Part Nine – Philippians 4:4-9
Longing for Real Joy in Real Life
“This planet has…a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches….”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Weltschmerz: German for “world pain”. It describes a world-weariness felt from a perceived mismatch between the ideal image of how the world should be with how it really is.
Joy and (the lack of) Meaning
“Even if you produce a great work of literature which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down and collapse and all traces of your effort will vanish…The problem is that although there are justifications for most things big and small that we do within life, none of these explanations explain the point of your life as a whole….It wouldn’t matter if you had never existed. And after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.”
– Atheist Philosopher, Thomas Nagel
“When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the later [Christian morality] is absolutely not self-evident: one must make this point clear again and again…Christianity [and its values of egalitarian benevolence and compassion…] possess truth only if God is truth – it stands or falls on belief in God.”
– Atheist Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche
Made for Joy
We evaluate what is virtuous based on a certain “story” we believe to be true:
- The secular story: There is no real meaning to life, nor any objective basis to call anything right or wrong. Just ‘created meaning’ and preferences.
- The empire story: A certain nation or religious group has a right to rule. The Roman Empire thrived on the idea that only through the Pax Romana, the so-called “peace of Rome” (a peace that just happened to come with the sword of conquest) would the world know “peace”. This oppressive, militaristic story has been re-lived throughout history.
- The consumerist story: personal “happiness” is the truth. The way to happiness is to be more, and to do this you must have more, be more attractive, be noticed by others, and be seen as successful in your work.
- The Christian story: God made us out of joy and for joyful relationship with God, others, our own selves, and all of creation. And out of deep love and concern for us, God comes in the person of Jesus to remake our hearts – buy us back from our own, chosen self-centredness and sin. It is by sheer grace – God’s gift, given through Jesus – that we can be forgiven, remade, and sent out with a new way of living into the world. This new way is one that recognizes and values all people, and seeks justice and fairness in the world. It is based on the claim that Jesus is God, and through trust in him – his life, death and resurrection in real history – we are set right with God.
Living with Real Joy in Real Life
- “Rejoice!” Real joy is possible because we have real hope – hope that God is remaking our hearts now, and will finally accomplish his renewal of the world in the life to come.
Joy can never be found directly. It is always a byproduct of living for the sake of God and others.
“Joy is simply one of the consequences of being open to that which is beyond one’s self. To pursue joy for its own sake, in order to take delight in one’s own delight, is to ignore this crucial “other-directedness” of joy.”
– Philip Kenneson
- Because the Lord is Near, We Can Live Without Fear
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
- The God of Peace Is With You
“When we are trusting in Jesus, we can go into a potentially deadly situation with a sort of peace that is from outside ourselves. We aren’t alone. God is with us. We know our destiny. I can’t imagine trying to do this job without that peace.”
– Member of the Kamloops RCMP
Real Joy in Real Life: Life Group Study
Philippians is a joy-filled letter. But we shouldn’t miss the fact that Paul is writing it from…prison, not totally sure he will even live after his trial. Paul is being mistreated for the sake of the Messiah, and yet he is “rejoicing”.
What is the cause of most ‘rejoicing’ in our culture today? How do you think that might differ from what Paul is speaking about in the letter to the Philippians?
- Read Philippians 4:4-5. Here Paul urges the to: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He then repeats with: “I say again, rejoice!”. Who is the source and object of rejoicing here in v.4? Why does that matter?
- What command and what promise arise in verse 5?
- Read v. 5-7. The Christians of Philippi were suffering because of their commitment to Jesus and to telling others about him. How do you think the promise that “the Lord is near” leads into what Paul says next about prayer in vv.6-7?
- How does the call to pray, as Paul outlines in 5-7, help us to respond with “joy” to the various difficult situations we find ourselves in?
- The Stoic philosophers also pursued freedom from anxiety, but in their view this could only come from self-mastery – a simplistic indifference to the ups and downs of life in the form of ‘detachment’. How does the view Paul offers differ from that of the Stoics in this verse? (See also 4:10-13, esp. 13).
- What threatens to make you anxious? How does this section encourage you?
- Paul has emphasized the need for the Philippian church to “think” well and to develop a moral/practical reasoning that is based on the pattern of Jesus himself (cf. 1:9-11; 2:1-11). Look at how he continues to encourage this church to “think” as you read verse 8. According to verse 8, what does God want us to do with our minds?
- In the Greco-Roman world, virtue lists like we find in 4:8 were common, and this list of “virtues” would have been seen as essentially good among the broader culture. Paul could be arguing that the church must at least live up to the standards of their neighbors in regards to these virtues, but he is likely calling for more than just living up to the status quo.
The virtues mentioned are not “self-interpreting” (not everyone in a society would ‘agree’ on what is or is not “good”). What the rest of the world calls “true, honorable, right, pure, pleasing and admirable,” might not actually be. Paul’s purpose is to recast the language of virtue in a distinctly Christian manner and to call the Philippian church to sustained discernment between what appears to be “morally excellent” and what actually is. The Greek word Paul uses in this section is logidzomai, and it can be translated as “think about” or “reason according to logical rules” or even “evaluate.” In this sense, Paul is calling for the church to discern what is actually good and true based on the good news of Jesus.
- What things are called “good” in our society, which you believe are in fact not “good,” according the teachings of Scripture as you understand it?
- The whole world needs to know the saving, healing news of Jesus. How might our practice of this discernment, and living in light of it, enable the us to live as “distinct from the world for the sake of the world”?
- Ask yourself: In what ways might I need to re-focus my mind, to give my attention again to things that are worthwhile? To discern from what only “seems” good in our world, to what is actually good? What might change in my life if I did? How might having models of Christian living help in that regard (v.9)?
Prayer: Take time to rejoice in the Lord – to thank him for the ways he’s at work in your life and the world around you. Ask him to give you “eyes to see” what he’s up to so that you can respond. Take time to ask God to help you focus on serving and loving others – on having a Christ-shaped mindset…a pattern of thinking, feeling and acting is modeled after Jesus.