Third Sunday in Advent: Philippians 4:4-9: The Politics of Gratitude
It has been widely recognized that over the last 100/150 years, evangelical Christians have been in hiding culturally. We have made peace and struck a truce with secularism believing the lie of neutrality. They told us that they didn’t believe in God, but that they would allow us to as long as we could all meet in the middle somewhere, somewhere objective, somewhere without any religious demands. And we agreed. But our interaction with politics and culture cannot just be another bid for office, a petition, or somekind of rally or drive. Our interaction must be cruciform.
Overview of the Text
The context of this passage is exceedingly important. The section actually begins back in 3:17 where Paul exhorts his readers to follow his example. We see this same exhortation in the conclusion of this section in 4:9. Verse 17 says that the Ephesians are to “walk” in the manner of the apostles (“us”), having them for a “pattern.” The word for “pattern” is “tupos” which means image or imprint. The word literally means “a blow”, the mark left from a quick, sharp knock. Think about the seal of a king on important documents or letters. Paul says that this pattern is something we are to “walk in”, but others have walked as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18). Their lifestyle, their culture, their loyalty is as enemies of the cross. The cross is not the pattern they are seeking to be conformed to. But Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (3:20). The word for “citizenship” is “polyteuma” which is from the word “polis” from which we get the word “politics.” The word could be translated “state” or “commonwealth.” Our political allegiance and loyalty is to this state which is being poured out from heaven. Our citizenship is not in heaven because we will go there when we die; our citizenship is in heaven because that is where our King is. What is our hope? Not to go to heaven when we die; our hope is in the resurrection from the death, which, Paul says is the same power which is able to “subdue all things to himself” (3:21). Therefore, be of one mind, rejoice, and meditate on these things.
The Politics of Gratitude
Paul is explaining how to be citizens of this state, how to be faithful subjects in this commonwealth. The government of Jesus is set to bless us and give us peace (vv. 7, 9) as we follow this “pattern,” the pattern of the cross, the seal of the King imprinted in our lives. The center of this pattern is joy and gratitude. Hebrews tells us that Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). The cross is not only the sign of great justice for God’s wrath against sin; it is not only the sign of God’s love for the world. It is also the sign of God’s deep joy and gratitude. For God was so thankful and grateful for the world that He gave his only begotten Son. What was the “joy set before Jesus”? Again, Hebrews 1 and Acts 2:34-36 says that Jesus has been made King. To what end? So that the nations of the earth might be made his possession (Ps. 2). To what end? For the salvation of the ends of the earth (Acts 13:33-48). What is the political program of Jesus? It is the declaration that Jesus is Lord. What is the central sign of submission to this rule? Gratitude, praise, thanksgiving, and rejoicing always.
Paul says that we are to be so full of gratitude that our gentleness is known to all (4:5). We are to be known for gentleness. The word “gentle” means patient, long suffering, fair, equitable, gracious, kind. Gentle doesn’t mean being a wimp. It doesn’t mean being quiet. It doesn’t mean being a pushover. It means being so full of faith and trust in the King, that you are not a crank or anxiety ridden. Manipulators and nervous breakdowns are both faithless; they just respond differently. One seizes everything; the other lets go of everything. Both are being unfaithful to the King. The King makes us patient and kind. We do not trust in the state of South Carolina; we do not trust in the Federal Government. We trust in our King. This is why verse 8 is so important. This verse is usually taken as only a prescription, but given the context it would probably fit even better as an explanation of the command to rejoice. Why are we to rejoice? The word translated “meditate” could just as easily be translated “count” or “reckon.” We are to count all the noble things, the just things, the pure things, the lovely things, the good reports, the virtue, the praiseworthy. We are to keep accounts of all the blessings of God. We are to meticulously keep track of them. We are to be so consumed with all of “these things” that we cannot but rejoice.
Application and Conclusion
The declaration of the angels to the shepherds is glory to God and peace and goodwill toward men. And this is what Paul promises (“peace” cf. vv. 7, 9) that the Kingdom of God, the commonwealth and state of God is here for peace. We do not rejoice because we are ignoring reality or pretending everything is noble, just, lovely, and good. We keep track of all the good things because we are so fully persuaded that our requests have been made known to God (v. 6).
Therefore begin with rejoicing. Keep track of the blessings of God in everything. Start there every day in everything. Make lists if you have to; say it out loud. Enumerate the blessings of God.
Make your requests to God with thanksgiving (v. 6) and do not worry; do not be anxious. Trust your King. Pray thankfully. And make sure your conversation reflects this kind of thankfulness even while seeking to correct or critique. Do not lie to God or your neighbor.
Finally, remember that the joy of the Lord is your strength. This is why Paul can say that the peace of God will “guard” our hearts and minds. Understand the political and military dimensions of gratitude. Thankfulness in our hearts and words is warfare. Our culture delights in complaining and bitterness. Even Christians talk and act like they are citizens of another kingdom. But we know better; let your gentleness be known to all. Trust in your King. The Lord is near; he is not far away. And he knows what he is doing. Therefore give thanks and rejoice always.