Do you remember the old hymn? “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Trust and obedience are interconnected. Trust in God leads to our obedience of God. Obedience to God builds trust of God.
Suppose you had to choose between trust and obedience--which would you choose? Would you rather have people trust you or obey you? For me, I would rather be trusted than obeyed. If I obey, then I am more likely to learn obedience. If I obey without trust, I will most likely learn to resent it.
Many of us have learned to obey God, but we never really trust Him. We are afraid of his wrath so we do what He says. But it’s hard for us to imagine that God is really on our side. Go through the motions of obedience, but they don’t seem to lead us to trust. Our result is that we are anxious, fearful, and unhappy.
When we trust God we happily obey Him. We know that when we trust, he won’t let us down. It may be difficult to follow what He calls us to do, but we know that He will bring victory, even if we don’t see the way, because we know He’s trustworthy.
In this passage, Paul tells us to both trust and obey, but he begins with giving us a reason to trust.
That reason is simple, because He loves us!
“Therefore, my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
It isn’t just Paul calling us “beloved” it’s God! It isn’t just Paul calling us his brothers and saying he loves us and longs for us, his joy and crown—it’s God saying it through His Word!
So if God loves us that much, why don’t we trust Him? We can see why in verses 2 and 3.
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
This seems out of place. Suddenly, he’s talking about two women and encouraging them to get along. He doesn’t pick sides or reveal what the quarrel was---he just tells them to get over it.
We all have a few Euodias or Syntyches in our lives—people who are close to us, with whom we don’t really get along. We may love them, but we don’t trust them. Our past experience with others taught us to distrust. These personal quarrels keep us from recognizing Christ’s love.
The church is full of imperfect sinners, (including ourselves) who will let us down. The more we see ourselves as victims of others’ abuse, the harder it is for us to believe in a loving, caring God.
We learned distrust from our ancestors. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers it says something about Southerners that is probably obvious to anyone growing up in the South. We’ve been taught to distrust strangers. He traces this all the way back to our Scottish ancestors, who were cattle farmers and always on their guard against cattle rustlers. Fear of cattle thieves taught them to be wary of strangers, which they taught to their children. The cattle rustlers are all gone but the distrust remains.
We learn distrust from our parents. Parents are a child’s first model of God. If we don’t feel love from them, it is hard to trust throughout life.
We learn distrust from those we live and work with. Bosses abuse us. Lovers desert us. Friends betray us and take advantage of us. So, naturally, we learn to protect ourselves by trusting no one, not even God.
Paul doesn’t doubt the Christianity of these two women, in fact he praises them for their work and devotion. But it’s hard for us to get over our petty differences and to trust each other.
We can’t really trust God without trusting other people. When we distrust others, we distrust the God who uses them for His purposes. God allows all things to come into our lives, whether good or bad, and all the blessings we have come ultimately from Him, no matter who gives them. Even wicked people can be used for God’s good purposes by God. Even good people let us down. Our trust is never really in people, but God who holds everything in His hands.
Are you willing to trust God with your friends, family and fellow workers? Can you believe God will work in your life even through wickedness and injustice? If you have a difficult relationship, thank God for them. God is using them to make you more Christlike. If God directs the whole world, he directs those you distrust. His love is always with us.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if everything isn’t perfect in your life that God has abandoned you. On the contrary, if your life is running smoothly, it may be a sign that you aren’t progressing in the Lord. Whatever friction we endure in life, God is still in it.
“Trust and obey”. Paul next discusses obeying.
God wants us to obey His commands. But what commands does He want us to obey. We think about winning the lost, feeding the poor, supporting foreign missionaries. But all these commands are nothing compared to the hourly, daily commands of God to become new people. Obedience to God is mainly about changing our lives and attitudes.
Look at what Paul commands of us in 4-9.
4” Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
The word for “rejoice” isn’t talking about the way you act, but the way you feel. God commands us to feel happy. Then he doubled down and says it again! It’s not about doing something, but feeling something. He isn’t talking about fake happiness either, but really being happy in every circumstance!
This was brought home to me recently when I took spiritual inventory that measured, not my actions, but my motivations. It revealed that although I have been doing the right things and saying the right thing, I often didn’t feel the right way about it. It’s one thing not to hit a person who insults me, but it’s quite another not to be upset with the insult. It is one thing to act calm, but it’s quite another to actually be calm. When Paul commands us to rejoice, he doesn’t mean just act happy—he means us to be joyful.
5 “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;”
Be calm, and don’t fly off the handle when someone upsets you. Don’t allow your negative emotions to cause you to act impulsively, but exercise self-control. Gentle and calm isn’t something you do, but what you are.
6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve got a list of things that are useless to tell another. One of them is “don’t be anxious.” Yet here is Paul, speaking on God’s behalf, telling us not to be anxious, but to have peace and pray about every situation.
Surely God means, “don’t act anxious,” right? No, Paul says what he means. Don’t be anxious.
8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think on the right things, not the wrong things.
You may have heard of the “seven deadly sins”---lust, greed, gluttony, pride, jealousy, wrath, and laziness. These are actually taken from a list of destructive thoughts from Fourth Century monk named Evagrius. He didn’t call them sins, but of “desolations”-- attitudes of the heart that lead us away from God. He included an eighth, that we don’t call a sin. It is despair. It’s the belief that things are bad and can’t get better. Despair is probably the surest sign of a lack of trust in God. If we always dwell on what is bad, then we need to focus on what is good and productive.
“ What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
If you want to have peace in your heart, learn to focus on the good.
These commands are not difficult—they are impossible! We can’t change the way we feel, and if we try we just build hypocrisy and resistance. We can’t deny our real feelings.
God isn’t interested in training us to be good actors, but in changing our hearts. The Holy Spirit has the power to give us real joy, remove our anxiety, and to produce good thoughts in us. But if we try to change our hearts by ourselves, we will only become frustrated.
We have to trust Him to make the changes in our hearts that will enable us to obey Him and rejoice, be calm and stay focused. Rejoicing in the Lord opens us up to receiving God’s Spirit, which changes our lives and hearts to match the plan God has for us. It cannot be done by human effort, but only by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We cannot make our feelings disappear, but we can learn to place our attention where it should be. I can’t keep people from betraying me, but I can choose whether or not I focus on being betrayed. I can’t stop worries from coming to my door, but I can choose to ignore them and look at something else. I can’t stop dishonorable, unjust, ugly, and despicable things from happening, but I can choose to look instead at something better.
I can do all this, because deep down I know that I can trust God. My life is not doomed. I can still choose instead to focus on the things that shine with God’s glory. I can trust Jesus to make internal changes in me that will help me rejoice, be calm, and be optimistic in the middle of pessimistic circumstances.
Trust Jesus. We can be happy in him, if we trust Him and obey Him.