A sermon in Philippians 4:6-20 for Thanksgiving, November 25/26, 2020.
If we listen to the news media and believe everything we read on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media post, we might feel like our reasons for rejoicing have been snuffed out. Debates rage on about the election results, although more and more of those arguments are starting to die down. Worries about the economy taking another nose dive cause investors and employees to fear for jobs. Numbers of COVID cases continue on a rapid rise. Hospitals have reached their breaking point in having room for patients. Many families had to change plans for Thanksgiving to keep loved ones safe. People feel isolated and alone. Fears of personal struggles grip so many people. What would you think, if I said, “Rejoice?” In a time when suffering and fear surround all, I say it again, “Rejoice!”
In times of difficulty rejoicing seems to the last thing on our mind. We focus so much on the bad that we fail to keep the big picture Christ paints in front of us to view. The devil plays to those fears. Worry and concern push out the peace and calm that should be in our hearts. We need to hear it once again, “Rejoice!”
Paul spoke this message to his dearly loved brothers and sisters in Philippi. They, just like us today, needed to hear these words. Paul encouraged the believers in this city to stand firm in the Lord. Despite all the hardships and troubles of this world, the Philippians needed to keep their eyes on Jesus. Paul appealed to two women to put aside their differences and reconcile with other to find joy in forgiveness. Even Paul himself wrote this letter under less than ideal circumstances. He sat in prison. Each passing day brought about the unknown. None of this dimmed the message Paul wanted to proclaim. Rejoice, dear Christians!
In a world where sin easily entangles, Paul wanted the people to find peace. Maybe many people thought Paul had lost his mind. Where would they find this peace? How would they find this peace? It could only come from one place, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). In the midst of earthly chaos Christ brought peace. At times when fear ruled, Christ brought peace.
This peace of God caused Paul to write these grand words of thanks to the Philippian congregation. This congregation showed Paul support by sending him a gift. This gift filled Paul’s heart with an overwhelming sense of contentment. However, all of this was only possible because of Paul’s contentment in Christ Jesus. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). No amount of material blessings would outweigh the spiritual strength Paul received from God.
Paul continually pointed the people back to Christ for all things. Throughout his life, Paul learned this lesson. When Paul felt like he was running on fumes, Christ filled him up again. Paul’s joy became overflowing when he recognized the strength Christ gave him in his weakness. It always came back to a deep peace Paul found in Christ.
The peace of God came about by the work of his Son. In Chapter 2 Paul spoke about what Christ did for him. Jesus humbled himself taking on the very nature of a servant. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. This all atoning sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross filled Paul with strength.
The peace of God that knows no understanding would certainly fill Paul’s heart with joy. The peace of God would guard Paul’s heart with the power of Christ. Paul wanted the congregation at Philippi to know that peace for themselves so they could rejoice.
We live in a world where sin and sinful actions so easily overwhelm. We cannot food ourselves into thinking that we will escape the devastating effects of sin. In our own life we battle demons. Addictions tear us down. The abuse of drugs and alcohol fill a void for a little bit, but when the high wears off, we crash down hard. Greed fills our hearts, so that we can never be thankful for the things God so richly gives to us. Our own insecurities leave us feeling inadequate. These feelings tear down relationships. Satan sits there with his hammer slowly, sometimes not so slowly, chipping away at our confidence. We feel so alone. We feel so ashamed.
However, fellow brothers and sisters, rejoice! Christ strengthens us to overcome all things. Christ’s peace, that peace that is so much greater than we can ever imagine, fills our hearts.
With this confidence, rejoice! Christ lived for you. Christ died for you! Christ rose for you! Christ loves you! Christ forgives you! Your hearts are filled with peace. Can you feel that peace pulsating through your veins? The worries can melt away. The fears can subside. The suffering will only be for a moment. Christ’s brings you calm.
This brings everything into focus for our life. Dear Christian, rejoice! The peace of God fills our hearts and minds. It guards us against all evil and malice the world might throw against us. Rejoice, dear Christian! The reasons for our rejoicing abound. We continue to rejoice for we know that our God will richly supply our needs.
Paul had learned to be thankful in times of want and times of success. “I know what it is to live in humble circumstances, and I know what it is to have more than enough. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, while being full or hungry, while having plenty or not enough” (Philippians 4:12). Paul found his contentment in Christ. Paul knew that no matter what would happen Christ would fully supply all his needs.
This does not mean Paul neglected the gift the Philippians sent to him. He was not angry with them for sending a gift. He did not scold them for sending an extravagant gift to him when others could have used the gift more. Paul rejoiced at the gift. “You Philippians know that in the beginning of your experience with the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you sent help more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:15-17). The Philippians developed a habit of sending Paul a gift. They wanted to help him.
Paul never demanded such a gift due to his Apostolic authority. Rather, Paul recognized where the reason for the gift came from, “Not that I am seeking a gift, but I am seeking the fruit that adds to your account. I have been paid in full, and I have more than enough. I am fully supplied since I’ve received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, a sweet-smelling fragrance, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:17-18). Paul penned this magnificent thank you to the congregation, because their faith prompted them to give. Paul saw the thanksgiving in their life causing them to share their wealth to help others.
We live in a time when people do not always write personal thank you cards for things they receive. It has become a lost art. A quick text with the letters “ty” suffices. A phone call with a hurried “thank you” leaves much to be desired. We cannot forget the importance of a simple “thank you”. I can remember multiple times receiving a thank you card in the mail. Those hand-written cards fill my heart with joy.
Why is it so hard to give thanks? The devil wants us to always have that feeling of not being content. If we are not content, will we be thankful? If we lose focus on the many blessings we receive, will we be thankful? The simple answer is no. We think we need more. We must have more in order to be happy. I want more.
Even our Thanksgiving celebration fails to find contentment in our blessings. We quickly turn our attention to the latest gadgets. We focus on Christmas hoping to receive more things, so that we can boast in what we have. We leave behind our thanks to focus on our wants.
When those thoughts come, we need to slow down. We can be content for our God richly supplies all our needs. We echo the words of Paul that we lack nothing. Our life consists of great blessings more than we can ever imagine. He opens his hands and so generously supplies all of our needs. For this we find contentment in Christ alone. We rejoice in him who alone supplies all of our needs, so that we can be thankful with what we have.
This attitude of contentment and thanks also means that we can be generous. The Philippians were not the richest congregation, so they decided for that reason to send Paul a gift. They gave their gift to Paul out of faith. They gave it out of thanks.
As we bring our gifts to our Lord, the exact same attitude fills our hearts. We rejoice that God allows us to bring our wealth in the form of our offerings. Sometimes excuses arise as to why we do not bring our offerings. I have other responsibilities to cover. Doctor bills. Car bills. Date nights with my spouse. Vacations. I do other things for the church, so I will let others give of their money. Do those sound like valid excuses? They put the focus on oneself and not on God.
A heart filled with faith brings about thanksgiving to God. A heart filled with contentment reflects a generous attitude. A trusting heart brings those gifts with no thought of harm or foul. Whether it means bringing food for a local food pantry, helping our neighbor, or bringing our firstfruits to God, our hearts rejoice at the opportunity to give. We see the riches God blesses us with. Our thanks follows in giving.
This year especially it might be easy for us to feel down during the Holiday season. It is not the same, and we cannot deny that. However, God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, allows us to lift our heads up high. He fills our heart with a calm that can never go away. He will continue to supply all of our needs. He knows what they are. His goodness allows us to truly live a life of thanksgiving. Is there any more doubt? Is there anything more to say? Just one thing. Rejoice, Dear Christian! Amen.