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Nov 22, 2017

Passage: Philippians 4:5-6

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday


The Text (God’s Word to the Nations): “5…The Lord is near.  6Do not worry about anything, but in every concern thankfully make known your requests to God in prayer.”

(Greek) “5…The Lord (is) near. 6Nothing be anxious about, but in everything by prayer and by petition with thanksgivings, the requests of you let be made known to God.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Here in Philippians 4 God is revealing to us both what kills our joy and what produces it. Do you want to rob your life of joy? Then be anxious. Do you want to increase your joy? Then give thanks. God’s Word is clear here: on this Thanksgiving its anxiety versus thanksgiving.

It sounds extraordinarily simple, but we need to know what lies behind these straight-forward summaries. We cannot fall into “principle”-theology that is a return to the law. If our thought-line is to “just be more thankful and in this way, be more spiritual or closer to God” then we will be set-up for utter failure. We might have good intentions, but it far-easier for us to fall to anxiety and worry.

The word used here for “worry” or “be anxious” means “to be of a divided mind.” When our mind is divided, we go in too many directions. We become frantic, we sense that everything is out of control. We lose faith. We gain fear.

So how we approach lives of thanksgiving is extraordinary important. Let it be said loud and clear: joy and thanksgiving can only truly come from the Lord. Our sin and our sin alone produces anxiety. The Lord and the Lord alone fills us with joy and thanksgiving.

Needless-to-say, we need the Lord to give us His Word to know how to approach (how He achieves for us) this important virtue of thanksgiving. So, let us get into this marvelous epistle and look at just one sentence from Philippians 4 and here is that sentence from the ESV translation. It is a combination of the end of verse 5 and the entirety of verse 6. Here is God’s Word: “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.”

Crucial words that set the pace to knowing true thanksgiving: “The Lord is at hand;”. There are two ways of interpreting these words here: 1) “The Lord is with us right now, so we have nothing to worry about;” 2) “The Lord is coming soon, so we have nothing to worry about.” Please listen carefully and get this transition: both statements are biblically true; both are theologically correct. It is in fact true that the Lord is with us now; and that this reason alone is good reason not to worry. However, while this is true, this does not seem to be the direction St. Paul is going in this text, and it’s important to know why.

What St. Paul is saying is that you can let go of all anxiety for all things because the Lord is coming soon. Here, St. Paul writes as the prophet Zephaniah wrote: “For the day of the Lord is near…(1:7)”. Here, St. Paul also writes as he did at Romans 13:12: “…the day is at hand.” And here, St. Paul sounds like St. James at James 5:8: “…for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” And this teaching – the nearness of the Day of the Lord – is the basis for the rest that follows at Philippians 4:6. The fact that the Lord is soon coming is the basis for chasing away all anxiety period.

Keep in mind that as St. Paul wrote these words, he was prison. Yes, of course he knew that the Lord was with Him even in prison, but even more importantly, St. Paul knew what was coming. Prison, therefore, did not define nor encapsulate his life. Not even close. St. Paul knew his life went far-beyond his current state-of-affairs (no matter how bad that was).

And this insight about God’s Word “The Lord is at hand,” helps us more than I can possibly say. These words lead us -- among other things -- to take inventory about our relationship with the future.

First, we aren’t about trying to predict it. Indeed, to attempt to do so enters the demonic nature of the occult (we therefore avoid tarot cards, crystal balls, and palm reading, etc. like the plague); second, no one knows when Christ will return and when so-called “pastors and teachers” try to predict it anyway, they prove themselves to be false prophets and should not be followed for anything; and thirdly, we are specifically instructed not to worry about the future (the teaching of our Lord recorded in Matt 6:25 & Lk 12:22).

So much for a summary of God’s Word on our relationship with the future right? Well, not quite. I left something out. All we heard just now is about what we aren’t to do with the future: no predicting it, especially the Second Coming, and no worrying about it. But, there is something we are to proactively do regarding the future. There is one area that Christians have constant access to regarding the future and here, and here alone, the Christian is to think about the future all the time!

Here at Philippians 4:5 St. Paul is essentially saying, “[Think about the future] the Lord is coming soon!” In Philippians 3:11 he puts the resurrection from the dead before these Philippian Christians. At Philippians 3:20-21 he speaks of our future in heaven (v 20) and the transformation of our bodies (v 21). Future, future, future in the right way.

Christians, we neglect this wonderful teaching in God’s Word. God is saying, “My child, I want you to think about the future I’ve won for you and prepared for you through my Son Jesus Christ: your future includes His glorious coming – nothing for you to fear, but much to contrary, it is when His glory will be shared with you – and think on heaven (think of being in My sheltering presence enfolding you with My light and love); and anticipate the transformation of your body (when your body will be radiant and surging with strength; imperishable), as well as the transformation of your mind (when your mind will no longer be conflicted, but filled with peace). Goodbye cancer; goodbye depression; and goodbye to everything that now tries to rob your joy! Look forward to these things My child. Look forward and experience the promises flowing from the gospel of My Son filling your heart with joy! And for these reasons, for these rock-solid promises – guaranteed by the blood and resurrection of My Son – know joy and the chasing away of all worry about all things! Truly, you have nothing to worry about! The day is coming that no matter how serious and frightening your problems are, the day is coming that you will be so overflowing with My life that you won’t even be able to remember what caused your anxiety today!”

