Philippians 1:1-11 The Joy of Stress

I'm reading a few books at the moment on stress management. There is "The Joy of Stress" by Dr Peter Hanson, and Barbara Johnson's "Pain is inevitable but misery is optional so stick a Geranium in your hat and be happy." In it she promotes a new device - It may even be the much hyped invention that is going to revolutionise our lives. IT" as its called is a top secret new invention, its creator 49 year old Dean Kamen claims, will "sweep over the world and change lives". Top Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, who helped launch Netscape, is on board. Jeff Bezos, boss at bookseller Amazon, and Apple Mac guru Steve Jobs, have both given IT the thumbs-up. Its claimed IT could cost less than $2,000. IT fits in a duffel bag. IT takes 10 minutes to assemble. No lesser authority than the Harvard Business School Press has reportedly paid $250,000 for a book about IT, despite not being told exactly what IT is. You want to know what I think it is? How about a small video camera mounted on a shoulder strap, designed for people like me which follows your every move so that when you lose something, you can watch the video to find out where you lost it.

But the book I'm enjoying most at the moment is called 'Say Yes to Stress' by Marcel Feigel and Brian Busselle. Read foreword... At last I've found a book after my own heart. Its been quite a stressful January for me. With the government advising against travel to Palestine, several travel agencies I care about could go out of business in the next few months. If that puts pressure on travel operators here, think what it is doing to the Christian community there who depend on pilgrimages to fill the hotels, employ the guides and buy the souvenirs. The stalemate in the peace process grieves me. Yesterday there were reports that Iraq has moved large numbers of troops up to the Syrian border and America has put its forces in Europe on alert. Then I got into hot water with a few people over my article in January's Connection. That increased my post bag and raised the stress levels.
That's OK, I like hot water, it keeps me clean. I do need to point out though the article has nothing whatsoever to do with my application for a US passport. Sheer coincidence.

How should we handle stress? As He was about to die an awful death, Jesus said to His followers in John 15:11 "These things I have told you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." Did he really mean it?
One of the results of knowing God as our loving heavenly Father is the privilege of experiencing the joy of Jesus irrespective of our circumstances. He may not take away the stress but if you take this advice seriously it will lower your blood pressure. Yet for much of the time we get all stress up because we try and work harder and faster instead of smarter. That's why I've entitled this sermon 'The joy of stress' because that's what Philippians is all about.

It was written by Paul while a prisoner in Rome about the year 62 AD and sent to his friends at Philippi to the church he had founded on his second missionary journey. We explored the birth of that first Church in Europe two weeks ago from Acts 16. Do read the story again. One of the church members there, Epaphroditus had been sent to bring money to support Paul in prison. Paul's letter therefore is something of a "missionary thank you" but it is much more than that. Paul also shares the secret of Christian joy, and we are going to find out about it in the next few weeks as we look at this letter together. Paul mentions joy, rejoicing and gladness 19x in four short chapters. Now the unusual thing about this letter is that from what we know of Paul's circumstances he had no earthly reason for rejoicing at all. He was a Roman prisoner, and he did not know whether his trial would result in an acquittal or execution. He was chained to Roman guards and denied basic freedoms. Yet in spite of his danger and discomfort, Paul overflowed with joy. What was the secret of this joy? The answer lies in another word often repeated in this letter. Its the word "mind". Paul uses the word 10x, the word "think" 5x, and "remember" once. Add those together and you have 16 references to the mind.

In other words, the secret of Christian joy is found in the way we think - that is our attitudes. For our outlook so very often determines our outcome. The one thing we can control in life is our attitude to stress.

This is no shallow "self help" book that tells us to think positively, or to convince ourselves everything will turn out all right in the end. It is a short letter that explains how we can continue to experience God's joy in a world that is full of trouble. Joy in stress. In these four chapters Paul gives us four attitudes that will maintain our joy. Chapter 1 is all about being single minded. Chapter 2 about having a submissive mind. Submissive to Him. Chapter 3 is about having a spiritual mind. Heavenly viewpoint. Chapter 4 is about having a secure mind. Secure in the resources we have in Christ. Today we are going to focus on Chapter 1 and "single mindedness". As James puts in his letter 1:8 "A double minded person is unstable in all their ways." That is the reason we are so often upset by circumstances or stressed and miserable. Its because we lack focus, we fail to cultivate a single-mindedness in serving the Lord, that will not be distracted, or discouraged or put off by adversity. There was a sign in a local mortuary I saw recently. It said, "Any day above ground is a good one." Paul goes one better in 1:21 when he says "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." Paul mentions Jesus 18x in this first chapter, and the gospel 6x. Its as if Paul is saying "It makes no difference what happens to me... Just as long as Christ is glorified and the Gospel shared." As we read chapter 1 we find Paul explains the stress he was experiencing could not rob him of his joy. Why? Because he was living to serve Jesus Christ. He was a man of purpose, a man with a mission. "This one thing I do" he says in 3:13. Paul does not look at circumstances in themselves, but rather in relation to Jesus Christ. For example he is not the prisoner of Rome, he is the "prisoner of Jesus Christ" 3:1. The chains he wears are his "bonds in Christ", 1:13. He is not facing a civil trial but is in prison "for a defence of the Gospel" 1:16.

