Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4: 4 – 9
Paul could have been writing these words for a time just as this. And, I suppose, he was. Writing to the small group of Christian in Philippi – in the area we now call Asia Minor – he was encouraging them to remember what was important to them when life started to get difficult. Written either during the 50’s or early 60’s AD when Christians were just tolerated by the Roman authorities and had very little protection against harassment. They weren’t persecuted at the time, as they would be later in the century, but they were still a vulnerable group, without the protection of either the Pagan temple guilds or the Jewish synagogues.
Paul himself was in prison when he wrote this letter and earlier in the letter it is clear that he was facing possible death. He wrote that he might be ‘poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith …’ He was facing the very real prospect of death and yet he wrote these wonderful words, from the heart. It is clear, not only from this letter but from other letters he wrote at a similar time, he could indeed rejoice in all things. In the letter to the Philippians he not only rejoiced that his death would mean that he would finally be with Christ, but also that his imprisonment meant that more and more people were hearing the good news.
How good are we at rejoicing when we are facing these challenging times? Are we able to follow Paul’s advice to ‘rejoice always’ and ‘not to worry, for the Lord is near’? It can be very difficult – particularly at this time when we are separated from family and friends. Even harder for those who don’t have computers or similar technology so can’t see the faces of loved one – but rely only on phone calls and letters. All of us miss the touch of loved ones – a hug at the right moment or just the clasp of a hand. We miss times in church or at the tea shop or similar ways of being with people. For some people it is a pain similar to bereavement.
It is then we need to return to the second part of the passage where Paul exhorts us to think on the true, pure, just and good things and to hold these things in our hearts and minds. God has given us so much that is wonderful and, if for a time some of these things have to be put aside, they are still overwhelming gifts from God and we need to rejoice in them. Paul reminds us not only to think on these good things but also to keep doing the things that are pleasing to God. We miss our families – then we give thanks for them and pray for them. We are frightened for the future as lock down is slowly released – then we pray for that future, giving thanks that God is ahead of us in whatever is going to happen and will not desert us. So I pray that the peace of God is with you – now and in the days ahead. And that you can go into our uncertain future, rejoicing in all that God has given you and holding in your thoughts all that is good. So, the peace of God be with you, those whom you love and those for whom you pray.