Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness 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.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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 you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
At a time such as this, with COVID-19, injustices playing out before our very eyes, so many opinions on what to do, how to respond, what to say, what not to say… and on and on… on every news channel, social media outlet, and newspaper headline… what I am holding fast to now and always is the promises of God. The promises of His word here in Philippians remind me of many things, but here are two:
- The Lord is at hand. God is sovereign over everything. His faithfulness and righteousness endures forever. He is in control. Nothing is a surprise to Him. Before doing a short summer study with other women in the book of Philippians, we were studying the book of Daniel, and that is a major theme in Daniel- the Sovereignty of God. Over and over I have been reading of Daniel’s faithfulness to follow God in a culture that is counter-cultural to God’s law. Sound familiar? That’s because, we as Christians living in a secular world today encounter these same struggles. They may look a little different today, but ultimately, it’s the same story. We live in a world today that says, “do what makes YOU happy”, or this one I especially cringe at, “live YOUR truth”. Those two overused terms are the epitome of the temptations and struggles Daniel faced being forced into the Babylonian culture and aligning with the culture of the time that worshipped false gods and did what was right in the sight of their own eyes. Of course, they were far off and ultimately, the kingdoms of these kings in Babylon fell, along with other kings in the Medo-Persian empire, Greek empire, and others mentioned in Daniel’s visions and dreams as the last half of the book unfolds. But- only the kingdom of God endures from everlasting to everlasting, and we see that clearly throughout Daniel as we encounter all of these kings, too. I love the way my bible study book said it: “We know that God will bring history to a conclusion. It has direction and purpose that is fully revealed in Christ. With such confidence, we can speak boldly and plainly to the darkness and confusion of our times. We do not know everything, but we know something that those apart from God do not know or understand: God rules history in righteousness.” -Nav Press Daniel Bible Study.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven —-(fully God and)
there came one like a son of man, —–(fully man) …(Jesus)
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14
2. God’s word in Philippians 4:4-9 tells us to rejoice. Despite our circumstances, we are to rejoice. Not that we shouldn’t weep with those who weep… we should do those things as scripture tells us (Romans 12:15). But this passage in this letter that Paul is writing to the Philippians (while in prison, not sure if he’s going to be released or killed because of his faith) is explicit in what we are to let our minds dwell upon that is for our good: things that are true (real), honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of any excellence, and worthy of praise.
Has it happened yet? It is true? If not, it is not true (real). What a great place we are told to start with when it comes to our thoughts. That simple question, is it true? can stop a whole lot of anxious thoughts that are not good for us.
Is it honorable? Are my thoughts or response about this situation, that person, or this circumstance honorable to God?
Are my thoughts about above said things: just, pure, lovely, commendable, of any excellence, or worthy of praise? If the answer is no- then it does not help to mull over it, and it doesn’t honor God.
And that is why, when I have been thinking about COVID-19, all the racism and injustices I’ve been blind to that I am learning about in new ways and seeing plainly before me for the first time… I want to make sure my knowledge builds up and doesn’t make me puffed up (1 Corinthians 8:1). I want to make sure that what ifs or fearful self talk stops at the first thought of Paul’s words on what we are to think on in Philippians 4. I’m prone to be the type to play out all possible outcomes (good and bad) in my head over and over again. And I don’t voice them out loud half the time either, so they’ll just sit and stew inside me creating anxiousness and restlessness. I don’t think it’s wrong to think through things logically and have a plan, Paul himself tells us he was anxious as he genuinely cares for the Philippians he’s writing to and brothers like Timothy and Epaphroditus who we see risked much, even their life, to serve Paul and serve Christ (Phil. 2:28). I think that’s wise to plan, but I must remember in my planning, to hold those plans loosely, and hold fast to the truths that tell me: I have a sovereign God.
What I have been seeking to do over the last few months is be God-remembering. Remembering His word by spending time in His word. By spending time praying very specifically for the needs of my community, church, family, town, state, country, and for the state of the whole world right now. Remembering His word, like Daniel 7:13-14, that reminds me His everlasting kingdom shall not be destroyed. I must remember that my hope is in Christ alone– in the finished work of Christ that declares me forgiven and solidifies my place at His table in eternity. Remembering that because of the hope that I have in Christ, I can press on in faith and not shrink back in fear when the world around me feels chaotic and filled with so much sorrow, strife, unrest, sin. I will think ahead and have a plan moving forward as Dakota and I talk about what we feel comfortable doing or not doing right now for social distancing. We will seek God’s word for wisdom which He says He will give generously if we simply ask him (James 1:5). We will continue navigating how to make smart and loving choices for our family and for those around us, and give much grace to those who may feel differently about COVID-19 and matters of how to rightly respond to racism and injustice in the world. We will continue to present the truth to our children that show the aspects of God’s character and what His word says about things like diversity, partiality, and how that should be what informs our perspective on others, even if they may look different than us. We will teach them to celebrate that our diversity gives us a little snapshot at heaven- “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
I will remember that My God rules history in righteousness and is ruling over the affairs of this world, right now. I will remember that while we’ve had to be stationary for weeks and weeks, God never sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:4), He is always working out His sovereign plan for all of eternity. I will rejoice in the hope I have in Christ, even when my circumstances aren’t great, and I will remember that He is sovereign even over suffering- two things I have especially been clinging to personally lately. I will not place my hope in the news or numbers or circumstances, but stand firm on Christ the solid Rock on which I stand. I will find rest in a weary time in His life-giving word (Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119:105, Isaiah 40:8, Matt. 24:35, Matt. 7:24, Phil. 2:14-16.)
