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Walking with God into 2018

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Philippians 4:1–9 ESV
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
As Paul comes to the end of his letter to the Philippians, he wants them to see a bright future, filled with God’s peace that passes all understanding.
And wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of peace? Not just peace with others and peace in the world, but that kind of inner peace that quiets all of our worries and anxieties as we rest in God for the future.
The first nine verses of Philippians 4 deal with six topics that might be called “Holy Habits.” Through the centuries, Christians have seen the importance of “practicing” Christianity. Of cultivating habits of holiness (things like prayer, fasting, meditation, service, submission, solitude, confession, celebration, worship) that strengthen their faith and develop “muscle memory” of Christianity in action.
As we stand at the front edge of 2018, we can know that Christ is with us and start cultivating holy habits.
v. 5 - The Lord is at hand!
v. 9 - The God of peace will be with you!

1. Stand Firm

Philippians 4:1 ESV
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
The call to “stand firm” refers to a soldier staying faithfully at his post no matter what happens around him. Let the enemy attack as he will, the soldier’s orders are clear: Stand firm! This command was often repeated by the Apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 15:58, “Stand firm. Let nothing move you.”
1 Corinthians 16:13, “Stand firm in the faith.” Galatians 5:1, “Stand firm … and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Ephesians 6:11, “Take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:13, “Having done everything, to stand.”
Philippians 1:27, “Stand firm in one spirit.” Colossians 4:12, “Stand firm in all the will of God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”
Why this repeated emphasis on standing firm? I think Paul had a healthy respect for the devil’s attempts to discourage and distract the children of God. He knew that we would be sorely tempted to leave our post when the bullets of temptation start whizzing by our heads. So he repeats it again and again: Stand firm!
All of us are tempted to give up from time to time, to turn to the right or the left, or to slink away from problems and do something easier.
Stand firm! This is where a happy new year begins. Husbands, stand firm! Wives, stand firm! Parents, stand firm! Children, stand firm! Students, stand firm! Singles, stand firm! Whoever you are and whatever you are doing, if you don’t do anything else, do this: Stand firm!

2. Settle Your Differences

Philippians 4:2–3 ESV
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
(submission)
Paul next deals with a problem inside the Philippian church. It seems that two leading women couldn’t get along with each other. One was named “Euodia” (meaning “sweet smell") and the other was named “Syntyche” (meaning “friendly"). We don’t know much about these women or the precise nature of their dispute. They were evidently well-known leaders in the church who had a serious falling out. For whatever reason, “Sweet smell” and “Friendly” weren’t very sweet or very friendly to each other.
I wonder how these two women felt when they heard their names read in public. Two thousand years later they stand for all people who can’t get along.
Paul doesn’t give us very many details. We can’t tell from his words the background of the problem, and nothing he says lets us know who was right and who was wrong. Instead of taking sides, he simply exhorts these two Christian women to settle their differences.
We do know this much. Paul regards these women as genuine believers (their names are written in the Book of Life, v. 3). They are evidently personal friends of his who worked with him in founding the church at Philippi.
Instead of focusing on the causes, Paul exhorts these two women to “agree"—which literally means to come to one mind. It doesn’t mean seeing eye to eye on every detail; instead it indicates a personal choice to focus on the things that united them in Christ.
As we ponder this short section of Scripture, here are a few principles for handling our interpersonal problems:
Be willing to ask forgiveness
Look for opportunities to show kindness in small ways
Focus on what unites us instead of what divides us
Pray for the success of the other person
Ask God to remove bitterness from your heart
Ask a friend to hold you accountable in this area
So consider the state of your relationships. Don’t enter 2018 without making a sincere effort to settle your disagreements. If you can’t settle them completely, you can at least make an effort in that direction.

3. Resolve to Rejoice

Philippians 4:4 ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
(celebration / worship)
Paul’s third command is quite simple: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). Though short, this command may be the most difficult one to obey consistently.
Note that the command to rejoice is the only one that is repeated. Why is that? I think it’s because we tend to forget this one in the midst of dealing with difficult people and the upsetting problems of life. When Paul says, “Rejoice always,” he’s not talking about giddiness or a positive mental attitude. This is not “put on a happy face” or “look for the silver lining.” The rejoicing he has in mind is not based on outward circumstances. That’s crucial because very often our circumstances are quite depressing. Where was Paul when he wrote these words? In a Roman prison chained to Roman guards 24 hours a day. He was on trial for his life with no certain hope of release. I take it that Paul didn’t “enjoy” being in prison but he found reasons to rejoice even in that difficult circumstance.
May I give you a bit of homework as a practical way to apply this message? Sometime over the next couple of days, take a sheet of paper and write at the top Reasons to Rejoice Today. Then give yourself five or ten minutes and list as many reasons as you can think of to rejoice in the Lord. I did that recently and here’s the list I came up with in about five minutes:
We live in a beautiful place
We have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat
My sins are forgiven; I have a Savior
A wife who loves me
A wonderful son
We’re all in good health
Enough money to pay our bills
I have a new immersion blender and Star Trek pajamas
I have good books to read
Many answered prayers
People who pray for me
Exciting plans for 2018
New year means a new start

