TEXT: Philip. 4:4-9
INTRO: We live in a world of WORRY. The English word for “WORRY” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word which means “to strangle.” This is an apt description of the emotional pain we feel when we worry. What is strangled is our peace of mind. There is a way however to recapture peace of mind (and heart and soul!) even in the midst of trials and tribulations, it involves a process of correct thinking which will lead to correct living – the Bible after all states, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7)
Thanksgiving in this
sense in not so much a STATE OF MATERIAL things but more a STATE OF
We need to learn to think differently if we are to act differently! We can do this by changing the way we see things. Here’s how one guy changed the focus of his prayer for Thanksgiving…
ILLUS: This Thanksgiving I'm thankful ... That
there aren't twice as many Congressman and half as many doctors. That grass doesn't grow through snow,
necessitating winter mowing as well as shoveling. That there are only twenty-four hours
available each day for TV programming.
That civil servants aren't less civil. That teenagers ultimately will have
children who will become teenagers.
That I'm not a turkey. That
houses still cost more than cars.
That the space available for messages on T-shirts and bumpers is
limited. That liberated women whose
husbands take them for granted don't all scream at the same time. That snow covers the unraked
leaves. That hugs and kisses don't
add weight or cause cancer. That
record players and radios and TV sets and washers and mixers and lights can be
turned off. That no one can turn
off the moon and stars. -- Christianity Today (
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that thanksgiving begins IN the heart and that from this we comes the peace of God and the perspective of hope in prayer. What begins internally finds expression externally.
A. Focus 4:4a
1. So often Paul’s comments here are misunderstood in the same way people have misunderstood James words when he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” James 1:2
a. How can anyone either count it “pure joy in trials” or “rejoice always?”
b. Surely this is an impossible request in light of all the bad things in life!
2. It is NOT pure joy FOR the trials but for the fruit that comes from them if we respond correctly and it is NOT “rejoice IN EVERYTHING,” but “REJOICE IN THE LORD … always!”
a. We don’t rejoice IN the positive things or even rejoice IN SPITE of the negative things, it is that we “REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS” … an important focus issue!
b. Since the Lord is the constant in a changing universe our rejoicing can also be constant since He never changes.
c. It is possible therefore for a Christian to live in victory even when the world vanquishes them.
3. Peter discovered this when walking on the water during the storm; as long as his eyes were on Jesus he was ok, it was when his focus changed to the storm that he started sinking; and by the way, even with his eyes on Jesus the storm continued, just looking at Christ didn’t remove the storm only the panic!
4. We lose our focus way too much, even as Christians, the fact remains that most of the things we worry about anyway rarely come to pass!
ILLUS: Threatened layoffs at work. Drugs and weapons in the schools. We have every right to be fearful, right? Maybe not. In Scared to Life (Victor), Douglas Rumford cites a study that explains why we shouldn't allow fear to rule our lives:
-- 60% of our fears are totally unfounded;
-- 20% are already behind us;
-- 10% are so petty they don't make any difference;
-- 4-5% of the remaining 10% are real, but we can't do anything about them.
That means only 5% are real fears that we can do something about. -- Marriage Partnership, Vol. 12, no. 2.
B. Frequency 4:4b
1. Note that Paul states that we are to “REJOICE ALWAYS.”
a. Paul also repeats the phrase twice to insure that the listener gets the importance of the statement.
b. Papyrus sheets were expensive for writing; most writers of Paul’s day made their words few, to repeat something meant a strong emphasis was intended since this was using up precious space on their expensive writing materials.
2. This is much more therefore than just an encouragement, it is an emphasis for life.
a. The following statements won’t work unless one adopts the nature of rejoicing Paul is admonishing here, it will not be possible to be “gentle” (4:5) or to avoid anxiety” (4:6) or to have “peace” (4:7) if one has not learned to have a rejoicing framework in life, so Paul begins with rejoicing first as the foundational issue.
b. Focus and frequency play an important role in later actions!
ILLUS: Tom Friends of The New York Times asked coach Jimmy Johnson
what he told his players before leading the
"I told them that if I laid a two-by-four across the floor, everybody there would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that same board 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it, because the focus would be on falling."
Johnson told his players not to focus on the crowd, the media, or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game 52-7.
A Christian must not focus on what people think, but only on what is "excellent or praiseworthy" (Phil. 4:8). -- Steve Chandler in 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself. Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
II. PROPER PERSPECTIVE FOR REJOICING 4:5-6, 8
A. Framework 4:5-6
1. Paul says our “gentleness” should be evident to all because the Lord is near.
a. Word for “gentleness” here literally means “moderation” or “sweet reasonableness.” It means to not panic but keep steady knowing Christ is either nearby or near to coming again.
b. Rejoicing as an attitude of heart can help keep us steady and moderate in our reactions.
c. This “moderation” should be evident to all as PROOF of both God and our perspective firmly rooted in God.
2. If rejoicing is our framework balance will show in our life thus giving evidence of God’s presence.
ILLUS: If Christians praised God more, the world would doubt Him less. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
3. We are commanded not to be “anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition WITH THANKSGIVING, to present our requests to God” (4:6)
a. Even our prayer requests are to be framed in the context of thanksgiving.
b. It is not proper to make requests to God outside the context of thanksgiving! This is meant to be the framework of our prayer life!
c. Why? Because asking in the context of thanksgiving helps us to panic less, have faith more, and to stay “moderate” or balanced. It also keeps us God oriented.
ILLUS: If you are not thankful for what you got, it is doubtful if you'll be thankful for what you will get. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
4. Rejoicing and thankfulness create the proper kind of framework for faith to operate correctly in our lives and to keep our lives in proper spiritual balance.
a. And it is the spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts that makes REJOICING possible.
b. Rejoicing is the byproduct of being thankful.
c. Thankful people are happy people … and are healthy people in every way.
