Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice!

Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:00 -- James Oakley

This morning, we’re going to be talking about joy.

I don’t know whether the thought of talking about joy fills you with joy, or not!

We are at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. For a while, we worked our way through this letter, during our quarterly combined services. We had a break last year for our Bible tour, and we’ve done other things so far this year. But it’s time to return to the letter, so we don’t miss the closing sections.

As Paul wraps up, he gives the Philippians some general instructions that he wants to leave them with.

We will see that these instructions are closely tied in to the themes of the letter. These instructions wouldn’t fit into any other New Testament letter. But we will also see that each of these instructions is also very general in character.

They are not dependent upon the Philippians exact circumstances. They are intended to apply to any Christian and any church in all seasons. There are three instructions here. The command to rejoice. The command to be gentle. The command to pray.

And in each case the command is universal. Verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Verse 5. “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Verse 6. “In every situation…”

As well as the three commands, there is one brief statement that underpins them all. It comes in verse 5. “The Lord is near.”

The Lord is near in time. Jesus Christ will not be long in returning. The Lord is near in space. As the psalms testify, the Lord God is close to his people.

With that reassurance, Paul leaves the Philippian Christians with these three commands. Rejoice. Be gentle. Pray.

We are going to take three Sundays to look at these three instructions. Each one deserves careful attention in its own right. And so, today, we will look at the command to rejoice.

Before we do that, a little exercise in passing: think about these three commands. Then think about your life. Then think about the life of this church. Which of these three do we most need to hear about and to think about. Which is most conspicuous by their absence in our lives –individually and as a church? Joy? Gentleness? Or prayer?

Well as I say we need all three. So we will look at all three, but today we will think about joy.

Here, then, is the verse for this morning: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” Let me show us three details of this command.

Rejoice in all circumstances

Firstly, rejoice in all circumstances. Rejoice in all circumstances.

Verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always.

This is not at all what we would expect. We all know that there are happy seasons in life, and there are sad and difficult times as well. So we would expect to rejoice in the good times, but we know that not all of life is like that. Rejoicing is not for every season in life.

And yet, Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always.

Is Paul tragically simplistic, desperately naïve about how hard life can be?

Well, of all the people you could accuse of being simplistic in this way, the Apostle Paul is not one of them. Remember where he was when he wrote this letter. He writes to the Philippians from prison. He expects shortly to hear the outcome of his trial. He will either be executed, or he will be released. Paul is under no illusion that life is always easy; he knows that circumstances do not always lead you to rejoice.

And yet, he tells the Philippians to rejoice always.

Indeed, he practises what he preaches. From his prison cell, he has heard that people are using the opportunity while he is out of the way, to preach the good news of Jesus. He is well aware that some people may be doing this for the wrong reasons, trying to get themselves ahead. That doesn't matter to him; all that matters is that Christ is being preached. And so, chapter 1 verse 18, Because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.

Paul really is saying that Christians should rejoice in all circumstances, and not just in the good times of life.

Maybe this is why he repeats himself. Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And then he hears a little voice in the background saying, “What, even in our afflictions? Even in the hard times of life?" And so he adds, "I've said it once. Let me say it again. Rejoice!"

Paul is saying that Christian joy it is not the product of an external situation, of our circumstances, or of the season of life we find ourselves in. Christian joy stands independent of all of those things. Joy is something for all seasons of life. Rejoice in the Lord always.

Rejoice in all circumstances.

Rejoice in the Lord

All of which makes you wonder: if the grounds for our joy is not found in our circumstances, then where does it come from?

So here's the second thing we need to say from this verse: Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord.

I think Paul is actually saying two things here. Firstly, the Lord Jesus is the ground for our joy. The reason we rejoice is because of him.

Just think even within this letter what Paul has said about Jesus.

He is the Son of God, fully equal with God. And yet, he did not sit on those privileges, but gave them up for us, being made into a human being, even dying on a Roman cross, so that we might be forgiven and have life. God has since exalted him to the highest place, and one day he will return, and every tongue in heaven and on earth will proclaim that he is Lord of all. When he does that, he will transform our lowly bodies, so there we might be like his glorious body. And in the meantime, he is in control of everything that takes place, able to supply all of our needs in every situation.

