Sermon on Philippians 4:4-7
3rd Sunday of Advent
Produce the Fruits of Peace
Text: Philippians 4:4-7
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! . . . Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace . . . Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all you nations rise . . .”
Joy? Peace? Says who? Maybe when Jesus was around. Maybe on that night he was born. But not now. It doesn’t matter how many chestnuts are roasting on the open fire. It doesn’t matter how loud the pa rum pum pum pum of the little drummer boy is. It doesn’t matter how well Bing Crosby sang the classics. Joy to the world? Peace on earth? Not now!
There is a lot of pain and hurt in this room right now. Our church family, and our extended church family, is hurting. Some are finding themselves so upside down on their homes that they couldn’t even dream of refinancing. In fact, some might lose their home while others already have. There are some who have worked hard—real hard—and labored their entire lives, yet because of this economy and other circumstances are left with almost nothing. Some worry about paying bills, others about having food.
There are some here today who have just had horrible family problems, the kinds of problems that leave nothing but tears and sorrow—the kinds of family strife and situations that would tear at your heart if you knew what I do. There are some here today with serious health problems, and some who worry about death—theirs or a loved one’s. There are some who are having real worries and doubts—the kinds of worries that make you wonder if it is really worth it, the kinds of doubts that wonder if God really cares. There are economic crises, family crises, faith crises. There is a lot of pain and hurt in this room, and it breaks my heart to know it.
And now we have to prepare for Christmas? For many it may seem like just a sham—putting on fake smiles and singing songs about joy and peace when on the inside there is anything but. Is it even possible to have joy and peace this year on this Christmas?
YES! So declares God’s inspired apostle named Paul. Look again very carefully at the words he writes to the Philippians in chapter four, beginning at verse four: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” It wouldn’t be such a difficult sentence to swallow if it wasn’t for that one word always.
It’s easy to rejoice in the Lord sometimes. Maybe on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we do rejoice in the Lord and marvel at his birth. Maybe on Easter we do rejoice in the Lord and glorify him for his death and resurrection. And it’s easy to rejoice in the Lord when your life is just as happy and calm as can be.
But he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the Lord when things go well.” Paul had to go and add the word always. Rejoice in the Lord when you have cancer. Rejoice in the Lord when you are persecuted for your faith. Rejoice in the Lord when your house is foreclosed. Rejoice in the Lord when your family isn’t feeling so much like a family. Rejoice in the Lord always.
It’s harder to swallow than that. Paul uses a verb form that in English we call an imperative. Not, “We really should rejoice in the Lord,” or “It would be nice if we rejoice in the Lord,” or “Try to rejoice in the Lord.” An imperative is a command. “Do it.” What is the command? “Rejoice.” It’s so important he even says it twice, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
But how do you have joy when there are problems? How do you have joy when there is sorrow? How do you have joy when there is guilt? How do you rejoice in the Lord when it doesn’t really seem like the Lord is helping much at all?
Maybe that’s where we sinful and imperfect humans get stuck sometimes. We have heartaches and headaches, we have toils and troubles, and then we get lost. We’re not sure where to turn. We’re not sure what to do. We’re not sure if it will ever get better. I guess that shows how sinful and imperfect we really are—that we could forget something that ought to be so obvious.
So Paul reminds us and has the answer. He reveals our source of joy. Look at the last verse in the paragraph, verse seven: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Perhaps those words sound familiar. I usually follow the conclusion of my sermon with those words of encouragement.
Here Paul introduces another difficult word to comprehend. The first was joy or rejoice. Now he mentions peace. How can there be peace when at any minute a terrorist might fly an airplane into the building I’m occupying, or blow himself up at the public event I’m attending? How can there be peace when 30,000 soldiers are going to the Middle East this year, not leaving it? How can there be peace if I have no money to enjoy peace? How can there be peace when it sure doesn’t feel like my family has anything close to peace? How can there be peace when I hurt so much on the inside?
But friends, this is a different peace. This isn’t flower-power hippy peace. This isn’t Miss America’s fake wish for the end of all wars. This isn’t Dave Ramsey’s financial peace. And this isn’t peace in the family because you made it through one holiday meal without a fight. Look again. Look closely. This is the peace of God.
What is the peace of God? First of all, it’s a peace that transcends all understanding. Literally, it goes over and above anything that you or I could possibly fathom. It transcends all understanding.
You see, every single day I do things or I say things or I think things that I would be embarassed to share with you. Worse, every single day I do things that are utterly despicable in the eyes of God. He made this beautiful and marvelous world. He gave me life in the world and allows me to enjoy this world. He showers blessing after blessing on me. All he did was set up some guidelines for how I am to live. “Do these things. Don’t do these things.” Yet I couldn’t do it. I often know full well the things I should be doing. But then I just don’t do them. And I often know full well the things I shouldn’t be doing, but I do them anyway. I’m a pathetic sinner.
