Characteristics of the Christian Life: Philippians 4:4-7
As Paul nears the end of his letter to the Philippians, he gave four key characteristics of a Christian.
1. A Christian is one who rejoices in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice! See Philippians 3:1. This is a command, not a request or suggestion. Christians ought to be the happiest people on earth. God never intended fun and laughter to be crowded out of our lives. Paul wrote in what follows what the key to such joy is. Jesus related the relationship with the Father to a wedding feast which was always fun. God rejoices when a single soul comes to the Lord. The result of the Prodigal son returning home was a feast as the Father representing God said, “let’s celebrate.” Read I Thessalonians 5:16 Joy is one characteristic that should be evident in every Christian life.
Why should we be joyful? Because joy is the outward expression of an inner peace that comes from the assurance that God has everything under control. An infectious joy goes far in convincing the world that Christianity is real. The Christians to whom this was written had little external reason to have joy but when God is first, joy is present. The celebration of joy is always achieved best in community, in the fellowship of others who share the joy. The church is not an option for joyful people but a place to rejoice together.
The world talks of a happy hour when they come under the influence of alcohol. How about a happy 24 hours when we are literally drunk with the Holy Spirit for Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18, “Be not drunk with wine but be filled by the Holy Spirit.”
2. “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” The word “gentleness” carried the sense of acting beyond pure justice when the circumstances warranted mercy and understanding. Gentleness, mercy, or patience is a characteristic of God and one of the Fruit of the Spirit that should characterize our Christian walk. It carries the idea of graciously giving to another what might otherwise be seen as our right. We who have known the gentleness of God because of Jesus ought to always be ready to show the same to the world.
The reason for being joyful and gentle is that the Lord is near. The term carries the concept of time so means the Lord’s coming is near in time. This reminded the Christians to be ready for His return and that when He comes, He will vindicate His own. It also carries the idea of space. That means the Lord is near to us where we are. The Lord is close.
3. Christians are not to be anxious about anything. This too is a command. Literally “stop worrying.” Why not be anxious? Because the Lord is near. Read Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:24-30 In the world there is a great deal of uncertainty but because the Lord is close to us and is going to return we do not need to be anxious. Being anxious is the opposite of rejoicing. It’s the opposite of trusting in the ever present and soon returning Lord. When we do not trust God, we become anxious, but when we know He is there, we not only lack anxiousness but possess joy. This is not an argument for pretending that there is nothing to worry about but a challenge to live above worry because of the one who is with us and all He has promised to do in us and for us.
4. A Christian is a person of prayer. We overcome worry when we take everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving and present it to our God. The word “everything” is important to see. Nothing is too big for an all-powerful God and nothing is too insignificant for Him who loves and cares in ways we will never comprehend. Prayer is the alternative to worry.
Paul uses 3 words here to describe prayer. A. Prayer: Simply talking to God. B. Petition: Asking Him for things. C. Thanksgiving: Reflecting on what He has done for us and saying thanks. You do not need to worry about anything because you have taken everything to God in prayer. Thanksgiving may be the key word here. You cannot give thanks and worry at the same time.
5. The Christian life is characterized by peace, the peace of God: Read John 14:27. It is a peace that is beyond our imagination. The Greek carries the idea of a peace that we could never conceive of or initiate ourselves. God gives it.
This is not peace with God as a result of salvation. That is the critical first step. Joy, gentleness, a lack of being anxious and the peace that passes all understanding are available only to those who belong to Him. Spiritual benefits are always for His redeemed.
Paul describes this peace as that which transcends all understanding. As the world looks at us in what they would consider the most trying or difficult of times they discover that we have peace they cannot understand, and we cannot explain. Because of this they will marvel at what our God does. The tendency of the world is to work on some elaborate system or scheme to ensure peace so we can rid ourselves of worry. Turning everything over to God, however, is the only real answer. When we take our cares to Him in prayer, He has a way of assuring us that He is in control and He gives us a peace that we would not have even imagined possible let alone know how to achieve by ourselves.
God gives us that peace by guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Literally He stands garrisonover our hearts. Paul uses a military term associated with standing guard. God is not subject to anxiety as we are and when we trust Him and take all of our cares to Him in prayer and thanksgiving He sets Himself up as the shield against unrest, depression, tension or fear. Those things do not exist in Him and cannot get through Him to us. This allows us to have real joy in the midst of everything.
Notice what He guards. First, He places His protective peace and assurance over our hearts. The term “heart” is used in the New Testament to refer to the seat of emotions and our source of thought and moral choice. His peace gives us emotional tranquility that cannot be found in anything the world suggests as an answer.
And then He guards our minds. The word “minds” is used to describe our thoughts and thought process. God puts a shield upon our minds. We only need a few moments in the presence of Him who has all power and loves us so much that He gently says, “It’s OK, I am with you.”
Psychologists earn upwards of a couple of hundred dollars an hour to try and bring a little peace to a troubled society. God says “My peace, I leave my peace with you. I give it, not like the world that charges or gives and takes back.” What the world offers is actually only a shadow of real peace. God gives a peace that comes freely and complete.
Christians are different, even peculiar. We know what life is all about and know that God had a standard of right and wrong that He calls sin. Christians are also different because in a world that seemingly is falling apart, we have joy. In a world where the prevailing philosophy is to get the other guy before he gets you, we know gentleness and show it to others. Christians are different because in a world that seems so uncertain and unstable, we know Him who is the same yesterday today and forever and therefore we are not anxious. We are different because in a world that needs drugs, alcohol and more toys to bring even a measure of peace, we have a peace that passes our ability to understand it because we have the God of peace within. We are different and how glorious that difference is. It’s a difference to be celebrated and to recognize each day.