Updated: May 3, 2021
(Philippians 4: 1-7)
Rev. Richard Harless
When I was blessed to visit one of the prisons in Rome where Paul was incarcerated, my respect and admiration for his Christian optimism was awe-inspiring and overpowering considering the deplorable circumstances and conditions. Yet, he preached for the church to rejoice. As a result, the majority of the prisoners, including two guards, were saved. Paul is the epitome of a Christian. In this text he gives us the characteristics of true Christians. We characterize people in many ways like outward appearance, race, nationality, national origin, speech, rural or urban, educated or uneducated, etc. But these characteristics often fail us. So how do we go about characterizing Christians? If I were to use just one statement, it would be “people living in a constant state of optimism.” This optimism comes from the character traits of followers of Christ that Paul describes In the beginning verses of this final chapter of Philippians.
1. Love is an indicator of a Christian (vs. 1-3)
A. It is an inclusive love. The love Paul expressed for his fellow Christians in Philippi included the argumentative Euodias as well as the helpful Clement. We are often choosy in our love. We love only those people who seem lovable or who love us in return. God is not like that.
B. He loves us all even when we do not deserve to be loved. If we are to love like God, we must let our love reach out to everyone.
C. It is a concerned love. Love always expresses concern for the one who is loved. Paul called these people his “joy” and “crown”. He was concerned about them even though he was separated from them.
2. Joy is an indicator of a Christian. (v. 4)
Philippians is considered Paul’s joy in Christ. Joy is surely a hallmark of this book. And joy is a sure symbol of a Christian.
A. It is a constant joy. Can enthusiasm be better defined than constant joy? Paul said that Christians are to rejoice in the Lord always, not just in good times, but also in the bad times.
B. It is an independent joy. This joy is “In the Lord,” which means that it is independent of life circumstances. When joy is “in the Lord,” it can be experienced and expressed even when there does not appear to be much of a reason for joy. 3. Gentleness is a sign of a Christian. (v.5)
Gentleness symbolizes the person who is willing to give up something that could rightfully be considered his or hers. Such people know when to use mercy. Why? Because the Lord is at hand. Everything Christians do, they do with the understanding that the Lord is present with them. Seeking to live out Christ's life on this earth, they will act with gentleness toward others.
4. Peace is evidence of the Christian. (vs 6-7)
Nowhere is the peace that we have in Jesus Christ expressed quite as forcefully as in these two verses.
A. Whatever the circumstances, the Christian is not crippled by anxiety. While we have our moments, they are short lived. Where prayer and praise exist, there is the promise that the peace of God will keep the hearts and minds of Christians.
B. The word “guard” used in verse 7 is a military term. God's peace will stand guard over Christians. A Christian missionary was on a ship during a time of war. After being tossed for much of the night, he remembered God's promise of his presence and consequentially decided that it was not necessary for both of them to stay awake, so he slept.
How do we tell who the Christians are and true followers of Christ? Look for the indicators discussed in this sermonette. The characteristics briefly addressed here are definite features of true Christians. When one is an unapologetic optimist regardless of life circumstances, I’ll be the first to ask if they are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ? The clues of a (true Christian) and a person (living in constant optimism) are seen in inclusive love, concerned love, continual joy, independent joy, gentleness, and peace.