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Harmony, Anxiety and Honor

A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas, on January 30, 2011.

Philippians 4:1-9

It often happens at the end of Paul’s letters, perhaps he’s running out of parchment, perhaps he’s running out of time, perhaps he wants to tie up all the remaining issues nicely and neatly for his readers. While he begins his books with longer theological treatises, he ends them with these ethical commands. Sometimes leaving the reader feeling like he is dealing with a Duke’s mixture of the apostle’s admonitions about how to live and what to do. Philippians Chapter 4 is no exception. We change topics quickly. Related, of course,but yet independent all the same.

Today we’re going to follow Paul’s lead. We’re going to have three sermons. RELAX! They’ll be brief, but because of Paul’s disparate ideas, we’re going to have space between our topics. It will allow you to ponder each individual idea from the apostle’s pen.

The first one is HARMONY. (Verses 1-3)

Think of the first three verses of chapter four. “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. I urge Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

The first closing topic of the apostle to the Philippians is the topic of HARMONY. Apparently, there are two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who are not getting along in the church at Philippi. In fact, the alternative title for this sermon was, “Get Along, Girls.”

You never know when it’s going to happen. Two people, who are one day good friends, working alongside each other in the church or community, suddenly get cross with each other. A sharp word from one, kind of half-heard by the other; a bitter response, and hastily and without quite meaning it; then the slamming of doors, the face turned away in the street, the fence (on both sides) of hurt so great, the offense so deep, that nothing, it seems, can mend it. (N.T. Wright, Philippians Commentary)

It’s most sad and tragic when it occurs in a church where the whole spirit ought to be one of mutual love, forgiveness, and support. But each one is blaming the other and no one is willing to back down.

Apparently, two women are at odds in Philippi. Euodia and Synthche. The argument must have been going on for some time since Paul must have heard about it from Epaphroditus. Maybe he thinks only a word from the apostle himself will now produce some change. Paul calls on his loyal comrade, this well-known leader in the community, to help get these two ladies together. What strikes me most about this passage…it always has…is that they’re both good women. Notice, these women have shared in Paul’s struggle in the cause of the gospel. They worked with Paul and Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, and their names are in the book of life. These girls are going to be in heaven together but they can’t get along on earth. They are leaders in the church.

It’s shocking that leaders can be the most petty people in the church. Leaders have to realize that to accept a leadership role, in this church or any church, is to accept the responsibility to live beyond your personal preferences. Paul is concerned that these two ladies are going to polarize the church into  factions. Paul and the Philippians knew what they were quarreling about, but we do not. But does it really matter? Whatever it was, it was not as significant as the story of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. They had been co-laborers for the gospel, and they had let some petty problem drive a wedge between their friendship. Maybe one of them didn’t feel appreciated. Maybe another thought the other wasn’t doing her fair share. Maybe it was a word of gossip, unkind, spoken to a third party that separated these two good friends. Leaders. Leaders who were driving a wedge in this Paul’s happiest, most joyous congregation.

Robby told you the truth. He really did work in a congregation where the minister of music and the pastor wouldn’t speak to each other. They would only pass notes.

My own home church, many years after I left, actually split in half and never recovered due to a dispute between the pastor and the minister of music. The lines were drawn in the sand, teams were picked, and the battle began, leaving nothing but bloodshed and bodies, with other members scurrying to other churches. Both ministers eventually had to leave the church.

The story goes that the music minister and the pastor just couldn’t get along.

The pastor preached on giving and how we should gladly give to the work of the Lord, and the choir director selected, “Jesus Paid It All” as the hymn of invitation.                     

The next week the pastor preached on gossiping and how we should watch our tongues. The choir director finished with, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

The next week the pastor, being disgusted over his insubordinate minister of music, told the congregation he was considering resigning from the church. The choir director selected, “Why Not Tonight?” as the final hymn.

Having had all he could take, the pastor resigned the next week and told the congregation that Jesus had led him there and was now leading him away. The choir director selected, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” for the closing number for that day. 

The moral of this story: Don’t mess with music ministers!

