Rejoice! Yes, Rejoice!

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. (Philippians 4:4-7)

I love this passage. Anybody else? This is one of those passages that many Christians can quote or are at least are familiar with. This is a passage that should be dear to our hearts as Christians. It is a passage of encouragement, one that gives us clear direction in life. We sometimes ask, “What is God’s will for me?” And we see it in this passage. It helps to focus our minds rightly on the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a passage many of us have heard over and over again, yet for some it’s also a very mysterious passage. By mysterious I mean it is understandable, but illusive. There are things in it that we may say, “I want to grasp this, it describes what I should enjoy, but I just can’t seem to get there on a consistent basis.”

In this one paragraph we have a command to rejoice, to be gentle toward all, to put off worry, to pray about everything, to be thankful, and to make prayerful requests. It speaks of peace, the peace of God, and a heart and mind that is guarded in Christ Jesus.

So just right here we have joy, gentleness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace, all in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are to be marks that are evident in every Christian’s life. Truths that we not only talk about or long for but ones that we live by, live in. Now we may say, “Well, at times these mark my life.” Maybe like, “When I’m on vacation,” or maybe, “When the kids and my husband are out for the day,” or “When the semester is over,” or, “When I finally get to bed at night,” or, “When my team wins,” or, “When my bank account is plentiful,” or, “When my kids are well and safe.” “During those times I have joy and peace and am gentle and I’m not anxious. Yeah, I experience joy, am gentle, pray, give thanks, and am at peace during those times.” Well, I’m glad for that, but those times are not the point of this passage. The point of this passage is not that we feel good or feel any particular way when all things are well, but experiencing these things during times when we would not normally be doing so well. That is the challenge.

Here is one way I know that is Paul’s aim here. Look at some of the absolutes that Paul uses in this paragraph. If you’ve been to school and learned to write or give public speeches, we’re always told, “Don’t use absolutes,” because that’s usually exaggeration. But look at the absolutes Paul uses as he talks about things like joy, peace, having a thankful heart and a prayerful attitude, and putting off worry. 

He uses absolutes like:
Rejoice in the Lord always
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone
Do not be anxious about anything
But in everything by prayer
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds

So rejoice in the Lord when? Always. Let your reasonableness be known to whom? Everyone. Do not be anxious about what? Anything. Pray about what? Everything. And this peace of God, do we really get this, does it make sense in our world? No, it surpasses all understanding.

What Paul is describing for us is the consuming nature of life lived in Christ. He debunks any thought of, “I’ll take this part of Christianity,” or “I’ll live by Christianity in this circumstance, in this situation of life,” or “I’ll take the part that appeals to me and not the rest.” No, we are not a people who pick and choose the times, places, seasons, or what circumstances we live the Christian life. If we do that, we are creating a religion of our own imagination. It’s creating our own version of Christianity that’s counter to what we read about in Scripture. That is not what we are called to. 

And you know what? This is really tough for us. I think especially as Americans, this is tough. I go to Subway to get a sandwich, and I pick what I want. Right before my eyes I create, with the help of the guy behind the counter, a custom-made sandwich built just for me. It is just the way I like it. We are used to that, aren’t we? I go to Braums and get a double dip ice cream, cookies and cream on the bottom and peppermint on the top. I don’t know if anybody else does that. Probably not, it probably sounds gross to most people. But that’s how I like it, and I get to pick and choose what I want. We customize our phones with apps, no two alike, we are particular with our news sources, we prefer certain brands over others, there are options galore out there and so we may have a similar product but many times we customize that product just for us.

I’m afraid that mindset may have slipped into our Christianity, even our churches. Is the church just another outlet for consumerism? We may pick a church to see what it can offer me, what it can do for me, what it can give me. “I like this and that, I’ll take this or that, and when something changes, I’ll just go to the next one, I’ll go find a new model I like.” Instead of, “How can I serve in the church?” and have that sort of mindset. And even worse, does it spill over into our Christian walk? “I like this about Christianity, but not that. I can handle one thing in Scripture, but not the other.” So we pick and choose and create a religion of our own imagination. 

