There are so many things I love about Bethany. One of them is the ministerial alliance. My colleagues are a great support and we work well together. We value one another’s ministry and see the benefit of ministering to the community working side by side, not competing with one another. There is a good hymn called, “They Will Know We Are Christians.” The last stanza goes, “We will work with each other. We will work side by side.” There is a great partnership among the churches and the pastors. Bethany residents know we are Christians as we work side by side. We are truly partners in mission.
The Apostle Paul practiced that same value of partnership in his ministry. He always had partners working with him. He was continually sending missionaries to the churches, because he knew he couldn’t be all things to all churches in all places. Such is the case in the church in Philipi. Paul sent two missionaries to be with them, Euodia and Syntyche. When Paul was writing to the church in Philippi, he exhorted the church to care for and be led by Euodia and Syntyche.
Paul’s encouragement of the two women was for the women to be of one mind in the Lord. Some Biblical commentators suggest that Paul’s encouragement of Euodia and Syntyche may have been for them to be reconciled after they had become estranged. However, more recent Biblical scholars, believe that encouragement by Paul was actually for Euodia and Syntyche to continue to be in agreement about the Lord.
Further, Paul encourages the Philippians church to support their ministry, because they had labored with Paul for the sake of the Gospel. That is to say that Euodia and Syntyche had been missionaries beside Paul and now Paul has sent them to the church in Philippi where they will labor for the Gospel. Paul ends this section of the text with thanks for their past support of his own ministry which is the same support he anticipates they will show Euodia and Syntyche.
The center of this Scripture is the encouragement Paul has for the church to stand firm in their faith. It’s an encouragement for us today. He says, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6). That sounds easy enough, right?
Poet W.H. Auden suggests we live in the Age of Anxiety in a poem he wrote of the same name. His poem was written in 1947 and is a six-part long poem set in a New York City bar. Auden writes about our anxiety as we seek “to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world.” I believe he would say that our level of anxiety as a society has only increased since the 1940s, even if he was writing as the world was recovering from World War II.
What is it that we are anxious about? The degradation of the environment, the threat of nuclear weapons, threats to privacy and family, drugs and substance abuse, pornography and sexual sin, violence against women and children, teen gangs, mass shootings, war and civil insurrection, human slavery and trafficking, and terrorism. Let’s not forget, hunger, housing, healthcare, and household finances.
We definitely have plenty to be anxious about. “It is [a] natural human tendency to be anxious.” Regardless of the circumstance that causes us anxiety, Paul urges us to be anxious about nothing.” His words express his thought that no situation is excluded from his exhortation not to worry.
Paul does not deny that we will have things to worry about. He knows life happens. He, himself, is writing to the Philippian church from jail. He doesn’t blame God for his challenges or say that God is testing or trying him. He doesn’t say life’s struggles are “God’s will or God’s judgment.” He doesn’t give attention to the Devil saying it is the will of evil that he suffers.
Paul says, “I have learned to… [be] content in any and every circumstance” (Phil 4: 12). Paul gives us the solution to anxiety – it is prayer. He says, “bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks” (Phil 4: 6). He is so certain that worry and prayer are related that he doesn’t place a period between his thoughts about anxiety and prayer. He includes the admonition not to worry and the call to prayer in the same sentence.
Prayer puts us in the right state of mind to face any and all circumstances with wisdom and courage that comes from the Lord. He says, “I can endure all these things through the power of the One who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). But, first, we must have the peace of Christ to calm us so we can rely on God to face uncertainty. “Paul tells us that the result of laying out our cares to God is that [Christ’s] peace, which is more wonderful than anyone can imagine, will stand guard over our hearts and minds.” Not worrying and, instead, praying is a sign of our utter reliance on God for justice and righteousness to rule our lives.
Prayer is an expression of our hope and trust in God. Hope is the part of our faith that spurs us to continue our journey with Christ. Hope is not optimism. The world is capable of optimism. Optimism is the thought that things will get better. The saying goes there is power in positive thinking. But, believers can be optimistic; Christians have hope. Hope is the belief that God’s will will transcend any and all things. It is believing that whatever joy or fear we have God has the power and glory.
We are not just to pray; we are to give thanks. There is a “connection between gratitude and happiness.” Expressing thanks frees our hearts to be happy and rejoice in the Lord. Paul always included in his letters a word of thanks for the church – it is the prayers he presents to God for the churches he writes to. It may have been social convention for a letter writer to include a word of thanksgiving; yet, each of this letters speaks a specific word of gratitude commending them for their faith.
“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Rom. 1:8).
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1:4-7).
“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5).
On Thursday, as you gather around the table with your friends and families, remember the Table that the Lord gathered around with His friends on the night He was to betrayed. Give thanks for the food you will share. Give thanks for the bread and wine Jesus shared with His friends and give thanks for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Christ Jesus.
I thank you, God, for the churches and pastors of Bethany that our faith is proclaimed through our partnership as a witness to the community of our service to Christ Jesus. We encourage one another as we gather together to share the Gospel and hear the words of promise in the Scriptures. The grace of the resurrection strengthens us that we know we can do all things through Him who is our strength. In the remaining days of this year, may the Gospel be proclaimed through our words and actions. May the un-churched and unbelievers of Bethany have hearts open to hearing the faith that on Christmas day they will know the significance of the Christ child and join us to worship you for the revelation of your glory. Amen.