible. We may try it every day, but before lunch we’ve long since forgotten that it was even our goal for the day because the program has already failed in some way. Paul tells the Philippians and us to greet life with endless rejoicing. Our problem is that we can’t even come close. Or, in an attempt to take another of Paul’s imperatives seriously, we may try to be endlessly gentle with everyone (4:5) and see how long that lasts. The problem is that life always tosses us curves that cause us to do anything but rejoice or be gentle. It’s unrealistic to expect that we can rejoice always or be unconditionally gentle, because we are conditioned by our surroundings. We react spontaneously to what happens to us, and rejoicing and gentleness are not always the responses that seem called for.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Trusting in Worldly Ways
Why do we react so spontaneously to the ways of the world? Because we put our trust in the world’s ways. In “reaction” mode our first instinct is to think immediately about how to solve our problem. The world teaches us not to dally with far-fetched, mysterious schemes, but rather to attend to the problem until it is solved. To the world, and to us (even if we don’t consciously admit it), the idea of taking our problems immediately to God in prayer (4:6), as if God were nearby (4:5), seems like nonsense. To pray first would be to avoid the problem or, worse yet, dodge it-passing it on to God instead of dealing with it ourselves. How irresponsible, the world would say (and we capitulate to this since we are conditioned by the world we live in). In fact, we trust our fate to this worldly way of doing things-perhaps so unconsciously that we hardly think to do otherwise. Unfortunately, this means we are not trusting in the Lord-let alone rejoicing (4:5). In fact, there is no room in our world for the radical claim this Lord makes on us. So, instinctively, we shut God out.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Without the Peace of God
Since we shut God out of our lives, we tend to think that he is nowhere to be found when we really need his help (to stop the Mississippi from overflowing in 1993, for example). But Paul assures us that the Lord is near (4:5). The problem is this nearness is not good news for world-trusters like us. Rather, it is bad news. God is near us alright, but his peace (4:7) is far away. So is the benefit of a peaceful relationship with God. And if, as we believe, God were nowhere near us, perhaps we’d be safe. Instead he is near us, but not in peace. [Paul doesn’t provide an exact word for the opposite of God’s peace in this passage, but elsewhere in his letters he refers to the opposite of peace as “curse” (see Galatians).] In other words, God will either be present in peace or in curse. And we can’t just ignore God and dictate that he may no longer have any part in our life. We may not be in a trusting relationship with God, but he will have the final say about how our life turns out-and, without his peace, that is not good news for us.

PROGNOSIS: Raised Up into the Foolishness of Christ

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – The Curse Overcome
Fortunately for us, God took the step that we are powerless to take: God found a way for us to have his peace after all! In an earlier part of his letter to the Philippians, Paul describes a Lord who not only came near us proximately, but who came near to us in status as well (2:5-11). This Lord, “Christ,” emptied himself of every heavenly advantage he had in order to become one of us-not just human, but even apparently cursed with a bad God-relationship (2:8). Strangely enough, God then turns around and declares this Christ to be Lord of all, exalted above all others, and the one to whom every knee shall bow. Through this Christ, God claims us as his own: Christ forfeited peace in order that we might have “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (4:7). He emptied himself of righteousness, to make us righteous. He removed the curse from us and put it on himself. And, through his death and resurrection, he defeated once and for all the curse that separates us from God, so that it can never bedevil us again. And knowing God through Christ Jesus, we can safely call God “Lord.”

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Resting in God’s Providence
Because we know God through Christ, we also realize that we were worried about the wrong things. Now that Christ has lifted the curse of God’s condemnation from us by Christ forever, we know that God’s condemnation is what we really should have been worried about. But now that God is one of us and brings us peace unconditionally in the person of Jesus, the Lord’s nearness (4:5) no longer frightens us. In fact, we are so comforted by God’s nearness that it seems natural to take everything to God in prayer (4:6). After all, God’s peace will “keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). And, viewing life from this vantage point of faith, we no longer are tempted to live by the world’s terms.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Rejoicing against the Grain
In Christ we are freed from our worldly “reaction mode”-we are free to confound the world. We can rest in God’s peace that surpasses all understanding, and that gives us plenty over which to rejoice. It doesn’t matter anymore whether the world understands us-such understanding is not necessary. God’s peace surrounds us regardless of the world’s ability to comprehend it. And it enables us to be gentle with others (4:5) rather than mirror the world’s actions toward us. In faith we truly “march to the beat of a different drummer.” And that means that we are free to show kindness to others-not just because they show kindness to us, but even when they don’t.


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