Given that this is who Jesus is, and what he's done for us, and how he looks after us and blesses us, we have every reason to rejoice, even in the direst of circumstances.

But Paul is saying more than just the that Jesus is the grounds for our joy. Jesus is also the object of our joy.

Let’s ask the question: “What is it that you rejoice in, or delight in?” We are asking what it is that lights you up, that puts a smile on your face, that you truly care about more than anything else.

One person might delight in their food; another person might delight in their job; another might delight in their family, or their children. If those are the things that bring you the greatest joy, then your joy only lasts as well as they do. But for the Christian, our joy is to be in the Lord. The person we care about the most, that puts a smile on our face, that we long to please more than anything else in all the world, that we are most delighted that we have: should always be the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is to be the ground of our joy; he is to be the object of our joy; he is to be the one we rejoice in. Rejoice in the lord.

Rejoice in obedience to this command

Rejoice in all circumstances. Rejoice in the Lord. But we haven't quite got to the heart of this little verse. We haven't yet felt the full force of just how surprising this is. There is a third thing we have to say. And that is this: rejoice in obedience to this command. Rejoice in obedience to this command.

I think this is the biggest surprise of all. This is a command to rejoice. But if you stop and think about it, and joy isn't the kind of thing you can command at all.

Imagine you walk into a room full of people. They're all looking exceedingly miserable. You would like them to cheer up. So what do you do? You might tell a joke. You'd certainly need to find out what was making them all miserable in the first place. What you do to cheer them up would depend on why they were unhappy. What you wouldn’t do is simply say: "Come on, you lot, cheer up!… And that's an order!"

Happiness just doesn't work like that it's not something you can command people to be. And yet, here is Paul, saying: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!

Partly, we need to remember that joy and happiness aren't the same thing. If you are filled with joy, that may come out in happiness, but there is far more to joy than just being happy.

But even so, this is still a shocking command. How can he command people to be joyful? Joy doesn't work like that either!

He must be implying that our joy is something that is under our control. And the key to that is the previous point we were making. We are to rejoice in the Lord.

If the grounds for our joy is the Lord Jesus, who he is, and all the things he has done for us, then it is up to us whether he fills our horizon as he should do. And if the object of our joy is to be the Lord Jesus then it is a matter of the will where we put our deepest affections, what matters to us the most, and what we get most excited about.

It might help to cast your eye forward to the next paragraph to verse 8: 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.

What do you spend your time thinking about? What do you set your mind on? Quite a few people, if they’re at home during the day, will watch the news at breakfast, at lunchtime and in the evening. Well if you do that, then of course you will be miserable! You're feeding your mind with the very depressing events that fill the news outlets and make for current affairs.

But if instead we make a habit of taking time to think about things that are good and pure and true and praiseworthy, then those things will fill our horizon. And nobody is more true, more noble, more right, more pure, more lovely, more admirable, more excellent, more praiseworthy,… than the Lord Jesus Christ.

So here's the question? Do you consciously set the Lord Jesus before your eyes, on a regular basis, as a habit you cultivate, until he becomes your deepest joy, the thing you care about more than anything else? You’d do that by taking time to read the Bible, by reading books that open up the Bible’s message for you and apply it to your life, and by taking time to stop, to think, to pray, to ponder about what you’ve read.

As you do that, you will become more aware of how wonderful he is and of all that he has done for you. And those things will become more and more part of your identity, who you are, written on your heart to the very core of your being. He will become the thing, the person, you prize more than anything else in the world. And he will become that, because you have disciplined yourself to make him into that.


So there is the first of three commands for the Philippians, as Paul closes his letter to them. Joy is a great theme of this letter. And yet it’s something that applies far more widely than just the Philippian Christians and their particular circumstances.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!”

Christians, and Christian churches, are to be marked by joy. Joy in all circumstances. Our circumstances always change. But the ground and object of our joy is something far more permanent, something far more weighty, something far more wonderful. It is the person of the Lord Jesus and his finished work on our behalf.

He is the one we are to rejoice in – in all seasons, in all circumstances, we rejoice in him. And that's an order!

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