In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, II. 4: The Priests, Nietzsche wrote: “And one day Zarathustra made a sign to his disciples and spoke these words to them: ‘Better songs would they have to sing, for me to believe in their Saviour: more like saved ones would his disciples have to appear to me!’”
How do we appear more like saved ones? This is a serious challenge. Paul gives part of the answer in this passage. Firstly he says:
Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (verse 4). This seems a ludicrous statement. How can anyone rejoice always? What about all the circumstances in life where it would be impossible or even inappropriate to rejoice. We can’t drift through life with a happy grin on our faces!
Yet to rejoice always is an apostolic command. What did Paul mean?
He actually meant that we can rejoice in the Lord’s presence at all times and in all circumstances. This may be overt rejoicing and cheerfulness. It may be quiet inner joy. Everyone can rejoice when things are going well, when prayers are answered, when life is interesting, when prospects are exciting.
But what about when life collapses round our ears? What happens when it couldn’t get any worse but it does? What about disappointment, rejection, desertion, injustice, bereavement? We can’t grin through those experiences.
However we can have that quiet inner awareness of the constant presence of the eternal, all-loving Jesus, strengthening, comforting, directing us. And we can quietly rejoice in that.
Secondly, Paul says:
He actually writes: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (verse 5).
Gentleness is not weakness, it is controlled strength. That strength could be used for aggression or violence, but it is controlled in love and becomes gentleness. We are to show such gentleness obviously – for all to see. The Christian life is not the pursuit of power. Politicians seek power as do the military. Ambitious people seek power in management. Business people seek the power that money brings. Sadly, people seek power in the church too. But that is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is the way of gentleness.
It is a quality to be meted out to all in the light of the constant presence of Christ. The Lord is near. He is the unseen listener to every conversation, the unseen witness of every action. The follower of Christ shows the gentleness of Christ.
Thirdly Paul says:
His actual words are: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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” (verses 6-7).
But isn’t this another unrealistic command? How on earth can Paul expect people to sail through life with not a care or anxiety? Yet he gives a command: “Do not be anxious.”
We need to realise that anxiety is a temptation – to despair, doom and gloom. We shall not be free of the feelings – as a temptation. But Paul says there is a way of not falling to the temptation and wallowing in or being dominated by anxiety as many people are.
The secret is to thank and pray to God in every situation. Immediately this recalls the conscious presence of the Almighty – the Creator of this vast universe, the Redeemer who gave his all for love of us on the cross. If a burden shared is a burden halved, a burden shared with such a God is vastly reduced to manageable proportions.
In fact, it makes it possible to experience a peace in Jesus that is not dependent on the circumstances but contradictory to them. It guards our hearts (feelings) and minds (thoughts) and prevents domination by anxiety.
Fourthly, Paul exhorts us to:
He writes: “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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” (verse 8).
We should not dwell on evil, fear, violence, lust, degradation etc. Rather we should dwell on God’s word and sincerity (whatever is true), on what is uplifting, moral, unsullied and beautiful, on what is inspiring, outstanding and exemplary.
Dwelling on the positives will lift our sights above the mundane and sordid. It will help raise us up to the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, where we see everything from his vantage point.
Finally, Paul writes:
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (verse 9).
Paul lived a consistent life. He not only spoke the truth (“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me”) but he lived the truth. He could refer to what they had seen in him. So Paul challenges them to practice apostolic teaching, to live biblically.
How are you doing?
Someone once wrote a notice:
“God is dead” signed Nietzsche
“Nietzsche is dead” signed God
Nietzsche went mad before he died, but God is very much alive and well. But, as someone said: “The only Gospel some people read is your life and mine.” Nietzsche is dead but do we appear more like saved ones?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction