My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In the name of Christ, dear people of God:
What is the greatest gift you received in 2010? Perhaps it was one of the gifts you received just a week ago – at Christmas. Maybe it was the gift of healing or a job or a promotion. Maybe it was knowing everything would continue as it had in the past. But what was the greatest gift? Peace. The peace won by Christ. That is peace with the holy and almighty God. That is the greatest gift you have received. It is the greatest gift that God will continue to give you in the year ahead. But, beware, there are threats to this peace. There are enemies that want to rob you of the greatest gift of peace. The devil seeks to rob us of our comfort as he continues to accuse us. The world tries to blind us to the value and the benefit of peace with God. Our sinful flesh continues to push the agenda called selfishness. Realizing the benefits of peace with God and the threats that seek to rob us of the blessing of peace, we pray on this New Year’s Eve: May the Lord grant us peace in the New Year!
We pray that the Lord would give us peace by leading us to think godly thoughts. So Paul writes to the Philippians: Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. Here is one of the battlefields on which you will fight in the New Year. It is so easy for us to think about things that are false, things that are wrong, things that are impure, things that are hateful, things that are ugly, dark, and disgusting. It is so easy for us to follow the example of the sinful world, to get caught up in the greed and materialism that makes the world go around. Much of the battle you will be called on to fight goes on right inside your head. We truly struggle to think of the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. We have sinned in the past year by thinking sinful thoughts whether they were thoughts of lust or jealousy or hatred or what have you. We have failed in the fight. We wonder if there is any way we could win. We are tempted to just try harder, come up with a better plan, or lock ourselves away from the world. But none of that will work. So we need God’s help. We pray for his help in the New Year. We ask him to help us remain living in peace by helping us to set our minds on good things. This means being in the Word, learning what is good and God-pleasing. This means putting what we learn from God’s Word into practice in our daily lives. This means seeking out all that is good.
It all sounds so very impossible. We know we struggle so we pray for God’s help. And seeing that our God is so very gracious and merciful he promises us his presence. Yes, he promises he will be with us and help us. Thank God! We need him so very much! So Paul assures: And the God of peace will be with you. What an assurance for us as we step into 2011 – an unknown future awaits us.
We pause this evening to think and to thank. Our God is the God of peace. He has restored us, fallen creatures, to peace with him by sacrificing his one and only Son. He has condescended to help us in the pitiful depth of our sin and rebellion. He has stooped down to help us again and again as we walk the walk of faith as skillfully as a toddler taking his first steps. He has again and again forgiven us for our wickedness, rebellion, and sin. This is the God of peace who promises to be with us always in 2011. Yes, rest assured his abiding care is with you, even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
We enter 2011 in the confidence that the God of peace walks with us. He is with us to help us to set our minds on the good things. He is with us to forgive all our sins. He is with us to keep us calm, confident, and faithful to him throughout the New Year.
But there is another element of a peaceful life on the battlefield of the church militant. Paul discusses the peace of living a generous life. Yes, the God of peace directs us and enables us to live in a generous manner.
Paul discusses the secret of life: I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him, who gives me strength. Notice the positive outlook on life that Paul expresses here. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit to face the challenges of life, to bear the crosses God has given, and to focus on Christ in faith all the while rejoicing in God’s grace. We pray that the Lord would grant us grace to learn the secret of being content whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in may be in this New Year. Paul knew the secret of life is to be content with whatever the Lord provided. He was not just plain content, but even thankful for whatever the Lord in his grace had provided. We wonder to ourselves how Paul could live that way. We wonder what contentment looks like, for we are so richly blessed that the devil pushes greed on us. Satan wants us to want more and more and do whatever it takes to chase success and financial security. Paul says remain content to trust that the Lord will provide. We struggle to do this. If we are honest with ourselves we will cry out for help from the Lord to do this. How can we remain content whatever the circumstances? Paul tells us, I can do everything through him, who gives me strength. What a motto for us in the New Year! Find your strength in the Lord. Know that the Lord gives you the strength you need to face whatever challenges may come your way in 2011! What confidence! What comfort!
In this comfort and confidence we are lead to give freely and generously. For it goes beyond generosity to sharing in troubles with others. So Paul writes, Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out for Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. Two things happened as the Spirit was guiding the Philippians. First, they became willing to take on the troubles that other people were facing. So often the sinful nature asks, “Why should I care? What business is that of mine?” May the Lord lead us to a peaceful realization that the troubles of others are our opportunities to serve him. What a great way to thank the Lord for his gift of peace! Second, they became generous by giving from little. These were not extremely wealthy people. Yet, they gave from what they had and even more. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 8: Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. If you are thinking you need to be wealthy to be generous, you haven’t been reading the Scriptures very much. The scriptural examples of giving tend to feature people who don’t have much. That is the case with the Macedonian churches in this offering for Christians in Jerusalem. That is also the case in the comments Jesus makes about a widow who put her last coins in the offering. May the Lord give us peace in 2011 by leading us to think godly thoughts and moving us to be generous! Amen.