Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for February 19, 2017

Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for February 19, 2017

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Bible Studies for Life By Jim Barnette, Ph.D.
Samford University and Brookwood Baptist Church, Mountain Brook

Practicing Joy 

Philippians 4:4–9

Live a life of joy and graciousness. (4–5)

This concluding exhortation is much like those found elsewhere in Paul’s letters (see 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:12–24). Paul begins with “rejoice,” here repeating Philippians 3:1 exactly. “Rejoice in the Lord,” with the addition of the adverb “always” (see 1 Thess. 5:16). The adverbs “always” and “again” tell us much, especially that this is not just typical or to be passed over as a nice Christian platitude, but crucial to the whole of this letter. Joy — unmitigated, untrammeled joy — is, or at least should be, the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus.

Paul encourages the Philippians to let their “gentleness” be evident to all including those who oppose them. The Greek word for “gentleness” denotes generosity toward others and is a characteristic of Christ Himself (see 2 Cor. 10:1). Verse 5 concludes with, “The Lord is near,” though some have wondered in what sense He is near. Is this reference to space or time? The words are reminiscent of Psalm 145:18: “The Lord is near all who call upon Him.” In this sense Paul is saying the Lord is near us whenever we need Him. However, numerous passages depict Paul’s hope for Jesus to return sooner than later. Given the context, it is likely Paul’s words reflect both meanings: Christ is always near for us to call upon when we need hope and comfort and this hope is strengthened all the more by the joyful expectation of Christ’s return.

Live a life of prayer. (6–7)

The way to peace is through prayer and petition. The Greek for “prayer” denotes commitment to the discipline of prayer and “petition” refers to prayers brought forth with personal details. We are to pray “with thanksgiving,” as gratitude for past mercies strengthens our trust for future ones. This practice will “grant us a peace that will guard our hearts.” In a striking paradox Paul describes this peace with a military term: The peace of God “will stand sentry” over our hearts, or will “garrison” our hearts.

When we give our hearts to Christ in salvation, we experience “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). But here Paul deepens our understanding of peace among the saints. In spite of trials on the outside, within our hearts we can have quiet confidence in God’s protection and providence.

Live a life of right thinking. (8–9)

Paul’s final appeal is to “think about” various admirable qualities, all of which are appropriate to those whose minds are guarded by Christ. These traits were familiar and appreciated by pagan Greek moralists. Use of such lists not only of virtues but also of vices was a common practice for Paul (see Rom. 1:20–32; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Gal. 5:19–21). Paul’s affinity for such lists stems from his Hebrew roots, as the Jewish community had composed such lists for generations. In this Philippian passage the qualities are probably those Paul had in mind but did not specify earlier when he prayed for the Philippians to “approve what really matters” (Phil. 1:10).

The believers are to “think on these things,” not embrace them thoughtlessly. They are to consider them, reflect on them and meditate on them. “Learned and received” refers to passing along a tradition. This body of teaching is to be preserved and practiced because they give identity and continuity to the Christian community. We are to “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Perhaps this is why Jesus added to the Hebrew Shema, or prayer, the practice of loving the Lord “with all your mind” (Deut. 6:4–5).