The Apostle Paul speaks to common culprits of an abundant life in Philippians 4, in a passage that has been called Paul’s “recipe for conflict resolution”. (Hendricks, 96) These verses are packed with specific solutions and allow us to consider and decide how we are going to respond to difficulty, even before we encounter it.
These culprits are ruts that I at times wear deep and feel defeated by. They are our default when we encounter difficulty, but they lead downhill, away from the abundant, peaceful life that God has for us. These verses shine a light on the forks in the road, enabling us to see and consider the other, better option at every temptation. These higher roads are so far beyond me, and even now as I write this I am also praying for the faith to believe that Christ’s strength is sufficient. Reading over this chart each morning is helping me to remember, in the most challenging moments, what the Biblical response is, and to ask God for the strength to choose it, over and over again, until that new and better path becomes habit.
From prison, most likely in Rome, Paul wrote to believers in Philippi, encouraging them, more than anything, to “stand firm” in the midst of temptation. When you are tempted to waver in thought or behavior, choose to act in a way that is consistent with what you believe.
In these verses, Paul called out two women, by name, and urged them to, “be of the same mind in the Lord.” (4:2) He does not go into detail but encourages them to live in harmony with one another, to be peacemakers, to remember, and focus on what matters most. Dr. John Constable made two notable observations about this passage. He stated, “Paul urged each of these two women individually, perhaps so that neither would feel that responsibility for healing the breach lay with the other. Urging was all Paul felt he had to do, not commanding (cf. Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4). He assumed they would respond to gentle persuasion.” I do not want to be like Euodia and Syntyche, the one being called out by name for being in the midst of a petty disagreement. Do you? When we are tempted to engage in a dispute, we should choose instead to find and encourage reconciliation and harmonious living. What a great example for daily living, for marriage, and for parenting.
(chairō- to be full of cheer) When we are in the midst of difficulties and find ourselves tempted to be sad and discouraged, or irritable and disagreeable, it honors and exemplifies trust in God to choose instead to be joyful and grateful. This is one of Paul’s recommendations for maintaining peace. Dr. Constable noted, “he (Paul) was advocating focusing on the blessings we have in Christ and being grateful for these regardless of how sad we may feel at any particular time. He had set a good example by singing when he was in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).” I love this challenge to sing in the midst of hardships and discouragement. It is such a tangible and doable solution.
... especially when you are tempted to be rough and harsh. Paul said, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Gentleness exemplifies God’s grace and compassion, and that is what inspires real heart change and growth, not harsh correction. Staying calm exemplifies trust in God rather than trying to make something happen in our own strength.
Choose to pray and be thankful. This is the Biblical solution for anxiety. Allow God into your thoughts about everything, and He will help you see it as He does, respond as He would, and avoid conflict. When we find ourselves anxious or worried, we can choose to pray and move on to thanking God for hearing, helping, and guiding.
Choose to strengthen and renew your mind by thinking about the good when you are tempted to focus on the bad. Redirect your thoughts over and over again towards truth and honorable, upright, and pleasant behavior. Course-correct constantly, as the tendency of our sinful nature is to drift from these high standards.
Choose to be a doer, rather than a hearer only. “... and the God of peace will be with you.” Make these choices continually. Make these responses your habit, and God’s peace will be with you.
Contentment is not natural for anyone, it is something that we choose to learn, and Paul accomplished this even in the midst of imprisonment, by choosing to focus on Christ.
Focusing on Christ is the key ingredient to all of this, not trying harder or getting more organized, but looking to Him in the midst of it all. So, instead of the “giving up thoughts” that we sometimes allow to become our mantra: “I cannot do this”, “I am out of patience”, “This is too much”, or wherever your mind goes to give up, choose instead to recite Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”