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The Nearness of Jesus, Spiritual Resilience, and the Glory of God: Part 3

Mountains

 

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
-Abide With Me, hymn – Henry Lyte

In the second part of this series we learned about a profound promise, namely that Jesus Himself, by way of the Holy Spirit, is actually present with us. This conviction can ground our prayers and confidence in God’s promises in a deep, personal, and life-altering way. In this third and final installment on Philippians 4:4-9, we will look at how God intends for our emotions to be rooted in our convictions regarding godly truths. In other words, “right thinking gives rise to right affections”. As we sum up all that we have learned so far, we will see how all of these commands and promises are designed to give God the glory, for this is the ultimate aim of all God’s children.

Right (Spiritual) Thinking Engenders Right (Spiritual) Affections

God is the source of this supernatural peace because He is already with you in the person of the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled joy is possible because He fills our thinking and experience. Consider the following, found a few verses later in chapter 4, that command us what we ought to be thinking about:

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. 

There are many things that could embody one or a couple of these qualities to some degree or another, but I believe Paul intends for us to have a “holistic” understanding of these verses. What could possibly represent these characteristics in their fullness? Of course, it is God Himself! He is the culmination of all of these holy qualities. Many created things and persons can be representative of this list although to a far lesser degree. Paul is essentially asking us to set our minds on “things above” (Colossians 3:2) – onto the God who is “at hand”. I also believe this is what rests at the bottom of Paul’s spiritual success that he later mentions in chapter 4; he has learned a secret to thriving (verse 12). He can thrive in any and all circumstances (4:12) because God is his “rock”--nothing derails him because God is the source of his joy. The secret that Paul is referring to is the confidence and conviction that God is at hand, that He is sovereign, and that He is always good and loving towards His adopted children, even when circumstances may tend to lead to anxiety-ridden thoughts and fears. Confidence in this truth provides the anchor that buoys prayers of thank-filled supplications on the turbulent seas of life--both in the best of times and the worst. Remember that the best of times (“plenty”, “abundance”) can be just as derailing, if not more so. When things are going along swimmingly we tend to forget God and become deceived by the façade of “stuff” and its claim to comfort and stability. The world becomes enticing and destabilizes our faith. Even in those “abundant” moments we need the steady reminder that what the Lord has “at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This strengthens us so that we may resist the world’s best and most tantalizing temptations and lures.

God’s Glory and Spiritual Resilience

But what is the ultimate point of all this? Just to make us more mentally tough? To make us peaceful for the sake of peace or our own selfish tranquility? Verse 5 gives the clue. It says, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone”. But what does that mean? Reasonableness? Unfortunately, this word, depending on the translation, has been rendered in a variety of ways with seemingly different meanings that don’t align very neatly[1]. In other passages that use this word, it tends to be translated as “gentle” but usually synonymous with ‘not being quarrelsome’. However, in spite of all of this confusion there does seem to be a common theme in which the word conveys the idea of not being easily or quickly agitated[2].

A modern day equivalent of the word “reasonableness” might be “resilience” or “grit”. We could think of this word as “spiritual resilience”--a spiritual stability regardless of the circumstances--not unlike the wise man that built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24-27). Someone with “equanimity” is spiritually resilient and remains stable and steadfast (Philippians 1:23). They are not easily moved or derailed in their affections, mindset, and convictions, no matter how hard (or easy!) things may get. They do not quickly depart from relying on God as their highest joy, pursuit, and confidence. When we actually do this, we show the world (“everyone”) that God is our highest joy. We don’t bank on or become unhinged by our circumstances. Our circumstances are not the highest arbiter for our feelings, thinking, and actions. This is totally unlike today’s modern world, where almost anything and everything disturbs our peace. In contrast, as Christians, we should aim to become spiritually resilient by remembering and believing in God’s ever-abiding presence and good intentions towards us. This is similar to the description of love that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 13:5: “…love is not irritable…love bears all things.” As we seek to love others for the sake of God’s glory, the Spirit empowers us to remain spiritually resilient as a witness to the power, strength, and superiority of God. This enables us to offer up thanks-filled prayers for help so that we can show the world that Jesus is far better than the circumstances around us--whether riches or impoverishment, Roman jail cell or 5-star resort.

Conclusion and Applications

It is here where the explicit connection between what he says in verses 10 to 13 and the command to rejoice in the Lord is made. He informs and encourages the saints in Philippi, and likewise for us, that he has learned in every type of situation (both abounding in material comforts and safety, as well as being brought low into deep hunger pangs and sufferings of every kind; see 2 Corinthians 11:24-31) how to be content. In other words he has developed a spiritual resilience, rooted in God’s strength (verse 13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”). God’s presence and power is the source of Paul’s strength. Remember what Nehemiah said? – “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (8:1). Paul wants us to see and experience the same thing. No doubt, we experience afflictions, perplexity, persecution, being struck down, but ultimately we don’t have to remain spiritually, mentally, or emotionally devastated. We, by the power of the Spirit, do not remain in despair, crushed, feeling forsaken, and are not ultimately destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). We find our joy in God and His personal presence, so that we can be content in all situations, for the sake of displaying a supernatural resilience that tells the world that God is better than the best the world has to offer, and more stable and resilient than the worst the world can throw at us. All of this is certainly desirable, but what practical steps can we take to move in this direction? Consider the following:

  1. Pray and ask God to give you a deep conviction that He is “at hand”, that He is in control, and that He is always good towards you--never ceasing to transform you into Christlikeness.
  2. Cultivate a “with-God” type mentality by praying before ever activity. Reminding yourself that God is near is easier when you seek the Lord in every endeavor--large and small. (“Walk by the Spirit”, Galatians 5:16)
  3. Meditate on Bible passages that underscore God’s nearness (ex. Psalm 16:8-9: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heard is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also will dwell secure.”)
  4. Seek to undercut every experience of anxiety and fear and take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) by praying “in the moment” with thanksgiving, and in faith, for the “God of peace to be with you”.
  5. Aim to glorify God in all of your responses (Romans 14:18). Desire peace and joy not for your material comfort and happiness, but that God would be shown to be better than any created thing. Pray and ask Him to make this a reality in your life and not just a mental affirmation.

 

[1] For instance, the NASB translates it as “gentle spirit”, NIV and NKJV as “gentleness”, NLT as “considerate to all”, and Young’s Literal Translation as “forbearance”. But reasonableness, gentleness, and forbearance all sound very different. One could be reasonable (wise and prudent) but not very gentle, and likewise one could forbear in their responses to others sin and failings but not be very reasonable or wise. The original language (Greek: ἐπιεικὲς., pronounced as “ep-ee-i-kace”) also gets translated as “gentle”, “reasonable, “forbearing”, but that still isn’t very helpful.

[2] One of the most helpful commentators on this verse and word is John Calvin. He translated the Greek word with a rather antiquated word (so unfortunate!) “equanimity”. It is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

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