So, you see dear Christians, faith looks beyond today. We see that this future-based perspective was in our Savior Himself: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:1).” The cross itself was horrific. Indeed, the Lord had prayed to the Father to remove it (Lk 22:42). And yet, the Lord continued to pray with confidence, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Lk 22:42).” How did He do it? He knew and held on to what would follow: “For the joy that was set before him!” He looked beyond the cross.

The unbeliever does not live this way. Since the future is completely nebulous and unknown; the unbeliever can only cope with the present, but what is the present? It is tumultuous. That is why we can’t achieve thanksgiving by simply listing what we can give thanks for up to now. As easily as we can count blessings, we can count hardships…and in some cases, even Christians can feel as though they have many more hardships than they can list. The present is marked by change and chance. The present is marked by undulation. While tomorrow might have been a good day, the new day – this day – can easily become a hard day; a bad day. So, if this is all one really has, then how much is lost? How can joy be found in this?

Even the realm of psychology has made a corresponding discovery. A study asked what makes happy people, happy? One of the leading characteristics of psychological happiness is that happy people look forward to things: like that visit from the grandchildren; like that getaway this summer; like the completion of that project in the garage you’ve been working on; like getting past that surgery that will mean your shoulder will stop throbbing; like that potential promotion; or like that big graduation or wedding coming up, etc. But if these things are true, how much more future glory? How much more the complete eradication of death? How much more the perfection of you?!

This is indeed our faith, but in this sentence in Philippians 4:5-6, St. Paul becomes the practical teacher. We have our faith and we know our faith, but there is also a way of living in this faith. These things are the result of being in Christ; these are the result of receiving His Word and Sacrament. This is God working in you today. This is what His gift of faith in you does. Thus, this too is the work of Christ in your life Christian.

You see the Lord knows that while everything I’ve said is something you know and accept through faith; we have, however, this nasty tendency to forget. So, the Lord helps us. It is His way of keeping us remembering.

The Day of the Lord is near – so look forward Christian – and in this way, see anxiety and worry dissipate, but it seems that in the very next second, these enemies come around again. But God prescribes a response to keep them at bay: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).”

The first two words “prayer” and “supplication” are dative of means. That means these describe how the third word (the subject, and I’ll get to the word “thanksgiving” in a second) works and becomes the end-result: namely “requests” that constantly happen. God is telling us to live this way. By means of prayer – which is the word for serious and worshipful prayer in response to God’s Word – and by means of supplication (making petitions to God), these lead you to do what God wants you to do: ASK! God wants you to ask, ask, ask. And this echo’s the words of Jesus: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt 7:7).” Note the acronym of Ask, Seek, Knock = It is ASK. Ask, ask, ask! But this is not begrudging law, but the result of the gospel.

“The Lord loves me. He died for me! The Lord loves me! He rose for me! The Lord loves me! He is coming again for me! The Lord loves me! My future is safe in His hands! He loves me…I get to ask; I want to ask; I rejoice to ask!” So, we ask, ask, ask!

But what are we asking for? We never ask for what is outside His will. We might possibility ask for what He has not stated as His will. But there is something we should unhesitatingly ask for and emphasize in our asking: that what is clearly His will would be known in OUR lives! For example, that our anxiety would be replaced with thanksgiving and this is a rock-solid request because it is the stated will of God in His Word!

You can ask, ask, ask, because the Lord is on your side! You can ask, because the Lord is coming soon, and that’s all good for you, because you know His grace! You can ask, ask, ask and in this way, know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that He will either give you what you are asking for OR something even better!!!

So, ask and as you know the truth of His guaranteed response, know that this is what makes us Christians rejoice! This, Christians, is what makes us filled with thanksgiving! It is what we already have! It is what is already yours in Christ! It is for what is already guaranteed! Take stock of that. What is already yours and the great – very great – blessings that are coming! For these things, we are full of joy; and full of thanksgiving. And this thanksgiving is expressed as we ask, ask, ask, and this leaves no room for anxiety; it kicks out all worry…we are just too busy seeing what is already ours in Christ! Even what is in the future, is already ours and such is the basis for God demolishing anxiety and destroying worry. In Jesus, let us ask away! In Jesus, let us rejoice! In Jesus, let us give thanksgiving! Why? Because the Lord is coming where everything and anything that causes anxiety today will be completely erased! And how do we remain in this faith? Ask, ask, ask for His thanksgiving to fill you today, and every, single day! Let us know His joy through one little word: thanksgiving!