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Philippians 4:4-7                                                                                                                February 4, 2018

 

Introduction

 

Stand firm. That is the Apostle Paul’s overarching theme in this last chapter of his letter to the church in Philippi.

 

Never give up. Persevere. (Last week I used the expression “nail your feet to the floor,” and I heard a little kid gasp in the front row). Paul introduced this theme in 4v1: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord…” In other words – “Stand firm in the ways I’m about to show you.”

 

He started showing them in vv2-3, which we looked at last week. Paul showed them how important unity was if they were going to stand firm. And so when there is conflict within a church, like there was between Euodia and Syntyche, those inside the conflict should work to agree in the Lord, while those outside the conflict should look to help.

 

That brings us to our verses today, which have three more exhortations for the church whose looking to stand firm. They are – rejoice always, be gentle, and never worry. These are difficult commands to follow. In fact two of them sound nearly impossible – rejoice always and never worry.

 

There’s a lot here. We won’t have time to cover all of it this morning. We’ll take the first two today – rejoice always and be gentle. And Lord willing we’ll take the third, never worry, next week.

 

That was the introduction I finished this past week. But this morning I realized I wanted to focus on “rejoice always.” I’ll introduce the exhortation to “be gentle,” but verse 4 will be our focus this morning.

 

But before I preach this sermon, we should pray together.  Please bow your heads with me. “Father in heaven, we need help understanding your Word; We need help applying your Word. We know that our minds will be dark and our hearts cold without you, so by your Holy Spirit, give us light and heat we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 

Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4, which, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find on page 637. Let me read the text in its entirety one more time before we begin. Philippians 4:4-7. This is the Word of God:

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

As I said before – we’ll focus on vv4-5 this morning, and we’ll focus on vv6-7 next week. In our verses today there are two exhortations from Paul – rejoice always and be gentle. Literally, Paul says (in v4) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And then in v5 he says “Let your reasonableness [that words means ‘gentle’] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;”

 

This week, as I was preparing, I read the rest of this letter and asked myself “Why is Paul calling for rejoicing and gentleness?” Here is what I came up with; Here’s what we know:

 

There were false teachers in the Philippian church. There were false believers in this church. There was division in this church. It was only a matter of time before the heat of persecution was in this church. And these difficult circumstances would conspire to test their attitude toward God, and their attitude toward one another.

 

In light of that, here is what Pau; is saying – “Stand firm in joy. Stand firm in gentleness.” In regards to your attitude toward Godrejoice always. In regards to your attitude toward othersbe gentle.

 

When difficult circumstances come into your life, vertically, joy is threatened. And horizontally, gentleness is threatened. When life becomes hard and painful (as it was for the Philippians) we’re tempted to shake our fist at God and at others.

 

And so Paul preemptively calls for the Philippians to stand firm in joy and gentleness. I think that’s what Paul is doing. So let’s read on and find out how Paul does that.

 

Verse 4

 

Let’s begin with verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

 

There are three parts to this verse, and you can probably see them. “Rejoice,” “always,” and “in the Lord,” and each of them are very important.

 

First, the command, “rejoice.” Rejoice means be joyful. Rejoice means feel happiness. So the command from Paul is literally be joyful. The command from Paul is feel happy.

And hee wants the command to sink in, which is why he says it twice in one verse – “Rejoice…again I will say, rejoice.”

 

The next word for us to think about is “always.” This answers the question “When should I rejoice?,” or “How often should I rejoice?,” or “Upon what occasion should I rejoice?”

 

And Paul’s answer to those questions is “Yes!” All of them, all the time, always. There are false teachers in your church – Rejoice. Stand firm in joy. There are false believers in your church – Rejoice. Stand firm in joy. Division? Persecution? Rejoice. Stand firm in joy. Rejoice always.

 

When I’m not joyful, that’s not what I want to hear. If I’m moping around, and someone says to me “You’re mopey. Stop moping around.” My thoughts are “I can’t just stop being mopey. There are reasons I’m mopey. It’s not like I can just flip a switch.”

 

Rejoice always. I think that sounds impossible to some of you. I think that command even sounds unfair to some of you.

 

Our would might be: “But joy is an emotion. It’s a feeling. And I don’t have control over my emotions and feelings. They just happen.”

 

Therefore: “That’s not fair. What if my circumstances are terrible? What if there’s conflict in my home? What if there is no money in the bank? I have cancer. My children have walked away from God. My parents favor my siblings. My spouse has left me.” How can Paul say to me “Rejoice always?”