Or from our passage, “I will rejoice, yes I will rejoice,” but we may add, “When God hands me what I want, when I want it!” Instead of “I will rejoice always.” Or, “I will be reasonable (I think a better word here may be “gentle”). I will be gentle with those who are gentle with me.” Instead of, “I will be gentle with everyone!” Or, “I won’t be anxious about life when things seem to be going my way,” instead of, “I won’t be anxious.” Or we may say, “I will pray when I think about it or feel like it,” instead of, “I will live a life of prayer.” Or, “I will enjoy peace when everyone around me is peaceful,” instead of anticipating peace that comes from God during times when peace seems to make no sense at all.

Here is my point: Paul is not letting us get away with half-hearted, fickle, fake, or quasi-Christianity. It is like he is saying, “You’re in or you’re not. You’re with me or you’re not. Be all in or not. Here is what life is to be for those who are in Christ.” Now, I’m not saying we are perfect here, none of us do this perfectly. If we were doing this perfectly, and the Philippians were doing this perfectly, Paul would not have needed to write this at all. Yet he did, so we know that they and we are not doing this perfectly. But I am saying this is where we should be headed, where we should desire to be, and as we study through this we will also learn the key to getting to these places in life of joy, gentleness, peace, thanksgiving, prayer together. This is not going to be just a cold lecture of, “Come on, just have joy,” or whatever, but yes, joy is ours as we seek it rightly in Christ.

So I’m looking forward to this study with you. I know I need it, and I hope it will be helpful for you as well. For today, let’s look more closely at verses 4 and 5.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:4-5)

When are we to rejoice in the Lord? Always! How is that possible? Only in the Lord.

Unmitigated joy is, or should be, an identifying mark of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have an idea that Christians are to be somber, always somber. This seems to be contrary to Paul’s view and understanding of Christianity. Paul was a champion of grace and of joy! What is this joy of which Paul speaks? It is not a temporary thing that may come and go depending on circumstances. We need to understand that. If that were the case, if joy were based on our circumstances, it would just come and go, we couldn’t always rejoice. So you may be sitting there thinking, “Maybe that’s why I don’t have joy, because it’s not based on the right thing.”

We are conditioned to be this way. Conditioned and born with a bent to be emotionally enslaved to outside circumstances. Is that not true? “School is out so I’m happy,” “It’s Friday so I have joy,” “I got a bonus at work,” “I just reached my weight loss goal,” “That pain was not a heart attack,” “My team won,” “I got a new car.” There are many things that can happen to us or around us that we sometimes are enslaved to emotionally. We can be high, very high on these good things. Right?

On the opposite side of that, “I failed my class, so no summer break for me,” “It’s Monday morning,” “I deserved a bonus but got passed over,” “I’ve been trying to lose weight and I can’t lose a single pound,” “My team lost again,” “The new car thing fell through.” Again, all circumstances. Negative ones now. How will they affect our joy?

What is special about Christian joy? It is based solely on our relationship with the Lord. It is not rooted in or found in any of the circumstances I have named, nor any of the other millions that we may face. This joy that Paul speaks of is a deeply spiritual thing. With its roots in the Lord, it is never to end. So if it’s only present in our lives with our circumstances, whether positive or negative, what we’ve done is elevated our circumstances to be greater than the Lord. If our circumstances are more significant to us than Christ, then we will struggle with Christian joy. Whatever is bigger than God to us will rule us. And if something is bigger in our minds and hearts, then we are subjecting ourselves to that, and if we’re doing that we just need to hang on because it’s going to be a rough ride.

This last week was a difficult week for me. I shared that with several men during the week and asked for prayer. It is great to have people around us who are so quick to lift us up in prayer. I hope you all have men or women in your life like that. But it just seemed that so many things were coming at me. Things that I would look at and say to myself, “I’m not sure I know what to do with this, I don’t really know how to handle this.” Ever had weeks like that? When life is that way for me, or for you, then we have a decision to make. We can focus on Christ, be reminded of our salvation, our security, our helper the Holy Spirit, the character of God and His promises, we can rehearse who we are in Christ, what He has promised us, we can glory in His strength and our heavenly home, we can think rightly about our helplessness apart from Him, remember that we are His and He can do with us as He pleases. In other words, when things are coming at us from all sides and we don’t know what to do, we can glory in Him. We can go to passages like Psalm 34.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:4-10)

When things are coming at us and we don’t understand them, when we’re confused and tempted to be anxious and lack joy and peace, we have a choice, the first decision we should make is to go to God, rehearse the Gospel, remember who He is and who we are in Christ, go to passages like this, and be refreshed in Him! Rejoice in Him, abide in Him, and have real joy in Him.