4. Ask God for a Gentle Spirit

Philippians 4:5 ESV
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
Greek scholars tell us that the word translated here as “gentleness” is a hard one to precisely translate into English. Other possibilities include “reasonableness,” “forbearance,” “mildness,” and “fair-mindedness.” One writer calls it the quality of “inner calmness.” Listen to the way Eugene Peterson (The Message) translates this verse: “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.”
This quality of “inner calmness” is especially needed in two situations: 1) When you are dealing with someone who is driving you nuts, and 2) When you feel yourself about to blow your top. In that moment—when you feel a little hot under the collar and you know that very soon you will say or do something you will regret later—you need to ask God for a gentle spirit.
This “inner calmness” should be seen by all who know us. Often the holidays bring out the very opposite. Many of us have endured some painful moments as our family and friends gathered to celebrate Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in taking sides in family disputes or vigorously defending our own political opinions. And that can be the opposite of “gentleness.”
Here’s a simple question: Would the people who know you best consider you a gentle person? Or to make the question harder: Would the people you like least consider you a gentle person? That’s the real test. Anyone can be gentle around nice people, but only the spirit of Jesus can enable you to respond gently to people who mistreat you.
v. 5 - “The Lord is at hand.”

5. Pray about Everything

Philippians 4:6–7 ESV
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(prayer)
This famous passage begins with the phrase “Do not be anxious about anything.” Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry about anything. To which I respond, You gotta be kidding!
But it’s very good advice. Did you know that most of the time you spend worrying is basically wasted emotional energy? Some years ago Dr. Walter Calvert, funded by the National Science Foundation, studied the things people worry about. His research yielded the following results: 40% never happen, 30% concern the past, 12% are needless worries about health, and 10% are about petty issues. Only 8% are legitimate concerns. That means that 92% of your “worry time” is wasted energy.
Worry is stewing without doing. Worry is wrong because it assumes that God can’t take care of you. He promised to care for you, but when you worry, you are saying, “Lord, I don’t believe you can take care of me so I’m going to think about all of the worst things that could happen.”
As we enter the new year, we all have our own concerns that trouble us. It may be health issues, or financial pressures, or a big decision you need to make. It could be family problems or marital struggles or issues at school or on the job. But do you know for certain what will happen this year? The answer of course is no. Can your worrying about the future change the course of events? No. Then why bother worrying at all? Worrying about the past or the future only robs the joy from the present.
Paul has three pieces of advice for worriers:
A. Pray about everything—"in everything by prayer” B. Pray with thanksgiving—"with thanksgiving” C. Pray with expectation—"present your requests to God”
Here’s Paul’s little trick, if you do have an anxious spirit. You can turn that worrying into prayer. If you’ve had time to worry about something, you’ve had time to pray about it.
When you put your worries into the hands of Jesus, you can have that peace which passes all understanding, knowing that God is Good. He is powerful. He is loving. He is strong.

6. Think Holy Thoughts

Philippians 4:8–9 ESV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(meditation)
Our passage closes with an exhortation to think holy thoughts. Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? I probably have fewer than that, truth be told. That works out to 3.5 million thoughts a year. If you live to be 75, you will have over 260 million different thoughts. Already most of you have had over 2,000 separate thoughts since you got out of bed this morning. You’ll probably have another 8,000 before you hit the sack tonight. Then you’ll start all over again tomorrow.
The principle behind Paul’s words is simple: Sin always begins in the mind and so does holiness. When Paul says “think about such things,” the command is in the present tense: “Keep on thinking about these things.” Fill your mind with holy thoughts. Find what is true and think about it. Find the lovely and think about it. Find the virtuous and think about it.

Walking with God into 2018!

If you are a Christian, you have within you the power to obey every command in this passage. It’s all in Jesus. All virtue, all beauty, all holiness, all truth, all that is good and right is found in him. This is not some abstract philosophy, or a to-do list, but a call to a personal relationship.
“The lord is at hand.” “The God of peace will be with you.” Boldly into 2018.
My call is simple. Hold on to Jesus! Think about him! Rest in him! Live in him! When Jesus Christ reigns in your heart, you will …
Stand Firm
Settle Your Differences
Rejoice in the Lord Always
Have a Gentle Spirit
Pray About Everything
Think Holy Thoughts
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