In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, joy is one of the main themes, along with perseverance and hope. These make Philippians one of the best-loved of the New Testament letters. Quarrels don’t readily spring to mind. But chapter four specifically names two women who were at odds. Paul names them, and recruits help to work things out between them:
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Often we overlook that context when we read on from verse four. What Paul has given us in these few verses is a step-by-step introduction to practical grace.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. And then a little further: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. While these lovely words have certainly sustained the saints through the ages as freestanding devotionals, they are part of a systematic approach that addresses a dispute between two friends. In Philippians 4:4-9 Paul shows us three principles in sequence.
The first principle is to be at peace. It has two components. It starts when we adopt the right perspective. Paul describes this right perspective in verses four to seven. Verse four encourages us to be joyful in the Lord. This implies that our perspective should be broader than the troubles of the day. Perspective has to do with how close things appear. When we are very close to a problem, we are tricked into thinking it’s much bigger than it really is. Take a step back from the immediate source of aggravation, and remind yourself that God is still in control.
Verse five calls for the right approach – to be known to everyone as being peaceable and controlled. Christians are watched very carefully by the world at large. Remember that we serve a God who is neither spiteful nor unreasonable in His ways. Just as a sidenote, though; to be known as reasonable does not mean the same thing as to be known as boring.
Verses six and seven give us the sum of right perspective added to right approach:
…do not be anxious 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.
This passage really gives us the sense of being comfortable in Christ – thankful, safe and peaceful is a spiritual place, not an earthly one. True peace is elusive on this earth. True peace – the Peace of God – is found in Christ, the Prince of Peace; the one who was sent to bring peace to mankind. So a right perspective, added to a right approach gives us the first principle in Paul’s strategy for soothing difficult relationships – be at peace within yourself. And that helps us to move ahead with the second principle.
True, dignified, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. These are the noble virtues, and we are encouraged by Paul in verse eight to dwell on them in our thinking. They are all part of the image of God, so perhaps an easy way to summarise this principle is to look for signs of God at work. Try to see some merit; wilfully focus on what is good over against what is bad. Don’t waste your thoughts lifting every rock looking for the wicked and the base in everyone. We become bitter and resentful and mean-spirited if we do this. And that never helps if we already have a bone to pick with someone.
Finally, having sought peace and made an active choice to dwell on the positive, Paul admonishes us to do something about the situation. Practice these things he says in verse nine. Put your good intentions into action. What kinds of actions flow out of right perspective and right thinking? Forgiveness of grudges, building of bridges and mending of fences. Do whatever you can to be at peace with all those around you. Practice forgiveness. Be helpful. Do little things, such as write letters of encouragement, or make a phone call or two. Ephesians 2:10 says that God has already prepared the good works for us, we just have to get on with it.