I recently came across a story about a guy who was just about to jump from a bridge. A police officer noticed and walked slowly and carefully over to the man and began to engage him in a conversation. The officer was finally able to get within inches of the man and then said, “Surely nothing could be bad enough for you to take your life. What’s going on? Talk to me.” The man who was about to jump then proceeded to tell how his wife had left him, how his business had gone bankrupt, how all of his friends had left him. Now, everything in life held no meaning. For thirty minutes the man told the officer his sad story — then they both jumped!
Sometimes our circumstances can appear so bad that we are unable to see anything good. We can despair even of life itself (see Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 1.8). Relationships may falter, finances may fail, dreams may be placed on hold or even vanish altogether. Events can be so discouraging they threaten to remove our hope in God. Yet, the truth is we can decide how the negatives of life will affect us and actually live above our circumstances with genuine joy.
Having already resounded a note of joy throughout this letter, Paul in chapter 4, ends by telling us that in the midst of difficulty and the things that might steal our joy too “…stand firm thus in the Lord.” He is actually telling us HOW not to waver from our position of joy in Christ. The little word there, “thus” (ESV) or “in this way” (NET) points back to all that he has said up to this point and forward to what he about to say in this chapter. He tells us some essential truths we must practice to attain this.
First, work hard to get along with people. Work out your differences. When we are in conflict with others, it can certainly steal our joy. Sometimes we need someone to come alongside and help us to iron out those differences so we don’t get stuck in resentment or bitterness. Apparently, a disagreement between two women in the church had become known. Paul tells them to come to an agreement over whatever was causing the conflict, but he also asks one of his own co-workers to help them sort it out. The words there (v.2) refer to their having the same attitude of mind – an idea that will come up again in the rest of this last chapter.
Second, rejoice as a choice of your will. It does not matter how you feel. Choose to celebrate in the Lord while in the midst of your difficulty. That’s hard to remember in the moment, but it is so important Paul repeats it: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (v.4). Paul knew what he was talking about. His own hard times had taught him to focus on the good things found in Christ and make much of them.
Third, give people some space and some grace. The words, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (v.5), refer to the being kind, gentle, courteous and tolerant when we don’t feel that way. When provoked, treated unfairly or dishonored, stay calm. We are to do that with everybody, not just family, friends and fellow Christians. Why? Because Christ is near and he will soon turn our dishonor into honor.
Fourth, stop worrying and start praying. When we are anxious, we should ask God for what we need and then begin to thank him for his answer. Paul knew the power of prayer and the resulting peace of giving our concerns to God. Doing that will protect our hearts and minds and keep us from thinking on things we ourselves cannot change.
Finally, cultivate a positive mindset. “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is not positive thinking. This is cultivating an attitude that focuses on the things that matter. Someone once said: “developing a Christian mind and character requires a lifetime of discerning and disciplined thought about all things that are excellent and praiseworthy.”
In all of these directives, Paul tells us how to stand when we want to escape. It’s really all about keeping a Christ-like attitude in everything. What do you think?