B. Fixation 4:8
1. Paul now explains how to create this attitude of gratitude in this verse.
a. We are to become fixated on the right kind of things if we want this attitude of gratitude to find expression in our hearts and minds.
b. We do have a responsibility to develop this thankful spirit by what we let into our spirit and mind.
2. We are to focus our lives on the positive things of life, even when terrible things are happening around us, Paul says to “THINK on those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable, if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, to THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS”!
a. It is not so much what happens to us in life that matters most, but how we choose to respond to what happens to us.
b. Sometimes the smallest positive thing can save us mentally and spiritually.
ILLUS: Out of the history of Napoleonic France, Leonard Griffith has given us a moving story of a political prisoner by the name of Charnet. Charnet was thrown into prison simply because he had accidentally, by a remark, offended the emperor Napoleon. Cast into a dungeon cell, presumably left to die, as the days and weeks and months passed by, Charnet became embittered at his fate. Slowly but surely he began to lose his faith in God. And one day, in a moment of rebellious anger, he scratched on the wall of his cell, "All things come by chance," which reflected the injustice that had come his way by chance. He sat in the darkness of that cell growing more bitter by the day.
There was one spot in the cell where a single ray of sunlight came every day and remained for a little while. And one morning, to his absolute amazement, he noticed that in the hard, earthen floor of that cell a tiny, green blade was breaking through. It was something living, struggling up toward that shaft of sunlight. It was his only living companion, and his heart went out in joy toward it. He nurtured it with his tiny ration of water, cultivated it, and encouraged its growth. That green blade became his friend. It became his teacher in a sense, and finally it burst through until one day there bloomed from the little plant a beautiful, purple and white flower. Once again Charnet found himself thinking thoughts about God. He scratched off the thing he had scribbled on the wall of his dungeon and in its place wrote, "He who made all things is God."
Somehow through the guards and their wives and the gossip of the community, this little story reached the ears of Josephine, Napoleon's wife. She was so moved by it and so convinced that a man who loved a flower that way could not possibly be a dangerous criminal that she persuaded Napoleon to release him. So Charnet was set free. You can be sure that he dug out his precious little prison flower and took it with him and cultivated that plant in the years to come. He also pondered in his heart a verse that he put on the little flower pot holding the plant. What would that verse be? "If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" -- David A. Seamands, "Instruction for Thanksgiving," Preaching Today, Tape No. 62.
3. Paul is not admonishing here the occasional positive bent, but more a constant or fixated positive feeding of one’s soul and mind.
a. This will establish our perspective in life and therefore our personality.
b. We can choose to change the bent of our heart and mind by focusing and feeding our souls the right kind of things.
III. PROPER PEACE FOR RELIEF 4:7, 9
A. Freedom 4:7
1. Now we come to the FRUIT of the proper response of rejoicing and the proper perspective … PEACE, and not just the kind of peace the world can offer which is the lack of external conflicts, it is the kind of peace that is internal even in the midst of conflicts!
a. There is a freedom in the soul of those who have learned the secrets of thanksgiving and rejoicing even in the midst of external bondages.
b. Too many people waste all the emotional energy trying to get rid of external conflicts only to discover that it is either impossible or unending.
c. It is far more important to be at peace internally than to have peace externally.
2. When real inner peace exists there will be a more balanced response to external trials.
ILLUS: I saw a Peanuts cartoon with Lucy saying to Charlie Brown, "I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!" Charlie says, "But I thought you had inner peace." Lucy replies, "I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness" (from Barbara Brokhoff, New and Improved Jesus? C.S.S., 1991, p. 53). -- W. Frank Harrington, "When You Really Want to Quit," Preaching Today, Tape No. 138.
a. God’s kind of peace will act as a “SENTRY” to our hearts and minds … to guard them against damage.
b. This is the meaning of the Greek word translated here “GUARD,” it is a military term meaning a “sentry that stands his post as guard.”
3. In this sense God’s peace is not just an end product of thanksgiving and rejoicing it is actually a guard against the mind and soul from being exhausted.
a. It is peace that can even pass all understanding!
b. Simply stated, it is a peace that sometimes doesn’t seem to fit the external situation all the time.
4. God’s peace therefore gives us the freedom to continue to act in thankful ways even while we yet struggle against life’s trials.
B. Favor 4:9
1. Notice how Paul winds this all up, he asks them to take all his teaching about rejoicing and thanksgiving; combine this with his example, (remember, he is writing this epistle from prison yet his theme is “JOY!”) and then “PUT IT INTO PRACTICE!”
a. Theory and theology are fine but only if they result in action!
b. Paul tells them in closing here that if they “PUT IT INTO PRACTICE then the God of peace will be with them.”
2. Too often we want the PEACE first and then we will be thankful, but this isn’t the way it works biblically, we are first thankful and rejoicing and then we get peace!
3. If we changed the way we practice our life to reflect the teachings of Paul we would find a much more fulfilling spiritual dynamic that even the world would envy!
ILLUS: Our church has a custom that people celebrating birthdays come to the front of the auditorium. There they give an offering in thankfulness for life, while the congregation sings "Happy Birthday." -- Anita Heistand, Galena, Kans. Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
4. All of this is not the same as “positive thinking,” it is “positive living” that is being advocated.
a. Positive thinking denies the negative.
b. Positive living conquers the negative.
5. There is real peace for thank givers and those who rejoice!
6. Make thanksgiving a heart condition, not just a holiday celebration!
CONCLUSION: Thanksgiving is much more than a holiday celebration; it is more a heart condition! It is more than a celebration of food; it is the celebration of faith! We must learn to come to God with a grateful heart even when we come with prayer requests so that our faith is balanced and positive. God always responds to a thankful heart!