A common expression these days is to ask, “What is the take-away?” at the end of a meeting, session, or conference. By this we mean to say, what is the lesson to take with me as I go? The implications have to do with how I will be changed, and consequently, how will my life be different. Nearing the end of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul begins to summarize his take-away message of love and joy to them:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
Paul seems to be saying: “Here is the take-away: Always rejoice. I can’t say it enough: Rejoice!” Certainly joy in the Lord (different from circumstantial or self-focused happiness) is the predominant theme of the letter. Circumstances change, we even let ourselves down, but the love and grace of Jesus Christ is unchanging. Our promises in him are sure and, we can count on him. In him we have relationship now and for eternity! Looking forward to seeing him face to face overshadows our trials, conflicts and problems here below.
The implications of such joy include the ability to demonstrate gentleness (controlled strength). A lack of gentleness is evidence of a need to control things and people. When we are mindful that Jesus is near and coming to bring everything under his benevolent control, we can relax and be gentle. Gentleness is patient and its goal is restoration, as in Galatians 6:1 where Paul taught that if we find someone in a sin, a spiritual one should go to that person in order to restore him gently, taking care not to fall into sin (such as pride) himself.
Another implication of rejoicing is that we do not go on being anxious as the tense of the verb more accurately describes in the Greek. Of course we will experience some anxiety, as did Paul and every human before and since. As with lust, we can’t keep a bird from flying over our head, but we can keep it from building a nest in our hair. When we become aware of anxiousness we can pray and petition (ask) for God’s help, with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving blesses God and it changes our perspectives and hearts. We are reminded of all we already have in God through Christ, and our focus shifts from the perceived empty half of the glass. We realize that our glass is not even merely half full…it overflows!
Paul has a little more to say in terms of the take-away, but for today please grab hold of this. These principles (joy, patient gentleness, peace) arise from an eternal perspective which leaves behind the petty differences we allow to build walls between us. We are reminded of the view from above and, from there, standing shoulder to shoulder, we see indescribable and inexplicable peace!