Two Soldiers were talking before chapel. One said to the other, “You know, I can’t believe our chaplain; he never has an unkind word to say about anyone.” One of them smiled and said, “Let’s go test him. I know someone that he can’t possibly praise.” So they approached him after chapel and asked, “Chaplain, what do you think about the devil?” He paused for a moment, looked at the Soldiers and said, “Well, you can say this about him: he sure isn’t lazy!”
That chaplain was living a life of joy and contentment. It literally begs the question: how on earth did he get there? With all the demands and things that are happening in military life, is such a witness still a possibility? This passage in Philippians not only answers this with a profound “YES,” it even shows us how to accomplish it.
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:4-9
These verses are from the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians as Paul winds down his instructions for this beloved church. Paul mentions two Christian women who are fighting with each other, and uses that to segue into his marching orders for the church. Those orders are the secret to living a joyous and victorious Christian life. Paul says that all Christians are to do three things. They are to Feed on Joy, Speak of Joy, and Live out Joy.
Feed on Joy
First, Paul says that Christians are to Feed on Joy. On the way home from church a wife was talking to her husband. She asked, “Did you see that scandalous dress that the divorcee Mrs. Smith had on?” “No,” said her husband. “But surely you noticed how the pastor is putting on so much weight that his stomach is hanging over his belt?” “No,” said the husband, “Can’t say that I did.” “Well at least you noticed how many sour notes the choir hit today and how many mistakes were in the bulletin?” The husband just shook his head no. His wife then glared at him and said, “Well good gracious, man. If you aren’t going to pay attention when you go to church then why do you bother to go at all?!?”
“ 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
It is good that this couple was going to church, but the wife was paying attention to the wrong things. She was ignoring the things of joy. She was coming to the table of the Lord, but was only feeding on garbage. It has been accurately said that we are what we eat. Garbage in, Garbage out. We reap that which we sow. So Paul commands us in verse 8 to “dine” on things that are spiritually nourishing. We are to gorge our souls on the things of God. In other words, God in, God out. Our thoughts should dwell on that which builds us up, not that which eats us up!
Many of us are unhappy and stressed out because we keep thinking about things that make us unhappy or stressed. Paul put it like this:
” 8 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” [The Message]
Paul tells us that if we want to enjoy lives of peace and joy then we must dwell on those things that produce peace and joy. We can and will visit many places in our daily thoughts, but we will choose to dwell only on those things that are healthy.
For many reasons, but most often out of jealousy, selfishness or conceit, we find it easier to think about those things in our day where we felt superior, focusing on the mistakes or poor judgments of others. The commercial asks us, “What’s in your wallet?” The apostle Paul asks us, “What’s in your thoughts?” He emphasizes that if we want to know the full peace of the Lord, then we must be sure that we feed on joy.
Speak of Joy
Second, Paul says that we are to Speak of Joy. If we have filled our hearts with criticism and worry, then we will speak critically to others. If, however, we have fed on the things that Paul listed, our speech will be very different. What is it that we most often talk about? Some wise pundit noted this: small minds talk about people; average minds talk about things; great minds talk about ideas. To that we add that great Christian minds talk about joy.
The Apostle Paul says that there is one idea that we should pepper into all our speech. In verse 4 he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” In all that we say, our speech is infused with words that reflect our faith, trust, hope, and gratitude in and for our Lord. Our words should glorify God, and should build others up. In Luke 6: 45 Jesus says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” If we grumble and complain in difficult times, what does that reflect about the condition of our souls?
Our very language in those times can have an impact far greater than we can often imagine. I knew one NCO who had a sign over his desk that said, “Swearing is an effort by a weak mind to express itself forcefully.” Our language matters. The Apostle Paul’s emphasis on things that are “true, honorable, just, and pure” (and more) because he knows the power of our words.
Live out Joy
Finally, Paul says that we are to Live out Joy. Besides what we say, the things that we do should reflect the love of Christ in our hearts. He even goes so far as to give us some hints as to the evidence of a life of joy.
“ 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all.”
Paul tells us in verse 5 that we should “let your reasonableness be known” or, be considerate (or gentle) to others. Jesus always seemed to make time for the people that came to see him. We should be making time for the people around us. We make time for the needs of our family, our fellow Warfighters, and neighbors. Maybe even strangers that God may bring our way. There is an old children’s song that says, “J-O-Y, J-O-Y, this is what they mean: Jesus first, yourself last, and others in-between.’ That is a great summary of this point.
“The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Next, Paul tells us in verse 6 that we should be steeped in prayer. One Christian warfighter prayed this: “Dear Lord, so far today I am doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or self-indulgent. I have not whined, sniveled, complained, or cursed. But I will be getting out of bed for PT in a minute, and I think that I will really need your help then. Amen.” He or she had the right idea.
Paul tells us that instead of worrying about anything that we should be praying about everything, all with an attitude of gratefulness! If only there was a physical way to see our efforts in prayer. Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, “Brother, the grass grows on your path.” Paul tells us not to let the grass grow on our paths. We are to come to the Lord about every little thing, and every big thing, all with a spirit of expectation and joy.
“ 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Then, Paul says in verse 9 that we are to try to practice or live the things we learn in scripture. One of the Army’s publications on leadership affirms this when it says, “Your words and your deeds, the values you talk about, the example you set, every action you take-on or off-duty are all part of your influence on others.” We are to walk our talks, and not just talk our talks. For Christians, Paul wants us to do as he did, and practice what he preached.
If we do these three things, if we are considerate, if we are steeped in thankful prayers, and if we strive to live authentically as Christians, we will find that we are living out our joy.
All the Right Ingredients
Those are the powerful commands that the Apostle Paul gives to us so that we can live victorious and joyous Christian lives. We are to feed on joy, speak of joy, and live out joy. These three things will forever change the way that we view our lives.
A Soldier on KP duty was telling the Dining Facility NCO how “everything” was going wrong. School, family problems, health problems, etc…
Meanwhile, the NCO was baking a cake. She asked the soldier if he would like a snack, which of course he did.
“Here, have some cooking oil.”
“No way” says the Soldier.
“How about a couple raw eggs?”
“Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?”
“Sarge, those are all disgusting!”
To which the Sergeant replied: “Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake! God works the same way. Many times we wonder why he would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But God knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful!”
Are we cursing God for the yucky ingredients in our lives, or are we praising him for the cake that we know is coming? The Apostle Paul reminds us that our attitudes may come down to this: We are what we eat.