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Philippians 4:4 – 23
So many people think of Philippians as the book about “joy” and although that is true to some degree, I believe that we, as a class, discovered many other gems and truths that pervade this book.

However, finally, we come to the key “joy” verses, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” rejoicing_sheep(vs 4:4) I asked the group, what exactly Paul is asking them to do? We talked about it’s source (from within), about lifting up one’s soul to the Lord, about being focused on what we want [which discovered earlier is Christ, for to live IS Christ], and we discussed that it’s a command. BUT, one can’t fabricate joy. It is an authentic expression of Christ within. The choice comes in our seeking Christ and the joy is the result. One reminder is that we cannot judge what joy will look like. Let us not only look with the lenses of our own experience.

In the end, I would say that most people are actually looking for joy in their lives. And much like the old adage that unbelievers have a Jesus-sized hole in their hearts, this is same for joy. Everything else is a weak substitute to having Christ within.

gentle_deerGentleness goes hand in hand with joy and undoubtedly because the Greek word for gentleness, epiekes, means a humble steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all.” So, gentleness is another way of speaking about humility. And doesn’t it make sense that humility and joy would be linked?

It is interesting to me that Paul adds the phrase, “The Lord is near,” after calling for gentleness to be evidenced along with the joy. We cannot know for sure, is it time, as in the Lord is coming soon or is it proximity, that as joy, gentleness and lack of anxiety, make us mindful of the Lord’s presence.

Moving on to verse 7, if we pay with thanksgiving, God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. How does this giving_thankshappen? I believe that thanksgiving implies trust. If we are giving thanks, we are trusting God to hear our prayer and answer it. Thanksgiving should simply “go along with the territory” of prayer. And lastly, as we pray with thanksgiving, allow God’s peace to guard our minds, we can begin to change the way to think about our world, our community, our relationships, ourselves. Here is another opportunity for choice: where will we put our minds?

beautiful_mountainIt’s very difficult to simply “block” anxious thoughts… we literally have to discipline our mind to consider other things. Paul gives us a list: things that are noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I challenged the group to really think about what these things would actually be. What is noble? Who is noble? What is pure? etc. In other words, these words are descriptions of persons, places, and things whose description (character or appearance) line up with these words.

prayerSo, there are several reasons for not disciplining the mind in this way (here are three): 1) we find this type of thinking unfamiliar and therefore we choose the things we normally choose (not always good); 2) it is difficult to change; and 3) we are not committed to the process. In order to begin this change process, there are a number of practices like Bible reading, Christian reading, memorization, prayer, prayer partner, conversations with like-minded people, and worship, to name a few.

In the end, I started this study with the idea that I wanted to learn more about contentment. How did Paul contentmentsucceed, as he says in verses 11-12, to “…be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” For Paul, this discovery was a type of epiphany… he suddenly “got it.” I believe I have had my own epiphany through the study of Philippians. For, just as joy is a by-product of following the path laid out in this book, so is contentment. If we pray, seek to know Christ in His fullness, come to Him in humility, follow Christ’s example, be steadfast in the race, and share ourselves in koinonia with other believers, then contentment will come. It is from within and is in direct ratio to our trust, despite the external circumstances.

Why are the poor of the West so discontent? They see what they cannot have everywhere, particularly through the media. They believe these “things” will make them happy. But even those who get the material things of life (like lottery winners) will often lose it all in a very short period of time. We can all fall into this mindset very easily unless we keep ourselves focused on God.

harvestAnd lastly, we plowed through the last few verses that basically articulate the “sowing & reaping” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 10-11) for we are promised if we give, we will receive. In the case of the Philippians, they gave financially and Paul promises they will have a spiritual return. But of course, the gifts must be given with a right motive (remember Cain and Abel).

In the last few minutes, we shared a little of what was significant about this study for the participants. It is holy_spiritmy prayer that each person will ponder the book further and as verses from this book come up in the future, and to remember our conversations. There is power in sharing the Word of God.

Now, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13).

As God leads, perhaps I will do a “virtual” Bible study and post some thoughts here on this blog. I will also be prayerfully asking the Lord to reveal whether I should lead another study in the Fall. In the meantime, it is my intent to continue to post to my other blogs, Meditations from Zion (daily devotions), and Refiner’s Fire — Emerging Heart (my personal journey of faith and challenges).