 

Couple things. First, Paul practiced what he preached. He rejoiced always. In Acts 16, when Paul first went to Philippi, he and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail, and that night they were found rejoicing, singing hymns of praise. And what about now? Where is Paul now? He’s not writing from a cruise ship. He’s writing from prison, awaiting execution, where he has been for two years, chained around the clock to a guard.

 

And second, Paul isn’t just saying “rejoice.” He’s not saying “Your circumstances are no big deal.” He’s not saying “suck it up.” He’s telling them how to do this. It’s in the last part of this verse. Let’s read the verse again and look for it.

 

Here’s the entire verse again (v4): “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

 

There’s one more part here. It’s what makes this verse distinctly Christian. It provides the answer to the question, “How can I possibly do this?” It is the ground beneath all rejoicing. “In the Lord.”

Here is what Paul is saying: “No matter what is going on in your life – (persecution, division, family strife, rebellious children, church conflict, disability, disease, scarcity) – No matter what is going on in your life – rejoice in the Lord.

 

Many of you have lots of things to rejoice in – Health and family and success and abundance and friendship and security and provision and on and on. And these things that are going well make you happy. They are the ground beneath your joy. “I’m so happy because…” And you would name these things.

 

Imagine one of those beach houses on posts. You’re the house and the posts are the reasons you rejoice. And here’s what God often does for those whom he loves – he knocks out a post. A big wave comes in and knocks out the post. And then another post. And the house starts to wobble.

 

We might fight it. We try and control our circumstances. But we can’t. We try and ignore our circumstances, escape our circumstances, run from our circumstances, deny our circumstances, but we can’t.

 

And the house is teetering. Wood is splitting. The floor is sinking. And then Paul says “rejoice always!” And you’re thinking “Rejoice? I’m trying to survive. I’m trying to breathe. I’m trying to not sin!”

 

Maybe that’s a little dramatic for some of you. Maybe the enemy of your joy is something else. Regardless, Paul’s talking about the ground beneath your joy.

 

This joy is not based on your circumstances and how you inevitably feel about your circumstances. There are times when your circumstances are favorable and rejoicing comes easy. And there are times when your circumstances are unfavorable and rejoicing is very difficult. There are times when it comes naturally, springing out of your circumstances and feelings. And there are times joy seems impossible.

 

Whatever the mysteries of evil and sorrow, they do have the salutary effect of helping believers to shift the ground of their joy from created things to the Creator, from the temporary to the eternal, … from consumption to God.[1]

 

So how Paul? “Rejoice in the Lord.”

 

In the Lord. In the Lord. In. In. In. “In. Into. Because of. On account of. In connection with.” The Lord.

 

Here’s what Paul is saying. Let me say it a few different ways, and then show you support in other verses.

 

The ground of Christian joy is knowing Christ. The key to rejoicing always is thinking always about Christ. Rejoicing is rooted in revelation.

Now, in those phrases I just gave you, feelings and emotions are subservient to thoughts. Right thinking precedes right feeling. And that’s biblical. We tend to go straight to feeling and then doing and maybe thinking later. Right? When a difficult circumstance comes your way, most of you will start feeling before you do any thinking.

 

Let me show you a couple verses. One in James 1 and the other in Romans 5. In these two verses, which both talk about joy in difficult times, I want you to listen for the ground beneath the joy:

 

James 1:2-4

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

Romans 5:1-5

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

 

Knowing, thinking, then joy. There are so many other verses we could read together, but I’ve selected just one more. I think this is what Paul has in mind.

 

John 15:1-11

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

 

The ground of joy is abiding in Jesus. And in this text, you’re abiding in Jesus if his words are abiding in you.

 

The ground of Christian joy is knowing Christ. The key to rejoicing always is thinking always about Christ. Rejoicing is rooted in revelation.

 

Let’s make this very practical:

So you find yourself in a circumstance, and it’s taking your joy. It could be a big thing. It could be a little thing.

 

Stop. And think. Read God’s Word. Pray. Get counsel. “How should I think about this? What does God think about this? What is really going on here?” Our feelings should be shaped by our thinking, and our thinking should be shaped by God’s revelation.

 

Revelation – right thoughts – right actions – right emotion

 

If we fail to respond with joy and gratitude when we are reminded of these things, it is either because we have not properly grasped the depth of the abyss of our own sinful natures and of the curse from which we have been freed by Jesus or because we have not adequately surveyed the splendor of the heights to which we have been raised.[2]

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, here is how this works for me. (Read through song Grace Alone)

 

 

 

[1] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 105.

[2] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 104.