Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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.
-Paul, Letter to the Philippians
So, what’s the deal with Paul, anyway? He sounds like he should be walking around in a Calypso shirt singing, Don’t worry, be happy. It seems that in Paul’s writings, you can find something for everyone. He calls the Galatians stupid and rants about wanting to do terrible things to a few teachers he doesn’t agree with. To the Corinthians, he has lots to say – and has been branded as a misogynist and anti-marriage as a result. Now here, he comes off like someone straight out of the 60’s: “peace, be mellow.”
Today, anyone who preaches “think nice thoughts” gets nailed by the “serious” Christians. Don’t they? Remember Norman Vincent Peale? Bob Schuller? And what about Joel Osteen? Are they really “Christianity lite” or do they really have something to say? (I confess, I have made fun of Bob, too – we used to call the Crystal Cathedral the “Crystal Lite Church.”)
In this day of war, secularism, evil post-modernist philosophy & strife, it’s not always popular to tell people to rejoice that their glass is half-full, and to pray that it gets filled even more. After all, if people are happy, they can’t be controlled by guilt. They may not even feel compelled to tithe, or to sit through another boring, “do more, try harder” sermon.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is somewhat different than many of his other letters, as this one was not written to correct – if anything, it was just a letter to friends and financial supporters. We might even suppose that this letter reveals the “real” Paul, or perhaps, Paul in a moment of peace.
I’ve always liked Paul, in his various personas, but I think I am especially fond of this one, who, when at the end of the day and his battles have been fought, can say with all sincerity, “Rejoice. Don’t worry, be happy. Give your worries to God, and relish God’s peace. And, think happy thoughts.”