We can do that, or we can do the opposite. We can focus on on those shots being fired at us, we can put our focus there, we can then be overwhelmed. If we’re to elevate those circumstances above Christ, what’s going to happen? We’ll be overwhelmed, maybe depressed, feel hopeless, ill-prepared and helpless. We can look away from our Lord and slide into this slew of despair. We can allow our circumstances to rule over us and master us instead of the Lord Jesus being in His proper place in our lives. Paul is saying, “Don’t do that!” No, instead we are to do what? Rejoice in the Lord always!

As Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice always, they too were at a hard place with choices they needed to make. They were suffering tremendously at the hands of local citizens of the empire where Caesar was to be praised, worshiped, and honored as “lord.” And it was in those circumstances where they were commanded to rejoice.

This repetition in verse 4 is fascinating to me. I picture it like someone gets up to read this letter to these suffering people. He gets up and reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Now not only were they suffering in the culture, but Paul had just reminded them of this great divisive dispute that was going on even in their church. In that environment, someone gets up and reads this letter, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I picture some guy saying, “Did he just say rejoice? Does he know what’s going on here? Maybe I heard that wrong. ‘Rejoice always’? We’re being attacked from the outside, attacked on the inside. Where did that come from? Here we are suffering! Did he really say rejoice?” And about that time the reader of the letter goes on and says, “again I will say, rejoice.” Those hearing say, “Well, okay, I guess he did say rejoice!”

We can rejoice in all things. You may be skeptical of that, but we can.

By the way, this is a fruit of the Spirit too. It is to be a fruit of our lives as Christians, given to us by the Holy Spirit. How do we become more fruitful? By abiding in Christ, living in Christ, being consumed with Christ, walking with Christ, focusing our minds on Christ. 

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:5)

I’m reading from the ESV. However, the word “reasonableness” is apparently a difficult word to translate in the original Greek. I think the best word may be “gentleness.” So you could read it, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”

As they, or we, continue to rejoice in the Lord, even during very hard times of trial and suffering, what others should see in us is gentleness. More literally this passage says, “Let your gentleness be known to all people.” All here means all. That would mean people in the church and people outside the church. People in your family and people you hardly know. All is all. I know that can be very convicting for us. This would include those who may be causing you persecution, people being ugly to you, acting unjustly, people who are making your life hard. This is not natural, but we aren’t called to do what is natural for our flesh, we are called to supernatural, odd sort of living. Living in a way that demonstrates, “This is not me, this is the Lord in me!”

I love this picture we are getting that’s unfolding in this paragraph. So far: one who is rejoicing always and is patiently gentle with all. Don’t you want that person living in your home, and in your church? Again, including gentleness with those who might be making you or me miserable. I don’t really mean “making us” miserable, but you know what I mean, we are allowing them to, or what they are doing to us would naturally lead us to misery apart from Christ.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)

This is from Jesus, this was Jesus being patient and gentle with those who were persecuting Him, walking with meekness. Paul shows us this example…

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1)

So, in Christ, joy and gentleness.

Paul says, “the Lord is at hand.” It’s hard to know if that statement goes with what we have been talking about or if it is the beginning of the next verse. It is probably meant to bring them both together. If we are going to have this never ending joy and if we are going to be gentle with all, then isn’t it good to be reminded that the Lord is at hand? He is near you and me. He is with us always, and He will be with us forever. These are not things we do on our own, no way, not a chance that we could. Our Lord is near, helping us, giving us strength!

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy. (Psalm 145:17-20)

He is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. What a great promise, that is a promise we need to remember! God is gracious to give us joy and gracious to give us a gentle spirit with other people. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). That is what we’re to be, because our gentleness reflects that of our Savior, glorifying Him!

Are we reflecting the glory of Christ in joy and gentleness?

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:4-5)