I found this illustration in my files and noted that it had been given to me by Lanny Allen. He wrote on there, “For your edification and amusement.” Or, maybe a little message in there, Lanny?

I actually read about a church in the south where the roof of the church was green on one side and red on the other. This was done because some members of the church adamantly selected green for the color of the new roof, while other members adamantly wanted red.

Right before a split, they came to a compromise that one half would be red and one half would be green. Fair is fair. Who could argue with that? The problem is, they built a monument to a broken body of Christ.

I found another church that literally split over the spelling of “hallelujah” on a sanctuary worship banner. One group wanted to spell it with an H: H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H. There was another group who wanted to spell it with an A: A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A. Neither group would budge.

They were going to hang the large worship banner in the sanctuary, and there was the “H” spelling group, and the “A” spelling group. Someone actually drew up a petition. Rallies were held late at night. One man, an “A” spelling supporter, was nearly clobbered by a rock that came through his window. The rock bore a note that simply said, “HALLELUJAH” with an “H.”

“It makes a big difference,” one of the worshipers said. “You open your eyes while you’re worshiping and you see it there, the banner spelled wrong…spelled without the H. It’s so jarring without the H at the beginning. Nobody spells it that way anymore.”

One lady, who was against the H, age 57, Evelyn Haney, said she just couldn’t sleep at night. So she carried a picket sign, picketing against the H.

So the church now meets in two separate school auditoriums and each has a banner, spelled exactly as they would have it.

Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?! The problem is, I’m not kidding you. I want you notice that Paul doesn’t take sides with either of the women, but he appeals to both of them to bury their differences, pick up the same mindset, and move on with the gospel.

Turn back to Chapter 2, verses 1-4. Paul addressed the issue of harmony earlier in this letter. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Then he gives them the example of Christ humbling himself all the way to obedience on the cross.

There are things that I may be guilty of in regard to breaking the commandments of the Lord, but the one thing I hope never mars my name is that I would ever bring disunity or disharmony to the church by siding with one faction over another.

ANXIETY (Verses 4-7)

The second topic that Paul addresses, as he closes out his letter is ANXIETY. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing  spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Anxiety was a way of life for many in the ancient pagan world. So many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about. You never knew if something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.

With a God who had now revealed himself in Jesus, there was no guarantee, as we see, against suffering. But there was a certainty that this God was ultimately in control and that he would always hear and answer the prayers of his people.

You see how it goes together. Verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord” and Verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing.”

When we have too many worries and anxieties, we become incapable of being agents of God’s grace in this world. How can we rejoice and share the “joy of the Lord to others” if we are anxiety-ridden ourselves? If we can’t trust God, then who can we trust? You can’t live a life of joy if you’re constantly enslaved to anxiety and worry.

Worry is really no small matter in scripture. Paul talks about it here. Jesus talks about it in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” And Peter addresses it as well: “Cast our anxieties on God because God cares for us.” (1 Peter 5:7)

When you worry, when you’re anxious, you’re living in a future world that may never even occur. Just because you don’t know what a future outcome will be, doesn’t mean it’s going to be negative.

People who love control and love predictability tend to worry because they don’t have control and they don’t have certainty in the world in which we live.

Have you ever had a time in your life when things are so overwhelming you could not sleep? You watch the clock longing for the dawn, looking for the light of the morning.

Ever been so preoccupied by a problem that you weren’t even able to function? To carry on with life? If so, you know what Paul is talking about. You know about anxiety.

Worried about your job. Worried about your children…your spouse…your aging parents…about your pregnancy…about not being pregnant…about financial pressures. Does worry mount upon worry? Is life completely overwhelming?

Death. Divorce. Loneliness. Moving. Retiring. Going to school. Sending a child away to school. All add up to anxiety.

Psychologist, William Van Ornum wrote a book entitled A Thousand Frightening Fantasies. It’s a book that some people find very helpful.

At one point in the book, he says that our minds are like an airport that’s always open. No sooner does one airplane leave, than another one is ready to land.

So is the person who constantly worries about problems of conscience. He or she might get rid of one particular matter, might go see the preacher, talk to a counselor or a therapist or a psychologist, but then another problem quickly comes along to take the old problem’s place.

