Fourth Sunday in Advent: Philippians 4:4-7

Paul encourages the congregation at Philippi to push onward “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  Through such an exhortation, he points them toward Christ and shows them a manner of life “worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).  The call toward holiness is never abstract, as if it was empty or formulaic.  Rather, holiness expresses itself in particulars and demonstrates its genuineness through its actions.

This is why Paul also calls for them to imitate his example (Philippians 3:17).  Like a father with his children, Paul shows them the way of Christ through his actions as well, something which his opponents did not do.  “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).  “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).  The one who seeks his own glory does not preach a living holiness, but merely empty, earthly words.  You shall know them by their fruits.

The epistle reading for the Fourth Sunday in Advent comes in the midst of Paul’s final exhortations.  The command to “rejoice in the Lord” is not empty, as if Paul was telling someone to “be happy.”  Joy in the Lord stems from the knowledge that His redemption is at hand.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31-33).

The word translated “reasonableness” in Philippians 4:5 is the same word as 1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 3:2, James 3:17, and 1 Peter 2:18, translated “gentle.”  It seems to be rooted in a kind of moderation, not given to extremes on either end.  While the word could also mean “gentleness” in Philippians, the underlying notion is plainly a fruit of the Spirit and not a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-24).

Anxiety stems from uncertainty, quite at odds with knowing that the Lord is at hand.  A Christian being anxious about the future suggests that the Lord is not in control of all things!  This is why Christ also tells us to not be anxious.  “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  However, it is worth noting that this is not the same as “don’t worry, be happy,” or however the expression may be worded.  Too often that worldly exhortation includes the implicit or explicit lasses faire:  let it go and don’t sweat the small stuff.  A Christian is not exhorted to ignore life’s little troubles for the sake of mental health.  Rather, the future belongs to God, and therefore the end is certain.  Don’t worry, be happy falls flat in the face of real trouble; rejoicing in the Lord means real contentment in whatever situation.  “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).