Paul looked at his situation and saw the hand of God behind everything. He saw opposition as opportunities. Stress for Paul as a cause for joy. Paul rejoiced in his difficult circumstances because they helped to strengthen his friendship with other Christians and it gave him opportunities to talk about Jesus and lead others to Christ. Lets look at verses 1-11 to see how Paul radiates joy in spite of his circumstances. He does so in prayer.

1. How Paul Prays "I have you on my mind" 1:3-4
Isn't it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul's mind goes back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16; you may discover that some things happened to Paul at Philippi, the memory of which could produce sorrow. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed. And the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. Read 1:3. What do you do when someone comes into your mind? Worry about what they are up to? Remember the dreadful things they said to you? Turn over in your mind negative long forgotten memories? Reflect on how you are going to retaliate? That is not what Paul did.

He does not say "I have you on my nerves". When he remembered the Philippians he prayed for them, he gave thanks for them, because he was grateful for their partnership. When he thought of them, he didn't worry about them, he offered them to the Lord. Every time you think of someone, turn it into an opportunity to pray for them, and your relationship will change, it will grow. When ever someone comes to mind assume its because the Lord wants you to pray for them. Don't dwell on the bad, reflect on what you should be thankful about your relationship. How Paul prays I have you on my mind

2. Why Paul Prays : "I hold you in my heart" 1:5-8
Now we move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really caring for them in our hearts. Paul was emotionally involved with this Church. He cared about them. Christian love is the "spiritual lubrication" that keeps the church a family that feels and cares for each other. How did Paul show his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His chains were proof of his love. He was "a prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles" (Ep. 3:1). That's why Paul longed for his friends "with the affection of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:8). They existed as a church because of his ministry. They were his spiritual children. It was not Paul's love channelled through Christ; it was Christ's love channelled through Paul. How can we tell that we are sharing the affection of Jesus Christ with each other? A willingness to forgive one another is a good sign. 1 Cor. 13:5 says "love keeps no record of wrongs". When we practice this kind of active love we experience joy as well because both are the fruit of the same Holy Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy" (Gal. 5:22). Paul remained joyful because his confidence was placed not in the fickleness of human nature, whether his or theirs, but in the sovereign Lord God Almighty. That is why he was so thankful.
How Paul Prays : I have you on my mind 1:3-5
Why Paul Prays : I hold you in my heart 1:5-8

3. What Paul Prays : "I uplift you in my prayers" 1:9-11
Paul is not interested in whether they are using the correct liturgy or wearing the correct robes, what types of services they hold, or even their attendance records. He is concerned with one thing - that they become like Jesus Christ. There is single-mindedness in Paul's prayer. He has a goal in mind for them, and to this end he prays. Last week in his presidential address George Bush called upon Americans to be citizens and not just spectators. So for Paul, fellowship means much more than having your name on the electoral roll, or attending a service. Joy comes in knowing and serving Jesus - citizenship of heaven while on earth. Three things Paul prays:

3.1 Love and Insight 1:9
First of all Paul prays that as they got to know one another better their love would grow. In our house one of the favourite TV programmes is "Blind Date". The love Paul describes here is not the kind you see on Cilla Black's programme. Its not based on a few brief questions, superficial attraction and a blind date together. Paul prays that their love grows through knowledge and insight. And that takes time and trust. Christ Church has been growing, quietly and steadily over the past few years, and that creates its own challenges. How do we remain a friendly and welcoming family? Those of you who are grandparents will know what its like trying to remember not only your children's ages and birthdays but also your grandchildren's. The more relatives you have the more you need to work at it. Next month we will create our new Church Family Directory. Use it to get to know one another, work at it. Use it to pray for each other as well. Then your love will grow with knowledge.

3.2 Discernment 1:10
Discernment to know what is best, what is pure and blameless. If you don't feel pure and blameless right now reflect on the words of the confession slowly and listen to the words of the absolution. They are based on 1 John 1:8-10. As a church we need discernment this year about our mission priorities, about our buildings, about employing a youth worker. We need your active participation - your time, your talents and your treasure, but above all we need discernment to know what is pure and blameless so that our decisions will bring God glory. Love, discernment and thirdly, Paul prayed,

3.3 Righteousness 1:11
The last part of Paul's prayer was that as these things become true in our experience we would literally be filled with the fruit of righteousness, = right living = evidence of Jesus Christ in our lives. That's the goal of our prayers. Not that we grow larger or balance the budget, or expand our facilities but that we become more like Jesus - then by God's grace we will do all three. We've seen why Paul was joyful even in stress - because he was single-minded in prayer. Summarise outline. Lets do the same for one another this week.

Lets have one another on our minds, lets hold one another in our hearts and lets uplift one another in our prayers. And don't be surprised if you are more joyful, more focussed, more fulfilled by next week. Re-read 1:9-11. Lets make this our prayer for each other in 2001. Lets pray.

With grateful thanks to Warren Wersbie for many of the ideas used in this sermon.