‘Keep calm and carry on’. I’m sure you remember that slogan, which was originally made to boost public morale in world war two but gained much popularity in the early 2000s. I didn’t quite understand it when everyone was saying it at school, often to someone struggling with the first GCSE exam, to keep their morale up. I always thought, you don’t know that it will be better. It could get increasingly worse. Like any motivational quote, it can be highly effective in giving comfort even though they’re empty words and false hopes on their own.
As Christians, how do we keep calm and carry on – not in life, but more importantly, in faith? When looking at the rising cost of living this year, when facing a complicated situation at work, or when diagnosed with a serious health condition, to keep calm and carry on in faith, there needs to be a certainty that things are in control even if they don’t get better. In today’s passage, Paul tells the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord, or in other words, he tells them how to carry on in faith. It would be good if you keep your Bibles open to Philippians 4 (page 982) where Paul concludes his letter by bringing home what’s he’s been saying from previous chapters into specific application for the Philippians. Philippians 4.1 says:
Therefore [because you share a citizenship in Christ, and because Jesus is returning]…stand firm, thus in the Lord.
To carry on in faith, we must firstly, resolve conflict with believers by agreeing in Christ:
1. Resolve conflict with believers by agreeing in Christ. (Philippians 4.2-3)
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.
Imagine having this letter read to you in the church in Philippi, you reach the end and then Paul takes time to call out two individuals to sort out their conflict. It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s in love that he brings across this practical application of ‘having the same mind in Christ’. These are not two women who disagreed on what the Bible teaches or had erratic emotions, but strong partners of the gospel who have laboured side by side with Paul. Gospel partners who wanted the same thing: gospel advancement – but disagreed on how it was done. Maybe they were both passionate about starting a new Christianity explored course but couldn’t agree if it should be done in person or online. Or as long-time youth group volunteers, neither wanted to give in to who was going to lead next. Or one wanted the church to focus on helping the neighbourhood while the other wanted the church to focus on equipping church members. One preferred a more contemporary style of music while the other wanted it to be more traditional. Whatever the conflict was, it was damaging relationships in church, and it needed to be resolved in Christ.
What happens when left unresolved? At worse, a fallout between two Christians where one leaves the church because of harsh actions and unloving words. At best, two people keeping distance from each other while holding quiet bitterness and resentment. Either way, it causes disunity and drains time and energy on fighting each other instead of growing the church. A lot of that may sound close to home. You’ve seen the damage caused from others disagreeing or maybe there’s still an unresolved issue you have with someone else in church. These are differences that are seen in any church that has people passionate for the gospel. So, in some ways, it’s a good sign that we are serving the Lord. But if there has been a disagreement that led to unresolved conflict and distance, you need to agree in the Lord with each other.
That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to agree with every opinion they have on how the music is played or expecting them to agree with all your preferences of leading youth group. Instead, it’s starting with your shared faith in Christ and agreeing in who you are as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s coming together to say, yes, we might not agree on how ministry is done, but we need to major on agreeing on our shared citizenship in Christ which means we share the same benefits and are heading the same direction. Even when it seems unbearable because you might have every reason to think you’re right, how can you count others more significant than yourself by having an open mind and trying to see things from their perspective? Even if you both disagree on how things are done, make sure it doesn’t end in resentment but instead share the same mind of humility in Christ. As we resolve conflict with believers by agreeing in Christ, we help each other stand firm and carry on in the faith. Next, Paul tells the Philippians: to carry on in faith, you need to respond to anxieties with prayer:
2. Respond to anxieties with prayer (Philippians 4.4-7)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness [or gentleness] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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.
Knowing the Lord is at hand gives comfort & joy. Facing persecution for their faith, it was likely the Philippians were discouraged because it seemed like they were on the losing side. It’s likely they wondered if they should respond to their disputes with each other with harshness and respond to Roman attacks with force. They were likely anxious of the uncertain future of their church and the lives of their own families. Would they still have their jobs by the end of the week? Would they even survive when the persecution grows more violent? Sounds like they had every reason to pack it in and call off being a Christian. And yet through all this, Paul tells them to rejoice always, be gentle to everyone, and don’t be anxious about anything. Well, you better have a good reason! The reason is in Philippians 4.5– look right at the end of Philippians 4.5:
The Lord is at hand.
Knowing the Lord is near gives comfort and joy even when facing the imminent danger and uncertainties. I think the Lord being at hand speaks both of his control now – and in the future return of Jesus which draws closer. What does that look like for us to not be anxious about anything because the Lord is at hand? To not be anxious about the complicated situation with colleagues tomorrow, the pressure from a crucial deadline this week, GCSE’s exams this month and the results in August, the uncertainty of where you’ll be next year, rising cost of living, the house-move that’s taken so much time and energy, the serious medical condition of a loved one, the medical appointment for treatment that’s been postponed again, the ongoing wars around the world? Well, you’re probably thinking to start, that I’m not helping your anxieties right now by highlighting even more concerns. When we know that the Lord is at hand, we ought to turn to him in prayer because he is the one in control of all that is beyond our control. Which is why Paul continues in Philippians 4.6 saying:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Have you stopped to pray through the concerns that are heavy on your heart this week? Often, we turn to ourselves first to try to solve the problem. The Lord knows what we’re going through – if only we ask for his help to sustain us through them and to rely on Him more. And not just bringing our requests to God, but with thanksgiving.
