Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
ALIGNING THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS
October 18, 2017
There are some Christian teachers that will tell you living the Christian life is all about what we do. It’s the actions we take. Sometimes these teachers can be positive and encourage actions like helping the poor, fighting against injustice, or visiting those in prison. Other times these teachers can put so much emphasis on action that it turns into rule-making: in order to be a good Christian you must do x, y, and z.
Then there are some Christian teachers that will teach you that being a Christ follower is all about what is on the inside. It means learning to think the right way, believe the right things, or have an internal emotional or mystical experience. For these teachers what happens on the inside is much more important than what happens on the outside.
Of course these are two extremes used for illustrative purposes. But I do think generally as believers we tend to fall into one of these two camps. In fact, if you read the history of Christianity in the United States you can see this division pretty clearly in how some denominations developed a high importance on social justice and action while others developed a high importance on personal transformation. And even to this day we can feel this tension between action and contemplation.
Tonight we are going to look at a passage of scripture in which the two are brought together – where we see that what happens on the inside has a direct effect on what our actions are. And the specific context in this case has to do with living in community: getting along with other people who might not be getting along with us. We will see that the key to living in community is to work on the internal. The truth is God wants us to be whole, complete, and unified as individuals and that means taking steps to get our internal lives right so that our external lives look more like Christ.
Let us pray…
God give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and a heart to understand what it is you want us to learn from you this night. In Jesus name we pray. Amen
Our passage tonight is found in Philippians once again. And we are coming to the end of the letter that Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi. Our passages starts with chapter 4 verse 2 and we are going to divide our reading into three parts – so follow along on the back of the worship guide or in your Bibles or on your devices.
We will start with verses 2 – 3 of chapter 4.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion,[a] help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Can you imagine sitting in Church on day and a letter has come from the founder of your church – the one you all look to for guidance and the letter is being read aloud to the whole congregation – which was most likely done! And suddenly you hear your name! And not only that, you’re being called out for some sort of disagreement you’re having with a fellow believer. I can imagine Euodia and Synthyche just melting into their seats.
We don’t know what was happening between these two women but we know that it was causing some friction. We know that it was a disagreement about something because Paul is asking them to get on the same page – to become of the same mind.
We also know that these women must have been strong believers. It’s not like they were fighting with each other because of some huge sin or apostasy. In fact Paul reminds everyone that their names are written in the book of life.
And so he asks someone – a loyal companion – to help these women. The Greek that is translated “loyal companion” might actually be a proper name. So Paul is asking the guy to help them come together once again.
I think in these two verses we get a pretty good picture of what it means to be community. The first thing we learn is that when living in community we are going to bump up against one another from time to time. It’s as if God were building a wall or a tower and each of us were a stone in the wall. As time goes on we are going to rub up against the people next to us in a way that might cause some pain. Sometimes rocks have sharp edges and sometimes just being side by side can put pressure on a relationship.
Communities that are formed because of Christ are not immune to the pressures and problems of community life. We are humans, and humans sometimes grate each other the wrong way.
I have a feeling that that is what was happening here. Both of these women loved Christ and were active participants in the community – but something happened to cause them to get out of joint - which happens all the time. It happens to us as well. Living in community can be hard. – No, check that, living in community is hard.
We also learn in these two verses that members of the community can help each other when this happens. Paul asks his companion to step in and help Euodia and Syntyche to come to agreement once again. And so we learn two important facts about living in community: 1) We are going to bump up against others. 2) We need to help each other when that happens.
But how? What’s the best way to take the edges of our stones when living in community? The answer comes starting in verse 4. In fact, verse 4 does not even start a paragraph in the Greek – it’s just a continuation of the two verses in front of it.
Let’s read it:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Let’s start with the last verse there – the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds. If we want peace to be part of the community – a peace which we don’t even understand, given how different we are from each other. Then we need to do these things. We need to help each other in this way.
First: Rejoice! Now, this is not some fake, happy all the time, Xanax fueled happiness. Instead it’s recognition that there is something more important than my petty concerns. We are loved by the God of the universe in such an intimate and personal way that our lives should be filled with rejoicing. And again, it’s not necessarily a constant smile on our face. But rather a foundation of contentment and joy that comes from knowing that we are loved – that we are united with God through Christ – and that there is nothing that can happen to us that will change those two facts. Rejoice always and you will lay the foundation for a better way to live in community. For if we have a foundation of joy, – it’s much easier to live an outward life of joy, – which will in turn lead to a stronger community.
Second: Paul tells us to let your gentleness be known to everyone. Another way to put this is don’t react. Or maybe, don’t OVER-react. One of the fastest ways to create disharmony in the community is to be a person who is reactive: the person who is always taking offense, the person who hears an insult and immediately gives it back at a level 5 times more intense, the person who takes something someone says and twists it to serve their own needs. And what happens when someone is reactive to us? We immediately match their emotion. And suddenly you have an escalating problem on your hands.
Paul gets this and explains the best way to prevent these conflicts is to let your gentleness be known. In other words – answer softly – don’t be reactive. Allow your response to calm the situation not enflame it.
Third Paul tells us to not worry. I tend to laugh at this one. When I was in the third Grade my teacher wrote on my report card “Bryan worries too much.” I’ve been a card-carrying worrier since 1973. You can’t just tell me to not worry.
And yet that’s exactly what Paul is telling us and he’s not telling us anything different that Jesus did when HE told us not to worry.
But in this case I think Paul is seeing how our individual worrying and create stress and tension in the community. My worries about life will inevitably rub you the wrong way. Either you will be annoyed by them or I will be annoyed with you for not taking them seriously. So if we can learn to relax in Christ and be confident in God then we remove an opportunity for tension in the community.
Finally Paul tells us to pray with thanksgiving. In some ways this is tied to letting go of worries – instead of hanging onto them – turn them into prayers. But I think it also points to the fact that when we are grateful for the people and things around us we are much less likely to promote conflict in the body.
And then we come to the final two verses of our text tonight. And here in these two verses Paul brings together once again the need to focus on the internal AND the external – the need to get the internal right so that our actions are right. His words remind us that our goal should be unity between our thoughts and our actions. Let’s read it together beginning with verse 8:
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The last part there is all about the action – the doing: “Keep on doing the things you have learned from me” But the first part is all about the internal – what’s going on in our minds.
That internal dialogue – focused on things that are true and honorable and just and pure and pleasing and commendable and excellent and worthy of praise – that internal working - coupled with the actions of a disciple – will leave to the peace of God.
Do you want peace in your life? Do you want peace in your church? Do you want peace in your world? Then get the thought right – then get the actions right – and the result will be peace.
I have to admit to you that it is much easier for me to think negative thoughts than positive ones. I can let my mind go to some pretty un-honorable, untrue, unjust places pretty quickly – especially if I’m already at conflict with a person. So this is not just an easy “think this way and all will be well” kind of statement. This takes work. And commitment. It takes Christ living in us.
But the result is peace.
Peace in ourselves. Peace with each other. Peace that comes from God.
And so tonight as we come to this table maybe our prayer should be that our inside thoughts would be united with our outside actions. Maybe tonight we come offering our whole selves instead of just part of ourselves. Maybe tonight this time at the table will remind us of our union with Christ in such a way that our thoughts will change and our actions will follow.
Let us pray…