Don Carson, during his final session at The Gospel Coalition’s 2012 Ontario Regional Conference, offered an exhortation to the attendees as he concluded the conference’s message preaching from Philippians 4:4-20. In this message, he offered six resolutions for living in light of the gospel–for working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, even as it is God at work within us. His six resolutions follow, along with my paraphrased notes of Dr. Carson’s commentary:
1. Resolve to rejoice always in the Lord (Phil 4:4)
Surely we should want to do this–we are given redemption; the promise of the holy spirit, the hope of future glory… That we should even need to be told to rejoice in light of all that God has done is indicative of our sorry state. The text insists that we rejoice in the Lord. Tim Keller likes to say, “For the Christian, optimism is naive, but pessimism is atheistic.” This is because we see things through different lenses. We rejoice in the Lord. And for how long? Always. One who rejoices in the Lord consistently cannot be haughty, a back biter, a gossip, unprayerful, a complainer, a whiner… because rejoicing in the Lord is a salve against such things.
2. Resolve to be known for gentleness (Phil 4:5)
This word gentleness is hard to get right. Some translate it as reasonableness or selflessness. Which is ironic—to be known for your selflessness. Its the type A personality who wants to be known. And yet, this is what the text says. There are some Christian virtues that should be practiced in private, but gentleness is one we are to be known for by all. The self-sins are tricky things. They are damnably treacherous.
Quoting A.W. Tozer:
To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy. They are so much in evidence as actually, for many people, to become identified with the gospel. I trust it is not a cynical observation to say that they appear these days to be a requisite for popularity in some sections of the Church visible. Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.
One of the entailments of the gospel is to resolve to live selflessly. But Paul also gives the reason for gentleness—”for the Lord is near.” The Lord’s return is impending. Salvation does not end in three score years and ten. We will stand before him in the end. And that means that we need to pay attention to the repeated commands to be ready for his return. For the Lord is near.
3. Resolve not to be anxious about anything (Phil 4:6-7)
Of course, this just sounds desperately unrealistic. And there is a sense in which we are called upon to worry about more today than in any other time in history. Poverty, tsunamis, etc… Analysts tell us about our habits, children, food, driving… It just seems so implausible.
The problem is that we hear the text but don’t pay attention to the rest. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We are to be anxious about nothing by being prayerful about everything.
We are to bring all our requests to God with thanksgiving. Is is not that there’s no place for weeping over the city, of showing concern. But that we take those concerns to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving, casting our anxieties upon Him.
4. Resolve to think holy thoughts (Phil 4:8-9)
In the wake of the prayer is the peace that surpasses all understanding. We’re not what we think, but we are what we think. In computer speak, it’s garbage in garbage out. this text doesn’t say just memorize Bible verses and you’ll be alright. It’s painting such a bigger picture. There are so many great movies, books, songs… And yet we fill our minds with trash. And we laud it in the name of freedom. This verse suggests we are responsible for what we think. Paul is offering a gospel perspective; we take all our thoughts captive in Christ. And Paul ties this to the command to be imitators of him. We are to pass along the faith through imitation as much as education–including how we think. So much is caught from what we watch, what we read, and what we hear.
5. Resolve to learn the secret of contentment (Phil 4:10-13)
You cannot learn contentment by merely living in difficult places. And you cannot learn contentment by merely living in happy places. You learn contentment by living in both places and not finding your contentment in your life circumstances. Paul says he’s learned to be content with plenty and content with little—independent of circumstances. It is Christ that makes him content and that gives him strength.
6. Resolve to grow in the grace of gratitude and courtesy (Phil 4:14-20)
The gospel, Paul says, supplies all of his needs… But he also expresses gratitude to the Philippians—and for them. He is simultaneously thanking them and saying that it’s all really coming from God. This is gospel shaped courtesy and thanksgiving. This helps us to better understand God’s sovereignty. It’s because God is this kind of God that we can be thankful and can give.
Question to consider: Which of these six resolutions is most challenging to you personally? Why?