Thursday, February 14, 2008

Philippians 4

Philippians 4:1: This verse completes the end of the previous chapter. Before commenting on it, let me cite a supporting statement for a comment from chapter 3. There I said that both Christianity and Buddhism claim that desire run rampant is a new form of bondage. Like a hunted hare you run, the pursuer of desire pursued, harried from life to life (The Dhammapada). Because we are on a transformational journey, Paul encourages the Philippian Christians, for whom he declares deep affection, to stand firm in the Jesus way.

Philippians 4:2-3: Paul addresses a conflict between two women leaders of this congregation – Euodia and Syntyche. He asks them to be on the same mind, that is, be headed in the same direction in their leadership of this community.

Philippians 4:4-9: Paul is wrapping up his letter, and does so by offering some wonderfully phrased words of encouragement and direction. He invites them to be people of joy. An Orthodox Archbishop once said, “God will forgive us everything except our lack of joy.” Religious philosopher, Houston Smith, argues that one of the attractive characteristics of the early church was the joy they experienced and shared. “Paul urges the church not to be victimized by its problems within and without” (People’s New Testament Commentary). Joy is an important characteristic of the Christian spiritual life and the Christian community. Gentleness is also important, and Paul encourages them to let that be widely known. Gentleness connotes hospitality, forgiveness, seeking to avoid harm. Add to joy and gentleness an encouragement to set anxiety aside. Instead of anxious worry, Paul encourages prayer. Prayer is not a magic elixir that will eliminate all anxiety, but it often slows us down enough not to be overwhelmed by our anxiety. Putting our worries in a larger perspective, the perspective of our relationship to God, can also lessen our anxiety. More than simply minimizing anxiety, Paul trusts that prayer contributes to peace, a peace that comes from God and surrounds our hearts and minds. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray…. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (The Message).

Paul not only encourages prayer, but a kind of meditation – focusing on the good and true and beautiful (see his list, which he borrowed, in part from Greek moralists). Furthermore he encourages a prayerful life, following his own example. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (The Message). How might our lives be different if we practiced some of the things suggested in these verses – joy, gentleness, prayer more than giving in to anxiety, meditating on the true, good, and beautiful?

Philippians 4:10-20: Paul is grateful for a gift received from the Philippians. However, he also wants to assure them that his faith has helped him to be content in a wide variety of circumstances. This is the opposite of desire run amok. The power for such contentment comes from the Spirit who strengthens. Again, this might be a powerful antidote for a rampant consumerism which sometimes threatens to consume us. Paul continues to express gratitude for the gifts received, noting that giving also benefits those who give.

Philippians 4:21-23: The letter ends with some typical good wishes, and words of encouragement, ending with a desire for grace in their lives.

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