We need to close the airport in our mind, shut down the runway, the runway of anxiety, stress, and worry.

Worry robs us of hope. It robs us of tomorrow by predicting a bad outcome before it ever even occurs. “Stop worrying and start praying,” Paul says.

In fact, I saw a bumper sticker one time that read, “Why pray when you can worry?” The bumper sticker is right. You can do one or the other. You can either pray or you can worry. But you can’t do both. Because when you pray, you give your problems over to God.

Dr. Joel Gregory, who has preached here at FBC of Amarillo, had an experience of several friends returning from a mission trip to Brazil.  They had a unique memento – a stuffed piranha. He wondered why they would purchase and display such an ugly souvenir.

A friend explained, “One piranha may hurt you, but it cannot devour you. Piranhas only become lethal when they overtake you while swimming in schools.”

The object lesson was obvious – worry operates like a piranha. As long as we keep our worries to a minimum, they won’t eat us up. But if we let too many worries swim in our mind, they’ll devour us like a school of piranhas.

Don’t worry. Pray.

HONOR (Verses 8-9)

The third word is the word HONOR. Look at verses 8 and 9.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In “How To Find Out Who You Are,” Nelson Price reports that 15 prominent college professors took this challenge: “If all the books on the art of moving human beings into action was condensed into one brief statement, what would that statement be?” The result of the deliberations was:

1) What the mind attends to, it considers; 2) What the mind does not attend to, it dismisses; 3) What the mind attends to continually, it believes; and 4) What the mind believes, it eventually does.

A remarkable observation. Put plainly, you are, or become, what you think. They might have great insight, but Paul had that insight 2,000 years ago. The  beginning  of  sin  is  the  suppressing  of  truth. Worshiping false gods rather than  the  true  God.  He   tells   them   to   think   about  whatever  is  true.

He also tells them to think about whatever is honorable. It means noble. Whatever is worthy of respect. Then he says whatever is right. This carries for Paul the idea of righteousness. It is determined by what God desires of his people. Then he says whatever is pure. This is the idea of holy. In Proverbs, it is “against the thoughts of the wicked,” (Proverbs 15:26). That which is untainted. Then he says whatever is lovely. Whatever is of good repute or reputable. Anything that is excellent or worthy of praise.

Never before has the world been filled with more thoughts and images that are impure, even violent and disgusting. Images constantly parading before our minds, our televisions, our computers, and now even our phones. There used to be an old commercial, “You are what you eat.” The reality is, you are what you think. What you think will affect you.

There is an old Quaker story told about a king who asked for an inventory to be taken of all the flowers in his kingdom. He sent out a census taker with a clipboard to count all his flowers. Then he realized that the information would be of little value to him unless he had something to compare it with. So he called for a second census taker. This one was asked to count all the weeds in the kingdom. Before long, the  first  census  take came back,  floating  into the king’s chamber, draped in smiles and warmth.

“King, whatever you do, don’t ever transfer me or my family out of this kingdom. It has to be the most beautiful kingdom in the world. It is overrun with flowers.”

Just then the door slammed and the second census taker came stomping in, threw down his clipboard and demanded an immediate transfer to another land.

“King,” he shouted, “this has got to be the worst kingdom in the world. It’s overrun with weeds. I didn’t even get past the drawbridge and I couldn’t count all the weeds in this kingdom. I want out!!”

The moral of the story is, that in this life you are going to see what you are looking for, and it will affect your feelings and behavior. If we look for the things that are excellent and good, we will excel and be good.”

Good stuff in, good stuff out.

Pastor Dan Baumgartner of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle has trained for two marathons…one when he was 29, and one when he was 39.

“Both times I have put that much time into training my body, I’ve noticed a huge change in my appetite for food,” he reports. “I absolutely crave food that is good for me…salads and bread and pasta and water…and have no desire at all for things that are sugary and empty calories.”

He doesn’t think about it, it just happens as his body is trained.

“Paul says he can also train our minds,” he concludes in his sermon of August 22, 1999. “And as we do, they begin to be drawn to the things that are true, noble, just.”