But I’m more pathetic than that. When I have hurt, when I have pain, when I get sad and down in the dumps, then I begin to doubt. I become filled with anxiety. I worry. I wonder if God is really helping, if he really has a plan, if he really cares. So I push him away. I avoid him. I don’t read his Word. He’s not helping me, so why should I turn to him? As if I know better than God! As if I’m the one who simply spoke and created the universe in six days! The apostle Paul tried to claim the title of “Chief of Sinners.” Well move over, Paul, there’s a new Chief in town!
I know I’m not alone. The world is filled with sinners like I. God could have, and perhaps should have, blasted this universe into oblivion. It’s a world filled with disobedient and defiant sinners. But God, who does know all things and who does have all power did something that transcends all understanding. He died.
There’s more to it than that. Try to comprehend this—God was born of woman and took on human flesh to become one of us. Now Jesus is at the same time both God and man. Try to fathom this—for all the laws and commands that we miserably break, there is one who didn’t sin even once. The God-Man Jesus Christ is our perfect substitute. Try to squeeze this into the puny human brain—Jesus Christ, God of the universe, hung from a cross, bled, and died. He died for those who disobey him. He died for those who doubt him. He died for those that worry. He died for those that suffer and have sorrow.
As he did so, he felt and carried your burden—your guilt, your doubt and anxiety, your arguments and your fights—all of your sin he carried himself. He lived and died for us because we couldn’t, and so that we wouldn’t. Through this work he conquered sin and death, he crushed Satan. And by this work he brought us peace.
I know there is a lot of pain in this room. I know there is a lot of hurt in this room. I know there is a lot of guilt in this room. But friends, you do have peace. You have a loving Savior who died in your stead. You have forgiveness freely and fully given. You have the sure and certain hope of eternal life. This is not the world’s peace. This is God’s peace, and it’s a peace that transcends all understanding.
Interestingly, the ancient city of Philippi was very much a military city. Many retired Roman soldiers went to live in Philippi after their career. So Paul here uses a word that would sink home—guard. It was a word used when someone was protected (or imprisoned) by a garrision of soldiers. And the Roman army being the best in history to that point, they knew about keeping something safe and secure. Now listen to that word in context: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Foreclosure? Fine. Family strife? Ok. Disease or death? Alright. Come what may. It won’t change the fact that God loves us. It won’t change the fact that we have peace. It won’t change the fact that God’s peace will guard us and be with us in everything that we suffer and endure
So Produce the Fruits of Peace. Today, you heard John the Baptist scold that “brood of vipers,” the Pharisees. They thought they were safe at the coming of the Lord because of their race—Jews who were “the children of Abraham.” They thought they didn’t need Jesus, almost that they didn’t need God, because they were so good and upright. That’s why John called them a brood of vipers and said that the ax was ready to cut their fruitless tress down.
But we are different. By God’s grace, we have what the Pharisees didn’t. We have peace. For we know that we need Jesus. We know that he is our Savior. We know that he has given us forgiveness and salvation. Therefore, not only are we different than the Pharisees, but we now can act differently than the Pharisees. We can Produce the Fruits of Peace. What are they? Paul tells us in these words here today.
The first fruit of our peace is that we are able rejoice in the Lord always. In every situation—good or bad—we can be joyful in the Lord who saved us. Next, in verse five, Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” A fruit of God’s peace in us is that we don’t need to get all riled up by certain situations. We don’t need to get fired up, angry, upset, disturbed, troubled, or anything like that. We can be gentle and calm, because we have peace—because none of these wordly things matter in the long run for, as Paul says, “The Lord is near.” Why worry about the trifles of today when soon enough Jesus will come back to take us to heaven?
There’s another fruit in verse six, “Do not be anxious about anything.” In much the same way, there is no need to worry and no reason to doubt. We do not need to be anxious about anything. If God could carry out so grand a plan as our salvation through Jesus, surely he can accomplish his plan for our lives—a plan that he promises is for our good. Do not be anxious, for you have peace.
Finally, the last fruit of our peace that Paul mentions is at the end of verse six: “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” No matter what happens, no matter what may come our way we can bring our prayers and petitions to God who hears our prayers. And in all things in our lives, we can be thankful, because we have peace.
This world might be in shambles. Houses might be foreclosing. Families might be falling apart. Guilt and worries and doubts might assail us. But what a blessing that we can gather together as a family of believers to encourage one another! Better yet, what a blessing that we have peace. Not worldly peace. Not tempory peace. We have God’s peace. No matter what pain or problem, strain or sorrow, we still have forgiveness. Jesus is still our Savior. He’s still coming back. We’re still going to heaven. That is peace. And that “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”