It’s easy to read the apostle Paul’s words and think that he was too out of touch with life in the modern context. We read his heeding in Philippians 4 and think to ourselves, You actually expect me to rejoice always? Paul didn’t have 24-hour news stations declaring the fallen state of the world. He also didn’t have to deal with nonstop notifications proclaiming the next wrong thing to fuel our outrage. It seems that this is why it’s hard for us to cling to the good today.
Yet the Word of God remains unchanged. And as Paul reminds his protégé in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The command to rejoice is for our ears to hear, too, that our good works would bring order into the chaos that surrounds.
So the Word of truth persists. And here’s what we must do in light of it.
1. Dwell on what’s fruitful.
It’s hard to rejoice when our energy is centered around all that’s gone wrong. In Philippians 4:8, Paul lists out the good gifts of the Father that are just sitting there waiting to claim our attention. He turns our gaze to that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and praiseworthy. It took eternal eyes to sit there while on house arrest and still believe the gospel to be worth more than any false freedom he’d have apart from Christ.
These worthy and worthwhile things don’t seem to be shouting as loudly as all that seems rotten around us; these good gifts are still present, though. Even if only in whispers. And we can still find them, even if we need help pointing them out.
2. Do something with the good.
In verse 9, Paul takes it further, commissioning us not to sit stagnantly as we think on these worthwhile things. Instead, he commands us to be moved to action by them. We are called to emulate the good that we have learned, received, heard, and seen. Consider the faith in action and the good works demonstrated by those who have gone before us or who are standing beside us in the faith.
This obedience, this rejoicing, this call to cling to the good requires action on our behalf. So, we look to those disciples who have already ventured down the path we now find ourselves on. And we consider the disciples following after us, learning to follow Jesus in light of the ways that we follow. As disciples who make disciples, the legacy of faith is the mission we are called to actively engage in; the journey of our faith did not start with us. And as the church faithfully walks in obedience to Christ’s example, it will not end with us, either.
To cling to the good means to take the good a step further.
3. Surrender to His peace.
As we take those action steps toward dwelling on the good and allowing His truth to abide within us, we walk in and towards a peace that makes no earthly sense. The rubble in our midst doesn’t seem to constitute a sense of peace. Yet Paul tells us that God’s peace will be faithful to guard both our hearts and our minds. And as we consider the brokenness around us, we are called to remember that He is still near, still working, and still redeeming all that we’ve hastily labeled as irredeemable.
His peace and presence are the baseline of our hope as we find ourselves in the trenches of brokenness. When it seems like joy isn’t possible, His promise remains with us and still resides, forever unchanged. But it takes surrender to see past the bad in order to cling to the good. It takes submission to trust in the character of a good God who transcends our present circumstances, yet remains near to us in our brokenness (Psalm 34:18).
The Gospel is Our Gamechanger
The good news of the gospel truly is a gamechanger for us. This was the only reason Paul had the courage and the will to pen the prison epistles for us as he sat there, declaring the gospel to be sufficient in the midst of his—and our—every need. And he was fully convinced of God’s goodness despite all that was not good in the midst of his present experience. He considered everything apart from knowing and gaining Christ to be his loss.
We tend to have a hard time clinging to the good as we sift through the broken pieces that surround us—fractured relationships, sickness, financial concerns, disappointment, and disillusionment of every kind. Though our default is to dwell on what’s missing and gone awry, God is still with us. And He has already equipped us with all that’s needed to cling to the ultimate good—Himself—and to catalyze that good as He’s intended, that the world would know this same hope.