My last thought- that wasn’t really mine to start with, but I have been holding on to it: What a gracious Father we have that doesn’t allow viruses to run wild like this constantly, year after year. I never thought about it that way until a friend presented that statement at ladies coffee night before everything with COVID-19 really got going. Because of the curse, because we live in a fallen world since the fall of Adam and Eve, it would be JUST for God to pour down his judgement on us- be it viruses creating pandemics or whatever… and yet, He doesn’t. That’s grace.
Some will have a perspective quite the opposite and say things like “but if God loves us, why would he allow this to happen?” And I think in that perspective, we fail to see all the attributes of God, and we fail to see our own sin nature…that we live in a fallen world still because of sin. The world is still groaning until Jesus Christ returns with the clouds (Revelation 1:7) and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). God is loving. God is merciful, good, and righteous. God is so very patient with us broken people who time and time again are led astray, forget Him, and back fall into sin. Much like the Israelites we read about over and over in the Old Testament. They forgot God’s character, they forgot His goodness, they forgot His promises, they forgot their God, and they were tossed this way and that way by their circumstances, tempted into sin, and failed to fix their eyes on the One who is sovereign over all things, every circumstance, every disease, every matter of justice or injustice.
“Paul gives us the glorious answer in 2 Corinthians 5:21— just fifteen Greek words that sum up the entire gospel and encapsulate God’s ministry of reconciliation. Paul writes, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That is the doctrine of substitution, and that’s how God can be both our just Judge and merciful justifier…” -see full article by John MacArthur on Ligonier Ministries website.
God is just. He is also wrathful. God hates sin. And God’s wrath IS his love IN action against sin.
“God is love, and God does all things for his glory (1 John 4:8; Romans 11:36). He loves his glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin.” –see full article on 5 truths about the wrath of God from Desiring God website here.
And so, if we have a right view of God first- then we will see that God’s justice is loving. God’s wrath towards sin is loving. This response shows us that God cares for us, so much so, that He will respond in wrath over the sin that separates us from Him. All of God’s attributes and ways are good and for our good. If we have a right view of God, we will have a right view of ourselves, and a right view of our circumstances and trials we face and the brokenness we experience in this fallen world.
“Here we have the ultimate good news: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Because of Christ, God can rightly call sinners justified (Romans 3:26). God has done what we could not do, and he has done what we didn’t deserve.” –see full DG article on the wrath of God here.
It is because of sin that we experience these effects from the time sin entered the world when Adam and Eve did what was right in the sight of their own eyes and ate of the fruit that was forbidden of them (Genesis 3). So the fact that God, in His grace and loving kindness towards us, does NOT allow things like COVID-19 to happen year after year, is a gift we do not deserve. The fact that He has given us many opportunities lately to look injustice square in the face in our world and have a chance to learn, listen, and RESPOND with the truth IN love to those around us is a gift from Him.
That was a super long-winded 2 points. 🙂 I hope that as you have read this post, that you have been reminded to come back to the promises of God in a time that has felt sad, a little scary, stretching, and confusing. I pray that you’d come back to this post when you need to be God-remembering, and then go read the promises of God yourself. I hope that this list of things we are explicitly told to think on from Philippians would help you to take captive your thoughts that may easily lead you astray in a weary time such as now.
And I pray, that this post would prick your conscious and cause you to think critically on where your hope is found at a time like this. That reading this post would draw you closer to Him, and rely on His word, His strength, and His ways as you navigate these days ahead and respond in a way that points those around you to the humility of Christ, living in a manner worthy of the gospel, as lights in a twisted generation, and as citizens of your true home, heaven.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:4-11
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ -Philippians 3:20
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. -Phil. 2:14-16
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. -Hebrews 4:12
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. -Psalm 119:105
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. -Isaiah 40:8
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. -Matt. 7:24
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. -Matt. 24:35