It is really difficult to be from New Jersey! No, not just because there is this false notion that it is the armpit of America (because where I was from was totally gorgeous, as is much of the state people never see), nor because you are immediately teased about your non-existent accent. (OK, let me address that before I go on … now I’m riled up! Nobody from the Garden State says “New Joys-sey” – maybe folks from Brooklyn do, but not people from New “Jur-zee” – the proper pronunciation, as are all consonants and vowels from the vocalization of the people of this state!)
No, the reason it is difficult is because the in-your-face, say-anything-to-anyone culture causes you to grow up with the most creative zingers and one-liners to take down anyone in any verbal debate. Therefore, as a Christian from this place, it is difficult to apply today’s passage …
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Gentleness? Peacefulness? Nobility? Loveliness? Really? Oh boy. But what about assertiveness? What about my rights?
Actually, I had several great examples of this passage in my own family – in the form of my father, grandfather, and older brothers-in-law. My dad really embodied this passage. Though he would make a stand for truth and justice when the moment demanded it, his root personality and demeanor could be described by these verses. Among his favorite sayings were, “Just because someone treated me wrong doesn’t mean I should do the same to them,” and “If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all.” And then when one of the rest of us more creative talkers in the family would speak ill of someone, he’d simply say, “Hmm, that’s odd, he always spoke well of you!”
However, on the women’s side, the creative ability to rant and “take someone out with a verbal hit” worthy of a NJ crime family was a skill I found too easy to emulate. Though on the bottom line these women were committed to the biblical message of God’s truth, they found the gentleness and high-minded nobility of this passage difficult to apply.
They were not, and are not, the only Christians with this challenge. The older I get and the longer I do this “job” that I’ve done, I am amazed at the things too many Christians and church people will say to one another. It is almost as if the view is that, well, we’re all family and have to forgive each other, so I’m going to say what I really think or display what I really feel.
Paul encourages the Philippians to do some more “measuring up” – to state it in the terms of our current series.
He first tells them to essentially calibrate their joy. Note, this is not the same as happiness or pleasure in every circumstance. But it is a calibration of the attitude of the mind to come to a position that, in Christ, there is every reason to have a foundation of joy – knowing we belong to the Lord and our entire lives are in his hands.
A way to experience joy is to be gentle and caring towards all people … to have this attitude as a sort of core descriptor of your life.
Yet it remains a challenge to not fret and worry over circumstances. The mind is again calibrated by bringing all of this to the Lord in prayer. Since it is the very best thing that can be done, and if a person has done everything in terms of appropriate responsibility with a pressing situation, great peace can be found by leaving it with the Lord in prayer. Let God handle it, and with that in mind, an attitude of peace can prevail within.
Having emptied the mind of the concern by giving it to God in prayer, the mind can now be re-calibrated by thinking upon a list of items of great merit. The natural proclivity of the mind is to be negative – to think the worst of a situation or person. But by thinking the best and by genuinely desiring such an outcome in the lives of others, this leads us to be people like Christ – people who “jump in” to the lives of others or serve actively within the church family, rather than “jump out” by critically removing oneself to an aloof position or even another church where there are just better people.
It is a principle of life – when you look to find the people, situations, circumstances or places where you are best served by others, you are always going to be disappointed in a world of sinners and pre-glorified saints; but when you look to use the current situation, circumstance, or place to serve other people, the result is your own joy and peaceful pleasure that you have been a servant of Christ.
This sort of measuring up by re-calibrating the mind is enough to even make a native of New Jersey a gentle and joyful servant. The trick is to yield to the truth when the flesh is so very creative! And there may be some Maryland and Tri-State regional people who might benefit from this as well, as I’ve honestly met quite a few people who could by nature survive well in New Jersey … just sayin.’