I find this much harder to do in practice. A few months ago, I was sharing with a friend my concerns about the unknowns in the coming year and other immediate things that were heavy on my mind. After listening, he asked, ‘what are you thankful to God for?’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s not really what I’m in the mood to be thinking right now.’ which made me realise that it’s hard to be thankful when we’re overwhelmed by our circumstances. Sometimes, more than being thankful to God, we want advice that will get us through the problems, we want comfort in knowing circumstances will be better. And sometimes, they do get better but our prayer and thanksgiving to God are not dependant on our circumstances. It’s in everything by prayer and thanksgiving. So, we can always be thankful to God for all that he supplies us and most of all, all that he has done for us on the cross.
We’ve been talking a lot about praying, so what if we spend the next few minutes to bring our concerns and anxieties to God in prayer and thanksgiving. Let’s take a moment by ourselves to think about what’s heavy on our minds and hearts this week, and in a moment, I’ll lead us in prayer:
Lord, we thank you that you are always near, that you know our thoughts and hear our requests. So, we bring to you the concerns and burdens that are heavy on us at the moment. We pray that you strengthen our trust in you during uncertain times. We thank you that whatever we’re facing, we can take comfort that if we’ve put our trust in Christ, the wrath that we deserve has been paid for on the cross in full. That weight of punishment that once separated us from having a relationship with you has been removed. And that nothing in all creation can separate us from your love. Even if current circumstances at work don’t resolve, health conditions don’t improve, and wars continue, we thank you for the confidence we can have knowing all things will be made new when Jesus comes again, and pain and suffering will be no more. May your peace which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
How to carry on in faith – respond to anxieties with prayer. Paul ends by saying, to carry on in faith – it starts by reflecting on the right things:
3. Reflect on the right things (Philippians 4.8-9)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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.
What are we filling our minds with? We live in a world where we are saturated with an overwhelming amount of content at our fingertips. The social media we scroll through, the entertainment we watch, the news we read – all competing for our attention. And whether we’ve clicked play or opened a link yet, we’re already downloading the information into our minds each minute.
Many of us were at the Christian conference Word Alive this year which always turns out to be a refreshing time. And that’s not because of accommodation which I won’t comment on. It’s because during that week, we are saturated with God’s Word taught, heard, read, discussed, and sung each day. Spiritual nourishment that renews our minds. Now, the solution is not to go to every possible Christian conference or stay at Pontins the whole year – but realistically, finding ways to fill our minds with godly things throughout the week. Taking time to reflect on the sermon message and reading that Bible passage tomorrow morning, while it’s still fresh. Making the discipline to think about what encouraged you earlier in the week. Mohammad’s baptism today – thanking God for his amazing work in changing hearts to believe in Him. The conversation you had with a brother in church who continues to faithfully share the gospel with friends. Think about these things. What you learned from last week’s home group meeting – maybe write it down to come back to it again. Listening to the songs we sang today later in the week to remind you of the truths we want to apply. Choosing to listen to a Christian podcast while commuting back from work. Think about these things. This is a discipline that needs be worked at.
I know many might think, that’s a bit extreme to extract yourself out of the world to cultivate a ritualistic Christian practice. But let’s be honest, for most of us, we’re not at risk of removing ourselves from society. We could use with less scrolling on our phones in bed and a more controlled use of our attentions and thoughts.
My phone has this wellbeing function which gives you a detailed breakdown of how much time you’ve spent on your phone and which applications were used the most. It’s helpful to know did I actually spend that much time on YouTube. Sometimes I wonder what the detailed breakdown of my thoughts throughout the day would look like. Chances are, it won’t look very different with how I’ve been spending my day, beyond my phone usage. Whether I’ve dwelled in God’s word and prayer or dwelled in watching basketball highlights, my thoughts flow from what we feed our minds. It starts with our thoughts but continues in our actions as Paul says in Philippians 4.9:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul says you have learned what I taught you, you’ve seen my daily devotion to the Lord when I was with you, you’ve heard about what others have said of my life – now put them into practice. Follow me as I follow Christ. Do you have a godly friend or leader you could look up to learn from their devotion to Jesus? Not perfectly, but someone who has shown the discipline of setting their minds on the right things. Would you be able to say to others, follow me as I follow Christ? To keep going in faith, we start by reflecting on the right things.
Paul’s main points in today’s passage are all very practical in nature. To keep going in the faith, we need to resolve conflict with believers, respond to anxiety with prayer, and reflect on the right things. But above all the practical steps and application, it’s so important that we don’t miss the key ingredient which makes all this possible. That’s Christ himself – without him, all this makes for is ‘try harder’. It’s only when we have the mind of Christ who humbled himself on the cross will we be humble ourselves and agree with each other in the Lord. It’s only when we know of Christ’s presence and return will we turn to him with hearts that want to pray. It’s only when we’ve marvelled at the splendour of Christ, would we want to meditate on him more.
So, whatever issue needs to be resolved, whatever uncertainty you’re facing this week, Christ is at hand – will you carry on in faith by letting the peace of God guide your hearts, thoughts and actions? Let’s pray.