Over the last year, we in Perth have looked on with some degree of horror at the suffering experienced by so many in different parts of the world, and even Australia, as a result of COVID-19. For most of us here in Perth, we have been only slightly inconvenienced.
Then this morning, after ten months of an almost COVID-free life, we find ourselves in a five-day hard lockdown. Things can change overnight!
Of course, we hope that the lock down will only go for five days, but much will depend on the results of testing and contact tracing over the next few days. But whatever happens, we are not alone, we are never abandoned, we are always accepted, and we are ever cared for by God. That’s part of the grace of being a Christian.
In Philippians 4:1-9 we are reminded that we are deeply loved and rejoiced over. Just as Paul loved and longed for his friends at Philippi, so God loves and rejoices over each of his children. We are loved with a love that is eternal, unconquerable, and deeply personal; we are loved.
Knowing that we are so loved by God is wonderfully liberating. Being so loved, we don’t have to expend endless energy seeking affirmation and validation or employ endless strategies of self-promotion and self-protection. Being so loved, our hearts can be liberated to trust and to serve. Being so loved we can, as Paul exhorts, stand firm in the Lord, agree in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, and be at peace in the Lord.
The people of Western Australia have had a sharp reminder that we live in uncertain times. This is true. But while our times and circumstances are uncertain, God’s steadfast love is never uncertain, nor his faithfulness, nor his power. Whenever we are troubled or anxious, whenever we are challenged by circumstances beyond our control, we can turn with prayer and thanksgiving to the God who loves us and cares for us, and promises to be with us on this journey of life.
And nor is his love limited merely to us, for his love embraces the whole of creation, humanity, and history. And so with hearts liberated by love we can turn to God not only with our own concerns and anxieties, but also on behalf of those around us.
Paul is encouraging his friends—and us—to see, understand, and live our whole lives in the Lord. Certainly we live in the world and share all of its vicissitudes, joys and sufferings, but our citizenship is in heaven (3:20), our identity in Christ. We live in the world in accordance with the grace given us in Christ. As Jesus also said: “…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
And so, wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances:
May the peace of God that passes all understanding
guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,
and the God of peace be with you.