Philippians 4:5 …The Lord is at hand.
Think of how your behavior is influenced when you know that someone with authority or importance is about to show up:
- Better get that room clean, Mom and Dad will be home any minute.
- Employees act differently when they know that the boss will not be around that day.
- People scramble into preparation mode when a celebrity or powerful politician is visiting their establishment or community.
When I was in the Army, I got to serve at a unit that my own father had authority over. He was well up the chain of command and his office was located elsewhere so he was rarely on the ground at our post. But, when he was scheduled for a visit, it was almost comical to watch people fly into high gear “getting things done” and “in order.” My thought even back then as a youngster was: “how come we aren’t doing this all time? Why do we have to go to such extremes when the ‘boss’ is coming? Isn’t this what we are supposed to doing all the time? What happens when he shows up unexpectedly?”
Twenty more years of experience has educated me that this is normal (or typical) behavior. People just naturally have a different urgency and level of alertness when someone special or feared is making an appearance. The same is true for Christians, so we are often reminded in Scripture of the “any moment” (imminent) return of Jesus to this earth.
The Lord is at Hand
The Apostle Paul reminds the Philippians that “the Lord is at hand.” This has double meaning: 1) He could return at any moment, and: 2) as God, He is present at all times, in all ways, and in all places, and we are to be aware of His constant presence (“at hand”).
Given that the VIP of the Universe is “at hand” and could show up at any moment, Paul instructs us about our conduct and mindset:
- Rejoice and again I say rejoice! – A consistent theme with Paul: our joy is found in Christ, not in circumstances. We are commanded to rejoice because of what has been done for us, what is being done for us, and because we know the final perfect outcome of our lives, and all history. Regardless of how hard life is, Christians have an abundance of reasons to REJOICE! Do not mistake Christian joy for “happy go lucky, everything is roses” kinds of joy. Our joy transcends our circumstances or facial expressions. (Though we would do well to communicate our joy more often by our smiles instead of dour scowls; I visit a lot of churches, and if I were to judge solely by facial expressions, we are one UNHAPPY bunch of people. Sadly, I have even been called a “fake” for trying to make a purposeful effort to act more joyful and cheerful).
- Let your gentleness be known to all – “gentleness” here refers to generosity and contentment. We are to be known as contented people as opposed to complainers and sad sacks (“poor me, why me, why isn’t life better?”). We set ourselves apart from the world by not being controlled by circumstances. Rather, in all ways at all times, we communicate God’s mercy; and, to the extent of our opportunity and ability, we show generosity and goodness to others, even those who mistreat us.
- Be anxious for nothing – this one is a real struggle for many (most?) people. Being anxious betrays our lack of understanding (or application) that God really is in control and knows what He is doing. Think about it: what circumstance should genuinely cause us anxiety if we believe for a fact that God knows, God cares, and God’s will is perfect by default? If we could put an attitude of “God is in control” into perfect play, we would never be anxious. How do you overcome anxiety? By meditating on and willfully acknowledging (not through emotions but by choice) God’s sovereignty (His control and plan), omniscience (100% knowledge of all things), and omnipresence (present everywhere, in all places, at all times). The more we know God and choose to live accordingly, the less anxiety has any place in our life.
- In everything give prayerful thanks – this is the natural result of understanding and acting on God’s total control; whether good times or bad, plenty or want, freedom or restriction. God is in control and the Christian who gives his circumstances to God will find blessing and purpose in the best and worst life can offer.
The Peace That Surpasses
Paul, in his usual magnificent way, finishes by telling us what the result of this type of living will be: peace. Not just any peace but the peace that surpasses any human understanding. In other words, peace that is beyond anything we can even comprehend. What is that?
Only Christians can even begin to understand this concept. How can we rejoice when our health has failed? Because we know we will have perfect health for all eternity. How can we be content and generous when the economy is in the tank or we have lost our income? Because God cares for even the lowly sparrows so how much more is He going to care for us? The “worst” that can happen is that we go on to Heaven for all eternity. How can we be anxiety-free if we are facing persecution, imprisonment, or even death because of our faith? Because this life is but a vapor in time, and any sacrifice made for the Savior will be repaid and rewarded a thousand times over for all eternity.
That is the peace that surpasses “all understanding”; that is, human understanding. Virtually all of life is peace-LESS apart from God. With God, we have a peace that surpasses any concept of peace that man’s religions, riches, power, fame, or achievement can offer.
This peace not only surpasses our ability to understand it (making it even more remarkable and supernatural) but it comes with benefits: it guards our hearts and minds. “Guard” here is a military term which is the picture of an armed sentry keeping watch; what us military guys call “guard duty.” Falling asleep on duty, leaving your post, or neglecting your responsibility calls for severe penalties because those you are guarding are relying on you as the protector. Who better to guard our hearts and minds than Christ Jesus Himself?
So let’s take an inventory: joy, contentment, generosity, no anxiety, supernatural peace, protection by God… what more can we ask for while we wait for the Lord to return?