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I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to our Second Lesson, Philippians chapter 4, as Paul encourages us to Rejoice Always.
Rejoice in the Lord always! You might be tempted to argue with Paul on that one. How can you say that, Paul? Haven’t you watched the news? There isn’t much on the news that makes you want to rejoice. And, you have no idea what’s going on in my life. I don’t always have much to rejoice about. Surely you aren’t serious when you say rejoice always!
As if Paul anticipates our objections, he writes, I will say it again, rejoice!
Paul was serious. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he doesn’t say, “rejoice if you feel like it.” He says it in the form of a command, rejoice! Keep on rejoicing, always be rejoicing. So, how is it possible to rejoice always? Let’s take a closer look at his inspired words.
In what are we to rejoice? That’s the key. We are to rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t tell us to rejoice in what we see on the news every night, even if it’s good news for a change. Good news or bad news, the news will change by tomorrow. Rejoice in the Lord, not in your own personal circumstances, good or bad. Your circumstances could change from good to bad, or bad to good by this time tomorrow. Remember where Paul was when he wrote this epistle of joy. He was sitting in prison. There is no thing, or situation on earth, that can give you joy ALWAYS. People, money, health, just the right gift at Christmas, a sports team, all these things may give you moments of joy, but not always. In the next moment they may give you reason for sadness.
Rejoice in the Lord. That’s what Paul had learned and what he wanted to share with the Philippians and with us. In the Lord he had joy even when he felt the pain of being beaten, and the uncertainty and loneliness of prison. In the Lord he could say for me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. He had the promise of the Lord that his sins were forgiven because of Jesus’ life and death in his place. He had the promise of the Lord that, when he died, his soul would live and reign with Christ, and on the Last Day, he would be raised from the dead to live body and soul with Jesus forever, because Jesus died and rose from the dead. In the Lord he had the promise that Jesus would be with him always, making sure that everything that happened in his life would end up serving what the Lord knew was best for him. In the Lord he could rejoice always, in good times and in bad times, whether hungry or well fed, whether living in plenty or in want.
Do you recognize those promises of God that enabled Paul to rejoice always? You should, because, in the Lord, you have those same promises. In the Lord, all your sins are forgiven, even your failure to rejoice always. In the Lord you have a place prepared for you in heaven, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. In the Lord you have an almighty, loving, eternal, all wise God who is with you every minute of every day making sure that everything that happens in your life ends up serving your eternal good.
Do you see why Paul can say, Rejoice in the Lord always! In the Lord there is always reason to rejoice. And, as you rejoice in the Lord, Paul says, let your gentleness be evident to all.
When your focus is on the Lord and all he has done and is doing for you, what others say and do isn’t such a big deal. When you are focused on the Lord and his promises it’s easier to “take peoples words and actions in the kindest possible way”, to be gentle. And, if it becomes clear that they intended to harm you, you remember Joseph. His brothers intended to harm him when they beat him up, threw him in a pit, and sold him as a slave. But, in the Lord, Joseph was able to be gentle with them when they were worried that he would try to get back at them. He reminded them of how God had kept his promise and turned their evil towards him into good, not just for him, but for them, and for probably hundreds of thousands of others who might have starved to death in the famine if Joseph had not been where he was, when he was. In the Lord, Joseph was able to forgive his brothers for all the harm and trouble they had caused him. His gentleness was evident to all, including Pharaoh.
Charles Spurgeon writes, “If you cannot speak the gospel, live the gospel by your cheerfulness and gentleness, for what is the gospel? It is good news of great joy for all the people.” If people see your gentleness, even to those who intend to hurt you; if they see your joy even in the midst of trouble; you will have the opportunity to speak the gospel. People will ask you how it is possible for you to be so gentle, so joyful, and you can explain to them the reason for the hope that you have. Your joy is in the Lord, and that kind of joy shows itself in gentleness.
Rejoice always. The Lord is near. For some, the thought that the Lord is near is a reason for fear and anxiety, not rejoicing. Without the Lord, well, it’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hand of living God, the one who has the power to destroy not just the body, but both soul and body in hell. But, in the Lord, we rejoice that he is near. He is near to keep his promises, not like the prophets of Baal who tried to get Baal’s attention by cutting themselves so that Elijah mocked them for having a god who might be far away, or sleeping, or on vacation. Our God is always near; always ready and able to keep his promises. We rejoice that the Lord is near also in this way, that Jesus’ return to earth in glory is nearer every day. As we think about his coming in glory we join the Apostle John in praying, even so, come Lord Jesus, come quickly and rescue us from this world of sorrow and take us to live with you in Holy Joy for all eternity. We ask this, not because we are righteous, but because you were righteous in our place. We ask this, not because we have earned or deserve eternal life with you, but because you purchased it for us by your blood shed on the cross.
Rejoice always, and do not be anxious about anything. There’s something else you might be tempted to argue with Paul about. How can you say don’t be anxious about anything, there are so many things to worry about- protecting my kids from all the evils that are out there in the world, increased persecution of Christians, political and financial upheaval, will the paycheck run out before the month does, just to name a few big worries? How can we keep from being anxious?
Paul says, Pray! In everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. He has commanded you to pray, and he has promised that he will hear every prayer, and that he will answer every prayer in the way that is best. You can talk to him at any time, day or night, for he never slumbers or sleeps. You can talk to him about anything that’s on your mind. He is 100% trustworthy and confidential- and he already knows what you have done and what you are thinking, you can’t hide anything from him. He’s like a parent picking up their child from school and asking, “How was your day?” He really wants you to talk to him about it. And present your requests with thanksgiving. Thank him in advance for the privilege of being able to approach him in prayer, for it is only in the Lord that sinners like us can dare to approach our holy God. Thank him in advance for whatever his answer may be, because whatever the answer is, it will be what is best.
In the Lord we always have reason to rejoice. His love and forgiveness are beyond our understanding. It’s not just the how of his love and forgiveness that is beyond our understanding- the virgin birth, Jesus’ vicarious death, the resurrection and ascension; it’s the why that’s beyond understanding. Paul says, we might understand that for a righteous person someone might dare to die, but Christ died for the ungodly, for you and for me. He died for us while we were still sinners who deserved his judgment, not his love. His grace and love for us are beyond our understanding but they give us a peace and joy that the world cannot give or understand. That incomprehensible peace and joy is yours in Jesus and the Lord has promised to guard and keep you in it.
Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice in the Lord always, because of what he has done, and what he promises he will do for you.